The very name of this city is a source of contention and division, with Catholics using the term Derry and Protestants Londonderry. Following the partition of the island in 1921, Derry-Londonderry became a border city. In the mid 1960s Derry-Londonderry became a focal point for the nascent civil rights movement, which aimed to address systematic discrimination in voting procedures that ensured a Protestant majority in the city, despite its population being majority Catholic. Civil rights marchers met with increasingly physical resistance from Protestant loyalists, who felt the movement was a cover for Irish republicanism, with hostility escalating throughout 1969. That year the traditional loyalist marching season set off days of rioting between Catholics and Protestants, which became known as the Battle of the Bogside. In response, the British government sent British Army troops onto the streets throughout Northern Ireland. The introduction in 1971 of internment without trial (of people suspected of paramilitary involvement) targeted Catholics almost exclusively (out of a total of 1,981, only 107 were Protestant/Loyalist), and the policy united the Catholic community against the presence of the British Army. It was a march protesting against internment that brought about Derry-Londonderry’s darkest day. On 30 January 1972, approximately 15,000 people gathered to march through the city, but were stopped by British troops. Unrest increased and within 30 minutes soldiers had shot dead 13 men, and another died later from his injuries. Bloody Sunday, as the incident became known, caused international revulsion and shock, and greatly increased support for the IRA, especially in Derry-Londonderry, Belfast and the border counties. In the decades since, the city has remained majority Catholic and recently concerns have been raised by Protestants about the city’s divisions. There is consensus that much work remains to be done, but concerted efforts are being made by local community, church and political leaders from both traditions to redress remaining divisions. In 2011, a peace bridge was opened that connected the majority Protestant and majority Catholic sides of the city, in an event with much local support from both sides.
The name of the city itself is a source of division among its inhabitants. The name Derry is derived from a Gaelic word “doíre”, which means oak grove; an oak leaf is incorporated in the city’s official emblem. In 1613, the city’s name was lengthened to Londonderry, due to the role that the Corporation of London had in the Protestant settlement of the place.
In 1984, Nationalists in the city council voted successfully to change their body’s official name from Londonderry City Council to Derry City Council. Unionists were infuriated, and they continue to insist on Londonderry as the prefix to the council’s name. Despite the actions of the Nationalists, Londonderry is the city’s (and county’s) official and legal name; it would require an Act of Parliament at Westminster to change either.
On radio and TV, to avoid offence, the term Derry-stroke-Londonderry is commonly used. Sometimes this is shortened to “Stroke City.” Road signs in the Republic of Ireland use the name Derry. Londonderry and “L’Derry” are used on road signs in Northern Ireland; however, the “London” part of the word Londonderry is often defaced.
The population of Derry City was 83,652 in the 2001 census (majority Catholic); making it the second largest city in Northern Ireland, and fourth largest on the island of Ireland. The Greater Derry area (that is, within about 32 km of the city) has a population of 237,000.
Derry-Londonderry is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in Ireland. The earliest historical references date to the sixth century, when a monastery was founded there by Saint Columba. Settlers, mostly Scotch Presbyterians and English Protestants (Anglicans) arrived in the 1600s as part of the plantation of Ulster, and built the fortified city with thick defensive walls. The aim was to settle Ulster with a population supportive of the Crown.
Derry-Londonderry is the last remaining city in the British Isles to be surrounded by defensive walls. It has the most complete series of medieval city walls in the islands. In December 1688, the gates of the city were shut against an advancing Catholic Ulster army of approximately 1,200 men. This was the beginning of the Siege of Derry. In April 1689, (Catholic) King James came to the city and called upon it to surrender. The King was rebuffed and the siege lasted until the end of July 1689. Ever since, this episode has been used by Protestants as a bogeyman-type threat against their being incorporated into a Catholic Ireland. Parades, bonfires, and celebration amongst the Protestant community in Northern Ireland continue to commemorate the defeat of King James on the Twelfth of July each summer.
In 1921, following the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the partition of Ireland, Derry-Londonderry became a border city. It is a city in the northwest part of the province of Northern Ireland, covering the west bank (Cityside; majority Catholic) and east bank (Waterside; majority Protestant) of the River Foyle. The city borders County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland, and there is much economic activity between the two.
Unlike other cities and towns in Northern Ireland, which had majority Protestant populations, Derry-Londonderry had a majority Catholic population. What distinguished Derry-Londonderry was the systemic gerrymandering of electoral boundaries and the use of business voting rights in local elections that enabled the Protestants to retain control of the city council and local administration. This was a major cause of Catholic grievances, which went unaddressed for several decades. Catholics were discriminated against throughout Northern Ireland, with Derry-Londonderry becoming a flashpoint of disputes.
Civil rights campaigns began in the mid 1960s as an attempt to draw attention to grievances felt by Catholics across Northern Ireland. This became a mass movement when public demonstrations were organized by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). Initial demonstrations happened without violence, and were opposed by (Protestant) Loyalists, who felt the campaign was a cover for Irish Republicans who wanted to end the Northern Ireland state rather than to reform it. Nonviolent protest was met with opposition that was increasingly physically violent.
A civil rights march organized for 5 October 1968 was banned in advance. When 400 people tried to proceed, in defiance of the ban, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) police, who were overwhelmingly Protestant, used batons to break up the march. The scenes were recorded by television cameras, and the subsequent news coverage sparked rioting in the city. Many people consider this event as the starting date of the Northern Ireland conflict: the “Troubles.”
A group called People’s Democracy marched from Belfast to Derry-Londonderry from 1 to 4 January 1969. On each day of the march, Loyalists confronted, jostled, and physically attacked the marchers. At no time did the RUC make any effort to prevent the attacks, one of which occurred in the Waterside area of Derry-Londonderry. Later that evening, members of the RUC attacked people and property in the Bogside (Catholic nationalist populated) area of the city, which sparked several days of serious rioting.
The way in which the police mishandled the march confirmed the opinion of many Catholics that the RUC could not be trusted to provide impartial policing in Northern Ireland, and it further alienated Catholics from any affiliation with the Northern Ireland state itself.
Civil unrest reached a peak in the summer of 1969. The traditional annual marching season sparked riots in Derry-Londonderry, but the worst rioting occurred in August, following an Apprentice Boys parade. After three days of rioting and violence between Catholics and the police, which became known as the Battle of the Bogside, the British Government at Westminster agreed that British Army troops would be deployed on the streets in Northern Ireland.
Many Catholic nationalists initially welcomed the British Army troops as a safeguard against their fears of Protestant pogroms. Meanwhile, many Unionist politicians resented the interference by the British Government in the affairs of Northern Ireland. Indeed, the introduction of British troops proved to be a significant development towards the establishment of direct rule of Northern Ireland by Westminster.
Internment without trial of people suspected of being members of illegal paramilitary groups was reintroduced to Northern Ireland in August 1971. From 1971 to 1975, under internment, a total of 1,981 people were detained: 1,874 were Catholic/Republican, while 107 were Protestant/Loyalist.
Internment united Catholics in their opposition to the presence of British Army troops and paved the way for resurgence of support for the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Until then, the IRA had been mostly dormant since the 1920s, with little popular support. After Bloody Sunday, this support would be highly increased.
Bloody Sunday refers to events that took place on Sunday 30 January 1972. A march was organized by NICRA to protest the policy of internment. Approximately 15,000 people took part in the march. British Army troops prevented the march from moving into the city centre, and the main body of the march then moved to “Free Derry Corner” in the Bogside for a rally. Some young men began throwing stones at soldiers nearby. Soldiers moved in to make arrests, and within 30 minutes they shot dead 13 men, and another died of his injuries.
The events of Bloody Sunday caused much shock and revulsion internationally. They also resulted in a further, dramatic increase in support for the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The IRA was very much in the ascent in some Catholic communities, particularly in Derry-Londonderry, Belfast, and border counties adjacent to the Republic of Ireland.
Immediately after the killings, there was a formal British Government inquiry, known as the Widgery Tribunal. This inquiry found no fault on the part of the soldiers, while stating that there was a “strong suspicion” that some of those killed “had been firing weapons or handling bombs.” The Widgery Tribunal had failed to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation, and those involved in the march provided evidence contrary to its findings.
In acknowledgment of Widgery’s inefficiencies, a new inquiry was launched in 1998. The Bloody Sunday Inquiry began in 2000 and did not conclude until 2005. It was one of the longest and most expensive in British legal history. The inquiry took evidence from 920 witnesses, lasted 433 days, and cost at least a quarter of billion dollars. The inquiry’s final report was published on 15 June 2010, five years after the investigation ended. That day, the Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron, made a statement to MPs in the House of the Lords. Almost forty years after that Sunday of 1972, Cameron, ‘on behalf of the government – indeed – on behalf of our country’, said: ‘The conclusions of this report are absolutely clear. There is no doubt. There is nothing equivocal. There are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong…I am deeply sorry.’
Recently, concerns have been raised by Protestants about the city’s divisions. Between 1971 and 1991, within Derry District Council Area overall, the Protestant population declined by 31 percent, while the Catholic population increased by 36 percent. More specifically, during the same time period, the Protestant population in the Cityside declined by 83 percent, while the Protestant population in the Waterside increased by 27 percent. Fewer than 500 Protestants now live in the Cityside, compared to 18,000 in 1969. The demographics suggest that the city is well on its way to becoming permanently divided between a Catholic-dominated Cityside and Protestant-dominated Waterside.
But a bright future seems to be forthcoming. Even though there is a consensus that much work remains, concerted efforts are being made by local community, church, and political leaders from both traditions to redress the problem. Some years ago, someone thought it would be a good idea to try to bridge the divide. The idea came to life on 26 June 2011: a 14-million-pound peace bridge officially opened to bring both communities together. Its aim: to show that Derry-Londonderry is taking great efforts to get over its troubled past.
Beyond these cross-community efforts, there are other reasons to believe that, bit by bit, this city is finally trying to transition from its troubled past to become a dynamic European city: Derry-Londonderry was the UK’s first city of culture in 2013; and Derry-Londonderry hosted the Fleadh Cheoil for the first time in Northern Ireland in 2013.
Divisions and tensions have remained below the surface in Derry-Londonderry for the past few years. Minor security alerts have been frequent as dissident paramilitaries remain active on both sides of the conflict here. Bombs are still regularly found, and most of the time deactivated by the Army.
However, 2019 witnessed some of the worst violence to hit this city in two decades. In January 2019, a bomb inside a van exploded outside a courthouse in the city centre, narrowly missing people walking by. Blamed on the New IRA, this was quickly followed by two additional hijackings of vans. In April, a Northern Ireland journalist, Lyra McKee, was shot dead while observing a riot in the Creggan area of Derry-Londonderry. Dissident republicans were once again blamed.
By October of this year, eighteen people had been shot in NI paramilitary style attacks over a twelve-month span, eleven of those occurring in Derry-Londonderry. While seemingly high this is less than the previous year, and the second lowest number of shootings in the past decade.
The city’s declining economy could be a reason for this. Official statistics show that in 2016 the employment rate in Derry-Londonderry City and Strabane area was just 55%. That is the lowest of any council area in Northern Ireland where the average employment rate is 69%, compared to the overall rate in the UK at 74%. A declining industrial sector and the failure to replace it with other growing sectors and industries can be attributed, causing Derry-Londonderry to struggle with gaining foreign investors. In May of 2019, it was announced that more than £100 million of government funding is to be spent to bolster the economy in this area. £50 million is to support and grow the area’s digital sector, while a further £55 million has been allotted to fund job creation and develop young people’s skills. This deal is a major boost for Derry-Londonderry and Strabane, and could prove transformational for the unification of the area.
There is a constant fear in Derry-Londonderry of the city being dragged back into the past. This is something that no one wants. While Brexit’s effect on this is indirect, the uncertainty negations have caused along with the absence of governance in NI has allowed the issue of rights and inequality between communities to surface, thus making deals such as the one issued in May 2019 all the more essential for the long-term growth of this city.