Named as ‘One of the Top Ten Cities in the World to visit in 2013’ by the Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in Travel Guide 2013’, Derry-Londonderry, is a city pulsing with life and resonant with centuries of heritage. The city is compact and easy to explore. There are great walking opportunities along the almost fully intact 400 year-old walls. Within the walls is a progressive, dynamic arts environment where new writing, film and dramatic arts flourish. The population is one of the youngest in Europe and as such there are plenty of lively pubs, world-class restaurants and an impressive arts and music scene to discover.
A brief history of Derry/ Londonderry
It is the Irish Saint Columba or Colmcille, who is generally credited with establishing a monastery here in 546AD. The original site of the city was covered in oak trees, so it was named Daire, an old Irish word for Oak grove.
Derry was an important religious centre, but also a seat of political power and a strategically important place. Its next period of growth was during the 12th and 13th centuries, when the Gaelic Cenel Eogain took control of the area.
There are records of sporadic raids by the invading Anglo-Normans and by the 14th century the city was granted to the de Burgos of Inishowen. De Burgos was starved to death in a Greencastle Dungeon in 1332 and is represented as a skeleton on the City’s coat of arms today. The Normans only had a weak hold in the North West of Ireland and so although the town retained its importance as a religious centre, its development stagnated in the late medieval period.
By the mid 16th century the Elizabethan Government of England was seeking to subdue Ireland. Derry, located on the Foyle River, between the two most powerful kingdoms of the O’Neills of Tyrone and the O’Donnells of Donegal, would become a lynchpin in the conflict.
The rebellion of the Earl of Tyrone led to the landing of an English force under Sir Henry Dowcra at Derry in 1600. The defeat of the rebellion was followed in 1607 by the Flight of the Earls, where the leading Gaelic families left Ireland. This ‘Flight’ together with the destruction of the city during the O’Doherty Rebellion of 1608, left the way clear for the British Crown to test a new means of control – Plantation.
The Plantation of Ulster would fundamentally change the nature of the Province. Derry was planted by the city of London, and its name was changed to Londonderry. Between 1613 and 1618 the city walls were built and are still more or less intact some 400 years later. Londonderry became the ‘citadel’ of the Plantation, and was besieged on a number of occasions in the coming century – most famously in the Great Siege of 1689 when the city was embroiled in a European-wide war. Some of the cannon used in the siege can still be found on the city walls today.
In the 18th and 19th centuries the city gradually expanded. Again its location would play a crucial role, as it became the transport and communications hub for the entire North West, including the main port of emigration from the north of the island. In the 20th century conflict would again dominate the history of the city. Derry played a key role in the Battle of the Atlantic in World War Two. By the 1960s there was growing unrest in the city, and this would descend into the Troubles of the late 20th Century. Today, the city is undergoing regeneration and development, and its heritage is the foundation for this. The award of being the UK’s first City of Culture in 2013 shows how far the city has come.
For further information on the town’s history contact:
Heritage and Museum Service, Derry City Council
If you want to read more about Derry/ Londonderry, click on the PDF below: