This is an easy one to miss and I must admit I just happened on it by chance, or was it the Sherlock Holmes in me!
While looking down into the Fountain Estate from the City Walls at Church Bastion (east side) I noticed that there was a path which looked like it was leading in under the Walls. Was there indeed a tunnel there? I had never heard of tunnels within the City and indeed it would be most peculiar if one exited from the Walls – surely it would be a weakness in the defences. I secured a better look a little further on and indeed there was a small entry into the Wall.
Having now had the chance to do a bit of research I find that this a ‘sally port’ (something I had never heard of before). A sally port is a small secure entrance/ exit in a fortification which could be very easily defended against an enemy entrance. There may have been double doors (a al submarine), circular stairs on the inside, irregular sized steps, etc such that an enemy person (singular as only one could enter at a time given its size) entering didn’t stand a chance. Friendly persons entering/exiting would have been protected by people in the Walls’ watchtower – of which there are two on Church Bastion.
These watchtowers (pictures 2 & 3) in addition to monitoring the sally port were added fortification for the Cathedral, the tower of which, in its pre-spire days, was used as a lookout and artillery position. You will also notice that the wall along the outside edge of the Walls is higher here than elsewhere along its length, again providing extra protection for the strategically important St Columb’s Cathedral.
This sally port proved to be of great value during the Siege of Derry on two counts. Firstly, the women would sally forth to get fresh water from a well in the area (the Fountain Estate is named after the well). Clean fresh water within the Walls was a very scare commodity – especially as the siege dragged on. Secondly, the sally port was used by the defenders of the city to launch surprise attacks (or make sallies) on enemy forces which had encamped outside the walls.
On the matter of tunnels, various studies and indeed a number of excavations and building works have identified that there are indeed tunnels under the City and within the Walls. For example, in 2009 under Pump Street, an underground network of 120m of red-brick and ancient stone tunnels was uncovered. This is one of a number of finds and it is thought that the tunnels date to the very early days when the Walls were constructed, or indeed earlier. For whatever reason the relevant government department has come up with all sorts of reasons as to why the tunnels (which they have reluctantly accepted exist) cannot be opened to the public. I wonder what the real reason is!
At least one theory has it that the sally port about which I have written is linked to a tunnel(s) that leads right into St Columb’s Cathedral. This makes perfect sense.
This entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on many trips to Londonderry/Derry. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Siege Heroes Mound – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – The City on the Foyle.