Derry (Londonderry) in detail

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Derry & Londonderry

Derry-Londonderry is a city with two names. Nationalists always use Derry, and the 'London' part of the name is often crossed through on road signs. Some staunch Unionists insist on Londonderry, which is still the city's (and county's) official name. All the same, most people, regardless of political persuasion, call it Derry in everyday speech.

The settlement was originally named Doíre Calgaigh (Oak Grove of Calgach), after a pagan warrior-hero; in the 10th century it was renamed Doíre Colmcille (Oak Grove of Columba), in honour of the 6th-century saint who established the first monastic settlement here.

In the following centuries, the name was shortened and anglicised to Derrie or Derry. Then in 1613, in recognition of the Corporation of London's role in the 'plantation' of northwest Ulster with Protestant settlers, Derry was granted a royal charter and the city was renamed Londonderry.

A new County Londonderry was created from what was originally County Coleraine, along with parts of Tyrone and Antrim; unlike the city, there has never been an officially sanctioned county called Derry. Nevertheless, those with nationalist leanings, including the county's Gaelic football team, prefer to use County Derry.

Traditionally, road signs in Northern Ireland point to Londonderry and those in the Republic point to Derry (or Doíre in Irish). Attempts by the council to change the city's official name to Derry were foiled by a 2007 High Court ruling that the city's legal name could only be changed by legislation or royal prerogative. In 2015, Derry and Strabane District Council again voted in favour of a name change, but for the time being the clunky 'Derry-Londonderry' moniker remains the destination announced on trains and buses and used by most of the city's businesses.

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Tragically echoing Dublin's Bloody Sunday of November 1920, when British security forces shot dead 14 spectators at a Gaelic football match in Croke Park, Derry's Bloody Sunday was a turning point in the history of the Troubles.

On Sunday 30 January 1972, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association organised a peaceful march through Derry in protest against internment without trial, which had been introduced by the British government the previous year. Some 15,000 people marched from Creggan through the Bogside towards the Guildhall, but they were stopped by British Army barricades at the junction of William and Rossville Sts. The main march was diverted along Rossville St to Free Derry Corner, but a small number of youths began hurling stones and insults at the British soldiers.

The exact sequence of events was disputed, but it has since been established that soldiers of the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment opened fire on unarmed civilians. Fourteen people were shot dead (13 outright; one who died four-and-a-half months later from his injuries), some of them shot in the back; six were aged just 17. A similar number were injured, most by gunshots and two from being knocked down by armoured personnel carriers. The Catholic population of Derry, who had originally welcomed the British troops as a neutral force protecting them from Protestant violence and persecution, now saw the army as the enemy and occupier. The ranks of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) swelled with a fresh surge of volunteers.

The Widgery Commission, set up in 1972 to investigate the affair, failed to find anyone responsible. None of the soldiers who fired at civilians, nor the officers in charge, were brought to trial or even disciplined; records disappeared and weapons were destroyed.

Long-standing public dissatisfaction with the Widgery investigation led to the massive Bloody Sunday Inquiry, headed by Lord Saville, which sat from March 2000 till December 2004. The inquiry heard from 900 witnesses, received 2500 witness statements and allegedly cost British taxpayers £400 million; its report (available on www.official-documents.gov.uk) was finally published in June 2010.

Lord Saville found that 'The firing by soldiers of 1 PARA on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury. What happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased nationalist resentment and hostility towards the Army and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed. Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded, and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland.'

Following publication of the report, Prime Minister David Cameron publicly apologised on behalf of the UK government, describing the killings as 'unjustified and unjustifiable'. In 2010, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) launched a murder inquiry into the deaths, which remains ongoing. In 2019, Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service announced its decision to bring murder and attempted charges against a member of the Parachute Regement, known as Soldier F.

The events of Bloody Sunday inspired rock band U2's most overtly political song, 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' (1983), and are commemorated in the Museum of Free Derry, the People's Gallery Murals and the Bloody Sunday Memorial, all in the Bogside.