There have been a number of important points in the history of Derry over the past two centuries when great changes in the life and character of the community were brought about or seemed to come within the realms of possibility. This work was written in 1965 as a thesis for Maynooth College when great changes were in the air and one of the reasons for writing was to demonstrate that profound change was possible. On the other hand there have been remarkable continuities in Derry's history and many of the social institutions and features of life described
in Derry at the middle of the nineteenth century were still very much in evidence at my time of writing. The overcrowded Bogside of the 1840s was again the most densely populated urban area in Western Europe in 1965. The second hand clothes sellers and the pawnbrokers were still there.
Emigration remained a major feature of the Derry scene as the rising population in the city could not find local employment and many young people had to go elsewhere to find work. The railway network that Derry people had built with such determination in the mid nineteenth century, was about to be dismantled. It was not evident that any great new road building programme would substitute for this loss. Cross channel passenger steamer services had been abandoned and the days of the boats carrying cattle and provisions from Derry port were numbered. The city had been largely cut off from its hinterland in Donegal. The shirt industry that in the mid nineteenth century had been the saviour of women thrown out of work by the decline of the linen industry, had stood the test of time and still dominated the industrial scene in Derry in 1965. Mid nineteenth century shirt factories still ringed the city. But the industry was facing increasing competition and within a short space of time was to be radically reorganised and many were to lose their jobs.
While some of the worst legacies of the nineteenth century still remained and some of the most important creations of that period were under threat, new developments in the mid twentieth century gave reason for optimism. A new educational surge was taking place, as new opportunities were opened up in secondary and grammar schools. The welfare state was also transforming the provision of health services and instituting a regime of social security that starkly contrasted with the retrograde early Victorian Poor Law reforms. The arrival of Dupont in the city opened the prospect of further beneficial industrial employment and gave a new and different impetus to the port. Above all, a new spirit of self improvement, enterprise and willingness to work together to remove obstacles to development was abroad in the city that seemed to promise a brighter future. Unfortunately this was not to be.
This thesis is being published at a time of great hope for Derry and for Northern Ireland as a result of the political transformations that have lately taken place. Its message that, given the right framework, great social and economic changes can be effected by individual and collective determination and effort may still be relevant at the present time.