Derry/Londonderry name dispute
The names of the city and county of Derry or Londonderry in Northern Ireland are the subject of a naming dispute between Irish nationalists and unionists. Generally, although not always, nationalists favour using the name Derry, and unionists Londonderry. Legally, the city and county are called "Londonderry", while the local government district containing the city is called "Derry and Strabane". The naming debate became particularly politicised at the outset of the Troubles, with the mention of either name acting as a shibboleth used to associate the speaker with one of Northern Ireland's two main communities. The district of Derry and Strabane was created in 2015, subsuming a district created in 1973 with the name "Londonderry", which changed to "Derry" in 1984.
Origins of the name
The earliest Irish name for the site of the modern city was Daire Calgaich, Old Irish for "oak wood of Calgach", after an unknown pagan. John Keys O'Doherty, Bishop of Derry, sought to identify Calgach with Agricola's opponent Calgacus. A Celtic Christian monastery was founded there in the sixth century; Adomnán names Saint Columba as founder. The name was changed to Daire Coluimb Chille, "oak wood of Columba", first mentioned in the Annals of Ulster for 1121. As the monastic site grew in prominence, the name was reduced to just Doire (now pronounced [d̪ˠɛɾʲə]). This was later anglicised to Derry. In 1604, "Derrie" was granted its first royal charter as a city and county corporate by James I of England. The settlement was destroyed in 1608 by Cahir O'Doherty, Irish chieftain of Inishowen. During the Plantation of Ulster by English and Scottish settlers, a new walled city was built across the River Foyle from the old site by the Irish Society, a consortium of the livery companies of the City of London. In recognition of the London investors, the 1613 charter stated "that the said city or town of Derry, for ever hereafter be and shall be named and called the city of Londonderry". The county was created by the same charter, largely based on the previous county of Coleraine, and named "Londonderry" after the new county town. A new city charter in 1662 confirmed the name "Londonderry".
Pronunciation of Londonderry
Historically, Londonderry was pronounced in Ireland as //, with primary stress on the third syllable and secondary stress on the first syllable. In England, it was pronounced //, with primary stress on the first syllable and the third syllable reduced or elided. This latter is still used for the Marquess of Londonderry's title; otherwise, the usual pronunciation now is // with primary stress on the first syllable and secondary stress on the third syllable. In 1972, Lord Shackleton commented, 'I very much hope that Ministers will stop talking about "Londond'ry". If they do not call it "Derry" they might at least call it "Londonderry".'
Before the outbreak of the Troubles in the late 1960s, the name was less contentious. While "Londonderry" was the official and formal name, most people in Northern Ireland called it "Derry" in informal speech. The name became a shibboleth when sectarian tensions increased. Samuel Lewis' 1837 Topographical Dictionary of Ireland said "It was originally and is still popularly called Derry [...] the English prefix London was imposed in 1613 [...] and was for a long time retained by the colonists, but has [...] fallen into popular disuse". The 1837 Ordnance survey of the county of Londonderry concurs, and remarks "this mode of abbreviation is usual in Ireland, whenever the name of a place is compounded of two distinct and easily separable words; thus [...] Carrickfergus is shortened into Carrick, Downpatrick into Down, [...] etc."
In the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885, the two-seat Westminster constituency of Londonderry was split into two single-seat constituencies. The use of "Derry" rather than "Londonderry" in their names was proposed by Frank Hugh O'Donnell, who said he thought that "at the time when the London Companies were despairing of retaining their hold upon Derry this Amendment would be accepted by the House. The Amendment would be welcomed in the North of Ireland, where the county in question was always spoken of as Derry, and not as Londonderry." This amendment was defeated, on the basis that a county constituency name ought to match the official county name; but T.M. Healy then proposed keeping the county name but changing the division names, thus: Londonderry (North Derry division) and Londonderry (South Derry division). Only David Plunket opposed this, noting "the City of Londonderry was spoken of both as Derry and Londonderry. The name of Derry was given when it was spoken of as a separate division of the county."
In 1958, when the newly launched HMS Londonderry made a courtesy visit to the port, nationalist councillor James Doherty protested that it was "a foreign warship which had been called after a version of the name of the city".
In 1984, the DUP politician Peter Robinson commented in a Commons Sitting on the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1984 that: "Until the 1960s there was a happy use of both Londonderry and Derry. I am a member of an organisation known as the Apprentice Boys of Derry, and it is proud to have that name. The Protestants, Unionists and Loyalists who come from that area are happy to call themselves Derrymen. It was a matter that did not provoke excitement and it certainly was not taken as being an offensive remark to say that one was from Derry. Then, in the 1960s, as part of a deliberate campaign by Republicans to loosen the London connection, they emphasised that they had dropped the name London from the name of the city. As a result, the Unionist community emphasised the London part of the name."
The Local Government (Boundaries) Act (Northern Ireland) 1971 and the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 abolished the councils of the counties and county boroughs, and the lower-level urban and rural districts. These were replaced by 26 new districts based around towns and cities, including one whose area comprised the county borough of Londonderry and the adjacent rural district of the same name. This new district was initially also named Londonderry, and, being based on a city, its council was named "Londonderry City Council". Nationalists accounted for the majority of the population, and Nationalist political parties were elected to a majority of the council seats. In 1978, councillor Fergus McAteer of the Irish Independence Party (IIP) tabled a motion "that this council wishes that the official name of the city be restored to the original and more common name of Derry". It was passed with Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) support, on the understanding that no immediate action would be taken. In 1984 the city council passed a resolution under section 51 of the 1972 Act to officially change the name of the district from "Londonderry" to "Derry", consequently changing the name of the council from "Londonderry City Council" to "Derry City Council". On 24 January, junior minister Chris Patten decided to accede to the name change, which was effected by an order coming into effect on 7 May 1984.
Unionists criticised the decision. Martin Smyth said, "We are told that the two communities have to live together. We had a classic illustration of a name that brought the two communities together – Londonderry. 'London' indicates the British tradition and 'Derry' the Irish tradition. But the Government decided to do away with 'London' in the name of the Council." William Ross said, "Derry has never been used as the name of the city or of the island of Londonderry except as a shortened version of a longer name. The name was Derry Columbkille for centuries. It was Londonderry for centuries. Before that it was Derry Calgach [...] Those who sought the change sought it for no good reason. Their aim was to open a door. [...] It is beyond me how the name Derry city council will be separated from the concept of Londonderry city in the public mind. Everyone in Northern Ireland knows that the Republican elements in Londonderry city will ignore the name as they have always done. They now have a lever to put up Derry city right across the board. [...] People in Northern Ireland see it as an anti-British move by the most extreme Republican movements in Londonderry and the rest of Northern Ireland."
Debate on renaming the city
At the time of the 1984 name change, members of the majority SDLP group on the city council declared that it was not seeking to change the name of the city as it had no intention of "petitioning an English queen to change the name of our Irish city". The party preferred to leave the renaming of the city "for another day". The IIP obtained legal advice that the change of the district's name also affected the city and no petition was necessary. Unionist councillors protested at the name change by boycotting the council.
In April 2006 Derry City Council applied to the High Court of Northern Ireland to obtain a ruling that the true name of the city was indeed Derry, or alternatively an order that the British Government must change the name. It applied to the Information Commissioner's Office to require the Northern Ireland Office to make public the legal advice it had received at the time of the 1984 name change. The case opened in Belfast High Court on 6 December 2006 before Mr Justice Weatherup. The council's case was that the 1662 charter naming the city "Londonderry" was subject to subsequent local government legislation, and that the renaming of the city council in 1984 amended the charter by altering the name.
A ruling was handed down in 2007 that the city officially remained Londonderry, according to the Royal Charter of 10 April 1662:
The local government district and the city and the county are three separate entities. Only the name of the local government district (and the consequential changes to the names of the borough and the council) were affected by the Order in 1984. ... Further I reject the applicant's argument that the Department is obliged to exercise powers under section 134(1) of the Local Government (Northern Ireland) Act 1972 to modify the 1662 Charter to change the name of the city from Londonderry to Derry or that the Department is otherwise obliged to effect that name change. To achieve the name change desired by the applicant it is necessary to alter the 1662 Charter by the further exercise of the Prerogative or by legislation.— Mr Justice Weatherup, ruling on 25 January 2007
Equality impact assessment
During the High Court case, it was clarified that the correct procedure to rename the city was via a petition to the Privy Council. On 27 November 2007, the council passed a motion by Gerry MacLochlainn to make such a petition. It was argued that this would provide a single clear identity to reduce confusion and facilitate marketing the city for tourism and investment. Three alternative proposals were rejected: to make no change to the name; to change to "Derry/Londonderry"; or to change the name of the city to "Derry" but retain the name of "Londonderry" for the walled city.
An equality impact assessment (EQIA) was instigated to advise how the resolution could best be implemented. An opinion poll of district residents was commissioned in 2009, which reported that 75% of Catholics and 77% of Nationalists found the proposed change acceptable, compared to 6% of Protestants and 8% of Unionists. It found 76% of Protestants and 79% of Unionists preferred the name "Londonderry" while 94% of Catholics and Nationalists preferred "Derry". Overall, 26% found the proposal "very acceptable", 27% "acceptable", 6% "unacceptable", and 8% "totally unacceptable", while 32% had "no strong views".
The EQIA held two consultative forums, and solicited comments from the public at large. It received 12,136, of which 3,108 were broadly in favour of the proposal, and 9,028 opposed. Over 7,500 submissions collected by opponents of the change were submitted on the deadline of 11 September 2009. Most submissions did not elaborate on reasons for support or opposition; 14 specific responses in favour and 513 against did so. Many responses came from outside the city council district area.
The Northern Ireland Community Relations Council's submission to the EQIA said "the refusal to resort to majority-minority mechanisms to resolve cultural disputes is critical if we are to find a way forward in Northern Ireland." It suggested "the city might petition to be known as the 'City of Derry known equally as Londonderry and Doire' and commit to the use of the terms Derry-Londonderry-Doire on all official signage and public imagery" It encouraged alternative suggestions.
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland's submission stated, "In the light of the serious adverse impacts on people of different religion/political belief within the Council area, and possibly for the region as a whole, the Equality Commission strongly advise Derry City Council not to proceed with the policy as it is currently proposed since a range of possible options has not been adequately considered and a significant amount of good relations work remains to be done before any official name change is considered." Alternative courses it offered were joint use of "Derry" and "Londonderry"; petitioning the Privy Council for multiple official names; changing the spelling of the name to "LondonDerry"; and renaming the city to "DoireLondonDerry".
The Town Clerk submitted the EQIA report to the council in time for its meeting on 8 March 2010, at which Sinn Féin councillors brought a motion to proceed with the petition. This was voted down by SDLP and Unionist councillors. The SDLP then tabled motions to establish a steering group on the issue and to convene the political party heads; both motions were also rejected. In the aftermath of the meeting, Gregory Campbell, the Democratic Unionist Party MP for East Londonderry, said the issue was 'dead', citing the result of the EQIA as the basis of his opinion.
Derry and Strabane council
Plans to alter the number and area of districts in Northern Ireland began in 2005. In 2008, Environment Minister Arlene Foster proposed replacing the 26 district councils with 11 larger area councils, with the areas of Derry City Council and Strabane District Council to be merged. In 2009, Mark Orr, a Queen's Counsel and Assistant Commissioner proposing names and boundaries for the scheme, recommended the name "Derry City and Strabane Regional Council" for the merged body, even though Unionist representatives had favoured a name which used "Londonderry" or avoided either word. Political deadlock delayed the reorganisation until 1 April 2015, when the new Derry and Strabane District Council took office. The district name was officially changed from "Derry and Strabane" to "Derry City and Strabane" on 24 February 2016.
On 23 July 2015, the new council voted in favour of a motion to change the official name of the city to Derry and to write to Mark H. Durkan, Northern Ireland Minister of the Environment, to ask how the change could be effected. Unionist councillors called the decision "sectarian" and "disgusting", and in August submitted an official challenge to the request. Rival change.org petitions for and against the proposal were started. In October and November in the House of Lords, minister Lord Dunlop gave two answers on the matter to unionist Lord Laird, who claimed any name change would require cross-community consensus under the Good Friday Agreement. The first stated "The Government, on occasion receives requests to change names of towns and cities. At this time the Government does not intend to change the name of the City of Londonderry." The second said it would "only do so with consensus". Unionists interpreted this as a definitive rejection.
Other official names
The 1972 Act abolished Londonderry County Council, but the county still has a legal existence as a lieutenancy area with a Lord Lieutenant. Some commentators have suggested that "Derry" is less justifiable as a name for the county than for the city, since the county has never officially been called "Derry". William Houston of Londonderry Unionist Association said in 1995:
Now the nationalists can perhaps have some argument that the name [of the city] was Derry before it was Londonderry, but they certainly cannot say the same of the county. There never ever was a "County Derry", — it was "County Coleraine", and bodies such as the Derry County Board of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and of the Gaelic Athletic Board are a total misnomer.
A visible sign of the dispute to the visitor is in the road signs; those pointing to the city from the Republic refer to it as Derry (and in Irish, Doire), whilst signs in Northern Ireland use Londonderry. It is not uncommon to see vandalised road signs—the "London" part of the name spray painted over on "Londonderry" road signs by nationalists, or occasionally "London" added to "Derry" signs by unionists. Some sign-posts are even occasionally vandalised in such a way that "London" is replaced with the word "Free" (see Free Derry).
In 2003, Lord Laird asked in the House of Lords why a recent press release by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland had listed grants for "Derry City" rather than "Londonderry City"; he was told the heading should have been "Derry City Council area".
In 2005, a judge in the Republic complained when a defendant's address was written as "Londonderry", stating "It's just Derry with a capital D." Arlene Foster said she would complain to the Irish Minister for Justice.
In 2007, a Canadian tourist in Belfast asking for a Translink bus ticket to "Derry" was confused when told that Derry "didn't exist". The incident was reported in the media and the bus company apologised and disciplined the employee responsible.
In the Republic's state Leaving Certificate examination in geography in 2009, a map of Ireland's counties included the label "Londonderry" rather than "Derry". The State Examinations Commission explained the map was sourced from the European Society for Geography. Cecilia Keaveney criticised the incident in the Seanad, saying 'If we must have "Londonderry", we should also have "Derry". ... it is offensive and insensitive to the majority of people to use "Londonderry" at the total exclusion of "Derry".' Brian Ó Domhnaill and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh objected in 2017 when maps in a report by the republic's Constituency Commission named the county "Londonderry".
In a 2012 debate in Dáil Éireann, minister Alan Shatter referred to "two pipe bombs set off in Londonderry on the 19th of January 2012". His use of "Londonderry" rather than "Derry" attracted comment on social media. He later told the BBC "I would use either the term Derry or Londonderry interchangeably ... It's a place that I want to see live in peace and I don't have hang-ups about which name you attach to it."
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described April 2018 meetings with unionists in the city as "an engagement with young people with interests across Derry, or Londonderry". She responded to republican criticism of her use of "Londonderry" by saying "I used the term to reflect the fact that we had a dialogue – a really good one – with people who see things differently to us."
Response to the dispute
Organisations dealing with the city and county generally take regard of the controversy in deciding how to refer to them.
A suggested compromise dual naming of "Derry/Londonderry" (read "Derry stroke Londonderry") has given rise to the jocular nickname "Stroke City". Gerry Anderson, a local radio presenter who espoused this term, became known briefly as "Gerry/Londongerry". The city was made UK City of Culture for 2013; the organising committee's official logo reads "Derry~Londonderry" (read "Derry Londonderry"), Radio 1's Big Weekend, an annual BBC festival held in the city in 2013, adopted this name in print and for its presenters. The City of Culture was name sponsor of the boat Derry~Londonderry in the 2011–12 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, and Derry and Strabane Council sponsored Derry~Londonderry~Doire in the 2013–14 and 2015–16 races. Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers, used "Derry-Londonderry" in a 2012 speech in the city.
Another attempt to mitigate the controversy is via such abbreviations a "L'derry" or "L-Derry". (Conversely, the abbreviation "Londond'y" is seen as unionist.) Another suggested compromise is to call the city "Derry" and the county "Londonderry"; this is common among historians of early modern Ireland.
Northern Ireland Railways use "Derry/Londonderry" on the destination boards of any trains bound for the city, and use the truncated version of "L/Derry" on all railway tickets to Waterside station. Additionally, the timetables for the Belfast–Derry railway line are printed with both "Derry Line" and "Londonderry Line" covers. The electronic online timetables use "Londonderry" in the route name and "Derry" on the timetable detail lines. The online PDF version uses "Derry~Londonderry Line" on the cover and "Londonderry" on the timetable detail lines.
Common practice in the Northern Ireland Civil Service, Derry City Council, and in communication throughout business and other organisations within Northern Ireland, when responding to a letter from a correspondent from the city or county, is to reply using the same nomenclature as the initial communication. Therefore, a letter addressed Derry will be replied to an address in Derry, while a letter addressed from Londonderry will be returned to an address in Londonderry. When the UK directory enquiries service was demonopolised in 2003, Oftel guidelines specifically required addresses using either name to be accessible.
The Police Ombudsman uses "Londonderry/Derry" or "Derry/Londonderry" on first use, and follows the correspondent's usage thereafter. It also says "The 'City of Derry' is an actual title and can be used in full."
People born in the city applying for British passports may use either name for the "place of birth" field. In April 2009, the Irish government announced a similar policy for Irish passports, where previously "Derry" had been required.
The BBC guideline for news broadcasts is that the city should be referred to as Londonderry during the initial reference, and then both terms interchangeably. Account may be taken for the context. Other UK broadcasters tend to follow suit.
The Ulster University's media guidelines state "Londonderry should be used on official stationery and in the formal writing of the University's address for the Magee and Coleraine campuses. Derry~Londonderry is the preferred form for all other University usage. ... Under no circumstances should the terms Maiden City or Stroke City be used."
The style guides for different newspapers address the dispute variously:
- The Times
- "Londonderry, but Derry City Council; and Derry when in direct quotes or in a specifically republican context (this latter rarely)"
- The Guardian
- "Londonderry: use Derry and Co Derry"
Businesses, sports clubs and other organisations in the area will frequently avoid using Derry or Londonderry in their names. This is partly so that they can avoid alienating potential customers or users from either side of the community.
Many name themselves after the River Foyle, which flows through the city. The BBC's regional radio station for the area is BBC Radio Foyle. The Westminster constituency of Foyle (and coterminous Northern Ireland Assembly constituency of the same name) encompassing the city and environs was so named partly to avoid the naming controversy and also because until 1997 it contained parts of County Tyrone. The constituency was created in 1979, when the previous "Londonderry" constituency was split in two; the other part, "East Londonderry", is strongly unionist.
Other entities based in the area call themselves "North-West". This may refer to the northwest of Northern Ireland or the northwest of Ulster including County Donegal in the Republic. The Ulster University encourages this usage, particularly in relation to Magee College.
The nickname "Maiden City" is sometimes utilised; for example, the Ulsterbus service from Belfast to Derry is called The Maiden City Flyer. This alludes to the city's having resisted capture in the siege of 1689. However, since the siege is an event celebrated by unionism, the nickname is itself politically charged.
The Derry Theatre Trust consulted the public for the name of the theatre it opened at East Wall in 2001. "Derry Civic Theatre" and "Londonderry Civic Theatre" were rejected in favour of "Millennium Forum".
In popular culture
The Divine Comedy song "Sunrise" begins "I was born in Londonderry / I was born in Derry City too" and later asks "Who cares what name you call a town? / Who'll care when you're six feet beneath the ground?"
Irish comedian Neil Delamere once remarked on the RTÉ television show The Panel that the RTÉ pronunciation guide is effectively the same as its BBC counterpart, except the word "Londonderry", in which the first six letters are silent.
When performing in the city, fellow comedian Dara Ó Briain, has opened with the joke, "Hello my name is Dara or, if you prefer, you can call me Londondara."
An episode of BBC Radio 4 radio comedy panel game, Just A Minute, was recorded in the city. During the opening remarks it is customary for the host (Nicholas Parsons) to introduce the place where the show is being recorded. On this occasion, Parsons said the show was being broadcast from "Derry, Londonderry, but we like to say Legenderry!"
Among places and other entities named after the city or county, some have Derry (such as Derry City F.C.) while others have Londonderry (such as the Marquess of Londonderry). These names are often not subject to the same politically charged alternation as the names of city and county. The BBC apologised to Derry GAA in 2018 after a sports results broadcast called the county team Londonderry.
The Apprentice Boys of Derry is thus named despite being a Protestant organisation; the event it commemorates is generally called the "Siege of Derry". The city's Church of Ireland diocese is Derry and Raphoe; like the Roman Catholic Diocese of Derry, it traces its origin to 1158.
The two towns of Derry and Londonderry, in the U.S. state of New Hampshire, existed as a single town until the 19th century. Exit 4 off Interstate 93 serves both towns, thus signage with both names appears for the exit.
Some geocoding systems use an abbreviation of a placename as its codename.
|Code||Code type||Location designated||Notes|
|LDY||IATA airport code||City of Derry Airport||The ICAO code is EGAE, from its former name of Londonderry Eglinton|
|GB LDY||UN/LOCODE||Londonderry Port and City of Derry Airport|
|GB-DRS||ISO 3166-2:GB||Derry and Strabane council area||Also BS 6879. The pre-2015 Derry City Council area had code GB-DRY|
|LDY||Chapman code||County Londonderry|
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to call the county of Londonderry (a shire specially created for the City's Plantation from the county of Coleraine and parts of Counties Antrim, Donegal, and Tyrone) 'County Derry' is absurd, and has no historical justification whatsoever.
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