This past weekend we went to Northern Ireland, a small country that has been a part of the United Kingdom since the 1920s. My group’s first stop was the small, port city of Derry or Londonderry depending on who you ask. We got off the bus and were immediately greeted by the best tour guide I’ve ever had the privilege of going on a tour with. He immediately jumps into the history of his “beautiful city” with the most enthusiasm I had ever seen. He started his spiel with a history of the city, in which he talked about how some people call it Derry, and others call it Londonderry. Now this absolutely fascinated me because how could a city have two names? On this tour, I realized the importance of a name, and how the names of this now-quaint, port city of Derry/Londonderry have separated people for generations and continue to cause a divide amongst the residents today. The controversy surrounding the name began in the 17th century with the start of the Plantation of Ulster, a movement by the English to settle people in Ireland that would be loyal to the crown. Loyalists, the people loyal to the crown of England, were granted a charter by English King James I to rename the city Londonderry in 1613, which was then confirmed in another charter in 1662. This obviously angered the local inhabitants who still chose to call it Derry, disregarding its official name, but it didn’t become an inflammatory issue until the Irish Independence movement, and more specifically, the Troubles. During the Troubles, Derry was divided between Catholic nationalists and Protestant unionists, just like many other parts of Ireland, especially in the North. On the 30th of January 1972, there was a civil rights protest that was ended with 14 nationalist dead and many more injured after British paratroopers shot into the marching crowd. This only divided the city and nation more.
The point is, you can generally tell a lot about a person by their name, like maybe their heritage or where they are from in a country or city. With the city of Derry/Londonderry, you can tell which side of the divide someone is on simply by what they call the city. This trip really opened my mind to how important a name is for identification, but also how it can mean so much more. The divide between nationalists and unionists still exists today and is evident every day when someone asks “where do you live?”
By: Daniel Miller