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The Guildhall houses a large hall where many events of social and political nature have been held. It has been home to the Feis Doire Colmcille – an event which celebrates Irish culture – and the now-discontinued Londonderry Feis. It was also home to the Saville Inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday 30 January 1972 in Derry.
Derry's original 17th-century Guildhall was located in the Diamond area of the Walled City. Its name reflected the status of Londonderry as being founded by the City & Guilds of London. This building was destroyed by fire in Victorian times and it was decided to turn the site of the former Guildhall into a city square. Work started on the new Guildhall in 1887 and it was opened in July 1890. The new building was originally titled "Victoria Hall", reflecting the wider vogue in the British Empire at that time to name landmarks after the reigning monarch. Other landmarks in the city named for Victoria include Victoria Market, the Queen's Quay and Queen's Street. The name "Victoria Hall" was discovered on foundation stones found during recent restoration works financed by Derry City Council. The reason for retaining the Guildhall name is presently unclear. The City Hall was financed by The Honourable The Irish Society and cost £19,000. It was badly damaged by fire in Easter 1908 with only the clock tower surviving the fire intact. The whole building was re-built and renovated after the fire and re-opened in 1912.
During The Troubles the Guildhall was the focus of multiple terror attacks. The building was badly damaged by two bombs in 1972, but was restored at a cost of £1.7m and reopened in 1977. On 23 September 1980 the Field Day Theatre Company presented its first production, the premiere of Brian Friel's Translations, here.
A further major restoration began in August 2010 by contractors H & J Martin, the firm which built Belfast City Hall, overseen by Derry City Council and a special conservation design team led by Consarc. External work, costing £3M, included the restoration of the stonework, roofs, windows and stained glass, as well as the clock. New steps and a ramp were also built at the entrance at Guildhall Square. Restoration of the stained glass windows was overseen by Stephen Calderwood, who had last worked on them with his father Jack when they were damaged in the bombings of 1972.
Internal work, cost in the region of £5M, involved the full internal reorganisation and restoration of the Guildhall as a key tourist attraction and arrival point for the City as part of the Walled City Signature Project.
The square in front of the Guildhall is the main city square in Derry~Londonderry. It regularly plays host to important events. It was the staging area for the visit of US President Bill Clinton when he visited the city in November 1995. It is also the home for many city events, such as Halloween carnivals and the Christmas lights switch-on and the Christmas European Market. Recently, the square has played host to LGBT events such as Foyle Pride (the river Foyle flows through the city) and it has seen protests organized by Occupy Derry. The Square has been renovated and restructured to better reflect Derry's metropolitan feel and includes seating areas, fountains, improved cross-city transport links and elegant night-time lighting. To the North it adjoins Waterloo Place – the site of Derry's BBC Live Screen. Together they link Derry's main shopping, cultural and tourist areas.
Guildhall Square will face increasing competition for the title of metropolitan Derry's main city square following the redevelopment of Ebrington Square which opened on Valentine's Day 2012 and linked to Guildhall Square via Derry's new Peace Bridge. Ebrington Square, Ireland's largest public realm, is larger than Trafalgar Square in London. It was the venue for the opening ceremony of the Cultural Olympiad of the London 2012 Olympic Games. It is to undergo extensive redevelopment, under the guidance of ILEX, including new offices, shops, nightclubs, restaurants, museums and hotels reflecting the surging demand for tourists who visited the city for City of Culture 2013.
- Tower Museum, nearby
- Media related to Guildhall, Derry at Wikimedia Commons