Since it’s the 12th of July, I’m taking a short break from the Alaska cruise posts to focus on Derry or Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The town’s original name was Derry, Irish for Oak Grove, but was later renamed Londonderry to reflect the funding of its building by the guilds of London.
Last July, Linda Prine and I took a cruise around the British Isles with my brother Mac and his wife Renee. One of our ports of call was Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland. For our shore excursion, Linda and I took a motorcoach tour to the city of Londonderry, or Derry, as it was originally called. There aren’t many of the old walled cities left in Europe, and I wanted to see and to walk the walls of Derry.
If you’re not familiar with the 12th of July as a holiday, it’s probably because you don’t have ancestors who were Orangemen, i.e. Irish Protestants from Northern Ireland, like I do.
Here’s the background:
In the early 17th century, plantations were set up in the northern province of Ulster by James I of England (James VI of Scotland) son of Mary Queen of Scots. The land was confiscated from the Irish chieftains and handed over to wealthy British landowners who peopled the plantations with Scottish Presbyterians, mostly from from the Lowlands of Scotland, since the land had been severely depopulated during wars in the previous century.
In 1688-1691, another war broke out, this time between supporters of William of Orange and the Scottish Jacobites, who hoped to restore James II to the throne. (In Britain, this conflict is known as The Glorious Revolution.) The Williamites won, thanks to victories at the Siege of Derry and the Battle of the Boyne on July 12, 1690, which later became a holiday.
Northern Irish Protestants still celebrate the 12th of July, which is also known as Orangemen’s Day since the main celebrants are the Orange Order, a fraternal organization dating back to the 17th century. Yes, some of my ancestors were members of the lodge.
The animosity between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland was the cause of The Troubles in the second half of the 20th century. Derry was particularly affected by the Troubles, which mostly ended with the Belfast “Good Friday” Agreement of 1998. You can still see sights like this Protestant enclave in Derry.
A better sight is the Peace Bridge, a pedestrian and cycle bridge over the Foyle River, which opened in 2011.
The recent Brexit vote has led to talk of Northern Ireland finally leaving the UK to join with the Republic of Ireland. Wouldn’t that be an interesting development?
Happy 12th of July, even if there aren’t any parades in your neighborhood.