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Guildhall restored to former glory

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Arlene Foster has welcomed the refurbishment of Londonderry's Guildhall

Arlene Foster has welcomed the refurbishment of Londonderry's Guildhall

PA Archive/Press Association Images

Arlene Foster has welcomed the refurbishment of Londonderry's Guildhall

After two years and more than £9.5 million Londonderry's Guildhall has been restored to its former glory.

The 120-year-old Grade A listed building is due to open its doors to the public next month after a complete internal and external re-vamp.

It is the only surviving guildhall still in civic use in Ireland but now also boasts an interactive visitor centre, cafe and exhibition space.

"The Guildhall is a magnificent, historic building and one of Londonderry's most important assets. ‪I want to see a Walled City that has international standout and visitor appeal and this refurbishment at the Guildhall is another vital piece in that jigsaw," said Tourism Minister Arlene Foster, whose department has pumped £14 million of investment into Londonderry in recent years.

The project involved extensive and painstaking restoration of the stonework, roof, and windows, including the stained glass and the famous clock. New steps and a ramp were built at the entrance to improve access. Inside, the main hall, mayor's parlour and council chamber were renovated with exhibition, retail and cafe space added to the ground floor.

Derry City Council contributed £5.23 million, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board gave £2.75 million, the Department for Social Development donated £1 million and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency granted £500,000 towards the refurbishment.

John Kelpie, strategic director with Derry City Council, who oversaw the restoration project, described its completion as momentous: "The result has exceeded expectations," he said.

"The completion has coincided with the City of Culture celebrations and the city's premier building now lends itself as an engaging and interactive visitor experience, reinforcing the importance of the building for this region."

The Guildhall has been one of Derry's most recognisable landmarks since 1890 where it was built at the foot of the 17th Century walls by The Honourable The Irish Society at a cost of £19,000. The original hall was destroyed by fire in 1908 which left only the clock tower and rear block intact.

The second and current Guildhall was reopened in 1912 with a significantly altered architectural character. Many stained glass windows were gifted to the Guildhall by the The Honourable The Irish Society and the London Companies. In 1972 two bombs destroyed much of the interior.