Derry/Londonderry: How I have treated a most trivial matter

Bob had his own firmly held views on the issue of how to refer to Ulster’s second city, Derry/Londonderry. He discussed the issue repeatedly, not only with friends and colleagues, but often with his long suffering editors. In the case of this extended note, he writes at some length to one of the editors of the DIB to justify why he has used certain words in the entries he had contributed:

 I have tried to use both versions of the name in this, e.g. Londonderry (as it appeared on the title page) for place of publication of Leebody’s book.

I think that this should be done as a matter of principle: ie to give recognition to cultural living amongst ‘both sections of our people’, to show ‘parity of esteem’ to them, to be ‘inclusive’, and on account of the city’s history. For similar reasons, of sensitivity, I permitted Oxford D.N.B. to permit ‘Catholic’ rather than ‘Roman Catholic’ on one occasion.

I hope that this will be permitted to survive.

Here is reasoning.  I am aware that the naming and renaming of places is a formidable issue. Hence the callous disnaming of the Magee houses (‘We don’t want those people’s names on them any more’.) mentioned earlier.

It seems that in the 26 Counties after independence there was a decision – ‘bringing back the old names’ – to rename many places. It was presumably dictated by the policy of ‘gaelication’. In fact it was only done to a limited extent: street names such as Earlsfort Terrace remained.

True to form and programmatically or normatively[?], the name of the city council here was altered to Derry in the 1970s. This caused much hurt to ‘one section of our people’ here at that time.  Some typists at Magee began using the form Derry and then got themselves transferred to Coleraine.  I put forward in talking to people that the area within the walls, which had been built by the Londoners, might retain the name Londonderry. I drew the analogy with the city of London in relation to greater London. Nobody had heard of that, but the idea sometimes re-surfaces. Many felt at the time that the new residents, within the walls – the old ones having been bombed out – wouldn’t be too keen on it! Gerry Anderson, on the radio, began calling it Derry/Londonderry/Stroke City. That didn’t, perhaps, endear him excessively in programmatically nationalist quarters, but it caught the imagination of many and is widely used on radio etc.  The Verbal Arts Centre (amongst other organisations) used Derry/Londonderry on its note-paper, etc. under its original director, Sam Burnside.

But at this time, the ideal solution – that it should in principle have both names – had not been thought up, though some liberal Catholic nationals began interspersing both in things they write, i.e., put in Londonderry now and again, though use Derry mostly, in all letters or documents.

Then on came those who talked about people (as opposed merely to places) and set out the great ideals – hated alike by ‘each section’ – of ‘inclusiveness’, ‘parity of esteem’ and ‘cultural diversity’. On the strength of those, I think that it should have both names. Unfortunately these ideals haven’t found favour with the City Council here and there is a massive movement afoot once again driving forward that only one name –Derry– must be permissible for both city and county.  In a way I just think that that is a little sad!

In writing this, I followed the old liberal policy of the 1970s, ie interspersions of both names for the city. Had I followed the two-culture ideal of more recent times (which I suppose I should) then I would have had Derry/Londonderry on line 9. It would be very touching were you to put that in for me.  Unfortunately I can’t type and don’t own a computer and I would have to make a journey back to Joanne in Coleraine to ask here to alter it.

Needless to say nothing will come of this ideal here.  Town and county will soon only be allowed to have one name. Yet there is precedent for two names elsewhere. Hence Dublin has two names, one of them being very long. Bilbao has two: different spellings reflecting different dialects or languages, I think. Also, there are both Derry and Londonderry in New Hampshire, each apparently on opposite sides of a river.  During the old order here, people such as Des McCourt used to study them. No doubt it matters little.

I’m sure that this is of no great importance whatsoever. It just explains why I have used both versions.  I hope that they will survive nonetheless.


3 Oct. 2004

The current reference for this document in the PRONI collection is D4446/A/15/1.