Christian presence in Derry was the monastery founded
by St. Columba in the 6th century. It became one of
the greatest and most influential of Irish monasteries.
In the middle of the 12th century Flaitbertach Ó
Brolcháin was abbot of the Derry monastery and
was a major figure in the Irish Church of that time.
He embarked on the construction of a magnificent church
in Derry - The Teampall Mór, which was completed
for a diocesan structure in Ireland were established
by the Synods of the Twelfth Century reform. The boundaries
of the Derry Diocese today are largely the same as those
agreed at that time. The diocese of Derry embraces most
of County Derry, most of the western and northern areas
of County Tyrone, the Inishowen Peninsula and part of
east Donegal as well as the city of Derry. The episcopal
seat was initially located in Rathlury in County Derry,
near the modern day town of Maghera. Pope Innocent IV
approved a decision to move the episcopal seat to Derry
in 1254. The Teampall Mór was designated as Derry’s
diocesan Cathedral. It served as Derry’s Cathedral
for more than 300 years.
was located near the site of the present Long Tower
Church, about half a mile from St. Eugene’s Cathedral.
When the English
forces, commanded by Colonel Randolph, landed in Derry
in the 1560s, the Teampall Mór was seized by
them and was used as a gunpowder magazine. It was seriously
damaged by an accidental explosion on 24th April 1568.
On 16th April 1600, Sir Henry Docwra entered Derry with
a force of 4,000 soldiers. He tore down the ruins of
the Teampall Mór and used its stones to build
the walls and ramparts of Derry City. The only known
relic of the Teampall Mór in existence is a small
square tablet of stone inscribed in Latin: ‘In
Templo Vervs Devs Est Verec Colendus’ (‘The
True God is in His Temple and is to be truly worshipped’).
It can be seen today in the porch of the Church of Ireland
Cathedral - St. Columb’s.
The 17th century
was a particularly difficult and painful time for the
Catholic community in Derry. Their Bishop, Réamonn
Ó Gallachair (1569 - 1601) was murdered just
outside Derry by English yeomanry in March 1601. No
Catholic Bishop was able to exercise office or permitted
to reside in Derry from 1601 until 1720. It was the
time of the Penal Laws and the people endured intense
persecution and great injustice. When the Penal Laws
were eventually eased and the Catholic Bishop was permitted
to reside and exercise office in Derry again, the Catholic
Church had no church buildings and very few clergy.
Saint Eugene’s Cathedral
It was not until
the 1830s, following the Catholic Emancipation Act of
1829, that the Catholic community was able to contemplate
building a Cathedral again. In the summer of 1838, a
number of Catholics of the city met in the school room
of the Long Tower under the presidency of their Bishop,
Peter McLaughlin (1824 - 1840) to consider the construction
of a new Cathedral. It was agreed to be a “praiseworthy
object” and a committee was appointed to make
the necessary arrangements and raise funds. However,
during the next decade famine and hunger were foremost
in people’s minds, and the construction of a Cathedral
was less important than their desperate attempt to survive.
In fact during the late 1840s, Bishop Edward Maginn
(1846-1849) and several priests of the Derry diocese
died of cholera and other famine-related diseases whilst
ministering to the people.
Kelly (1849-1889) was appointed Bishop in September
1849 by Pope Pius IX. During his episcopate the diocese
of Derry was revitalised. In November 1849, the site
for St. Eugene’s Cathedral - then known as Friars’
Gort (near the site of a former Dominican Friary - present
day Columbcille Court) was purchased from William Hazlett
and the foundation stone was laid on 26th July 1851.
For nearly quarter of a century afterwards, stone was
laid upon stone.
cost a little over £40,000 to build, of which
£4,000 was raised in America and the rest was
donated by the people of Derry. William Roddy, editor
of the Derry Journal said in 1899: “Do not let
us forget that this is a Cathedral built out of the
pennies of the poor, the sixpences of those not quite
so poor and the shillings of those who were better-to-do”.
of the Cathedral was sporadic as the funds became available
over twenty five years, and owing to the difficulty
in raising money, it was agreed to postpone the building
of the tower, belfry and spire until a later date. Due
to the lack of funds in the diocese, the windows were
initially all of plain glass and it was only in the
later years that the stained glass that we see today
(1817-1882) was the architect commisioned to design
St. Eugene’s Cathedral. He was the most outstanding
church architect in Ireland of his time and designed
many churches and convents all over the country, including
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh; St. Mary’s
Church, Dingle, Co. Kerry; St. Macartan’s Cathedral,
Monaghan; St. Ignatius’ Church, Galway and the
Cathedral of the Assumption, Thurles, Co. Tipperary.
Cathedral was solemnly opened on the 4th May 1873 by
Bishop Kelly, in the presence of Cardinal McGettigan
and all the Catholic Bishops of the North. The sacred
vessels used that day are still in the Cathedral. The
intricately patterned chalice, paten, ciborium, cruets
and tray were crafted by a firm of goldsmiths - Le Roux,
Paris. The chalice continues to be used by the Bishop
on special church occasion, the Holy Saturday night
vigil and Christmas Midnight Mass.
The project to
provide the spire and its beautiful carillon of bells
opened a new chapter in the history of the Cathedral.
The money for the bells was raised by the Ladies Committee,
under the presidency of Miss Roddy (sister of the then
editor of the Derry Journal).
for the erection of the spire was inaugurated at a meeting
in St. Columb’s Hall on 4th April 1899. Bishop
John Keys O’Doherty (1890-1907), in the course
of his address said: “It is now 60 years since
the first collection was made for the contemplated building,
48 since the foundation stone was laid and 26 since
it was solemnly dedicated for divine worship, and yet
it remains unfinished. I know how anxiously you long
to hear the Belss of St. Eugene’s ring out over
the City and it is to hasten that joyful event that
we are assembled here tonight to inaugurate the collection
of the funds necessary for the erection of the tower
and spire wherin to hang the bells”.
Bishop O’Doherty put forward a resolution in which
it was proposed to inaugurate a collection. The project
received enthusiastic support from as far away as America.
In fact, Fr. Daniel O’Doherty who was sent by
Bishop O’Doherty to fundraise in Boston, died
while he was there. He is buried in Clonmany graveyard.
It was estimated that the project would cost in the
region of £15,000. The contract for the construction
was awarded to the firm of Courtney & Co., Belfast,
which had put in a tender of £11,709. The architect
appointed for the project was E.J. Toye, Derry, assisted
by G.C. Ashlin, Dublin. It is not clear whether or not
McCarthy had already designed the spire in his original
plans. There is, in the diocesan archives, a drawing
signed by G.C. Ashlin and E.J. Toye Architects described
as ‘Revised Design’ dated March 1900. Work
began on 13th August 1900 and the last stone was placed
on the 256ft (78m) spire on 19th June 1903.
On 27th June
1903 an 8ft high granite cross, weighing 15cwts and
secured by a rod of gun metal, was sunk 30ft into the
spire. The cross was put in position by two priests
- Father John Doherty and Father Lawrence Hegarty.
When the debt
for the Cathedral had been cleared, it was solemnly
consecrated on 21st April 1936 by Bishop Bernard O’Kane
In the presence of Cardinal McRory (Archbishop of Armagh
at the time).
the Solemn Consecration, all the clergy present on the
day signed a visitors’ book. Since that time,
the book, which is kept in the sacristy, has been signed
by special visitors to the Cathedral.
Post Vatican II
The changes in
the liturgy of the Church, subsequent to the Second
Vatican Council, necessitated reorganisation of the
Cathedral sanctuary. A temporary wooden alter was installed
in May 1964. A further temporary reorganisation of the
sanctuary took place in 1975, prior to the live transmission
of Christmas Midnight Mass on Eurovision from the Cathedral.
From the early
1980s the need was felt to carry out major renovation.
The original structure was over one hundred years old
and needed repair and restoration. The temporary wooden
furnishings of the sanctuary were thought to be unsatisfactory.
A new sacristy was required as the original sacristy
was small and inadequate.
& Mullarkey Architects, Derry, were engaged by Bishop
Edward Daly (1974-1993) to carry out this work which
was completed in three phases.
Work on the external
renovation began in June 1985. The external stonework
of the main building, the tower and spire were cleaned
down, restored and repointed. The roof slates were entirely
replaced with Bangor slate. The main contractors were
Messrs. George Cregan & Sons, Derry.
The second phase
of the work was carried out in 1987-1988 and involved
the construction of the new sacristy and conference
room. This new building was faced with granite. The
main contractors were Messrs. O’Neill Bros., Derry.
The third phase
began in June 1989. The Cathedral had to be closed for
six months. The main features of this work involved
the permanent reorganisation of the sanctuary, the provision
of new seating, floor covering and the re-decoration
of the entire building. The main contractors once again
were Messrs. George Cregan & Sons, Derry. The total
cost for these three phases of renovation was more than
£1.2m. The funds were raised locally and the debt
was cleared within weeks of the completion of the work.
of the new altar and the solemn re-opening of St. Eugene’s
Cathedral took place on Sunday, 17th Decmeber 1989,
and was carried out by Bishop Edward Daly in the presence
of Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich - Archbishop