County Londonderry or County Derry is one of the six counties of Northern Ireland. Adjoined to the north-west shore of Lough Neagh, the county covers an area of 2,074 km², with a population of approximately 233,550. It is also one of the thirty-two traditional counties of Ireland, lying within the historical province of Ulster.
Since 1981, it has become one of four counties in Northern Ireland that has a Catholic majority (55.56% according to the 2001 Census), with 57% of the Catholic population residing within Derry City Council.
The highest point in the county is the summit of Sawel Mountain (678 m) on the border with County Tyrone. Sawel is part of the Sperrin Mountains, which dominate the southern part of the county. To the east and west, the land falls into the valleys of the Bann and Foyle rivers respectively; in the south-east, the county touches the shore of Lough Neagh, which is the largest lake in Ireland; the north of the county is distinguished by the steep cliffs, dune systems, and remarkable beaches of the Atlantic coast.
The county is home to a number of important buildings and landscapes, including the well-preserved 17th-century city walls of Derry; the National Trust-owned Plantation estate at Springhill; Mussenden Temple with its spectacular views of the Atlantic; the dikes, artificial coastlines and the noted bird sanctuaries on the eastern shore of Lough Foyle; and the visitor centre at Bellaghy Bawn, close to the childhood home of Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. In the centre of the county are the old-growth deciduous forests at Banagher and Ness Wood, where the Burntollet River flows over the highest waterfalls in Northern Ireland.
The county flower is the Purple Saxifrage.
The term Oak Leaf County is the county nickname particularly in relation to the county’s teams in Gaelic Athletic Associationcompetitions.
Mountsandel in Coleraine is “perhaps the oldest recorded settlement within Ireland”.
Unlike the town, governmentally there was not a preceding administrative area called County Derry. Rather County Londonderry was created by James I when he gave a charter to the Irish Society to undertake the new county’s plantation – the London prefix being added in reference to the London Livery Companies of the Irish Society. This charter is dated 29 March 1613, and declared that the “City of Londonderry” and everything contained within:
“ shall be united, consolidated, and from hence-forth for ever be one entire County of itself, distinct and separate from all our Counties whatsoever within our Kingdom of Ireland-and from henceforth for ever be named, accounted and called, the County of Londonderry.
” This new county would comprise the then County Coleraine, which consisted of the baronies of Tirkeeran, Coleraine, and Keenaght; all but the south-west corner of the barony of Loughinsholin, which was then a part of County Tyrone; the North East Liberties of Coleraine, which was part of County Antrim; and the City of Londonderry and the Liberties, which were in County Donegal.
The Liberties of Coleraine and Londonderry were requested by the Irish society so that they could control both banks of the mouths of the River Foyle and the River Bann, and Loughinsholin to have access to sufficient wood for construction.
As a result of the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898, the city was detached from the county for administrative purposes, becoming a separate county borough from 1899. The county town of County Londonderry, and seat of the Londonderry County Council until its abolition in 1973, was therefore moved to the town of Coleraine.
From Harris’s Hibernica, and also from Captain Pynnar’s Survey, Anno 1618:
“ The county of Coleraine,* otherwise called O’Cahan’s country, is divided, as Tyrone, by ballyboes and doth contain, as appeareth by the survey, 547 ballyboes, or 34,187 acres, every ballyboe containing 60 acres or thereabouts.
” English control of the territory remained nominal. Following the Flight of the Earls (1607) the Crown confiscated almost the entire county from its Irish aristocratic feudal owners. In 1609 the territory was given to the City of London Corporation and its livery companies, who received instructions to undertake its plantation.
The area for planting included:
- the entirety of County Coleraine
- the barony of Loughinsholin which comprised the then north of County Tyrone and the environs of Coleraine in County Antrim, together called O’Cahan’s Country
- a small area of County Donegal around Lough Foyle
In 1613, this larger area became incorporated into the newly-founded County Londonderry, with its county town in the new walled city of Derry (also founded in 1613) on the west bank of the Foyle, opposite the destroyed town of Derry.
The place name Derry is an anglicisation of the old Irish Daire (Modern Irish Doire), meaning “oak-grove” or “oak-wood”.
As with the city, its name is subject to the Derry/Londonderry name dispute, with the form “Derry” generally preferred by nationalistsand “Londonderry” generally preferred by unionists.
The name “Derry” is used in the Republic of Ireland, while most of the British authorities use the name “Londonderry”.
In 1973 counties ceased to be a unit of administration within Northern Ireland, being replaced by district councils.
Derry City Council, Limavady Borough Council, and Magherafelt District Council all fall within County Londonderry’s boundaries. Most of Coleraine Borough Council also covers an area within the county (the remainder being in County Antrim), as well as a part of Cookstown District Council (most of which covers an area in County Tyrone).
Cities (population of 75,000 or more with a cathedral)
Large towns (population of 18,000 or more and under 75,000 at 2001 Census)
Medium towns (population of 10,000 or more and under 18,000 at 2001 Census)
Small towns (population of 4,500 or more and under 10,000 at 2001 Census)
- Magherafelt, Portstewart
Intermediate settlements (population of 2,250 or more and under 4,500 at 2001 Census)
- Culmore (part of Derry Urban Area), Dungiven, Eglinton, Maghera, Newbuildings (part of Derry Urban Area)
Villages (population of 1,000 or more and under 2,250 at 2001 Census)
- Ballykelly, Bellaghy, Castledawson, Castlerock, Claudy, Draperstown, Garvagh, Greysteel, Kilrea, Moneymore, Strathfoyle(part of Derry Urban Area)
Small villages or hamlets (population of less than 1,000 at 2001 Census)
- Articlave, Ballerin, Ballymaguigan, Ballyronan, Clady, Culnady, Desertmartin, Downhill, Drumsurn, Feeny, Gulladuff, Lettershendoney, Macosquin, Ringsend, Swatragh, Tobermore, Upperlands.
Main article: Baronies of Ireland
- North East Liberties of Coleraine
- North West Liberties of Londonderry
Government-funded education up to secondary school level is administered by
- Western Education and Library Board: Derry, Limavady
- North Eastern Education and Library Board: Coleraine, Magherafelt
- Southern Education and Library Board: Cookstown
For Catholic grant-maintained schools administration is by the Derry Diocesan Education Office.
Two major centres of the University of Ulster are in the county, including its headquarters at Coleraine and the Magee Campus in Derry.
In Gaelic games, the GAA county of Derry is more or less coterminous with the former administrative county of Londonderry, although teams from the neighbouring counties of Tyrone, Donegal and Antrim have occasionally played in Derry competitions, and vice versa. The Derry teams wear the colours red and white. There are many club teams competing in up to five leagues and three championships. The county team has won one All-Ireland Senior Football Championship (in 1993) and five National League titles. Hurling is also widely played but is not as popular as football.
However, the county team is generally regarded as one of the top hurling sides in Ulste and in 2006 won the Nicky Rackard Cup – the third tier hurling competition in Ireland.
In association football, the IFA Premiership has one teams in the county: Coleraine F.C.. Institute F.C., Limavady United F.C., Moyola Park F.C., Portstewart F.C. and Tobermore United F.C. compete in the IFA Championship. Derry City F.C. play in the Premier Divisionof the League of Ireland after leaving the Northern Ireland structures in 1985, having resigned from the Irish Football League at the height of the Troubles because of not being allowed play their home games at the Brandywell due to security concerns from other clubs.
The Northern Ireland Milk Cup was established in 1983 and is regarded as one of the most prestigious youth football tournaments in Europe and the world.
The competition is based at Coleraine and involves several other towns and villages in the county – Limavady, Portstewart and Castlerock – and in neighbouring County Antrim – Ballymoney, Portrush, Ballymena and Broughshane. The event, held in the last week of July, has attracted teams from 56 countries around the world including Europe, the USA, Africa, the Far East, South America, the Middle East, Australia, Russia, New Zealand and Canada. Some of the biggest teams in the world have entered including Premiership giants Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur as well as top European teams such as Feyenoord, FC Porto, FC Barcelona, Benfica, Bayern Munich and Dynamo Kiev.
In rugby union, the county is represented at senior level by Rainey Old Boys Rugby Club, Magherafelt who compete in the Ulster Senior League and All Ireland Division Three. Limavady R.F.C, City of Derry Rugby Club, Londonderry Y.M.C.A and Coleraine Rugby Club all compete in Ulster Qualifying League One.
Cricket is particularly popular in the north-west of Ireland, with 11 of the 20 senior clubs in the North West Cricket Union located in County Londonderry: Limavady, Eglinton, Glendermott, Brigade, Killymallaght, Ardmore, Coleraine, Bonds Glen, Drummond, Creevedonnell and The Nedd.
In rowing, Richard Archibald from Coleraine along with his Irish team-mates qualified for the Beijing 2008 Olympics by finishing second in the lightweight fours final in Poznan, thus qualifying for the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Another Coleraine rower Alan Campbell is a World Cup gold medallist in the single sculls in 2006.
The county currently has four main radio stations:
- BBC Radio Foyle
- Six FM (in the south of the county)