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Remains of 1689 Defenders of Derry Uncovered in St. Columb's Cathedral, Derry, Co. Londonderry, Northern Ireland 1861
Excavations in Derry Cathedral - Relics of the Siege

Extracted from the Londonderry Standard - Thursday 16 May 1861
Submitted by William Houston - wth1948[at]
Transcribed by Jim McKane, Ontario, Canada
St. Columb’s Cathedral, Derry/ Londonderry (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

In the course of the excavations which have been going forward in the Cathedral of Derry, for the purpose of effecting architectural repairs, a great variety of remains connected with the siege of 1688-89 were discovered by the workmen employed. In addition to some coins of James II, and William III., a large quantity of human bones were turned out, evidently those of parties who had been buried inside the edifice during and after the siege. The graves of Baker and Browning were uncovered, but closed up again, and several other coffins were found, particularly one, bearing on its centre the letters "M. S.," and beneath this inscription a representation of a human heart with four darts striking out from it in a diagonal position. Below this point were the figures 1729 formed of round topped brass nails, and the whole quite distinct. Numerous other remains were disinterred, and carried out into the Churchyard to the place known as the stranger's burying ground, where they have been lying ever since exposed to public view, and are, it is said, to be re-interred in this undistinguished locality, -- Other reports, which we forbear to notice, are in circulation, and public feeling has been a good deal excited by the more than un-ceremonious manner in which these memorials of the defenders of Derry have been treated by the parties in temporary charge of the Cathedral, of course under the superintendence of the ecclesiastical "powers that be." It is an extraordinary fatality which brings these dignitaries into incessant collision in reference to the memories of the historic past; and, from an advertisement published in our present number, it appears that the Apprentice Boys are determined that the matter shall not be allowed to pass without suitable animadversion. Though Protestants do not venerate relics, they will not tolerate their wanton desecration, and we must add, that human nature itself universally suggests the duty of showing proper respect for the remains of the illustrious dead especially. The individuals whose bones have been tossed out into the common graveyard, would not have been honoured with resting-places inside the Church had they not entitled themselves by virtue or by valour to this special distinction, and it is not endurable that after the lapse of considerably more than a century and a half -- in fact nearly a century and three quarters, the bones of these patriotic heroes should be tumbled out to the degradation of an ass's burial. The authorities, we hope, will think better of the matter, and will order these remains to be transferred back to their original sanctuary. If this is not gracefully done at once, the Apprentice Boys, and, if need be, the Parishioners as a body will take up the subject with a promptitude and an energy admitting of no evasion.

We may state, in addition, that yesterday (Wednesday) the Church-Wardens -- George Skipton, Esq., J.P., and Anthony Babington, Esq., J.P. - visited the spot on which the remains alluded to have been thrown out, and the scene which presented itself, we have been assured, was far more revolting than anything which could have been anticipated beforehand. Not only have these venerable remains of the defenders of Derry been tossed into the strangers' burying-ground, as stated above, but heaps of the same human earth filled with skulls and bones have been converted into materials for a common roadway several feet deep, and were a heavy shower of rain to fall, these bones would be exposed to the public gaze, to the disgust of every feeling spectator! The Church-Wardens, we are informed, came to the resolution that they have no legal power to interfere; but they non-officially requested the contractor not to permit the removal of any more human remains from the Cathedral. This arrangement, however, is all a nullity, as the work of excavation has been finished, and no more desecration can therefore be effected. In regard to the power of Church-Wardens, we may remark that, according to a high, legal authority, (Holdsworth's "Handy-book of Parish Law," pag. 21,) no corpse, once buried, can be legally taken up, in order to be deposited in another place, without a license from the Bishop;" and we beg to ask for information -- has the Lord Bishop of Derry really granted a license for this purpose? If he has not, then some party or parties must be held responsible for what has occurred; if this lordship has granted the required sanction, the question is clearly between the Bishop and the public opinion of Derry.

In contrast to the disgraceful proceedings above mentioned, we may state a historic fact of some value at the present time. The First Presbyterian Church in Derry, and its connected premises, are built upon a polot of groudn which, at the time of the siege, was a common burying-ground for those who fell in defence of the city. When excavations were made for building purposes, immense quantities of bones and skulls, many of them perforated with gun bullets, were dug up; but instead of making roads or tramways of these historic relics, our Presbyterian people had them carefully gathered up and buried with all due honours in the centre of the new buildings then in course of erection! Here is a contrast to be marked, learned and inwardly digested by all whom it may concern; but as the matter cannot and will not be suffered to rest in its present unsatisfactory state, we withhold, in the meantime, a variety of other statements and observations which we had intended to offer on this subject. It is, we believe, a matter of historic record, that several Bishops have been buried inside the Cathedral, and the indignities to which their bodies, amongst the rest, have been probably subjected, constitute an impressive illustration of the "inglorious uses" to which, in the vicissitudes of human experience, even lofty dignitaries of the Church may eventually come.

First Derry Presbyterian Church, Magazine Street, Derry/ Londonderry (Courtesy of Google)

See Residents at the Siege of Londonderry 1689 for the names of some of the Defenders of Derry