Presbyterians have resided in the City since around 1642 having arrived during the Plantation of Ulster which began in the early 1600s. By the time of the Siege of Derry there was a significant number of Presbyterians in the city but still they didn’t have a place of worship within the City Walls. During the Siege, like many others in the region, the Presbyterians had moved in behind the city walls either to assist in the defence of the City or to seek safety from Jacobite forces. Within the Walls they worshipped in St Columb’s Cathedral and at some time they actually had St Augustine’s Church“on loan”.
In recognition of their contribution to the Williamite cause during the 1689 Siege, Queen Mary, in 1690, made a contribution so that they could build a church of their own.
First Derry Presbyterian Church was thus built some time after 1690. The original church was demolished and rebuilt in 1780 to accommodate a growing congregation. The foundation stone of the earlier church can be seen above the centre door of the current church, inscribed with the Roman numerals M.D.C.X.C (1690). The current colonnaded frontage was added in 1903.
The Church suffered severe damage from terrorist activities throughout the Northern Ireland Troubles but managed to continue operating. It was a case of dry rot in the roof trusses that necessitated the church being closed for restoration in 2002.
Excavations during the refurbishment of the church uncovered human remains within and without the church. The remains were not removed and left to rest in peace. They are thought to date back to the 1689 Siege of Derry and it is even speculated that there may be a mass Siege grave within church grounds.
Only in 2011 was the church fully restored to the beautiful state that I found it in on my recent visit – a far cry from how the Reverend David Latimer found it when he became minister in 1988 “When I arrived in 1988 there was a wrapping of tall security fencing outside, the windows were covered in protective material and steel shutters were fixed to the doors, it looked very unwelcoming and inside was dark and dismal because no natural light was getting in. It required all this security paraphernalia because it had been targeted repeatedly during the Troubles.”
The motto of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is “Ardens sed Virens” – “burning but flourishing”. It is usually, as it is here in floor tiles, seen alongside the Burning Bush, the church’s symbol.
Combine your visit to the church with a visit to the adjacent Bluecoats School and Museum.
Apr to Sept: Tue-Fri 10am-4pm, Sunday Service 11.30 am
Address: Upper Magazine Street
Directions: Entrance from the City Walls.
This entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on many trips to Londonderry/Derry. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Blue Coat School Visitor Centre – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – The City on the Foyle.