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:
- Londonderry Township, New Hampshire, US
- US Navcommsta Londonderry Alumni Association
- Feis USA
- Amelia Earhart Cottage
- Duffy’s Cut
- Scotch Irish
- Ancient Order of Hibernians
- Paddy Owen’s Regulars (69th PA Infantry)
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.