But long before that it was known as Derry (from the Gaelic Doire, which means grove of oaks). Now, the Derry city council has voted to begin the process of changing the name back to its original.
Unionists are not happy. The head of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble, has denounced it as “a disgrace.” But for the majority Catholic population, the change has been a long time in coming.
Derry is central to both the Nationalist and Unionist experience in the North — or at least how they think about it. It is the scene of one of the most celebrated events in Protestant history — the siege of Derry, which for centuries has been the buttress of the Ulster Protestant’s sense of himself as unyielding and uncompromising. For Nationalists, the city became a symbol of blatant discrimination and all that was wrong with partition and Unionist rule. In more recent times, this sense was all too brutally heightened by the massacre of Bloody Sunday.
The proposed name change might be seen by some as an exercise in the kind of majority rule that Nationalists so long condemned when it was the Unionists who were doing it. But Derry can reclaim its ancient identity without alienating its Protestant citizens. The council, while wanting to make Derry the official name of the city, has included a provision in the proposal that would allow anyone to employ either name in their correspondence, official as well as unofficial, to the local authorities, with the guarantee that it will be respected.
That is the kind of flexibility that Northern Ireland sorely needs and of which Derry has shown itself capable on many occasions before.