Derry/Londonderry name dispute

Derry/Londonderry name dispute
A vandalised road-sign at nearby Strabane, County Tyrone in which the "London" in "Londonderry" has been daubed over with black paint.
A sign near the N13 in County Donegal, Republic of Ireland, reads Derry in English (and Doire in Irish)

The names of the city, county, and district of Derry or Londonderry in Northern Ireland are the subject of a naming dispute between nationalists and unionists. Generally, although not always, one will find nationalists calling them Derry, and unionists referring to them as Londonderry. Legally, the city and county are called "Londonderry", while the local government district is called "Derry".[1]

The debate became particularly politicised at the outset of the Troubles, with the mention of either name used to associate the speaker with one of Northern Ireland's two main communities.[citation needed]



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.[2][3][4] John Keys O'Doherty, Bishop of Derry, sought to identify Calgach with Agricola's opponent Calgacus.[2] A Celtic Christian monastery was founded there in the sixth century;[5] Adomnán names Saint Columba as founder.[4][5] The name was changed to Daire Coluimb Chille, "oak wood of Columba",[3][4] first mentioned in the Annals of Ulster for 1121.[6] As the monastic site grew in prominence, the name was reduced to just Doire (now pronounced [d̪ˠɪɾʲə]).[3] This was later anglicised to Derry. In 1604, "Derrie" was granted its first royal charter as a city by James I of England.[7] The settlement was destroyed in 1608 by Cahir O'Doherty, Irish chieftain of Inishowen.[8] During the Plantation of Ulster by English and Scottish settlers, a new walled city was built by The Honourable The Irish Society across the River Foyle from the old site. It was renamed Londonderry, in recognition of donations from the livery companies of the City of London;[9] a new charter in 1613 stated "that the said city or town of Derry, for ever hereafter be and shall be named and called the city of Londonderry".[1] The county was created at the same time, largely based on the previous county of Coleraine, and named "Londonderry" after the new county town.[10] A new city charter in 1662 confirmed the name "Londonderry".[1]


Historically, Londonderry was pronounced in Ireland with primary stress on the third syllable and secondary stress on the first syllable.[11] In England, it was pronounced with primary stress on the first syllable and the third syllable reduced or elided.[11] This latter is still used for the Marquess of Londonderry's title;[12] otherwise, the usual pronunciation now is primary stress on the first syllable and secondary stress on the third syllable.[12] 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".'[13]

Historical usage

Before the outbreak of the Troubles in the late 1960s, the name was less contentious.[14] While "Londonderry" was the official and formal name, most people in Northern Ireland called it "Derry" in informal speech.[14] The name became a shibboleth when sectarian tensions increased.[14] 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".[15] 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."[3]

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."[16]

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".[17]

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."[18]

District council

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.[1] 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".[1] 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.[19] 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, the then-junior minister Chris Patten decided to accede to the name change, which was effected by an order coming into effect on 7 May 1984.[20] [21] [22][1]

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." [23] 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."[24]

Debate on renaming the city

The 1972 legislation does not provide that cities be automatically renamed with their districts, though it does contain such a provision for municipal boroughs.[1] 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".[20] 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.[25] Unionist councillors protested at the name change by boycotting the council.[25]

Judicial review

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 on the British Government that it changed the name.[1][26] 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.[27] The case opened in Belfast High Court on 6 December 2006 before Mr Justice Weatherup.[28][29] 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.[1][30]

Mr Justice Weatherup ruled on 25 January 2007 that the city officially remained Londonderry, according to the Royal Charter of 10 April 1662:[1]

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.

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.[31] On 27 November 2007, the council passed a motion by Gerry MacLochlainn[32] to make such a petition.[33] It was argued that this would provide a single clear identity to reduce confusion and facilitate marketing the city for tourism and investment.[34] 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.[35]

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.[36] It found 76% of Protestants and 79% of Unionists preferred the name "Londonderry" while 94% of Catholics and Nationalists preferred "Derry".[37] Overall, 26% found the proposal "very acceptable", 27% "acceptable", 6% "unacceptable", and 8% "totally unacceptable", while 32% had "no strong views".[38]

The EQIA held two consultative forums,[39] and solicited comments from the public at large.[40] It received 12,136, of which 3,108 were broadly in favour of the proposal, and 9,028 opposed.[40] Over 7,500 submissions collected by opponents of the change were submitted on the deadline of 11 September 2009.[41] Most submissions did not elaborate on reasons for support or opposition;[40] 14 specific responses in favour and 513 against did so.[42] Many responses came from outside the city council district area.[40]

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."[43] 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"[44] It encouraged alternative suggestions.[45]

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."[46] 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".[47]

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.[48] 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.[49]

Further issues

A visible sign of the dispute to the visitor is in the road signs;[50] 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, [50] or occasionally "London" added to "Derry" signs by unionists.[50] Some sign-posts are even occasionally vandalised in such a way that "London" is replaced with the word "Free" (see Free Derry).[50]

In 1994, the city council voted, again on nationalist–unionist lines, to rename "Londonderry Eglinton Airport" to "City of Derry Airport", coinciding with the opening of a new terminal building.[51]

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".[52]

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."[53] DUP MLA Arlene Foster said she would complain to the Irish Minister for Justice.[53] In 2007, a Canadian tourist 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.[54]

A review of local government from 2005 agreed to Arlene Foster's 2008 proposal to replace the 26 districts with 11 councils. Under the proposed reorganisation, now abandoned, the areas of Derry City Council and Strabane District Council were to be merged. Assistant Commissioner Mark Orr 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.[55][56]

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".[57] The State Examinations Commission explained the map was sourced from the European Society for Geography.[58] 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".'[59]

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".

Another locally-used method of partly circumventing this name problem is to write "L'derry" or "L-Derry". Another suggested compromise involves referring to the City as "Derry" and the County as "Londonderry"; this is common among historians of early modern Ireland.[60]

Northern Ireland Railways use the dual naming of "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 "Derry" for the station name, while printed timetables use "Londonderry".[61]


Common practice in the Civil Service, Derry City Council,[62] 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.[63]

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."[64]

People born in the city applying for British passports may use either name for the "place of birth" field.[65][66] In April 2009, the Irish government announced a similar policy for Irish passports, where previously "Derry" had been required.[65]

Similarly, those applying for a Northern Irish driving licence can have either stated as place of birth.


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.[67][68] Account may be taken for the context.[68] Other UK broadcasters tend to follow suit.

The University of Ulster's media guidelines state "we should be conscious of the audience for whom we are writing so the terminology should be varied according to the audience."[67]

Media in the Republic of Ireland almost always use "Derry".[citation needed]

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)"[69]
The Guardian
"Londonderry: use Derry and Co Derry"[70]

Avoidance strategies

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 city's Westminster and Northern Ireland Assembly constituencies, which currently have co-terminous boundaries with those of the city council, are called "Foyle", partly in order to avoid the naming controversy and also because the seat has in the past contained parts of County Tyrone. Foyle was created in 1983, when the previous "Londonderry" constituency was split in two; the other one, "East Londonderry", is strongly unionist.

Others 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 University of Ulster encourages this usage, particularly in relation to Magee College.[67]

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.[71] However, since the siege is an event celebrated by unionism, the nickname is itself politically charged.[67]

The Derry Theatre Trust consulted the public for the name of the theatre it opened at East Wall in 2001.[72] "Derry Civic Theatre" and "Londonderry Civic Theatre" were rejected in favour of "Millenium 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?"[73]

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, will open with the joke, "Hello my name is Dara or, if you prefer, you can call me Londondara."

Different mnemonic acronyms are used to remember the names of the six counties of Northern Ireland: "FAT LAD" for Londonderry, "FAT DAD" for Derry.[74][75]

Derived names

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 City of Derry Airport retains the IATA code LDY, assigned to it under its EGAE name of Londonderry Eglinton Airport.[76]

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 "Londonderry Air" is seldom called the "Derry Air".

The two towns of Derry and Londonderry, in New Hampshire, USA, existed as a single town until the 19th century. Thereafter the town, originally known as Londonderry, split into two sections, one called Derry and the other called Londonderry.


Some geocoding systems use an abbreviation of a placename as its codename.



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  • Derry FC — Derry City Football Club Pour les articles homonymes, voir Derry (homonymie). Derry City FC …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Derry City Football Club — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Derry (homonymie). Infobox club sportif Derry City FC …   Wikipédia en Français

  • County Londonderry — For other places with similar names, see Londonderry (disambiguation) and Derry (disambiguation). County Londonderry / County Derry Contae Dhoire Coontie Lunnonderrie …   Wikipedia

  • History of Derry — Cannons on the Derry Walls. The Bogside on the left The earliest references to the history of Derry date to the 6th century when a monastery was founded there, however archaeological sites and objects predating this have been found. The name… …   Wikipedia