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Walking Tour of Derry's Churches

We left a rainy Belfast equipped with umbrellas and wet weather gear only to arrive in Derry to bright skies and sunshine!  Led by Manus Deery, Assistant Director of NIEA, we started our tour at Carlisle Road Methodist Church just outside Derry’s Walls, where we were welcomed by the minister, the Rev Louise Donald and the Mayor of Derry, Martin Reilly.  A large imposing Gothic style building set right on the footpath with flying buttresses, steeply pitched slated roof and polygonal baptistery, the interior was a revelation.  Beautifully carved timber pews, pulpit and gallery shone deeply against the pale upper walls.  The Art Nouveau-style stained glass windows allowed the building to be flooded with light and the acoustics, thanks to the skill of the architect, Albert Forman, are second to none.

From Carlisle Road, we walked up on to the Walls and round to the imposing St Columb’s Cathedral sited at the highest point of the city.  After a talk on the history and the architectural development of the cathedral by Manus Deery we were joined by the Dean, The Very Rev'd William W Morton, who welcomed us to the building.  On display were the Promise Chalice, the Bishop’s Chair and a pair of beautiful silver tankards as well as the many monuments and flags. 

Leaving the Cathedral we passed out of the Walls, this time using the Bishop’s Gate on our way to the Long Tower Church. Manus, again gave an excellent talk on the development of the site from earliest times and a member of the congregation was on hand to complete the story.  The large T shaped plan has an ornate neo-Renaissance style interior with paired marble columns, three sets of the Stations of the Cross and a rare glass mosaic ‘opus sectile’ behind the altar which remains, together with the altar rails, in its original position.  After viewing the restoration of the former school building to the rear of the church, which will become the St Columba’s Heritage Centre, we returned to the Walled City, walking along the west wall to St Augustine’s Church of Ireland.

Originally built as a Chapel of Ease, St. Augustine’s is located on the original Abbey site.  It was built to the designs of J G Ferguson – a three-bay gabled diminutive Gothic church with bell cote and hammer beam roof.  Here we were welcomed by Hazel Philson, author of ‘The Little Church on the Walls’, who gave a brief talk on the fifteen hundred years history of the site. 

As the afternoon became colder, we walked farther down the walls to the newly restored First Derry Presbyterian Church, the final building on our tour.  One of the Elders of the church welcomed us into the warmth of the church before giving a presentation on the recent repair scheme.  From a building with major structural problems, a fire and then being closed for eight years, the church raised sufficient funding to allow a complete renovation and re-opened for worship in May 2011.  After a tour of the Blue Coat School Visitor Centre, the church provided very welcome refreshments before Manus concluded the day with a very interesting and informative talk on church maintenance.

 

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