The problem with Derry…

Both in its Georgian architecture and its people Derry has bags of character. But argues (subs needed) Fionnuala O’Connor, in this fast moving modern world that is not enough. Its real deficit is economic development. In that respect, its once dependent hinterland in Donegal has begun to draw ahead of the walled city: and not least in the superior quality of its service industries. Recognising the damage done to its own cross community social capital during the Troubles might be a useful starting point in redressing its other deficits:

How today’s situation shakes down will depend on several factors, not least the psychology of coming generations of bright young Derry-born Protestants. Most of their parents may stay fixated on the most blatant change in the landscape. It is certainly hard to assimilate the fact that the city’s chief contemporary political representative, sharing the top post in a transformed Stormont with none other than Ian Paisley, is Martin McGuinness.

The McGuinness reputation was made 30 years ago, when he led the IRA while it bombed Derry’s commercial centre close to extinction.

But then for many Catholics across the North, Ian Paisley as First Minister is hardly a source of joyous contemplation either.

Protestant flight from Catholic-run Derry to Limavady and the east is not much of a slogan, and no way to live. Martin McGuinness has been local lad made good for a long time.

The IRA’s war in Derry was over, at least in the view of many republicans, several years before the first “cessation of military operations” was declared. In the view of many unionists, the reason was clear enough. The IRA would not bomb what its own people now controlled. There was little unionist-owned business left inside the walls and the Guildhall, seat of local government, had changed hands.

The council had become “Derry Council”, renamed by the upwardly mobile nationalist majority that relegated “Londonderry”. In the early Troubles it was Derry, not Belfast, that drew international attention for its radicals and rhetoric.

Like other places, Derry people resent disrespect from outsiders but are quick to jibe themselves. Some who saw the revolution begin wonder where the radicalism went. Only slightly joking, they mutter that a good few foot soldiers of the civil rights movement have joined the landlord classes.

Others simply want the rich to spend their money at home, and support a few good restaurants.

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  • Fraggle

    A lazy space-filling article that doesn’t say anything substantial. She could at least get the name of the council right if she’s going to comment on it.

    Why blog this pap?

  • Mick Fealty

    If I might comment on a comment: “a lazy space-filling comment that doesn’t say anything substantial”.

    Why blog it? Because it’s a pointer to a real place/situation that may or may not be worthy of discussion, but is certainly worthy of note.

  • Cruimh

    IF Derry’s problems in the past were because it wasn’t run by nationalists (gerrymandering and all that) how come it’s still a dump now it’s a nationalist stronghold?

  • Sean

    As an outsider the time I visited Derry it had a slightly sinister feel to it, a not overt but unquestioned lack of freindliness to strangers. I know because of the troubles strangers are someone to watch and be warry of but I found it more pronounced there than other places I traveled.

    The only place I found worse for having a sinister undercurrent that made me feel unwelcomed was Ballymena, so that even though it was only a 15 minute bus ride from where I was staying I spent only a few hours there and was never tempted to return

  • Sean,

    I have been in Derry many times, but can honestly say that I never felt anything unduly sinister about the place. I think that most people there are definitely more outgoing and friendly than most people here in my native city of Belfast. I went down to one of their famous Halloween nights a few years back and it was amazing.

    As regards towns with ‘sinister’ feelings, I guess it’s all down to our own individual personal experiences. I always felt that Newtownards was a pretty sinister place when i went there and apparently crime has escalated through the roof down there lately.

    Ballynahinch is another desperate place…

  • derrydave

    Sinister Undercurrent ??!!
    Would ye ever wise up ! I think some peoples preconceived ideas about places just completely destroy any chance of them bein able to enjoy life and the places it brings them.
    Derry is a great city, and like most other places throughout the north is known for the friendliness of the locals. Spend 2 weeks livin in London and then come back to Derry and see if ye still think it’s unfriendly !

  • huge airy

    …and dont forget to bring a friend…you get two hidings for the price of one at the weekend

  • parcifal

    one sounds rather put out and browned orf?

  • jpeters

    i will agree the hallowe’en experience is great have been there 3 years running so long as you dont stay too late!

    the only thing that bothers me in Derry is the apparent absolute hegemony of belief in working class areas

    I remember saying something only vaguely SF and everyone looked at me as if i had two heads!

    They didnt strike me as people that would produce new ‘radicals and rhetoric’

  • The World’s Gone Mad

    derrydave – agreed. I love the place and have had many a good time in Derry – nights out, weekends, weddings – and despite being an outsider and ‘one of other lot’ have never felt or been threatened. I appreciate this wouldn’t be everyone’s experience and I first started going there in the early 90s at the tail-end of the Troubles but I did not feel any sinister undercurrent (it may have been dampened by the copious amounts of alcohol I always seemed to drink up there). Whether Waterside or city-side, the people I’ve met have been friendly and welcoming.

    Strabane and Lurgan on the other hand….

  • jpeters


    strabane agreed but some nice country areas outside it were every one is welcome

  • I’d echo TWGM’s sentiments.
    I’ve had several boozy nights out and there isn’t the same edge that you find in many parts of Belfast; whether that’s because it’s a much more geographically segregated city or simply Derry people are different I don’t know.

  • Yer Woman

    The problem with Derry is that there’s no jobs, but they still have more than Strabane.

    West of the Bann is a dismal place unless you’re a holiday maker or have made a fortune/won the lottery and thus have no need for a job. The locals with any sense usually high-tail it out of there for jobs or uni elsewhere as soon as they can.

    The one good thing about Derry is its proximity to Donegal.

  • “IF Derry’s problems in the past were because it wasn’t run by nationalists (gerrymandering and all that) how come it’s still a dump now it’s a nationalist stronghold? Posted by Cruimh on Jul 13, 2007 @ 11:53 AM”

    Although the hard right like to believe things were better when the Specials kept the Fenians tethered, John Hume (remember him?) did bring a lot of $$$ to the city. Protestants are no loss.

  • Yer Woman

    SGB – He brought a lot of jobs yes, but marketed the city to American bigwigs as a low paid labour heaven, heavily subsidised by government funding (Fruit of the Loom a case in point).

    Yesterday’s shirt factories are today’s call centres.

  • eranu

    ive visited londonderry, or derry for short 🙂 , maybe 10 times. the main problems are the masses of spides that roam around. especially in that shopping centre on ‘ship quay street’ (i think). also the lack of any trendy types in the bars at night.
    its classed as a city but really its only a big town. people can expect too much if they think of it as a city. you might expect a large town to have a couple of good bars and restaurants and maybe a descent night club to go to. not sure about the night club but you should be able to find one or two nice bars and restaurants in derry. i dont think expectations should be too much higher than this.

  • Eranu,

    If Derry is “just a big town”, what does that make Lisburn then…?

  • SGB,

    “Protestants are no loss.”

    You do your arguments no favours when you throw out comments like that.

  • Liam

    I’m from Limavady so for a lot of things I am quite dependent on Derry and the people are definitely outgoing but I never really think of it as a proper city. There are only a few decent restuarants, there is a lack of non-chain stores now that some of the independent record shops and stuff have shut and there really isn’t much I can get there that I can’t get in Coleraine which is classed as a town. The Nerve Centre is great but it would be great to see more places like it and more things happening.
    It just doesn’t have the cosmopolitan atmoshpere like Belfast is developing but I think more investment would help that by bringing more people into the City and there needs to be an attempt to stop people in the Waterside from leaving. The relatively homogenous nature of Derry I suppose is down to its experiences during the Troubles so let’s hope it develops into a true city in the future, the sort of city its cultural heritage and history deserves.

  • willowfield

    If Derry is “just a big town”, what does that make Lisburn then…?

    Just a medium-sized town.

  • I reckon you’re right Willowfield. I remember when they allocated City Status to both Newry and Lisburn, that it just seemed a little odd. At taht time Lisburn didnt even have a hotel.

  • Mayoman

    “Yesterday’s shirt factories are today’s call centres.”

    So you would have preferred nothing, yer woman??

  • willowfield

    At taht time Lisburn didnt even have a hotel.

    Does it have one now?

  • Diluted Orange

    [i]If Derry is “just a big town”, what does that make Lisburn then…?

    Just a medium-sized town. [/i]

    Actually in terms of population Lisburn is larger than Derry – the only problem is that there are even less things to do there.

    [i]I remember when they allocated City Status to both Newry and Lisburn, that it just seemed a little odd.[/i]

    Yes, a wonderful example of our pettiness in NI. Everywhere else in the UK (i.e. Wales, England, Scotland) got one new city each – we on the other hand got 2 for no other reason than, like the way a parent tries to appease 2 petulant children by insisting that they both have to be treated equally at all times, the British government had to have both a new Prod-city and a new Catholic-city as giving to one side over the other, just wouldn’t do.

    Being from Lisburn I can honestly say I don’t see the point in awarding city status to what is effectively a very large suburb of Belfast, which is only 8 miles away!

  • willowfield

    Actually in terms of population Lisburn is larger than Derry

    Nonsense. Presumably you’re referring to the borough of Lisburn (which includes towns like Hillsborough and Belfast suburbs like Dunmurry and Poleglass), not the town. Not comparing like with like.

  • Diluted Orange

    The borough of Lisburn is what is all encompassed by the city of Lisburn. So in that case it is. But yes, you’re right in that the actual city of Derry is larger than the town of Lisburn.

  • willowfield

    The borough of Lisburn is what is all encompassed by the city of Lisburn

    Are you sure? The High Court recently found that the city of Londonderry and Derry City Council were not one and the same, so surely this means that the “city” of Lisburn and Lisburn City Council are not one and the same either?

    What about Newry – does the “city” include the entire Newry and Mourne district?


  • Doire

    From Diluted Orange…..
    “British government had to have both a new Prod-city and a new Catholic-city as giving to one side over the other, just wouldn’t do.”

    The 2001 Census said Lisburn was 42% Catholic….I’d hardly call it a “Prod-City”.

  • Sean

    Derry Dave
    I would never go to London. I am a small town man by birth and by preferance. And I never said the people were unfriendly it just fealt a little unwelcoming I cant say why sometimes some places just strike you that way. I would have no problem going back to Derry, was just a feeling I had

  • OnTheTurn

    Of a Saturday nightIn Milan one might go to the Opera, in London to a show in the West End. In Derry you phone for an ambulance then beatlumps of the crew when they turn up.

  • Cahal

    Or you could go to the millenium forum and see Daniel.

  • Cruimh

    “John Hume (remember him?) did bring a lot of $$$ to the city. ”

    So, even though Saint John brought lots of money it’s still a mess. Kinda suggests the problem wasn’t the Unionist control OR lack of investment – that only leave two conclusions –
    1- Nationalist politicians don’t do a good job
    2- the problem is Derry itself.

  • Dewi

    Cruimh – chuck summat on our language thread will ya !

  • k

    I’m from Newry and I’ll guarantee you that no-one cals it a city. That was an invention by the Chamber of commerce, council and the rest of the great and the good.
    ‘I’m heading into the City centre’ when referring to Newry just doesn’t seem right. Newry Town/City FC only agreed to change their name when the council agreed to pay for the cost of rebranding the jersies!
    On a light note, several years ago the council ran a competition for a new tourist slogan for the area. Someone suggested: ‘See Paris and weep, see Newry and Mourne’! (Mourne/mourn! geddit!!!!!)

  • Cruimh
  • k

    Free the Paris 1! Oh wait…..

  • Sorry to go back to the original article, but I’m a fan of the city within the walls. Its great advantages are that much of the central area around the Diamond and up towards St Columb’s has escaped the developers. As a result, there are buildings of the 18th,19th and early 20th centuries which are as attractive and desirable as any in these islands.

    The Guildhall is a fine building: the shame is that you have to smuggle yourself in to see what must be one of the most astounding collections of “every picture tells a story” glass in the world. One may cavil at what the windows depict, but how it is done is splendid.

    However, if anyone has any gelignite left over, it can beneficially be deposited at the BT building (taking care not to disturb the glazing opposite, please).

    And the riverside down to the Foyle Bridge (itself as good a solution as one is likely to to get) is begging to be more sympathetically developed than presently seems the case.

  • barnshee

    “Its real deficit is economic development. In that respect, its once dependent hinterland in Donegal has begun to draw ahead of the walled city”

    Simple—ship the whole fucking mess into that nirvana the ROI and let them sort it out.

  • Cruimh

    Come on barnshee – it has to be kept for ABOD 🙂

  • skinbop

    Semi-interesting discussion. psychology of bright young protestants in the cities is as follows:

    1. Get into uni in England or Scotland (Newcastle seems to be the place these days)

    2. Stay and maybe come home for Xmas.

    3. The end.

  • Benn

    Derry has its own charms, and the problems it suffers from are far from unique. Mostly it’s classic core/periphery, and the bias from Belfast is one thing that the Catholics and Protestants in the town can agree about. Three big challenges for Derry: 1) Economic development. Get and hold the jobs. Some improved transport, investment not just from the south, and support for employers would be a big boost. 2) Come to terms with Protestant alientation, which is both real and also being used as a prop/tool by some. Lots of interface issues, the siege of the Fountain, and just the general circulation of people needs to be improved (like I said, not unique). 3) Stop the little wankers from drinking and carrying on at night, making people feel insecure in the city center and making the Wall stink like piss and crunch with broken glass almost every morning of the week. Derry has more foreigners turning up all the time to have a look, and while I have mixed feelings about that, it can be a source of civic pride (we Troubled great here!) and money to spread around. In truth, Derry transitioned away from violence fairly early, and that should be rewarded not penalized. As for liking/disliking the place, to each his/her own, but I think it’s a fine berg, and the hell with Letterkenny (no offense). Ben

  • BogExile


    Second only to Liverpool in the relentless celebration of its iconic victimhood. The old sow eats her farrow day and daily and what remains is a georgian slum surrounded by housing you wouldn’t make a gulag out of.

  • BogExile @ 05:56 PM:

    OK, fair enough. Once we’ve washed the spittle off that helpful contribution, how do we improve things, both in the (potentially very attractive) Georgian city-within-the-walls and those dire housing estates?

    > employment, employment, employment;
    > protection and support for the heritage; and
    > environmental improvements for the rest.

    It would also contribute if:
    > transport was upgraded, both within the urban area and between the City and (road, rail and — yes — air) with other communities;
    > people got positive rather than playing funny buggers.