Northern Ireland Stories and Tips

St Columb's Cathedral

St Columb's Cathedral Photo, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

Saint Columb's Cathedral lies just inside the city walls of Londonderry. If you decide to walk around the walls it is really easy to find, you can't miss it. It is definitely worth a detour from the walls to go inside. This, after all, is the most historic building in the city. It is open Monday to Saturday between 9am and 5pm. They have church services here on Sundays at 8am, 11am and 4pm. There is no charge to go inside, but they have a box by the door for voluntary donations.

The cathedral was built in 1633 and dedicated to St Columba - an Irish monk who established a Christian settlement here in the 6th century. It was the first cathedral of its kind to be built after the Reformation of the Church.

The church is very plain, simple and beautiful inside. We just wandered around, taking in the quiet, peaceful atmosphere. The original foundation stone is right in the entrance area. They also have a cannonball shell - it was fired into the city during the 1689 Siege. There was a message inside saying "Surrender or die." The citizens did not accept this but obviously kept it.

The wooden pews are beautiful and the ceiling is very ornate - don't forget to look up! All the pew ends are different - this is a lovely detail most people miss. They were all hand carved by a father and his son.

There are lots of memorial tablets along the walls on one side of the church. Lots are interesting to read - one dated back to 1678. There were even memorials to soldiers who died during the 1689 siege.

Close to the entrance of the church is a little area which apparently was once the choir robing room. Now they have an exhibition about Mrs Cecil Francis Alexander. She was a famous writer of hymns - There Is A Green Hill, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Once In Royal David's City amongst others - and they have portraits of this lady and her husband (an Archbishop) and other interesting information about her and her life. There was also a display about the slave trader, John Newton. Apparently he was moved to write Amazing Grace after a visit to this cathedral. His ship was wrecked in a storm, he survived, came here to pray and wrote that famous hymn.

There is also a really fascinating museum in the Chapter House. It is small, only a couple of rooms and maybe a bit "dry" for children - our 9 year old wasn't too interested, but we found it fascinating. There are lots of display cases, all of which seemed to be full of great things. These include the padlocks and keys of the city gates which were closed in the face of King James' army in 1688; the sword, watch and snuff box of Adam Murray one of the siege heroes; the governor George Walker's bible and sword and much more.

We did not have time to explore the graveyard outside the church, but apparently there is plenty of interest there too.

Not too far from the cathedral and just along the walls, you come to the Peace Bridge. It is worth going here too. It stretches across the River Foyle and was opened in 2011. It is a symbol of the achievement of peace and looks beautiful. We walked out to the middle of the bridge to get a different perspective on the city and the city walls.

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