Unpacking history at Derry Walls Day

Jean Hegarty and Anne McCartney, Friends of the Derry Walls, and Mary Blake, Derry City and Strabane District Council, pictured with Finlay Muller, Emma Woods, Mayor of Derry, Councillor Elisha McCallion, Adam Woods and Marianne Muller, as they embark on a  journey of discovery ahead of Derry Walls Day which takes place this Sunday.
Jean Hegarty and Anne McCartney, Friends of the Derry Walls, and Mary Blake, Derry City and Strabane District Council, pictured with Finlay Muller, Emma Woods, Mayor of Derry, Councillor Elisha McCallion, Adam Woods and Marianne Muller, as they embark on a journey of discovery ahead of Derry Walls Day which takes place this Sunday.

A severed head on a half-built City Wall in the Tower Museum’s ‘Story of Derry’ is the only reminder of the dramatic events that took place in the city exactly 400 years ago.

This gruesome feature in the exhibit depicts the discovery of the Great Northern Plot of 1615 and the subsequent trial and execution of the alleged conspirators in Derry at the end of July of that year.

The plot had an immediate effect in Derry, forcing the City of London’s Irish Society to finish the building of the City Walls.

The fascinating story of the Great Northern Plot will be unpacked through living history performances in Guildhall Square and in the Guildhall this Sunday, August 30, from 12.30pm-5.30pm.

The cluster of museums on and around the Derry Walls will be part of a Plotter’s Treasure Hunt with a School for Junior Plotters and prizes. The events form part of Derry Walls Day 2015 which is organised as part of National Heritage Week - Discover the Past, Build the Future.

Some debate remains amongst academics about whether the conspiracy was real or just ‘a little overzealous talk over a few drinks in Nicholas Gill’s Macosquin alehouse’.

The plot was hatched in May 1614 and was intended to take place in August 1615, when the towns of Derry, Coleraine, Lifford, Culmore and Limavady, plus the Irish Society agents and Sir Thomas Philips, were to be seized.

A plot in a local alehouse may have been hyped up as a convenient national security crisis. James I, fresh from his experience of the Gunpowder Plot of 1604, was alarmed by the news of the conspiracy and his Privy Council congratulated Sir Arthur Chichester, Lord Deputy of Ireland, for his vigilance and reprimanded the Irish Society for their tardiness in completing the defences at Derry.

Chichester sanctioned the use of judicial torture to extract information from one of the conspirators. Of the others, Alexander MacDonnell was declared not guilty, while Rory O’Cahan, Brian Crossagh O’Neill and four others were found guilty and sentenced to death. As was mandatory in such cases, they were likely to have been drawn through the streets of Derry in chains to the gallows where they would have been hanged. When only half dead, they would have been cut down, disembowelled, beheaded, their bodies quartered and then burned. Their heads would then have been displayed above the city gates as a deterrent to others.

For more information see www.thederrywalls.com/walls400