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City of Derry

Grove of oaks

The island of Derry, contains about 200 acres and 2000 years ago was covered by a grove of oaks which gave its name to the site 'Derry' the wooden oak. Derry enters history with the building of a cluster of churches and cells from wood. The main abbey church built in the time of Columba, was called the Dubh Regles or Cella Nigra. Columba visited Derry on several occassions, and parted an important part in the convention of Drumcreatt, held at Mullagh Hill near Limavady. Dr Sigerson records Columba's love of Derry in his poem.

" Came all Alba's cess to me
From its centre to its sea,
I would choose better part,
One house set in Derry's heart.

Derry mine! my small oak grove,
Little cell, my home, my love!
O thou Lord of Lasting Life,
Woe to him who brings it strife,"

The Norse invasions of the 9th and 10th century, is recorded under the years 989 and 997 by the Annualists noting that Derry Calgaich was plundered by the Norsemen. Derry Calgaich is the older name for the town and was replaced after 1000 AD by the name Derry Columbcille, after the famous founder of its Churches.

The 11th century was to see the rise within Clan Owen of the O'Cahan Sept which ruled the lands of present County of Londonderry. The O'Cahans were generous towards the church and under the year 1192 the O'Cahan Chief presented the doorway of the refectory to the Dubh-Regles in Derry. The 12th century was to see Derry burned 4 times, in 1135, 1149, 1166 and 1203. Under 1133 the Annualist wrote that it was burned with its churches, under 1166 that the Dubh-Regles was burned, while under 1203 they stated that Derry was burned from the cementery of St Martin to the well of St Adamnan. During the 12th century Derry was a mixture of ecclesiastical buildings such as churches and cells together with ordinary houses where people pursued various occupations. Then in the year 1162 Abbot O'Brolchain, a man of great ability, and O'Lochlainn, King of Ireland, were instrumental in bringing about a total seperation demolished and removed. A drystone wall was erected to seperate the monastery from any secular building, while a curse was pronounced on anyone who would cross the wall. The annuals tell of a great gale on the 3rd December 1146, which blew down sixty houses in Derry and killed many people inside a church.

Clan Owen was to play the part of guardian of the Church and in the year 1197, Flaherty O'Muldory, Chief of Clan Owen caught and hanged a member of the Cianachta, who had robbed the alter of the great church in Derry. In 1211 the O'Cahan Chief came to Derry to seize the house of McLoughlin's son. The chief prior of the Abbey Church, interposed to make peace between them and was killed.

The Coming of the Anglo-Normans

The year 1197 was to record the first raid against Derry by the Normans, A party under the command of Rotsel Pitun came into the harbour of Derry and plundered the churches of Clonney, Enagh and Deargbruagh. Once again Clan Owen under the command of Flaherty O'Muldory came to the defence of Derry and fought a battle against the Normans, who where defeated. The same year De Courcy crossed into Tyrone and marched through Derry where his troops spent five nights, fought a battle and plundered Inishowen. Again Derry was plundered by the Normans under the command of Thomas MacUchtry with a fleet of 76 ships and carried off all the precious articles from the churches of Derry to Coleraine.

The Plantation of Ulster and Beyond

Modern Derry was founded by Sir Henry Dowcra in 1600. The charter granted to the London companies in 1613 allows the prefix 'London' to be added. Derry's formidable stone walls , completed in 1618, mark it out as the last fortified city to be built in western Europe. During the williamite wars, the city endured 105 day siegn by the army of the catholic King James II. Derry also played an important role , as a centre of communications for the Alantic campaign during the second world war. The most notable and historic feature of the city is its walls, which have been kept in a spendid state of preservation. Except for the insertion of three additional gateways in more recent times, they remain little altered from when they were built in 1618, and are the most nearly complete city walls anywhere in the british isles. About a mile in circumference, they form a cobbled walkway around the Inner City and provide a unique promenade. The layout of the original city within these walls still preserve it medieval plan with the four principal streets radiating from the diamond at the centre to the old gateway - Bishop's Gate, Shipquay Gate, Butcher's Gate and Ferryquay Gate.

The famous skeleton on the city's coat-of-arms is said to depict the association with another aristocratic family, the Norman de Burgos, who built their great fortress at Greencastle at the entrance to Lough Foyle.


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