The city of Londonderry was established and defined by Royal Charter of James I on the 29th March 1613. During the 17th and 18th centuries Londonderry Corporation was responsible for the upkeep and development of the port, which saw a huge increase in trade with the opening of the English and US markets to Irish linens and provisions, and the widespread emigration of Ulster people to North America. In 1771 the American colonies took more linen cloth and provisions from Derry than Britain did. The importance of the port can be judged by the fact that in 1767, 67 ships, with a total tonnage of 11,000 tons, belonged to the merchants of Derry.
As a result of this growth, the Londonderry Port and Harbour Commissioners were constituted in 1854 to address the challenges facing a port seeking to maintain and expand its trading connections. The port took on responsibility to manage all matters relating to shipping navigation and quays downstream from the then wooden bridge, at the bottom of Bridge Street, to the mouth of Lough Foyle.
Within 7 years the Harbour Commissioners had spent nearly £150,000 on improving harbour facilities. A line of quays, from the bridge to the new graving dock at the Rock, were completed together with construction of quays at Waterside from the bridge to the Londonderry and Coleraine railway station. To speed up delivery of goods and produce tramways were also built to link up with the railways.
By the early 19th century Derry had become one of the most important and thriving ports in Ireland. In 1835 the value of exports from Derry exceeded £1 million, making her the fifth largest port in Ireland.
In the 20th Century, as the most westerly base of the allies during the Second World War (1939-1945) Derry played a crucial role in the ‘Battle of the Atlantic’ as an escort base to shield convoys of merchant ships from U-boat attack.. Derry was also commissioned as a United States naval operating base in 1942, the first outpost of the US Navy’s shore establishments in Europe.
In 1993, in order to take larger vessels, the port moved downstream to a deep-water facility at Lisahally with 365 metres of quayside and access through an eight-metre deep Lough Foyle channel. In relocating, the Port not only improved its competiveness, but it also freed its former city-centre site for redevelopment. Today, outside of Ireland’s three main ports in Belfast, Dublin and Cork, Derry is the leading smaller port and growing.