The influx of migrants throughout the 18th century created a significant Catholic population in Derry. Because Catholics were forbidden from living within the walls most settled in the Bogside. The steady growth of the Catholic population was reflected in the construction of the city’s first Catholic church, Long Tower (1784), and St Eugene’s Cathedral (1851).
Map of the Bogside in the 1830s
By the 19th century, the Bogside was hugely overcrowded and predominantly Catholic. Small houses and large families were the order of the day. By 1832, Abbey Street, which held 42 houses, was home to 63 families. Fahan Street, with 164 houses, was home to 244 families.
A further influx of migrants during the potato famine of the 1840s gave Derry a clear Catholic majority. Sectarian tension flickered throughout the century. In 1869, three people were shot dead during inter-communal trouble. In the same year, the Catholic Workingmen’s Defence Association was set up to protect the Bogside.
By the end of the 19th century, Catholics had a clear voting majority in Derry but no political power. The Londonderry Improvement Bill (1895), the first gerrymander of the city, ensured that Catholics could elect only 16 of the 40 members of Londonderry Corporation.
Gerrymandering is the deliberate manipulation of electoral boundaries designed to ensure a particular group, especially one that is in a minority, retains political power. The term was created in the early 1800s by combining the name of Elbridge Gerry, Governor of Massachusetts (USA), who created a political ward that was so distorted it looked like a salamander (lizard).