Emigration from Derry

The bloody revolt of 1641 that saw many of the newly settled protestants in Northern Ireland killed by native Catholics and old English Catholics, the response that seen many Catholics killed by British forces, the bitter sectarian fuelled War of the 2 Kings and siege of Londonderry and the introduction of the Penal Laws, led to a lot of distrust among the various religions in Ireland. This naturally led to many leaving Ireland including from Derry.

The penal laws were a set of laws introduced mostly to target Catholics but only recognised Anglican as a legal religion. These weren’t enforced very much on other protestant religions but still along with the fact that the English crown had already broken promises with the settlers and rent on land was excessive, led to Presbyterians in the city feeling that it wasn’t the best place for them. Unlike the Catholics in Ireland they had only just arrived from Scotland so they had no strong ties with the area so many were quick to decide to move to American.

Among the first of the Presbyterian groups to leave from the city was the congregation led by reverend James McGregor, who fought in the Siege. They landed in Boston and went on to found the towns of Derry and Londonderry in New Hampshire. By the end of the 18th century 250,000 Presbyterians had left ulster many of whom left from the port in Derry. Despite being initially unwelcome in America by the end of the 18th century Presbyterians or Scots-Irish/Ulster-Scots as they were known, were well integrated with American society, they went on to play a key role in the war for American independence and 17 American presidents are believed to be linked to Presbyterians that came from ulster.

During the 18th century Derry was probably the main port in Ireland for transatlantic emigration which became a source of income for the city. The main port of arrival in America was Philadelphia the connection to Ireland is still recognised to this day and has celebrated St Patrick’s days for 250 successive years. Most people left on the promise of working for themselves without being a tenant to an oppressive landlord but most people had to make agreements to become servants for a number of years after the arrived in order to afford the trips.

By the early 19th century Derry merchants started to organise the trade themselves by purchasing vessels from Canada. By the 1840s, 2 shipping companies had formed in the city J & JL Cooke and William McCorkell & Company, most of their ships were constructed in the city itself. As the 19th century progressed speed became more important and McCorkell shipping had their most famous ship the Minehaha, known as the Green Yacht from Derry made in Canada that was able to cross the Atlantic all year round, until the emigration from Derry only happened in spring and summer.

During the 19th century most of the emigrants shifted from Protestants to Catholic and the biggest time of emigration from the city and Ireland as a whole was between 1845 and 1850. This was after the potato famine, mass exports of food and failure to import sufficient amounts of corn that had keep starvation at bay in 1845, led to mass starvation. here was a massive surge of emigration from Ireland including the ports of Derry and nearby Moville, this resulted in Irish emigrating to many parts of the world including Britain, America and Australia, leaving the large diaspora of people with Irish roots across the world.

As the 19th century went on the introduction of steam vessels led to a decline in the use of the sailing vessels that were made in Derry the emigration trade in Derry had come to an end by the 1890s. The reduction in trade leaving the city, the decline in ship building and shipyards starting to close contributed to much of the male unemployment in the city during the 1920s and 30s.

The statues at this location represent the emigrants that left from the city, they were originally based in waterloo place but were to moved this location along the quay. This exact location was not part of the quay that was used during the 18th and 19th century but just up the river towards the city centre would have been. They were designed by Eamonn O’Doherty and consist of seven figures, a family of 4, an old couple and a girl playing at the fountain (there was a fountain in waterloo place and the girl’s hand reached out to it).

More Details: Emigration from Derry, Across the Atlantic, Presbyterian Emigration, McCorkell Line