The City of Derry, also known as Londonderry, began as the site of a monastery, founded by St. Columba in 546. Its original name came from the Gaelic Daire Calgaich, which means 'Calgach's oak grove'. With the erection of the monastery, the site was renamed to Daire Columb Chille, or 'Columba's oak grove'. The area of the original monastery is now known as the Diamond, located at the centre of the city. All main Derry streets radiate outward from the Diamond, and extend to the banks of the River Foyle.
Second in size in Northern Ireland only to the city of Belfast, Derry was widely publicized in the late twentieth century for violence occurring there in connection with the Irish Troubles.
- The medieval town of Doire that grew up on the site of St. Columba's monastery, had come under the control of the English towards the end of the 16th century.
- In 1608, a Gaelic chieftan named Cahir O'Doherty, who had given allegiance to the crown, staged an uprising in which he sacked and burned Doire, now Anglicized to Derry.
- In 1613, Derry became one of the first towns constructed as part of the Plantation of Ulster, and was the first planned city in Ireland.
- The aim of this Plantation of Ulster was to populate this northern region of Ireland with English and Scottish Protestant settlers who were loyal to the British crown.
- The financial backing for the reconstruction of the city, along with its walls, came from the Twelve Companies of the Corporation of London -- livery companies who had a strategic and economic interest in the port town.
- The London influence became so pervasive that the city's name was changed by Royal Charter to Londonderry.
Stroke City -- Derry / Londonderry's contested name
Today the city's name -- Derry or Londonderry, depending on your view -- remains a point of contention.
- Legally, the name of the city remains Londonderry -- but the majority of people who live here call it Derry
- For nationalists, the London- prefix in "Londonderry" has colonial or triumphal connotations, associated with years of British / Unionist discrimination for Catholics
- For many unionists, shortening the name simply to "Derry" evokes fears that their history is being stripped away, and that Nationalists/Catholics are "winning"
Most of the citizenry are Nationalist /Catholic, but the shorter name "Derry" is used by many Unionists / Protestants out of pragmatism and convenience. For example, one of the city's most staunchly Protestant/Unionist organisations is called the Apprentice Boys of Derry The name "Derry / Londonderry" is often used as a politically correct moniker -- though it hardly rolls of the tongue. (Try saying it: Derry-stroke-Londonderry). For this reason, Derry has been nicknamed "Stroke City"
The Maiden City
Derry's older nickname, "the Maiden City" stems from the historical fact that the city's fortification walls have never been breached in battle. They are more than 30 feet thick in places, and their impenetrable nature is mainly responsible for the nickname. The walls are still standing in good condition, although the city has grown far past these original boundaries. The walls of Derry are ranked among the most well preserved in Europe. Read more about Derry city walls.
The Siege of Derry 1698
The toughest test of the walls of Derry was probably the Siege of 1688-89, when a group of young apprentices slammed the city's gate in the face of King James II and resisted takeover by the Catholic King. The citizens of Derry held fast for 105 days, many of them starving or reduced to eating dogs and cats. Their survival was instrumental in the establishment of King William II, the Protestant King, on England's throne.
The US Connection
Many citizens of Derry emigrated to America in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the city developed a strong connection to Boston, where a large portion of the immigrants settled. In 1932, Amelia Earhart landed in Derry upon completion of her flight across the Atlantic. It is said that the first Derry resident to greet her displayed the traditional local common sense attitude, saying, "Aye, and what do you want, then?"
A more recent event in the history of Derry that left an impression on the country and the world at large was Bloody Sunday, January 20, 1972, when British soldiers fired upon a group of unarmed protesters, killing 14. Visitors to Derry will see this day memorialised in a variety of ways around the city. The public inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday were held between 2000 and 2010, with much of the proceedings taking place at the Guildhall in the centre of Derry city. On publication of the findings, on 15 June 2010, British Prime Minister David Cameron formally apologised on behalf of the British State
- Urban streetscape, Derry City. Image by Nicholas Raymond.
- The Peace Bridge, Derry City. Image: Patryk Sadowski.