‘This will never be an ordinary city’ - Clinton in Derry 1995

The stunning finale of ‘Derry Girls’ second season has helped secure a third series for the hit show and has also had many local people reminiscing about the day Bill and Hilary came to town.

John Hume, and Bill Clinton on his first ever visit to Derry in 1995, pictured with then Mayor of the city, the late SDLP Councillor Joihn Kerr.
John Hume, and Bill Clinton on his first ever visit to Derry in 1995, pictured with then Mayor of the city, the late SDLP Councillor Joihn Kerr.

The episode for many brought back memories of the excitement across the north west before and during that historic visit of the US President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hilary Clinton at what was then the start of a fledgling peace process.

Derry came to a standstill as tens of thousands of local people packed into Guildhall Square, Waterloo Place, Shipquay Street and along the City Walls on Thursday, November 30, 1995 to witness Bill Clinton deliver his message of hope.

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The visit was all the more remarkable because he spoke without much in the way of preparation, egged on by John Hume and the then Mayor of Derry, the late Colr. John Kerr despite the reservations of those leading his massive security detail.

Derry Girls, Clinton Visit (Picture by Peter Marley)

Just as depicted in the show, the crowds chanted ‘We Want Bill!’ as they waited to hear from the President, while businesses and local people draped the ‘Stars and Stripes’ from top floor windows.

The crowds were told that the “cameras and the eyes of the world are on us” as Bill and Hilary were led to the stage in the Guildhall alongside the then NI Secretary of State Sir Patrick Mayhew, John Hume and his wife Pat, and John Kerr and his wife Carita.

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Mayor Kerr told those gathered, it was “a magnificent day” as he threw out his arms to encourage the crowds in their rapturous welcome. “Mr President,” he said, “we, the people of Derry welcome you to our beloved city with the expression of our deepest respect and esteem for you personally... we pray to God that your deliberations in accord with others on these islands will bring about a truly lasting peace, for which we all yearn.”

Hilary Clinton could be seen beaming in her seat as the chorus of ‘We Want Bill!’ grew louder, but there was a pause in the chants as the crowds roared their approval when John Hume took to the podium. Mr Hume said: “The reason we are all gathered in our streets today is to say thank you to President Clinton and Mrs. Clinton and their Administration because peace in our land has been central to the President’s policy since the day he was elected and we on our streets, who know for the past 25 years what the absence of peace has meant, are deeply grateful.”

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Mr Hume mentioned the “very strong and powerful” links between Derry and the US and spoke of how thousands of starving people during the Famine left from Derry and laid the foundations of America.

The loudest cheers of the day were, however, reserved for the President himself, who praised Mr Hume as Ireland’s foremost champion of peace and spoke of how different things had become here since the ceasefire. “All of you know that this city is a very different place from a visitor like me,” he said. “Crossing the border now is as easy as crossing a speed bump, the soldiers are off the streets, the City Walls are open to civilians. There are no more shakedowns as you walk into a store.”

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And the crowds erupted once more as he declared: “Daily life has become more ordinary but this will never be an ordinary city!”

And as the Irish trad music struck up, the TV cameras panned out over crowds that were, indeed, so huge that some people - as Lisa McGee accurately depicted in the closing scenes of Tuesday night’s episode - had to settle for witnessing what was undoubtedly a pivotal moment in Derry’s history via the big boxy TV sets in the shop window of a local electrics store, although such was the power of the President’s words that they seemed no less enraptured for that.