A charter incorporates Derry as the city of Londonderry on March 29, 1613 and also creates the new county of Londonderry. Despite the official name, the city is more usually known as simply Derry, which is an anglicisation of the Old Irish Daire, which in modern Irish is spelled Doire, and translates as “oak-grove/oak-wood.” The name derives from the settlement’s earliest references, Daire Calgaich (“oak-grove of Calgach”). The name is changed from Derry in 1613 during the Plantation of Ulster to reflect the establishment of the city by the London guilds.
Ulster is finally brought under the control of Elizabeth I’s government at the beginning of the 17th century following a long struggle between the Tudor monarchy and the Gaelic chieftains. This follows the defeat of the chieftains at the Siege of Kinsale in 1601 after a war lasting nine years. Although the Gaelic chieftains are allowed to remain on their land, their positions have been weakened. A group of them leave Ireland for the continent in 1607, never to return. The “Flight of the Earls”, as it is known, is seen as treason by James I’s government and their lands are confiscated. This important event opens the way for James I to further increase his control over Ulster by settling tens of thousands of settlers from England, Scotland and Wales on the confiscated lands.
Surveying and planning for the plantation take place during 1608 and 1609 and the plantation proper begins in 1610. The towns of Derry and Coleraine, as well as much of the lands that are to become County Londonderry, are granted to the City of London Corporation, which is charged with planting them.
The Society of the Governor and Assistants, London, of the New Plantation in Ulster, within the realm of Ireland, known after the Restoration as the Irish Society, is formed in 1609 by the City of London, to manage the estates which it has been obliged very reluctantly to take on. The Irish Society takes charge of the overall management of the Irish estates, with direct control of the new city of Derry and of the town of Coleraine.
The City of London livery companies are required to take on estates in the surrounding County of Londonderry. The Great Twelve livery companies bear the heaviest financial burden. The county is divided among them into twelve “proportions,” distributed by the drawing of lots. The Great Twelve are in turn supported by a number of minor companies, so that thirty livery companies in all have Irish estates derived from their participation in James I’s scheme for the plantation of Ulster.
However, the first phase of the existence of the Irish Society is short-lived. The Great Parchment Book is compiled in the late 1630s when Charles I claims the estates as forfeit after a politically-motivated case in Star Chamber rules that the Londoners have not fulfilled their obligations of plantation.
The City of Londonderry is very much a product of the plantation and plays a pivotal role in safeguarding the plantation. Its walls, which are still intact today, repulse sieges in 1641, 1649 and 1689.
By the end of the 17th century, Ulster, which had been the most Gaelic part of Ireland, has become the most “British.” The plantation creates Ulster we know today with its socio-economic base, its religious and political diversity, and its shared heritage.