County Derry is home to the only completely walled city in Ireland, boasts spectacular beaches and coastline to the north, and ruggedly picturesque mountains to the south.
The history of County Derry and the City of Derry is complicated and is evident even in the naming of the city.
Londonderry vs Derry:
County Derry is one of the six counties of Ulster which are part of Northern Ireland. Derry is an anglicisation of the Irish word “Doire” which means oak wood, hence the county’s nickname of the Oak-Leaf county.
Both county and city are officially named Londonderry by the government of the United Kingdom. The “London-” prefix was officially added by James I in 1613.
In Northern Ireland today people who have a Unionist background favor the name Londonderry, while those who have Celtic Irish roots prefer to use the name Derry.
I grew up calling this city Derry.
An Old Walled City:
The walls of Derry were a significant factor in the Siege of Derry in the late 17th century. Let’s take a look at this city fortification from years gone by.
Derry is one of the oldest cities in Ireland, so wherever you wander in this ancient city, you are never too far from a little bit of history.
It is the only remaining completely walled city in all of Ireland.
The walls were built between 1613 and 1618 as a defense for Scottish planters who had recently settled the area.
In 1689 the Siege of Derry occurred when the town’s citizens were locked inside the thick stone walls for a period of 105 days and held captive by the army of James II. He was attempting to regain the English throne from his daughter and her husband William of Orange. The Royal Navy eventually arrived and freed the city.
The city claims Europe’s largest collection of cannons. In 2005 the 24 remaining cannons were fully restored.
The walls circle the inner city and provide a perfect vantage point for viewing the original Renaissance city plan.
When driving in County Derry or Londonderry, many road signs have been vandalized, with the London- prefix obscured. Irish nationalists who favor a united Ireland tend to use the name Derry. Unionists who prefer that Northern Ireland remain as part of the United Kingdom usually refer to the city and county as Londonderry.
Most Irish people born in the Republic of Ireland, grew up using the name County Derry not Londonderry. The Gaelic Athletic Assocation always uses the term Derry. A full explanation of this naming dispute can be found on Wikipedia.
The Bogside is a neighborhood outside the city walls of Derry. In the 1960’s and 1970’s this predominantly Catholic area was a focal point for unrest and political upheavel.
In 1969 riots raged in this area for 3 days as political tensions rose between the Catholic majority and the Protestant minority who held political control of the city. This is now known as the Battle of the Bogside.
In 1972 twenty-six civilians were gunned down by the British Army in the Bogside area on a day we now call Bloody Sunday.
The area is famous for art murals that commemorate “The Troubles” and Derry’s citizens’ struggle for civil rights. A new Museum of Free Derry is planned to tell the story of the city from the community’s perspective.
Now that the conflicts of the last century are over, peace murals can be found on the gables of Bogside homes.
Derry is a vibrant city and has won the coveted UK City of Culture 2013 award.
The River Foyle:
The River Foyle flows through Derry city and into Lough Foyle which forms the western border of the county.
From the Derry coast County Donegal can be seen across the waters.
Here is the view from County Donegal looking across to Magilligan Point in County Derry.
County Derry is situated on the northern coastline of the island of Ireland and boasts some amazing beaches.
Benone Strand stretches for seven miles along the northern coast of County Derry and is Ireland’s longest beach.
Benone Strand is sometimes called Downhill Strand since it is located near the small village of Downhill.
Downhill Demesne stands atop a cliff looking out over the vast ocean. It is the ruined remains of the 18th century mansion of Frederick Augustus Hervey, the Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry.
Mussenden Temple, lies on the grounds of the demesne and was built in 1785, as a summer library. Perched on the edge of a cliff 120 feet above the ocean, it was named to commemorate Hervey’s cousin Frideswide Mussenden.
Breathtaking views of the wild and rugged coastline lie to the east and west of the Temple. Cliff stabilization work was completed by the National Trust in 1997 to ensure this beautiful building was not lost due to the effects of cliff erosion.
Portstewart lies just 4 miles west of its more famous neighbor, the seaside town of Portrush in Co. Antrim. The town’s Victorian era promenade boasts an upper and lower level. On a clear day the eye can see all the way across the waters to the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal.
University of Ulster:
The town of Coleraine is merely 4 miles south of Portstewart and lies on the banks of the River Bann. It is home to the North Coast Campus of the University of Ulster.
Situated on 312 acres of landscaped parklands, the university campus is a perfect setting for promoting higher learning.
The Sperrin Mountains:
The Sperrin Mountains dominate the landscape of the southern part of County Derry.
In Auglish an ancient system of stone rows and circles lie undisturbed in the fields. Notches on the stones have a lunar alignment.
The main Derry to Belfast road travels through Glenshane Pass, high in the Sperrin Mountains. It literally means Sean’s Glen or Valley and was named for a late 17th and early 18th century highwayman. Glenshane Forest offers challenging treks through this spectacular mountain scenery.
Springhill House, a ‘plantation’ home dating back over 300 years, offers guided tours highlighted by stories of ‘Olivia’ the resident, friendly ghost. A beautiful walled garden and costume museum are also open to visitors.
Phil Coulter, the internationally renowned singer-songwriter was born in Derry. One of his most famous songs “The Town I Loved So Well” was written about his hometown.
Seamus Heaney, recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature, was born and raised in County Derry.
More information on County Derry is available through the following link, to help you plan a visit to this beautiful county.
Here’s the link for the other counties we have visited so far on our tour of Ireland, county-by-county:
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)