Tower Museum

Tower Museum

Tower Museum

Tower Museum

The Tower Museum is a museum on local history in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The museum is located in Union Hall Place, within a historic tower just inside the city walls, near the Guildhall. It presents the history of Derry (The Story of Derry) and also has an exhibit on a local shipwreck from the Spanish Armada (An Armada Shipwreck – La Trinidad Valencera). The museum opened in 1992 and has won a number of awards. It covers the political conflict that has affected the history of the city.


The Tower Museum is located within the City’s historic walls and has won four major awards since its opening in October 1992. The Tower Museum houses two permanent exhibitions. 1. "The Story of Derry" tells the colourful and dramatic history of the city from earliest prehistory to the present. 2. "An Armada Shipwreck - La Trinidad Valencera" tells the story of one of the largest ships in the Spanish Armada, La Trinidad Valencera, which sank off the Donegal Coast in 1588 and was rediscovered by divers from the City of Derry Sub-Aqua Club in 1971. Both exhibitions use a range of display and interactive techniques to present their stories. The top of the Tower Museum (level 5) provides the only open air viewing facility in the heart of the city centre with stunning panoramic views of the inner city and river Foyle.

The Story Of Derry. This fascinating exhibition shares the story of their city from early settlement through to the Plantation of Londonderry and on into the growth of Derry during the 18th and 19th centuries. Life during the 20th century is also explored, in particular the build up to the Civil Rights Movement and the impact of the Troubles on the people living here. The exhibition ends with a glimpse of where the city is today. A visit to the city is not complete without a journey through the Story of Derry exhibition.

Derry, officially Londonderry, is the second-largest city in Northern Ireland and the fourth-largest city on the island of Ireland. The name Derry is an anglicisation of the Old Irish name Daire (modern Irish: Doire) meaning "oak grove". In 1613, the city was granted a Royal Charter by King James I and gained the "London" prefix to reflect the funding of its construction by the London guilds. While the city is more usually known colloquially as Derry, Londonderry is also commonly used and remains the legal name.

Derry is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in Ireland. The earliest historical references date to the 6th century when a monastery was founded there by St Columba or Colmcille, a famous saint from what is now County Donegal, but for thousands of years before that people had been living in the vicinity. Before leaving Ireland to spread Christianity elsewhere, Colmcille founded a monastery at Derry (which was then called Doire Calgach), on the west bank of the Foyle. According to oral and documented history, the site was granted to Colmcille by a local king. The monastery then remained in the hands of the federation of Columban churches who regarded Colmcille as their spiritual mentor. The year 546 is often referred to as the date that the original settlement was founded. However, it is now accepted by historians that this was an erroneous date assigned by medieval chroniclers. It is accepted that between the 6th century and the 11th century, Derry was known primarily as a monastic settlement.

The town became strategically more significant during the Tudor conquest of Ireland and came under frequent attack. During O'Doherty's Rebellion in 1608 it was attacked by Sir Cahir O'Doherty, Irish chieftain of Inishowen, who burnt much of the town and killed the governor George Paulet. The soldier and statesman Sir Henry Docwra made vigorous efforts to develop the town, earning the reputation of being " the founder of Derry"; but he was accused of failing to prevent the O'Doherty attack, and returned to England.

What became the City of Derry was part of the relatively new County Donegal up until 1610. In that year, the west bank of the future city was transferred by the English Crown to The Honourable The Irish Society and was combined with County Coleraine, part of County Antrim and a large portion of County Tyrone to form County Londonderry. Planters organised by London livery companies through The Honourable The Irish Society arrived in the 17th century as part of the Plantation of Ulster, and rebuilt the town with high walls to defend it from Irish insurgents who opposed the plantation. The aim was to settle Ulster with a population supportive of the Crown. It was then renamed "Londonderry".

This city was the first planned city in Ireland: it was begun in 1613, with the walls being completed in 1619, at a cost of £10,757. The central diamond within a walled city with four gates was thought to be a good design for defence. The grid pattern chosen was subsequently much copied in the colonies of British North America. The charter initially defined the city as extending three Irish miles (about 6.1 km) from the centre. The modern city preserves the 17th century layout of four main streets radiating from a central Diamond to four gateways – Bishop's Gate, Ferryquay Gate, Shipquay Gate and Butcher's Gate. The city's oldest surviving building was also constructed at this time: the 1633 Plantation Gothic cathedral of St Columb. In the porch of the cathedral is a stone that records completion with the inscription: "If stones could speake, then London's prayse should sound, Who built this church and cittie from the grounde."

During the 1640s, the city suffered in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, which began with the Irish Rebellion of 1641, when the Gaelic Irish insurgents made a failed attack on the city. In 1649 the city and its garrison, which supported the republican Parliament in London, were besieged by Scottish Presbyterian forces loyal to King Charles I. The Parliamentarians besieged in Derry were relieved by a strange alliance of Roundhead troops under George Monck and the Irish Catholic general Owen Roe O'Neill. These temporary allies were soon fighting each other again however, after the landing in Ireland of the New Model Army in 1649. The war in Ulster was finally brought to an end when the Parliamentarians crushed the Irish Catholic Ulster army at the Battle of Scarrifholis, near Letterkenny in nearby County Donegal, in 1650.

During the Glorious Revolution, only Derry and nearby Enniskillen had a Protestant garrison by November 1688. An army of around 1,200 men, mostly "Redshanks" (Highlanders), under Alexander Macdonnell, 3rd Earl of Antrim, was slowly organised (they set out on the week William of Orange landed in England). When they arrived on 7 December 1688 the gates were closed against them and the Siege of Derry began. In April 1689, King James came to the city and summoned it to surrender. The King was rebuffed and the siege lasted until the end of July with the arrival of a relief ship.

The city was rebuilt in the 18th century with many of its fine Georgian style houses still surviving. The city's first bridge across the River Foyle was built in 1790. During the 18th and 19th centuries the port became an important embarkation point for Irish emigrants setting out for North America. Some of these founded the colonies of Derry and Londonderry in the state of New Hampshire. Also during the 19th century, it became a destination for migrants fleeing areas more severely affected by the Irish Potato Famine. One of the most notable shipping lines was the McCorkell Line operated by Wm. McCorkell & Co. Ltd. from 1778. The McCorkell's most famous ship was the Minnehaha, which was known as the "Green Yacht from Derry".


Spanish Armada - La Trinidad Valencera. A refitted and refurbished 1100-tonne La Trinidad Valencera captained by Don Alonso de Luzon was one of the larger Armada transports. On board she carried three large siege guns donated by Philip II of Spain, made for him by the noted Belgian gunsmith Remigy de Halut in 1556. she also carried a ceramic firepot designed to be crammed with flammable material and thrown amongst the sails of English ships. A shrapnel device and a wooden tube filled with gunpowder. called a bomba. were also amongst her armaments. she had 42 guns, 7 of which have been recovered. Large and unwieldy, La Trinidad Valencera was the first Armada ship to run aground in Ireland. Badly damaged by heavy seas, she struck a reef in Kinnagoes Bay, near Malin Head, North Donegal on 16th September 1588. De Luzon had to pay the local O’Dohertys 200 ducats to hire boats to bring his men from the stricken vessel. He then marched them overland to a castle where he was told there were Spanish sympathisers. Instead e found the place occupied by Irish mercenaries loyal to the English and there were several minor clashes.

De Luzon was persuaded that if his men laid down their arms they would be taken to the Lord Deputy in Dublin. They did so and were immediately robbed of everything they had including their clothes. The following morning de Luzon and some of his fellow officers worth saving for ransom were separated from the others, who were massacred with lead shot and lances. Over 300 were killed but about 150 managed to escaped to the coast where they got boat to Scotland. A group of 30 wealthy Spanish prisoners were being sent to England to continue ransom negotiation. They managed to seized control of the ship and sail home to Spain.

The wreck of the Valencera was discovered in February 1971 by members of Derry Sub-Aqua Club. The Tower Museum in Derry host a historical exhibition “An Armada Shipwreck: La Trinidad Valencera”. The exhibition tells the story of the people involved, the soldiers and sailors aboard the Trinidad Valencera and the divers and archaeologists who discovered and excavated the ship. An array of exciting artefacts on loan from the Ulster Museum, recovered from the ship includes cannons, textiles, pottery, wooden bowls, pewter dishes, goblets, coins and shoes along with many other items.


In addition to the two permanent exhibitions above, the museum holds temporary exhibitions. 'Laurentic' opened on 25th January 2017 and will run until 25th June 2017. It has been 100 years since the famous SS Laurentic sank off Lough Swilly, Co. Donegal, on a bitter, cold night in January 1917. This exhibition tells the story of the famous ship.

The museum also has a cinema with seating for 60 people for talks, films etc.; a learning service; an Archive & Genealogy Service; a Discovery Zone; a Learning Space, Temporary Exhibitions and Museum Events. All ages can enjoy the interactive Discovery Zone. Explore the stories and activities to find out more about Archaeology, Dinosaurs, Early People, Colmcille, Woodlands and the Contemporary City.


The following access provision is available in the Tower Museum. Level access at the main entrance. Internal lift to all 5 levels of the Armada Shipwreck – La Trinidad Valencera exhibition including the viewing area of the city. Internal lift to the museum services area – access to research facilities & genealogy service. Level access to the learning area. Accessible toilets are located on the ground floor. Please note that due to the care of the museum collection some areas of the museum are subject to low light levels. There are Baby Changing facilities. Assistance dogs are welcome. The Museum is close to city centre car parks and is a 5 minute walk from the bus station.


Location : Tower Museum, Union Hall Place, Derry~Londonderry, County Londonderry BT48 6LU

Transport: Londonderry (NI Rail) then bus (FY2, FY3) or 20 minutes. Bus Routes : FY2, FY3, 33, 64 and 480 stop near by

Opening Times: Daily 10:00 to 17:30

Tickets : Adult £4.00; Children £2.00; Concessions £2.40; Group Rate (15+) £2.00

Tel: 028 7137 2411