Derry-Londonderry: Gateway to a New World

The Story of Emigration from the Foyle by Sail and Stream


Author: Michell, Brian
Publication Date: 2014
Pages: 34 pp.
ISBN: 9780806356914


This book, or booklet, by genealogist and Irish emigration expert Brian Mitchell recounts the history of departures from the port of Derry-Londonderry from the late 17th century to the year 1939, when the last transatlantic steamer sailed from the port. Derry is ideally situated at head of the River Foyle, twenty-four miles long and only two miles wide at its head, a configuration that provided sailing vessels with a harbor of refuge. During the age of steam, her westerly situation gave her a monetary advantage with coal-burning vessels.

The emigration trade established Derry as one of the chief Irish ports for the transatlantic trade in the 18th century. For example, in 1771 the American colonies took more linen cloth and provisions from Derry than Britain did, and thirty percent of Ulster-Scots, around 75,000 people, emigrated through Derry to North America prior to 1776. By the 1850s two local companies, J. & J. Cooke and William McCorkell & Co., dominated transatlantic trade from Derry, building up sizeable shipping fleets. At the same time, the establishment of a railway network in Ireland secured Derry’s place as the emigration port for persons from counties Derry, Donegal, and Tyrone, as well as for travelers from County Donegal on the Inishowen peninsula.

Brian Mitchell captures the protagonists and milestones of this history in his beautifully illustrated tribute to Derry-Londonderry’s place in emigration history. The author’s brief narrative explains Derry’s rise and ultimate decline as a port of embarkation, conveys century by century what persons utilized the port, traces the changes in emigration from the age of sail to the age of steam, and draws attention to individuals like composer Stephen Foster’s great-grandfather, Alexander Foster, who sailed from Derry, and vessels like the Adam Lodge, which sailed from Derry to Australia. Highlighting the book are numerous illustrations that flesh out the Derry story, including passenger notices, sample passenger lists, pictures and photographs of actual vessels and passengers–some of them quite moving–maps, and more. Anyone who has an ancestor known to have sailed from Derry will appreciate having a copy of this book.

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