The Derry/Londonderry name dispute is one that often needs to be explained for good reason, so here is a look at the origins, cultural significance, and more.
The city of Derry is also commonly referred to as Londonderry, and for those visiting this fantastic place, it might seem a bit confusing.
This city has been the subject of a long-standing name dispute, and depending on who you speak to, you will hear both names being used.
The mere mention of either name can evoke strong emotions among its inhabitants, leaving visitors wondering which one to use. But which one is correct, and why are there two names for this city?
In this article, we will delve into the history behind the city with two names, and explore the different perspectives around it, so that you can understand why the name dispute is a symptom of the city’s complex past.
The origins of the name dispute – Derry or Londonderry?
The name Derry comes from the Irish word ‘Doire’, which means ‘oak grove’, which has been used by Irish nationalists for centuries, so where did the name Londonderry come from?
London was added as a prefix to Derry back in 1613, when King James I granted the city its royal title. The Londonderry name is still used by the British and loyalists living in Northern Ireland.
The name dispute can be traced back to the early 17th century during the Plantation of Ulster, which was a time when settlers from Scotland and England arrived in Northern Ireland.
The settlers began using the new name Londonderry, while the Irish nationalists continued to use the traditional, albeit anglicised, Irish name for the city, Derry.
Over the years, the name dispute continued between the Catholic community and the predominant Protestant community living in Northern Ireland, who preferred the name Londonderry as a symbol of historical connection to London.
On the other hand, the Catholic community chose to stick to Derry as a symbol of Irish heritage and overall national pride. This division further intensified sectarian tensions in the region, which took on significant political dimensions.
Cultural significance – the deeper meaning
Unionist and Nationalist communities’ respective names for the city hold significant cultural value, each holding different historical narratives and memories.
While one community sees it as a sign of British heritage, the other sees it as a reminder of the struggle against colonialism and repression.
The city and the county are officially called Londonderry, but that doesn’t mean everyone is happy to use this term, making it a tricky situation for tourists to the region.
Things get even more confusing when you consider that the local government district is called Derry City and Strabane.
Before the outbreak of the Troubles in the late 1960s, the name dispute was less controversial, yet during the Northern Ireland peace process, this became more of an issue and a sensitive topic for many.
Various attempts were made to agree, including a proposal to use both names interchangeably. At one time, the local council did vote to adopt the name Derry-Londonderry, which is often used by media outlets when reporting on the city.
Over the years, local communities, organisations, and even international bodies have tried to find some resolution to the ongoing name dispute, but to this day, it remains unsolved.
While progress has been made to make both communities’ voices heard, the issue remains complex and sensitive.
Should you call it Derry or Londonderry? – a common question
While this remains a touchy subject among local communities, tourists are just as confused and often wonder what they should refer to the city as.
The truth is Derry should be used when visiting Catholic communities and Londonderry when visiting Protestant communities, which is easier said than done when visiting a new city for the first time.
It is essential to be aware that both names hold cultural value to Northern Irish inhabitants and that using one term over another could evoke strong emotions. If all else fails, the city’s nickname is the Maiden City, which can also be used.
So, there it is – the Derry/Londonderry name dispute explained. It may be a sensitive topic for many, but ultimately, the decision is yours to make, and you can choose the name which feels more comfortable and culturally appropriate for you.
Whatever you decide to call it, this is an incredibly historic city to explore when visiting the country.