The Guildhall

Stitched Panorama

From the seventeenth until the late nineteenth century, a succession of Derry’s town halls had been located in the Diamond, the central space of the walled city. In 1887, work commenced on a new building on land outside the walls which originally had been part of the tidal slobs of the river. Since the seventeenth century, the river bank had gradually been pushed outwards, facilitating the expanding docks and warehouse buildings.

The new town hall, the Guildhall (named after its counterpart in the City of London and because of the association with the London Companies), was opened in 1890. However, in a disastrous fire on Easter Sunday 19 April 1908, the building was destroyed. Reconstruction began immediately and by 1913, the building was fully operative again. The Guildhall was massively damaged again in 1972 when, twice in the same week, IRA bombs were detonated in the building.

The Guildhall today is in effect the ceremonial seat of the government of the city (since 1996, the actual administration has been carried out from the impressive new Civic Offices on the west bank of the Foyle about half a mile downstream). The Guildhall is noted for its fittings and finishes, especially its marvellous collection of stained glass and its wonderful concert organ. The Big Ben-style clock tower (the largest of its kind in Ireland) is a distinctive landmark that can be seen from many parts of the city and has become something of a local symbol. The building is a true town hall with all types of events taking place there – from civic receptions for VIPs such as US President Bill Clinton, to concerts, community dances, plays, exhibitions and graduation ceremonies.

The Guildhall underwent a major renovation which was completed in 2013. Extensive external and internal restoration was carried out throughout the building. This included external repairs to the iconic clock, windows, roof and general stonework. Internal redevelopment included repairs to the Main Hall and Whittaker Suite, the creation of a dedicated exhibition and tourist information space, and the development of a ground-floor café.

The Guildhall remains the ‘home’ of the Council, with the Mayor’s Parlour on the ground floor and the Council Chamber relocating to its original location on the first floor within the former Minor Hall. A major tourist attraction in its own right and perhaps the most significant building ‘architecturally’ in the city centre – the Guildhall is one of the city’s most precious built heritage treasures.