Derry History


Early History of Derry

Traces of prehistoric civilisation are to be found in County Derry today in the Lower Bann Valley near Maghera in the form of Megalithic Stones and Sweat Houses which are thought, amongst other medicinal uses, to have been for the purpose of enhancing psychedelic trips with the use of magic mushrooms.Later, St.Columba introduced Christianity and he established a monastery in Derry in the middle of the 6th century. His settlement was burned down seven times by Norse invaders who had a base in Loch Foyle. These Vikings were later driven out by the Inishowen chief, Aed Finlaith, who went on to become High King of Ireland. Centuries later, Aed’s descendant fled from Rathmullan in Inishowen in 1607 in the Flight of the Earls and gave way to the English government who took this perfect opportunity to put their own most ambitious plans into action. More than 3 million acres of land were taken over and Irish landowners who had submitted to the Crown in the past and were not seen as traitors were allowed to stay, but lost much of their land to the planters. Those who could not prove they had submitted to the Crown were driven out.

The arrival of the English, however, may not have been entirely unwelcome to the Irish peasantry of that day who had few rights and were counted as being amongst the poorest in Europe. Derry then became the most important strategic point in Ireland in the Tudor wars against the native Irish and it became a hub in the Ulster Plantation which later led to the founding of Belfast as the capital of Ulster. This was around the same time of the plantation or settlement of Virginia in the United States. Shortly after Derry was established in 1608, James I of England granted Derry in 1613 to the citizens of London who laid out the new city, built stout walls and brought in Protestant Settlers, mostly from England and the borders of Scotland. There was also a good smattering of colonisation from the Highlands of Scotland, mainly in Antrim and Donegal, of Gaelic-speaking settlers. They brought their own traditional customs, mainly in the form of music mainly pipe,  that have persisted in Northern Ireland till this day. Part of this plantation involved concerted Religious Suppression of native Irish customs, language and religion through the introduction of Penal Laws. To comply with these penal laws, Catholics were obliged to pay a tithe or 10% of their annual income to the Established Church (the Church of Ireland) if they refused to convert. This tithe was also liable to be paid by followers of other non-establishment churches such as Presbyterians or Quakers.These Penal Laws continued from 1727 until 1829 before Catholic Emancipation and prohibited those of the Catholic faith.

  • being members of parliament
  • bearing arms
  • owning a horse worth more than £5
  • being apprentice to a gunsmith
  • being educated abroad
  • receiving a degree from a University
  • practising law
  • acquiring land from a Protestant
  • first-born inheritance of family property
  • acting on a jury
  • taking more than two apprentices

As well as these prohibitions, unregistered Catholic priests were liable to:

  • be branded with a red-hot iron
  • be castrated

In a backlash against this kind of suppression, Derry was unsuccessfully besieged several times in the 17th century including notably during the 1641 Uprising and St. Columba’s (Anglican) Cathedral, originally built in 1633, contains many relics of the Siege of Derry of 1688-89.For the next hundred years, Derry failed to develop as a city and by the mid 1700s threatened to be overshadowed by Strabane in County Tyrone as the main centre for the North West. Strabane was to be linked up with a canal system that led directly to Belfast and, with the support of the Duke of Abercorn, there was much opposition to the building of a bridge across the Foyle. The absence of such a bridge cut off Derry from the rest of the Province. It is perhaps a mark of the undue subservience towards aristocracy at the time that when the bridge, which became the making of Derry, got built eventually it became named after the Earl of Craigavon.

More Recent History of Derry

During the 1800s Derry increased rapidly in size, mainly due to influxes into the Bogside of impoverished and famine-struck people from the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal. Calamities which caused this influx included the introduction of the Whiskey Tax and the Famine. This influx into Derry was a major factor in the increasing affluence of only a portion of the citizenry of the city and most of the Donegal migrants did not stay for long on their Way West. They emigrated in large numbers from Derry Port, for example 30,000 people over a 5-year period, which became one of the main emigration ports in Northern Ireland and most of this emigration was on the McCorkell Line. Not all of the traffic was going West and the exodus to Australia and New Zealand at one point was such that for some time New Zealand was officially known as New Ulster. For a fuller account of the history of Derry up till the twentieth century, visit History of Derry and More History of Derry. Londonderry also served during World War II as the Canadian and U.S.naval base  in Ireland for patrol against German U-boats in the North Atlantic. Many romances took place between local Derry girls and US sailors as well as family connections, customs and alliances that continue to this day from then and from even older times:

A civil rights campaign seeking equal rights for Roman Catholics was inaugurated in Ulster in 1968 and in 1969 street violence broke out in Derry. The most notorious incident became known as Bloody Sunday and the results from the official Saville Enquiry are still being awaited twenty years on. Intermittent disturbances into the 1980s were characterised by the ongoing use of firearms and bombs and were organised by the Derry Brigade of the Provisional IRA. Sectarian attacks have become almost a thing of the past now since the implementation of the Good Friday peace agreement. However, over recent years there has been a gradual redistribution of the population by religion in Derry City. The two main populations of Derry live in Different Sides of the City, with the Catholic population living now mainly in the Cityside (West of the Foyle) and the Protestant population living mainly in the Waterside. Notwithstanding this physical separation by neighbourhood, both sides of the community participate freely in the active cultural and social life that has been the Derry tradition which includes the:

Growth of the modern city dates from the 1850s when Linen Shirt making became important. Clothing manufacture (now utilising both natural and synthetic fibres) continues to be a significant industry. Other local factories process foods and manufacture chemicals and other light industrial products. A comprehensive modernisation program has resulted in extensive redevelopment within the old city of Londonderry. Several industrial estates have also been established at the mouth of the River Foyle of which the largest of these is DuPont textiles, along with new outlying residential areas and a second bridge across the Foyle.


10 responses to “Derry History

  1. Don MacFarlane

    April 8, 2013 at 8:31 am

    From Simon Schama

    ‘History is written not so much to revere the Dead as to instruct the Living’.

  2. donfad

    June 12, 2011 at 4:41 pm

  3. Don MacFarlane

    April 10, 2009 at 5:48 am

    The Faithful Steward
    from Derry Journal 1oth April 2009

    The Faithful Steward left Derry for Philadelphia in July 1785 with a cargo of linen, copper coins and a full complement of 285 passengers. After an uneventful transAtlantic voyage, she hit a sandbank in good weather one hundred yards from shore near Coin Beach at the entrance to Delaware Bay. All but 68 of the passengers were unable to swim to shore and were lost. Amongst these were 48 members of the Lee family, distantly related to General Robert E. Lee. Similar to the infamous Pomona shipwreck, none of the crew lost their lives but there was no official enquiry.the crew lost their lives

  4. Don MacFarlane

    March 16, 2009 at 10:08 am

    Courtesy of Kathleen

    Attached are lists of people who sailed from Londonderry in 1767, arrived in South Carolina, United States 28 Dec 1767 and a list of passengers was taken and presented to court 5 Jan 1768.

    Here is a site concerning the surname FLINT/FLYNT

    On this page there is more description of where the early lines (except mine) come from that entered the U.S. early:

    After I’ve received the papers that prove John FLINT that died in Caldwell County, Kentucky is the same as the soldier who enlisted in the Revolutionary War from Craven County (Camden District) South Carolina, I will update his page

    Then I’ll need to create a page for his mother so that I can list information about the land she received and sold, etc

  5. Don MacFarlane

    January 9, 2009 at 7:14 am

    Yet Another Ulster-Hebridean connection

    Angus MacDonald de Yle, second son of Sir Angus Mor MacDonald of the Isles, came into his inheritance only after his elder brother, Alexander de Yle, forfeited his by siding with Balliol against Robert the Bruce. Angus, on the other hand, was a staunch friend of Bruce even during his misfortunes and he fought at Bannockburn.

    Angus married Agnes, daughter of Sir Guy O’Cahan of Limavady and Dungiven (County Derry) in Northern Ireland. She brought a troop of Ulsterman over with her as part of her dowry. Notable amongst these is thought to be the Beatons who are Irish by extraction. Hence it was Ulster blood that perpetuated the Lord of the Isles lineage. Sir John de Yle, Lord of the Isles, son of Angus MacDonald and Agnes O’Cahan (O’Kane) later married Margaret Stewart, daughter of King Robert II after being granted papal dispensation

  6. donfad

    October 30, 2008 at 10:53 am

    Derry largely escaped from the turmoil of 1798 and the Defender/United Irishmen movement. The one exception was the commotion caused by the capture of Wolfe Tone when he attempted to land with a French expeditionary force in Lough Swilly at Rathmullan. Nonetheless and because of the close proximity to County Tyrone which had a very active Defender movement, the following excerpts from Prof. James H.Murphy’s book (de Paul University, Chicago) are of general interest.

    ‘All three principal dominations were responsible for rural unrest and so agrarian protest was overlaid by sectarian tensions. The Peep O’ Day Boys, who arose in the mid 1780s, resented the rising power of Catholics in the linen industry and on the land. In response, the Catholic Defenders were formed and they soon spread from South Ulster. Local tensions came to a head in an affray at the Diamond in Loughgall in 1795 that coincided with the formation of a new Protestant organisation, the Orange Order.

    In 1791, the Society of United Irishmen was formed in Dublin and Belfast. By 1793 they were at odds with the Whigs over the latter’s support for war with France. The mainly Presbyterian United Irishmen movement forged ties with the Catholic Defenders in sixteen counties, mostly in Ulster, Connaught, Leinster and Dublin. The Defenders had by then evolved into a fully-fledged political society with a coherent, radical, middle-class leadership, especially in Ulster. Schoolmasters, innkeepers and middling farmers were prominent as were members of the handful of really successful Catholic families in Ulster. These latter often provided closer links with the United Irishmen movement as the Orange Order grew.

    The year 1794 saw compulsory recruitment for a new government, defensive force, the Militia, designed to replace troops withdrawn for war with France. There was a certain amount of infiltration of the new force by the United Irishmen and Defenders, provoking a series of courts-martial. In 1796, the United Irishmen sought to mobilise an armed force to overawe the government into reform. Their ranks increased greatly and in Ulster grew to 117,917. The government responded to the mounting crisis with the formation of the Yeomanry. This was a part-time policing force organised by the gentry for local service (a bit like the notorious B-Specials of the twentieth century – my comment, not that of Prof. Murphy). The government also established an informal alliance with the Orange Order. By 1797, Orangemen were joining the Yeomanry en masse and not simply as individuals. The Orange Order was to prove an invaluable counter-revolutionary ally for the government, frustrating communication between strongholds of the United Irishmen and the Defenders’.

  7. donfad

    March 17, 2008 at 9:46 am

    ‘Why connect Hebridean and Northern Irish’?

    1. The Northern Irish and Americans have ‘made a big thing’ of the Ulster-Scots or Scots-Irish connection. The received version of a Lowland Scots plantation deletes from history the importance of Hebrideans in the settlement of Ulster. Notably, Donegal and North Antrim were largely settled by Gaelic-speaking Hebrideans, not Lowland Scots.
    2. The experiences of Clearances and Improvements were shared by Irish and Hebrideans but not by Lowland Scots, yet their reactions to hard times were very different.
    3. The clan allegiances were strongest in the Highlands, not in Ireland or Lowland Scotland, and this had a marked effect upon patterns of emigration. In particular, Hebridean emigrants were highly prized in British North America in a way that Irish were not.
    4. Allegiances to the British Empire and the Union were markedly different between the two places and recruitment to British Regiments had disproportionate numbers of Hebrideans. Chieftains raised their own regiments and took the ‘youngest son’ as part-payment of rent.
    5. Patterns of transportation of convicts were markedly different and for different reasons.

    These and other examples of historical anomalies in how people of similar ethnic origin reacted, were treated and behaved during the so-called period of post-Enlightenment can all be placed within the context of different forms of national identity, from irredentism at one extreme to cosmopolitanism at the other.

  8. donfad

    December 17, 2007 at 9:45 am

    Three tribes of ancient Ulster have been identified. Tradition lists three main groups in Ireland, the Érainn, the Cruthin and the Gaels. The Érainn have given their name to the island, Éire in Irish while the English language has made it Ire-land. In early historic times we know that the people of mid-Down and the Glens of Antrim were Érainn.

    The second major tribe, the Cruthin, may have come to Ireland from Britain. They once held the north and east, from North Derry below Benevenagh to just north of Newry in the Mournes.

    The third tribe, the Manaigh, are also likely to be connected to a tribe from Britain.

  9. londonderry

    October 14, 2007 at 11:35 pm

    Royal Navy Officers (1793-1815) from Derry.

    ALEXANDER, Commander Norton Butler (RN 1808), a son of a Co. Londonderry family.

    DAWSON, Rear-Admiral John (1760-1836), a son of Sarah Downing of Co. Londonderry. Irish Sea Fencible service, 1804.

    GRAVES, Rear-Admiral John (d.1811), born Co. Londonderry, one of the four RN Graves brothers.

    GRAVES, Rear-Admiral Richard (d.1836), born Co. Londonderry, one of the four RN Graves brothers.

    GRAVES, Admiral Samuel (d.1802) , born Co. Londonderry, one of the four RN Graves brothers. Commander-in-Chief of the British Fleet in the American War of Independence when defeated at Chesapeake Bay.

    GRAVES, Admiral Sir Thomas (1747?-1814), born Co. Londonderry, one of the four RN Graves brothers. Second-in-command to Admiral Horation Nelson in the Battle of Copenhagen.

    JONES, Admiral Theobald (1790-1868), born Dublin to a Co. Derry family.

    MARTIN, Admiral of the Fleet Sir George (1764-1847), a grandson of Arabella Dawson of Co. Derry.

    ROWLEY, Admiral Sir Charles (1770-1845), a grandson of Arabella Dawson of Co. Derry .

  10. londonderry

    October 14, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    You may know a battalion of Huguenots fought with King Billy at the siege of Derry and the Battle of the Boyne (they were not all lace-makers). This may be part of the the reason why they brought the catastrophe of the St Bartholomew’s Massacre down on their own heads (quite apart from the fact the King of France didn’t like them anyway). If the Huguenot was a lace-maker, he is more likely to have settled in Lisburn in County Antrim where there was a colony of them as Lisburn was the linen-centre of Ireland. He may have been sent on to Derry it’s true to help out. If he changed his name it was just for convenience as Huguenots were highly regarded in Ulster and he would not have needed to disguise his origins.


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