Londonderry or Derry City Tourism, 1939

From “Ulster the official publication of the Ulster Tourist Development Association Ltd. 1939”

Visit the ancient and historic City of Londonderry and make a circuit of its old grey walls, erected in 1617, from which, in 1689, a King turned away disappointed and broken. Spend half-an-hour in the venerable Cathedral of St. Columb, erected in the year 1633, and replete with Memorials of the Siege, ascend its Tower from which in a clear atmosphere a charming and comprehensive view of the City and surrounding country may be obtained. In the Cathedral Churchyard may be seen the Apprentice Boys\’ Mound wherein repose the ashes of the mighty dead. Traverse its streets that once resounded to the tramp of the thirteen Apprentice Boys who closed the City Gates against the vanguard of the army of King James. See where across the flowing Foyle was stretched the Boom of timber and chains designed to bar the passage of the squadron that eventually brought relief to the beleaguered City. Visit the Guildhall which contains interesting Statuary and an exceedingly fine range of historical stained glass windows, also St. Eugene\’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, one of the 1argest in Northern Ireland, and the Long Tower Roman Catholic Church in the churchyard of which is St. Columba\’s Stone upon which the Saint is said to have knelt in prayer. In addition to the foregoing are a number of fine churches attached to the various denominations.

Londonderry is the centre from which well-appointed Motor Buses radiate, not only throughout the County Donegal-to the North-West and Central Highlands of which it forms the gateway-but also to Belfast, Sligo and throughout the Counties Londonderry and Tyrone.

The London, Midland and Scottish Railway connects Londonderry with Belfast, and also with South and West Donegal.
The Great Northern Railway of Ireland connects Londonderry with Belfast and Dublin.
The Londonderry and Laugh Swilly Railway connects Londonderry with North and West Donegal.

Rev. R.G.S. King


Derry, so called from the oaks with which the banks of the Foyle here were anciently clad, was founded by St. Columba in 546. This famous missionary Saint, through whose labours and those of his followers Scotland and Northern England were converted to Christianity, was born at Gartan, Co. Donegal, on December 7th, 521. He was a member of the reigning family of Ireland and of British Dalriada. Censured by an Irish Synod for having stirred up strife, he left his country, with 12 companions, in the year 563 and settled in (Hy) lona off the coast of Scotland. But to the end, his love for Derry was intense.

No traces of his monastery remain, the site of which is now occupied by the Long Tower Roman Catholic Church. Here also stood the ancient Cathedral, the Teampul Mor (i.e., Great Church) , built in 1164. A Cistercian Nunnery was built on the south side of the city in 1218, a Dominican Abbey and Church on the north side in 1274, and Augustinian Friary and Church, where S. Augustine\’s Church now stands, about the end of 13th century, and a F ranciscan Friary , the date of which is uncertain, where Abbey Street now runs. S. Brecan\’s Church inside the grounds of S. Columb\’s, at the Waterside, is the most ancient ruin inside the city boundary. It was used by Primate Colton at his visitation in 1397.

Unfortunately Derry proved attractive to the Danes, both on account of its ecclesiastical treasures and its safe harbourage. The Irish Annals record a number of their onslaughts between 832 and 1100. They also relate the burning of the city on at least seven occasions, by accident or in strife, before the year 1200.

After the Danes came the Anglo-Normans, whose mania for plundering churches is frequently referred to by the old annalists. In 1195, 1197 and 1198 John de Courcy and Rotsel Peyton plundered the churches of Derry. But, alas, our own countrymen were little better, for in 1197 a Mac Etig of Co. Derry robbed the altar of the Cathedral of \”the four richest goblets in Ireland,\” and in 1213 Thomas MacUchtry and Rory MacRandal from Coleraine plundered the town. After the de Courcys came in the 13th century de Lacys, and in the 14th de Burgos, who built fortresses – Green Castle, White Castle, etc.- on the shores of Lough Foyle.

In 1566, during the Rebellion of Shane O\’Neill, Derry was chosen for the headquarters of the forces sent against him. But on April 24, 568, the magazine which contained ammunition for the English Army in the north blew up, destroying the town and fort, and causing great loss of life. After this it was abandoned by the military until 1600, when Sir Henry Docwra, sent by Queen Elizabeth, selected it as the site of his camp. Docwra built a fort at Culmore, and another five miles up the river, at Dunnalong, to protect his camp and the city which he proposed to build. He was actually constituted Provost for life of the City of Derry in 1604, by a charter of King James I., but shortly afterwards left the district. His successor, Sir George Paulett, having by his injustice and insults goaded Sir Cahir O\’Doherty, the young chief of Inishowen, into rebellion, was surprised and slain by Sir Cahir, and the city once more laid in ruins. After the suppression of this rising, King James began to entertain projects for the plantation of the district with settlers from England, with the result that in 1613 he formed by charter a new county, to be called the County of Londonderry, and to comprise all the old County of Coleraine, part of the County of Tyrone, part of the County of Antrim ( Coleraine and its liberties) , part of the County of Donegal (Derry and its liberties) , and also the whole of Lough Foyle, with the ground or soil thereof, from the high seas unto the town of Lifford. The charter also created the Borough and Corporation of the City of Londonderry. It conveyed the whole county thus formed to \”six and twenty honest and discreet citizens of our City of London\” who shall be called \”The Society of the Governor and Assistants, London; of the new plantation in Ulster, within the realm of the Kingdom of Ireland.\” Thus the name of the city was changed to Londonderry, and thus the Irish Society was formed to promote religion, education and industry in the newly constituted county.

The Governor of the Irish Society must be an Alderman of the City of London. The Recorder of London is ex-officio a member of the Society, and the twenty-four Assistants are Aldermen or Common Councillors of the city. The Society divided the agricultural land among twelve great London companies – the Grocers, Merchant Tailors, Drapers, Vintners, Goldsmiths, etc., some of whom sub-divided portions of their shares with the smaller companies so that some 40 London companies were concerned with the plantation of the county. But the Irish Society retained in their own hands the towns of Londonderry and Coleraine and the valuable fisheries on the Foyle and Bann, which they hold to this day. They are the ground landlords of these towns, they own the Walls of Derry, and they visit and inspect their property every year .

The building of a city here was no easy task and proceeded slowly. The Walls, happily preserved entire, were completed by 1619 at a cost of £8,357. In 1628 the Irish Society reported that 265 houses had been built. In 1633 S. Columb\’s Cathedral was completed.

In 1641 the country was again in a state of warfare and bloodshed. The city was crowded with refugees. From these and from the inhabitants seven regiments were formed, which kept the enemy at a distance and preserved the country around from the massacres which occurred in other northern counties. In 1649 the city suffered from a siege lasting twenty weeks, being held by Sir Charles Coote for the Parliament, and besieged by Lord Montgomery of the Ardes and General Robert Stewart, leaders of the Royal Forces. Coote hired Owen Roe O\’Neill to come to his assistance and compelled the besieging forces to withdraw.

In 1688 the Earl of Tyrconnel sent over to England to support the cause of King James II. the best troops then in Ireland, among the number, those who garrisoned Derry. Lord Antrim was ordered to occupy the city with his regiment, but was delayed by the difficulty of getting sufficient recruits. Meanwhile the citizens were alarmed by rumours of an impending massacre, similar to that of 1641.When Lord Antrim\’s regiment arrived on December 7th, and was being ferried across the river, two officers entered the city, demanding admission and billets for the troops. There was a hot debate in the Corporation; and considerable delay ensued. The soldiers, waiting outside, were becoming impatient, when the young men of the city took the matter into their own hands, overpowered the guards, locked the gates, and threatened to fire on the advancing soldiers which caused them hastily to retreat. After this daring exploit, the citizens took stock, they found their cannon ill-mounted and without ammunition, they had only 300 men within the city who had ever borne arms, and they had few weapons for those who had experience of war; however, they set to work to repair the fortifications and to procure what arms, ammunition and assistance they could. On the 18th of April, 1689, King James and his army invested the city. James fled, when having advanced contrary to the terms of an armistice, a cannon fired from the Cathedral Tower killed an officer and several men near him. Then commenced what Lord Macaulay terms \”the most memorable siege in the annals of the British Isles.\” To his history we must refer those wishing to learn the particulars of that heroic defence which has made the city famous. The siege lasted 105 days, 7,000 persons perished within the walls, and the defenders were reduced to the last extremities of starvation. On the 28th of July three relieving ships with the Dartmouth, a man-of-war, entered the river at Culmore, the Mountjoy leading. An immense boom of floating beams roped together was cut by the crew of the longboat of the Swallow, the Mountjoy, striking the severed boom, ran ashore and was subjected to heavy fire from the forts at each end of the boom, her commander, Captain Browning, and several of the crew being killed, but the rising tide, aided by the recoil of her guns, floated her off, and with the other ships, the Jerusalem and the Phoenix, she arrived at the Quay at 10 o\’clock at night. The besieging forces marched off on August 1st.


Since these turbulent days, the pages of history record Derry progressing along more peaceful channels, and for over a century it has taken a foremost place in the world in the manufacture of shirts and collars, there being more than 30 factories engaged in this work, employing many thousands of hands. It is also famed for its hams and bacon. It has also acquired more than a local reputation in the manufacture of hosiery and kindred apparel. Today (1939), Derry is the second city and port of Ulster, with a population of approximately 50,000.


Striking and beautiful views of Derry and its setting can be seen from the surrounding hills. From the old Strabane road and from above the cemetery one sees in fine panorama the whole city, the river winding down to Lough Foyle, the distant hills of Benevenagh and the Keady making a beautiful picture. The city makes an excellent headquarters for touring the Counties of Londonderry and Donegal. In the immediate vicinity there is much of interest and beauty. Within six miles is the Grianan of Aileach (\”the stone house of the Sun \” ), probably one of the five places marked by Ptolemy on his map of Ireland (A.D. 55) .This was a residence of the Northern Kings of Ireland down to A.D. 1101 , when it was demolished by Murtagh O\’Brien, King of Munster. It consists today of a circular stone cashel 77 feet in diameter, with walls in some places 15 feet thick, terraced inside and pierced by galleries. A pleasant run is to the Ness Waterfall and Glen, between Derry and Dungiven, and thence to the Glens of Banagher.


There are now few relics of antiquity within the city boundaries. The ancient Walls with their interesting bastions and platforms survive, and on them and along the Quays may be seen many old cannon, the gifts of the London companies in 1642, St. Columb\’s Cathedral, completed by the Irish Society in 1633, contains many relics of the siege and occupies a commanding site, within the Walls, on the summit of the hill on which the city is built.

The building contains many striking memorials, including the padlocks and keys of the City Gates, locked in the face of King James\’s soldiers in 1688, and the staves and portions of silk off banners, taken from the French by Colonel Michelburne at the Battle of Windmill Hill, May 6th, 1689.

The bells in the tower are of great antiquity, one recast for the Cathedral in 1614, one in 1630, and five of them having been given by King Charles I. in 1638. In 1929 the old peal of eight bells was recast, and five new bells added by the Hon. the Irish Society and others, and in 1933 magnificent entrance gates were presented by the same Society. Just outside the city on the Moville Road, in the garden at Belmont, is St. Columb\’s stone, which has the sculptured impression of two feet, and is possibly the inauguration stone of the ancient Kings of Aileach.

Modern Buildings.

The Guildhall, completed in 1912, occupies the site of a previous one built in 1887 and destroyed by fire in 1908. The first \”T own House\” was erected in 1616 in the Diamond, and was destroyed in the Siege of 1689. The Guildhall contains a splendid series of stained glass windows, many of them gifts of the London companies, bearing their arms, and illustrating the history of Derry. Several are War Memorials, gifts of the Women Voluntary War Workers of Derry. Others were given by members of the Irish Society, and by prominent citizens. In the Guildhall is the Corporation Plate, including the Mayor\’s Medal and Chain of Office, and the Mace, presented by King William III., Mayor\’s Gold Collarette, massive Loving Cups and other interesting pieces. Here also is the Sword of State presented by the Irish Society in 1616, and that of Sir Cahir O\’Doherty. Among the records are the Charter of 1662, the Freemans Roll, the Corporation Minute Books, and other documents of historical value.

St. Eugene\’s Cathedral is a very fine Gothic building, dedicated in 1873. It has a beautiful spire, a very sweet Carillion of Bells, and an east window of splendid proportions, 54 feet in height and 23 in breadth.

Magee College is an admirably equipped and most flourishing centre of education for those pursuing a University career. Foyle College has a notable record of famous past pupils, among them Lord Lawrence, Sir Henry Lawrence, Sir Robert Montgomery, of Indian Mutiny fame.

The Craigavon Bridge, over the Foyle. is by far the largest and finest bridge in Northern Ireland, being 1,200 feet long. It cost over £250,000, and was opened in state by the Lord Mayor of London on July 18th, 1933.

Londonderry has long been a garrison city, and now has a spacious and up-to-date barracks.

Sport and Recreation.

There is a fine golf course (18 holes) at Prehen, a mile from the city on the Strabane Road, in a most picturesque setting above the river, and at Lisfannon, 10 miles from the city, near Buncrana, are the popular links of the North-West Club. The city is well provided with Municipal Bowling Greens and Tennis Courts in Brooke Park.