Derry City — Chathair Dhoire

Background Information

Derry Pictures 2Derry City is the second-largest city in the north of Ireland and the fourth-largest city in all of Ireland.

The name Derry is an anglicization of the Irish name Doire meaning “oak grove”. In 1613, the city was subjugated by King James I of England and the “London” prefix was added, changing the name of the city to Londonderry. This unpopular name change among the native Irish population occurred during the Plantation of Ulster (which was repopulated with Protestant settlers from England and the low-lands of Scotland) to reflect the establishment of the city by the London guilds. However, as the native Irish Catholic population increased to once again became the majority in both Derry City and Derry County in the late 20th Century, Irish leaders changed the name of the city, city council, and county back to Derry.  Despite this change by Nationalist leaders, Unionists and UK officials still refer to it officially as Londonderry.

The old walled city lies on the west bank of the River Foyle, which is spanned by two road bridges and one footbridge. The city now covers both banks (Bogside on the west and Waterside on the east). The city district also extends to rural areas to the southeast. The population of the city proper (the area defined by its 17th-century charter) was 83,652 in the 2001 Census, while the Derry Urban Area had a population of 90,736. The district is administered by Derry City Council and contains both Londonderry Port and City of Derry Airport.

The Greater Derry area, that area within about 20 miles (32 km) of the city, has a population of 237,000. This comprises the districts of Derry City and parts of Limavady district, Strabane district, and East Donegal (including Raphoe and St Johnston), along with Inishowen. Derry is also the de facto capital of the north west of Ireland, which includes the Counties of Donegal, Derry and Tyrone, with a population of 586,246. Derry forms the main economic and cultural core of this region along with other smaller towns such as Letterkenny, Omagh and Coleraine. Derry CityMUST credit Image courtesy of Tourism Ireland/Chris Hill

Derry is close to the border with County Donegal, with which it has had a close link for many centuries. The person traditionally seen as the ‘founder’ of the original Derry is Saint Colmcille, a holy man from Tír Chonaill, the old name for almost all of modern County Donegal (of which the west bank of the Foyle was a part before c. 1600).

In 2013, Derry was designated UK City of Culture, having been awarded the title in July 2010. However, many Irish Nationalists reject this designation in their view that Derry is an Irish City and not a United Kingdom City.

Use of the City and County Name

The name “Derry” is preferred by nationalists and it is broadly used throughout Northern Ireland’s Catholic community, as well as that of the Republic of Ireland, whereas many unionists prefer the term “Londonderry”. However in everyday conversation Derry is used by most Protestant residents of the city. Apart from this local government decision, the city is usually known as Londonderry in official use within the UK. In the Republic of Ireland, the city and county are almost always referred to as Derry, on maps, in the media and in conversation. In April 2009, however, the Republic of Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, announced that Irish passport holders who were born there could record either Derry or Londonderry as their place of birth. Whereas official road signs in the Republic use the name Derry, those in Northern Ireland bear Londonderry (sometimes abbreviated to L’Derry), although some of these have been defaced with the reference to London obscured. Usage varies among local organizations, with both names being used. Examples are City of Derry Airport, City of Derry Rugby Club, Derry City FC and the Protestant Apprentice Boys of Derry, as opposed to Londonderry Port, Londonderry YMCA Rugby Club and Londonderry Chamber Of Commerce. Most companies within the city choose local area names such as Pennyburn, Rosemount or “Foyle” from the River Foyle to avoid alienating the other community. Londonderry railway station is often referred to as Waterside railway station within the city but is called Derry/Londonderry at other stations. The council changed the name of the local government district covering the city to Derry on 7 May 1984, consequently renaming itself Derry City Council. This did not change the name of the city, although the city is coterminous with the district, and in law the city council is also the “Corporation of Londonderry” or, more formally, the “Mayor, Aldermen and Citizens of the City of Londonderry”. The form “Londonderry” is used for the post town by the Royal Mail, however use of Derry will still ensure delivery.

The city is also nicknamed the Maiden City by virtue of the fact that its walls were never breached during the Siege of Derry in the late 17th century. It is also nicknamed Stroke City by local broadcaster, Gerry Anderson, due to the ‘politically correct’ use of the oblique notation Derry/Londonderry. A recent addition to the landscape has been the erection of several large stone columns on main roads into the city welcoming drivers, euphemistically, to “the walled city“.

The name Derry is very much in popular use throughout Ireland for the naming of places, and there are at least six towns bearing that name and at least a further 79 places. The word Derry often forms part of the place name, for example Derrymore, Derrybeg and Derrylea.

The name Derry/Londonderry is not limited to Ireland. There is a town called Derry situated right beside another town called Londonderry in New Hampshire in the United States of America.

Derry is also a fictional town in Maine, USA, used in some Stephen King novels.

City Walls

Derry is the only remaining completely intact walled city in Ireland and one of the finest examples of a walled city in Europe. The walls constitute the largest monument in State care in Northern Ireland and, as the last walled city to be built in Europe, stands as the most complete and spectacular.

The Walls were built during the period 1613-1619 by The Honourable The Irish Society as defenses for early 17th century settlers from England and Scotland. The Walls, which are approximately 1 mile (1.5 km) in circumference and which vary in height and width between 12 and 35 feet (4 to 12 metres), are completely intact and form a walkway around the inner city. They provide a unique promenade to view the layout of the original town which still preserves its Renaissance style street plan.

Bishop's GateThe four original gates to the Walled City are as follows:

  1. Bishop’s Gate,
  2. Ferryquay Gate,
  3. Butcher Gate and
  4. Shipquay Gate.

Three further gates were added later making seven gates in total.  These addition gates are as follows:

  1. Magazine Gate,
  2. Castle Gate and
  3. New Gate.

Historic buildings within the walls include the 1633 Gothic cathedral of St Columb, the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall and the courthouse.

It is one of the few cities in Europe that never saw its fortifications breached, withstanding several sieges including one in 1689 which lasted 105 days, hence the city’s nickname, The Maiden City.

Early History

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 St. 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, Columba founded a monastery in the then Doire Calgach, on the east side of the river Foyle. According to oral and documented history, the site was granted to Columba 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, until in 1608 it was destroyed by Cahir O’Doherty, Irish chieftain of Inishowen. The soldier and statesman Henry Docwra, 1st Baron Docwra of Culmore, 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.


Planters organized by London livery companies through The Honourable The Irish Society arrived in the 17th century as part of the Plantation of Ulster, and built the city of Londonderry across the Foyle from the earlier town, with walls to defend it from Irish insurgents who opposed the plantation. The aim was to re-settle Ulster with a protestant population from England and the Scottish Lowlands, who were supportive of the English Crown.

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 defense. 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 of Derry 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.” Walled City  

17th-century upheavals

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 in nearby 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 organized (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.

18th and 19th centuries

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 An Gorta Mór (The Great Hunger of the mid 1800s). 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“.

World War I

The city contributed over 5,000 men to the British Army from both Catholic and Protestant families.

War MemorialPartition

During the Irish War of Independence, the area was rocked by sectarian violence, partly prompted by the guerrilla war raging between the Irish Republican Army and British forces, but also influenced by economic and social pressures. By mid-1920 there was severe sectarian rioting in the city. Many lives were lost and in addition many Catholics and Protestants were expelled from their homes during this communal unrest. After a week’s violence, a truce was negotiated by local politicians on both unionist and nationalist sides.

In 1921, following the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the Partition of Ireland, it unexpectedly became a ‘border city’, separated from much of its traditional economic hinterland in County Donegal.

World War II

During World War II, the city played an important part in the Battle of the Atlantic. Ships from the Royal Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy, and other Allied navies were stationed in the city and the United States military established a base. Over 20,000 Royal Navy, 10,000 Royal Canadian Navy, and 6,000 American Navy personnel were stationed in the city during the war. The establishment of the American presence in the city was the result of a secret agreement between the Americans and the British before the Americans officially entered the war. It was the first American naval base in Europe and the terminal for American convoys en route to Europe.

The reason for such a high degree of military and naval activity was self-evident: Derry was the United Kingdom’s westernmost port; indeed, the city was the westernmost Allied port in Europe. Thus, Derry was a crucial jumping-off point, together with Glasgow and Liverpool, for the shipping convoys that ran between Europe and North America. The large numbers of military personnel in Derry substantially altered the character of the city, bringing in some outside color to the local area, as well as some cosmopolitan and economic buoyancy during these years. Several airfields were built in the outlying regions of the city at this time — Maydown, Eglinton and Ballykelly. RAF Eglinton went on to become City of Derry Airport.

The city contributed significant number of men to the war effort throughout the services, most notably the 500 men in the 9th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, known as the ‘Derry Boys’. This regiment served in North Africa, the Sudan, Italy and mainland UK. Many others served in the Merchant Navy taking part in the convoys that supplied the UK and Russia during the war.

The border location of the city, and influx of trade from the military convoys allowed for significant smuggling operations to develop in the city.

At the conclusion of the Second World War, eventually some 60 U-boats of the Nazi Germany Navy ended in the city’s harbor at Lisahally after their surrender. The initial surrender was attended by Admiral Sir Maxwell Horton, Commander-in-Chief of the Western Approaches, and Sir Basil Brooke, third Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

1950s and 1960s

Unfortunately, the city languished after the second world war, with unemployment and development stagnating.

The Civil Rights Movement

Derry was a focal point for the developing civil rights movement in Northern Ireland.

Catholics were discriminated against under the Unionist controlled government in Northern Ireland, both politically and economically. In the late 1960s the city became the flashpoint of disputes about institutional gerrymandering. Political Scientist John Whyte explains that:

All the accusations of gerrymandering, practically all the complaints about housing and regional policy, and a disproportionate amount of the charges about public and private employment come from this area. The area – which consisted of Counties Tyrone and Fermanagh, Londonderry County Borough, and portions of Counties Londonderry and Armagh – had less than a quarter of the total population of Northern Ireland yet generated not far short of three-quarters of the complaints of discrimination…The unionist government must bear its share of responsibility. It put through the original gerrymander which underpinned so many of the subsequent malpractices, and then, despite repeated protests, did nothing to stop those malpractices continuing. The most serious charge against the Northern Ireland government is not that it was directly responsible for widespread discrimination, but that it allowed discrimination on such a scale over a substantial segment of Northern Ireland.

A civil rights demonstration in 1968 led by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was banned by the Government and blocked using force by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The events that followed the August 1969 Apprentice Boys parade resulted in the Battle of the Bogside, when Catholic rioters fought the police, leading to widespread civil disorder in Northern Ireland and is often dated as the starting point of the Troubles.

On Sunday 30 January 1972, 26 unarmed civil-rights protesters and bystanders were shot by soldiers of the British paratroopers during a peaceful civil rights march in the Bogside area. Thirteen males, seven of whom were teenagers, died immediately or soon after, while the death of another man four-and-a-half months later was attributed to the injuries he received on that day.

Two protesters were also injured when they were run down by British army vehicles.

Five of those wounded were shot in the back. The incident occurred during a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march; the soldiers involved were members of the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment. This event has come to be known as Bloody Sunday — sometimes called the Bogside Massacre.

Two investigations have been held by the British government. These were the Widgery Tribunal (immediately following the tragic event) and later the Saville Inquiry, in 1998.

The Widgery Tribunal, held in the immediate aftermath of the event, largely cleared the soldiers and British authorities of blame—Widgery described the soldiers’ shooting as “bordering on the reckless”.  The findings of this Tribunal was widely criticized as a “whitewash”.

The Saville Inquiry, chaired by Lord Saville of Newdigate, was established in 1998 to reinvestigate the events. Following a 12-year inquiry, Saville’s report was made public on 15 June 2010, and contained findings of fault that could re-open the controversy, and potentially lead to criminal investigations for some soldiers involved in the killings. The report found that all of those shot were unarmed, and that the killings were both “unjustified and unjustifiable.” On the publication of the Saville report the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, made a formal apology on behalf of the United Kingdom. Innocent Killed Bloody Sunday

The Troubles

The conflict which became known as The Troubles is widely regarded as having started in Derry with the Battle of the Bogside. The Civil Rights movement had also been very active in the city. In the early 70’s the city was heavily militarized and there was widespread civil unrest due to the economic, political, and social discrimination that existed in the region. Several districts in the city constructed barricades to control access and prevent the forces of the state from entering.

Violence eased towards the end of the Troubles in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Irish journalist Ed Maloney claims in “The Secret History of the IRA” that republican leaders there negotiated a de facto ceasefire in the city as early as 1991. Whether this is true or not, the city did see less bloodshed by this time than Belfast or other localities.

The Good Friday Agreement — Good Friday, 10 April 1998

The Troubles finally subsided significantly with the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement

The Good Friday Agreement or Belfast Agreement was a major political development in the Northern Ireland peace process of the 1990s. Northern Ireland’s present devolved system of government is based on the Agreement. The Agreement also created a number of institutions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as well as between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.

The Agreement is made up of two inter-related documents, both agreed to in Belfast on Good Friday, 10 April 1998:

  • a multi-party agreement by most of Northern Ireland’s political parties;
  • an international agreement between the British and Irish governments (the British-Irish Agreement).

The Agreement set out a complex series of provisions relating to a number of areas including:

  • The status and system of government of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. (Strand 1)
  • The relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. (Strand 2)
  • The relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. (Strand 3)

Issues relating to civil and cultural rights, decommissioning of weapons, justice and policing were central to the Agreement.

The Agreement was approved by voters across the island of Ireland in two referendums held on 22 May 1998:

  • In Northern Ireland, voters were asked whether they supported the multi-party agreement.
  • In the Republic of Ireland, voters were asked whether they would allow the state to sign the agreement and allow necessary constitutional changes to facilitate it.
  • The people of both jurisdictions needed to approve the Agreement in order to give effect to it.

The Derry City Government

The local district council is Derry City Council, which consists of five electoral areas:

  • Cityside,
  • Northland,
  • Rural,
  • Shantallow and
  • Waterside.

The council of 30 members is re-elected every four years. As of the 2011 election, the following leaders were elected as Council members:

  • 14 Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) members — Catholic Nationalists,
  • 10 Sinn Féin — Catholic Nationalists,
  • 05 Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) — Protestant Unionists, and
  • 01 Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) — Protestant Unionists.

The mayor and deputy mayor are elected annually by councillors.

The local authority boundaries correspond to the Foyle constituency of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the Foyle constituency of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

In European Parliament elections, it is part of the Northern Ireland constituency.


Derry City BridgeDerry is characterized by its distinctively hilly topography The River Foyle forms a deep valley as it flows through the city, making Derry a place of very steep streets and sudden, startling views.

The original walled city of Derry lies on a hill on the west bank of the River Foyle. In the past, the river branched and enclosed this wooded hill as an island; over the centuries, however, the western branch of the river dried up and became a low-lying and boggy district that is now called the Bogside.

Today, modern Derry extends considerably north and west of the city walls and east of the river. The half of the city the west of the Foyle is known as the Cityside and the area east is called the Waterside. The Cityside and Waterside are connected by the Craigavon Bridge and Foyle Bridge, and by a foot bridge in the centre of the city called Peace Bridge. The district also extends into rural areas to the southeast of the city.


This much larger city, however, remains characterized by the often extremely steep hills that form much of its terrain on both sides of the river. A notable exception to this lies on the north-eastern edge of the city, on the shores of Lough Foyle, where large expanses of sea and mudflats were reclaimed in the middle of the 19th century. Today, these slob lands are protected from the sea by miles of sea walls and dikes. The area is an internationally important bird sanctuary, ranked among the top 30 wetland sites in the UK.

Other important nature reserves lie at Ness Country Park, 10 miles (16 km) east of Derry; and at Prehen Wood, within the city’s south-eastern suburbs.


Derry has, like most of Ireland, a temperate maritime climate according to the Köppen climate classification system. Typically, 27 nights of the year will report an air frost, while at least 1mm of precipitation are reported for an average 170 days.

The lowest temperature recorded at was −11 °C (12.2 °F) on 27 December 1995.


After a very long period of Protestant control and Government sanctioned discriminatory practices (politically, socially, and economically) against the native Irish Catholic minority, this demographics have changed drastically.

Today, Irish Nationalist Catholics hold the majority in both Derry City and Derry County.

Despite a long period of economic and political discrimination, Irish Catholic leaders have chosen to work with the Protestant minority in trying to bring the two traditions togethers.

InclusionConcerted efforts have been made by local community, church and political leaders from both traditions to redress the problem. A conference to bring together key actors and promote tolerance was held in October 2006. The Rt Rev. Dr Ken Good, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, said he was happy living on the cityside and stated: “I feel part of it. It is my city and I want to encourage other Protestants to feel exactly the same“.

Support for Protestants in the district has been strong from the former SDLP city Mayor Helen Quigley. Cllr Quigley has made inclusion and tolerance key themes of her mayoralty. The Mayor Helen Quigley said it is time for “everyone to take a stand to stop the scourge of sectarian and other assaults in the city.


Derry is renowned for its architecture. This can be primarily ascribed to the formal planning of the historic walled city of Derry at the core of the modern city. This is centered on the Diamond with a collection of late Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian buildings maintaining the gridlines of the main thoroughfares (Shipquay Street, Ferryquay Street, Butcher Street and Bishop Street) to the City Gates.

St Columb’s Cathedral does not follow the grid pattern reinforcing its civic status. This Church of Ireland Cathedral was the first post-Reformation Cathedral built for an Anglican church. The construction of the Roman Catholic St Eugene’s Cathedral in the Bogside in the 19th-century was another major architectural addition to the city. The more recent infill buildings within the walls are of varying quality and in many cases these were low quality hurriedly constructed replacements for 1970s bomb damaged buildings. The Townscape Heritage Initiative has funded restoration works to key listed buildings and other older structures.

St. Columb’s Church of Ireland Cathedral        and        St. Eugene’s Roman Catholic Cathedral

Two Cathedrals

In the three centuries since their construction, the city walls have been adapted to meet the needs of a changing city. The best example of this adaptation is the insertion of three additional gates  — Castle Gate, New Gate and Magazine Gate  — into the walls in the course of the 19th century. Today, the fortifications form a continuous promenade around the city centre, complete with cannon, avenues of mature trees and views across Derry.

Historic buildings within the city walls include St Augustine’s Church, which sits on the city walls close to the site of the original monastic settlement; the copper-domed Austin’s department store, which claims to the oldest such store in the world; and the imposing Greek Revival Courthouse on Bishop Street.

The red-brick late-Victorian Guildhall, also crowned by a copper dome, stands just beyond Shipquay Gate and close to the river front.

There are many museums and sites of interest in and around the city, including the following:

  • Foyle Valley Railway Centre,
  • Amelia Earhart Centre And Wildlife Sanctuary,
  • Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall,
  • Ballyoan Cemetery,
  • The Bogside,
  • Numerous murals by the Bogside Artists,
  • Derry Craft Village,
  • Free Derry Corner,
  • O’Doherty Tower (now home to part of the Tower Museum),
  • Guildhall,
  • Harbour Museum,
  • Museum of Free Derry,
  • Chapter House Museum,
  • Workhouse Museum,
  • Nerve Centre,
  • St. Columb’s Park and Leisure Centre,
  • St Eugene’s Cathedral,
  • Creggan Country Park,
  • Millennium Forum, and
  • Foyle and Craigavon bridges.

The city has seen a large boost to its economy in the form of tourism over the last few years[citation needed]. Cheap flights offered by budget airlines have enticed many people to visit the city. Tourism mainly focuses around the pubs, mainly those of Waterloo Street[citation needed]. Other attractions include museums, a vibrant shopping centre and trips to the Giant’s Causeway, which is approximately 50 miles (80 km) away, though poorly connected by public transport. Lonely Planet called Londonderry the fourth best city in the world to see in 2013.[107]

Future projects include the Walled City Signature Project, which intends to ensure that the city’s walls become a world class tourist experience.[108] The Ilex Urban Regeneration Company is charged with delivering several landmark redevelopments. It has taken control of two former British Army barracks in the centre of the city. The Ebrington site is nearing completion and is linked to the city centre by the new Peace Bridge.

Foyle Bridge

The central cantilever span of this bridge is the longest in all of Ireland at 234 metres (767 ft), and the whole suspended bridge structure including the approach spans is also the longest in Ireland at 866 metres (2839 ft).

It crosses the River Foyle to the north of the city, and forms only the second of three bridges linking the city centre to the Waterside, the others being the Craigavon Bridge and the Peace Bridge walkway.