Derry or Londonderry?

There is a town in Northern Ireland that has an identity crisis. It doesn’t know whether to call itself Derry or Londonderry.  But why?

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The view from the Grianan of Aileach

After the dramatic sunset at Enniscrone, our next day took us east. We had one last stop before leaving the Republic of Ireland, a scenic hilltop called the Grianan of Aileach.

Atop the hill, we found a large stone fort. The exterior walls were in a ring 15 feet high, and once entering through a small gateway we found the interior containing terraced stone levels leading to the top of the walls. A small open field lay within, which presumably held barracks, storage, or other housing at the time of its building in the sixth or seventh century. Reconstruction occurred in the 1870s.

Regardless of the history, the fort had a timeless solidity and the view was splendid, leading downhill, and on to Derry/Londonderry.

* * *

(Note: I may get some of the next bit wrong.  To any British or Irish readers, if I screwed up, my apologies, and feel free to correct me in the comments.)

I suppose it’s possible that when folks think of that big green island called Ireland, they assume it’s all the same country.  In fact, it is not.

Most of the island, and all of my Ireland posts so far, fall into the independent Republic of Ireland. A smaller, roughly circular segment taking a bite out of the northeast corner is Northern Ireland, which in turn is one of the country states that make up the United Kingdom (AKA the British). England, Scotland, and Wales fill out the UK.  Northern Ireland is a historical accident, driven by the Brits trying to control Ireland, but not being entirely successful.

Part of this attempt included colonization, especially in the north, and many of the colonists followed the Protestant religion. Most of the resident Irish followed the Catholic religion. As a result there was a perfect storm, both political and religious, that has historically caused conflict in Northern Ireland and drives why Northern Ireland is a separate political entity from the Republic of Ireland.

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Although the hostilities that resulted in the Republic of Ireland gaining its independence occurred in the 1920s, they go way back. Consider the name Londonderry.  Traditionally the name of the burg is Derry (Doire, when first established).  In 1623, as an offshoot of colonization, they renamed the town Londonderry in honor of the London based livery companies that backed it. 500 years later this is still controversial, even though the town exists on the UK side of the border.  Officially it’s Londonderry, but most of the locals call it Derry (including the city council.)

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Fast forward from the 20s to 1969.  Although the nationalists (folks who’d like the whole of Ireland to be united) were in the majority, the unionists (folks loyal to the United Kingdom) were in control, thanks to gerrymandering and what Americans would call “the old boy network.”  Unemployment and overcrowding in nationalist areas led to disillusionment, marches, and a massive riot called the Battle of Bogside. This event triggered an ongoing problem that was called “the Troubles”, with the IRA and the British Army in the middle of it.  Derry/Londonderry, being on the UK side of the border but having a nationalist majority was a powder keg.  Many folks think Belfast was the center point of the Troubles.  But they had simply migrated from Derry/Londonderry over time, and by the early 1990s Belfast had taken center stage.

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It’s not all bad news. Eventually, the IRA and the Brits made peace.  New generations of kids are being born, and the segregation that so deeply separated the predominantly Catholic nationalists from the predominantly Protestant unionists isn’t always as strictly enforced.  Religious convictions aren’t as strong and close-minded. Folks tired of the violence, and while they love their country, they love their kids more and want them to be safe.

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Areas that used to be battlegrounds, or somewhere you wouldn’t dare go at night are now touristy.

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This is the pipe organ at city hall, AKA the Guildhall.  City hall was a regular target during the Troubles, and has since had extensive renovations.

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It’s not all rainbows and unicorns.  Politicians being politicians, stubbornness and ideology still build walls.  Northern Ireland’s Assembly hasn’t met since January 2017 due to a snit fit between parties.  (And we thought the US Congress was a mess.)

Hanging over it all, Brexit. Currently, the only thing that flags the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is a Welcome to Ireland sign with the speed limit in miles per hour (60) instead of kilometers per hour.  You don’t even have to slow down.  Brexit could change this, add border stops, create division.  They’ve discussed a “soft Brexit”, but it doesn’t seem to go anywhere.  Most of the people don’t want a hard border, but the politicians are more enamored of their ideology and egos than the overall good of the people.

Sounds uncomfortably familiar.

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Still, they’ve resolved bigger problems. People used to kill each other, now they’re merely acting like spoiled brats.  “If I can’t win everything, I won’t play.”  Seems like, if the grown-ups stand up and say enough is enough (and vote the hardcore ideologues, demagogues, and other riff-raff out), they can once again build bridges, and peace can replace the bad attitudes.

We can only hope.

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38 thoughts on “Derry or Londonderry?

  1. Great post, Dave! Politics and ideology aside, everything I’ve ever seen of Ireland and heard of it makes me want to go there. Your blog has certainly strengthened my desire to get over there someday!

    Thanks for another great post.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Politics is unavoidable and has been throughout history. In fact, politics is pretty much was caused history. Still, in a country as beautiful as Ireland, I am content just to stand and look around me and marvel at the beauty.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I think Derry has made a lot of progress towards solving its problems, at least until Brexit resolves itself. Derry has plenty of folks that live on one side of the border and work on the other – they’re not keen on a hard border. The assembly that’s not on meeting terms is in Belfast.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s still an uneasy peace in many ways, Dave. The divisions were deep and bitter and several centuries old. When the Good Friday Agreement put in place what was hoped to be an end to the violence and divisions, it was the result of a few brave and strong-minded politicians from both sides sitting down together and declaring there MUST be peace. But it is a fragile peace, and there are people on both sides more than willing to re-start the violence if the opportunity arises, and whatever solution for the border issue is put in place after Brexit just might be the catalyst for that. We are holding our breath and crossing our fingers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amazing how folks can hold a grudge for centuries. I can see how there’d be some folks who are still a bit pissy, maybe they lost loved ones in the conflict and forgiveness comes hard. It’s kind of up to the next generation to work past that. But in the meantime, is it too much to ask to accept your neighbors have different traditions?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You wouldn’t think so, Dave, but religion, especially, seems to bring out the worst in people. The differences between Catholics and Protestants seem ridiculously unimportant to me, but for many of them it’s the most important thing in the world, and something to kill for. History is full of that nonsense, unfortunately. You might possibly remember this post from a while ago: https://mickcanning.co/2017/06/08/the-great-sandwich-schism/

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Terrific post Dave. Really good photographs of a region totally unfamiliar to me and thanks for the history lesson of the region. Seems like everywhere on earth has some kind of violent history of some kind of nature.

    Love the first photograph which is really dreamy in its colors and vast expanse.

    P

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Peta. Unfortunately the violence seems to be a part of human nature that all too many humans like to feed, at the expense of others.

      That first picture didn’t really fit the overall post, but I liked it too much to not try to sneak it in.

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  4. I hope Brexit doesn’t cause an end to the open border. Maybe after another century or two, they can work out a relationship somewhat like Quebec has with Canada.
    One of my grandmothers was half Ulster Scots/Scotch-Irish/Scots-Irish (I don’t think historians reached a consensus even on those terms) and told us, her father’s people always defined themselves as British, and never as Irish, despite living in Antrim for centuries.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I have always wanted to visit northern Ireland, and it is good to know that it is now much more peaceful. Maybe we should all worry more about our kids being safe, and less about us being right. Might make for a better world for all of us!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. We visited in 2011 as Alie had relatives from the area. But our visit was over the strong objections of the company we used and driver we hired [both from the Republic]. Indeed, there were riots just two weeks before we visited, and restaurants and bars prohibited the wearing of “colors” so as to prevent fights. In the end, even our driver was glad we had made the trip, because as tense as it was, he could see major improvements from what it had been.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The whole Northern Ireland thing is a complete, unabated, unsweetened balls-up from the Leave campaign. The topic received absolutely zero airtime from them, and still now Boris and Rees-Mogg are gliding over it as if they’d soles made of butter and the whole world was covered in polished marble.

    Going back to something a bit less political (but not too much) have you seen Belfast’s peace walls?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I am alarmed at how much division there is in world politics these days. It is good to see that the IRA and Brits have opened their minds, begun accepting each others beliefs, and started thinking about future generations. We Americans could learn a lot from them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A lot of that “acceptance” was based on something called the “Good Friday Agreement”, negotiated back in 1998. The peace is still a bit tenuous, but at least for now it’s peace. I think much of the American divisions these days are driven and amplified by politicians to reinforce their own positions. They’re more interested in their own power than the overall good. Machiavelli would approve, but I can’t say I do.

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  9. Glad I caught up with your travel blog, Dave, and must say you’ve made a pretty good fist of this lively history lesson. It would be a catastrophe if Brexit was to upset the apple cart of the Good Friday Agreement. But there are many things in the world just at present we’re crossing our fingers about …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Dave, nice of you to drop in again. I’d have to wonder, if the Brexit thing goes sour, if that would trigger a sucessionist movement, and if that in turn that would trigger violence. Would the unionists be ok with the idea of just being expatriots? (I’d assume any sucession deal would require allowing them to stay British citizens.)

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  10. Ironic that no matter what the name of the country, that thing called politics never changes. Great third photo (which is also the lead photo). I see the spray painted “IRA” and accompanying poster for independence on the fence in your mural photo, but I’m intrigued by the art itself on the building’s facade. What is it depicting? A children’s call to arms?

    Like

  11. This was a phenomenal post, Dave. You covered a lot of ground and made it interesting to boot.
    By the way, we visited an “Irish Pub” last weekend in St. Cloud. I had a pint of Smithwicks, and thanks to you I pronounced it correctly. 😉
    You were right, I liked it. Quite a bit, actually. Thanks for the tip!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Christi. It’s always nice to be able to impart a bit of history without evoking snores. (Maybe that’s why we keep blogging – we can’t hear the snores!)
      Chances are the pub you stopped at was the same one I discovered Smithwicks in, but who knows how many Irish pubs St. Cloud has.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. If only adults would behave as well as they ask their children to, eh?

      I notice you’ve been catching up. Welcome back! Just a heads up, I just posted a new one; my take on the Legend of Giants Causeway.

      Like

  12. Pingback: The Road to Titanic – Plying Through Life

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