Derry or Londonderry?
Officially (in terms of current legislation) the city and county are named Londonderry, the local government authority that administers the city is Derry City and Strabane District Council and the airport that serves it is called City of Derry.
By tradition, in 546 AD, the church of Doire [anglicised as Derry] Calgach, “the oak wood of Calgach”, was founded by St Columcille, also known as St Columba, on the crest of a small, wooded hill on the west bank of the River Foyle. The city of Londonderry, a settlement funded by the city of London, was then established on this site by royal charter of James I on 29 March 1613. This charter also defined and established a new county which was also called Londonderry.
Today, it is a matter of personal preference to refer to the city and county as either Derry or Londonderry. For example, the local newspaper established as the Londonderry Journal on 3 June 1772 continued as the Derry Journal from 22 March 1880.
Family historians in the United States and Canada soon realise that Derry or Londonderry as a place of origin of their ancestor can refer to the city, the county or port of departure. At the turn of the 19th century the catchment area of port of Londonderry for emigrants departing Ireland were Counties Londonderry, Donegal and Tyrone and to a lesser extent northwest Antrim and north Fermanagh. In theory, an ancestor with an address of Derry or Londonderry could have originated in this wider area. Derry was the major emigration port for northwest Ireland, i.e. the departure point for the peoples of counties Derry, Donegal and Tyrone, from c. 1680 to 1939.
From 1861 right through to 1939 ocean-going liners called at Moville (Donegal), in the deeper waters of Lough Foyle, some 18 miles downstream from Derry, to pick up emigrants who were ferried from Derry in paddle tenders. Hence in passenger manifests for this time period Londonderry and Moville are interchangeable as Moville, the embarkation point for emigrants, was effectively the outport for Londonderry.
The city’s coat of arms (granted 1613) can also be controversial. The upper part of the Arms, the red cross of St. George and the sword of St. Paul, are the original arms of the city of London. The lower part displays a castle and a skeleton sitting on a mossy stone. The skeleton is believed to represent a Norman knight, Walter de Burgo, who was held captive by William de Burgo, Earl of Ulster, in a dungeon at Greencastle (Donegal) where he starved to death in 1332. The castle on the Arms is believed to be Greencastle which was built in 1305 by the ‘Red Earl’, Richard de Burgo, to protect the approaches to Lough Foyle and Derry. In the early years of the 14th century the Anglo-Normans acquired a tentative foothold in Inishowen (Donegal) and Derry.
Whatever you call the city – Derry, Londonderry or Derry/Londonderry – you can be certain of one thing; it has many interesting stories to tell. During the City of Culture celebrations in 2013 the city was often referred to as LegenDerry.