The site for
the human settlement that was to evolve into the city of Derry/Londonderry
had features, which would prove attractive to potential settlers.
It is likely that Mesolithic settlers found their way here from
the nearby Mount Sandel along the Bann and Foyle riverways. It
is also likely that human habitation continued right up to the
early historic period, when it is described as Doire Calgach,
a name used right up to the tenth century. Doire, anglicised as
Derry, describes an oakgrove and nothing is known of Calgach,
who must have exercised some power or influence over Derry.
map illustrates the island nature of the site, formerly encompassed
by the River Foyle which, up to some 5000 years ago, flowed around
both sides of the island. Over time, the western channel dried
out. By 1600, the invading Elizabethan Colonel Henry Dowcra would
describe the site as he found it.
lies in the form of a bow bent whereof the
string and the river the bow.”
The bog which
he described was later drained and built upon and came to be known
as the Bogside, a name which, in recent times, has gained worldwide
situated some 25 miles inland on the fast flowing river Foyle
and surrounded by bog and water, was a site which could provide
seclusion and was more defensible than most. The river, which
gives access to the North Atlantic, would also play the role
of highway for invaders, settlers and emigrants alike and prove
a barrier between competing interests in the North West of Ireland.
position and comparative seclusion from its surroundings no doubt
played a part in the decision to found a monastery there in the
sixth century. Its foundation is popularly credited to St. Columba
or Colmcille after which it took its second name, Doire Colmcille.
Recent research has cast doubts on the authenticity of this claim
and suggest an alternative founder. Nevertheless it was an important
part of the Columban federation of monasteries and it was from
Derry that Columba would depart on his mission to take the Christian
message to Scotland and the North of England. Catholic and Protestant
traditions both cherish their Columban heritage.
it remained from the tenth to the early seventeenth centuries
but plans, for the extension of Tudor control over the whole of
the island of Ireland, were to change the function of monastic
first English garrison established in Derry came about as a result
of hostilities between the forces of Queen Elizabeth and John
chief of Tyrone. In 1566Colonel Randolph, commanding seven companies
of foot and a troop of horse, arrived and set up without opposition.
a battle, fought five miles north of Derry, Randolph defeated
but lost his own life in the process. Fortune did not favour
the new garrison for by 1568 English forces were forced to evacuate.
Pestilence and an explosion in the powder magazine put paid to
this first attempt at English colonisation.
strategic importance of Derry, for English aspirations, is implied
in Queen Elizabeth’s communication to the Earl of Essex
often have you resolved us that until Lough Foyle
and Ballyshannon were planted there could be no hope
of doing capital service upon the capital rebels.”
capital rebels referred to were the confederation of Irish
chieftans, primarily O’Neill and O’Donnell and
the establishment of an armed outpost at Derry was to be
a means of prosecuting the war from behind enemy lines.
a year, on 16 April 1600, the advancement of the Elizabethan cause
was realised with the arrival at Culmore of Henry Dowcra, with
a force of 4,000 foot and 200 horse. Again Derry was occupied without
opposition. A train of events was now in motion which would introduce
drastic changes in Derry’s fortunes which would have profound
effects locally and nationally, that would be felt right up to
the present day.
Nine Years War ended with the submission of O’Neill at Kinsale
in 1603. With Sir Henry Dowcra, designated governor, King James
issued a charter for the new “cittie of derrie”.
The expectations were clear.