Steelstown Church, built in 1975, is just off the main road back into town. It was designed by Liam McCormick on a tight budget but has a strong architectural presence. Inside, with a sawn timber roof, and hidden side lights, its tent like interior has great atmosphere.
Back into Derry~Londonderry. This drawing indicates some buildings of interest outside the City Walls.
From Culmore to the Foyle Bridge are a series of fine houses overlooking the river. The most elegant is Brook Hall a fine Georgian villa with a central curved bay and decorative Regency veranda. The building was reputedly first built for Sir George Fitzgerald Hill. He was M.P. for Derry and Clerk of the Irish House of Commons. When he died in 1839, he was Governor of Trinidad
If you walk along the foreshore towards the city, you will come across this remnant from the Second World War. During the period Derry~Londonderry provided the most westerly Allied harbour for convoy escort vessels and was therefore key to the Battle of the Atlantic. This feature was a machine gun emplacement built of sandbags filled with concrete. It looks like it was made yesterday.
Completing the tour, a final tower house. This one is back at the River Foyle, on Culmore point where the river expands into the lough. This structure is considered to be largely a nineteenth century folly to provide interest to the view from nearby Ballnagard House but it may be a rebuild or repair of an O'Doherty tower known to have been here in 1556. The site, however, was heavily refortified by the English from 1600 and this may also be a remnant of one of the structures built at this time. In the trees about half a mile away from this site the earthen defences created by the English as part of their fortification of the site can still be seen. This was the first landing point of Sir Henry Dowcra in 1600. He was sent with an army to attach the rear of O'Neill and O'Donnell as part of the Nine Years War. After fortifying this site he moved upstream to Derry and then to Dunnalong and Lifford, where he also created forts.
Back along the base of Inishowen to Derry, Elagh Castle is visible among the foothills. What remains is very fragmentary and looks like a circular tower house but some have speculated that there was once a second tower making a gatehouse similar to that at Harry Avery’s Castle in Co Tyrone. The castle was occupied by the O'Doherty’s at the time of the Ulster Plantation in the early Seventeenth century but the site appears have been occupied as a major defensive position since at least the early medieval period. Recent archaeological excavations discovered a ditch from this period and those involved have speculated that this, rather than Grianan, may have been the location of Alieach, one of the great royal sites of Ireland.
Nearby is another O'Doherty tower house. This one a little further south at Burt, is thought to have been built in the sixteenth century. Its design is Scottish. No other pre-Plantation example is recorded in Ulster. The closest equivalent has been identified as Claypotts near Dundee (Rowan, North West Ulster p 440). It is known as a z plan tower because it has round towers attached at two corners to allow flanking fire along the sides. In maps from the early seventeenth century, it is shown enclosed within a moat and bawn wall. Today, these are gone and it stands in splendid isolation as a ruin on top of a small hill
On down Lough Swilly to Inch Island and the ruins of its O'Doherty tower house. This is a very romantic place and the best way to get to it is across the rocks from the beach. From this angle its jagged form is silhouetted against the sky with Grianan (see blog 1) visible on the top of the mountain in the distance. A great place for a picnic as you can get up to the first floor via an internal stair. The structure is first mentioned in 1454 and was in ruins by 1600
Back towards Derry, the graveyard at Fahan is worth a visit. Here is St Mura’s cross, a stone slab with Celtic ornament and small projections at its side. It is thought to date from the beginning of the eighth century and is associated with an important early monastery on this site. An inscription in Greek (the only example in Ireland) translates as ‘Glory and honour to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit’. This is a formula first used at the Council of Toledo in 633.
Marks of Time
Sketches of buildings in the North West of Ireland and further afield with a little information about their history.