Derry / Londonderry City & Environs

St Eugene’s cathedral (RC) on Creggan Street, dedicated to the relatively obscure C5th AD Saint Eoghan / Eugenius, was designed by JJ McCarthy; consecrated in 1873, it had its bell tower and spire added in 1900, and was  finally completed in 1903.  This view, across the Bogside’s Lackey Road and Fahan Street, was taken from the Grand Parade on the City Walls. (Photo by Eric Jones)

Derry’s demographic tensions

As of the last census (2001), 77.8 % of Derry’s population were from a Roman Catholic background (usually equivalent with Nationalist sympathies)  and 20.8 % were from a Protestant background (usually equivalent with Loyalist / Unionist values). As can be seen from the city’s history, these proportions were not always so.

Londonderry was founded by Protestants as a Protestant city, and only tolerated benighted Roman Catholic “natives” on sufferance, mainly due to the need for a cheap workforce. The latter, mostly living in the city’s South Ward (comprising the Bogside, Brandywell and Creggan districts, Bishop Street Without and Foyle Road), came to outnumber the former.

Londonderry Corporation was long controlled by the Ulster Unionist Party, who  maintained their supremacy by gerrymandering constituency boundaries  so that the traditionally Roman Catholic South Ward returned eight councillors while the much smaller but staunchly Protestant North Ward and Waterside Ward returned twelve councillors between them (the walled city was, and still is, neutral as a non-residential area); secondly, by allowing only ratepayers to vote in local elections, rather than one man, one vote, so that a higher number of nationalists, who did not own homes, were disenfranchised; and thirdly, by denying houses to nationalists outside the South Ward constituency.

The Loyalist tradition of celebrating historic dates with parades by the sectarian Orange Order and related organisations, long seen by Nationalists as  a provocative form of bullying, was exacerbated in Derry by the Protestant Apprentice Boys’ commemorations of the Great Siege, which regularly saw participants in triumphalist marches along the City Walls overlooking the Bogside taunting the population below.

City Walls viewed from Bogside.

In the late 1960s the city became the flashpoint of disputes about institutional sectarianism; practically all the complaints about housing and regional policy, and a disproportionate amount of the charges about public and private employment, came from this area. Civil Rights demonstrations were savagely suppressed by the RUC and the B-Specials.

Free Derry

 

Free Derry / SaorDhoire was a self-declared autonomous  area in the city’s South Ward that existed sporadically between 1969 and 1972.

 

Early Free Derry Mural

 

The area was secured by community activists for the first time in January 1969, following an incursion into the Bogside by members of the the RUC. Residents carrying clubs  and similar arms built barricades to prevent the police from re-entering; communications were facilitated and spirits kept up by Free Derry Radio. The barricades were taken down after six days, but tensions remained high over the following months.

 

Sparked by the Apprentice Boys’ Parade of 12th August  1969, the Battle of the Bogside wa violent three day confrontation between residents and police  that only ended with the deployment at the edge of the Bogside of  British Army units, who made no attempt to enter the area until  October when, following publication of the Hunt Report, military police were allowed in by the Derry Citizens Defence Association (DCDA).

 

Meanwhile, the IRA began to re-arm and recruit volunteers. In January 1970 the organisation split into the Official IRA (aka “Stickies”) and the Provisional IRA (“Provos”). Both received widespread support within Free Derry.

 

The government introduced internment in August 1971, and in response, barricades went up once more in the Bogside and Creggan. This time, Free Derry was a no-go area, defended by armed activists from both branches of the IRA, who mounted gun attacks on the army and began a bombing campaign in the city centre. The barricades were manned by unarmed ‘auxiliaries’, while crime was dealt with by a voluntary body known as the Free Derry Police.

 

Support for the IRA increased further after Bloody Sunday in January 1972, but began to wane as the year progressed. After a Provisional IRA ceasefire to enter talks with the British Government broke down, and the bombing campaign was renewed, the authorities decided to move against the “no-go” areas. “Operation Motorman” saw thousands of troops move in with armoured cars and bulldozers to occupy the area on 31st July 1972, and Free Derry came to an end.

 

The Museum of Free Derry is housed in the recently renovated flats at the southern end of Glenfada Park, just off Rossville Street, the main battleground for the Battle of the Bogside and one of the main killing grounds on Bloody Sunday.

Free Derry Monument & Battle of the Bogside Mural, 2007 (Photo by Clemensfranz). The monument is regularly updated, occasionally with colourful variations, e.g. expressing solidarity with the people of Gaza.

 

The H-Block Monument nearby commemorates the Republican inmates of the Maze prison (aka Long Kesh) who from 1978 refused to wear the regular convict uniform, wrapping themselves in blankets, then  launched a “dirty protest”, smearing excrement on their cell walls, followed by the 1980 Hunger Strike(s) in which Bobby Sands and nine others starved themselves to death.

 

The Bloody Sunday Memorial has fresh wreaths placed regularly at its foot.

The “No Surrender” mural right outside the City Wall. (Photo by Pe wer)

Compared to 18,000 in 1969, fewer than 500 Protestants now live on the west bank of the River Foyle, mostly on the Fountain Estate. Over the years, Protestants drifted out of the city to the suburbs. The Waterside, which has grown dramatically northeastwards, has a large Protestant population, with only small Roman Catholic majority pockets near Craigavon Bridge, and mixed areas around the edges. In recent years it has become more common to refer to the growing Waterside as a distinct town in its own right, rather than simply as part of Derry.

Nowadays, many of Derry’s Protestants feel disenfranchised by a perceived lack of “parity of esteem” for the Unionist / Loyalist viewpoint as compared with Irish Nationalism, with Republicanism politics, values and culture dominating life in the city. Concerted efforts have been made by local community, church and political leaders to address the problem of the city’s religious polarisation, which some say is now arguably more extreme than at the start of the Troubles.

Derry’s Murals

 

Derry has many of Northern Ireland’s famous murals, propaganda art covering the sides of houses (usually at the street corner gable end of terraces) promoting political causes supposedly dear to local residents (but often painted without the consent of the occupants).

 

INLA mural (Photo by SeanMack)

 

Loyalist mural

 

Che Guevara Mural. Several paintings identify with Cuba, the Palestinians, and other Rebel causes.

 

A Loyalist mural in Sperrin Park, Caw, depicting Sir Edward Carson and various Unionist icons (Photo – Dr Jonathan McCormick‘s excellent Directory of Murals at http://cain.ulst.ac.uk)

The Apprentice Boys’ Parades still take place, but are nowadays marked by a much more conciliatory spirit, and in recent years have been trouble free. The principal commemorations of the Great Siege now form part of the annual Maiden City Festival.

Derry nowadays has many venues for different styles of worship, from long-established Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, Methodist and Roman Catholic churches to modern Baptist, Evangelical, Buddhist, Taoist and Baha’i centres, a Sikh Temple and a private Greek Orthodox chapel (in Prehen House).

The Hands Across the Divide Monument, on the roundabout at the western end of Craigavon Bridge, is a striking bronze sculpture designed by Derry teacher Maurice Harron after the fall of the Iron Curtain; unveiled in 1992, 20 years after Bloody Sunday, it symbolises the growing hope for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

The Peace Bridge, a 235m cycle and footbridge bridge across the River Foyle between Ebrington Square and the rest of the city, designed by Wilkinson Eyre (who also designed the Gateshead Millennium Bridge), was intended to bring the largely unionist East Derry closer to the largely nationalist West Derry, South Derry and the City Centre. It also aims to improve access for people into each half of the city centre as part of wider regeneration plans in Derry. It was opened on 25 June 2011 by EU Commissioner for Regional Policy, Johannes Hahn. Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, the First and deputy First Ministers together with the Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who was also present. It is the newest of three bridges in the city, the others being the Craigavon Bridge and the Foyle Bridge. The Peace Bridge is also a railway overbridge crossing the line approaching Waterside station.

 

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