Archaeologists uncover one of Derry City’s earliest buildings

Derry city archaeology
The newly discovered building (photo Gahan & Long/NoIE)

Archaeologists working in Derry have uncovered the partial remains of a building, which pre-dates the walled city and is believed to have been burnt down during the O’Doherty rising of 1608.

All that survives of the building, which was of timber frame construction, with a slate roof, is a stone cellar. When the building burnt down its wooden walls and roof collapsed into the cellar where they have been now found by archaeologists. A collection of artefacts was also unearthed during the dig including musket balls, a small cannon ball, pottery sherds, clay pipes and a number of intact wine bottles.

'The Iand and fort of Derry', a map from 1600 (source)
‘The Iand and fort of Derry’, a map from 1600 (source)

Minister Mark Durkan said: “The building’s alignment is east-west and has been dated to the early 1600s. The east-west alignment is radically different to our present day Walled City street pattern. This clearly shows the building reflects the earlier street pattern based on the ecclesiastical settlement that pre-existed the plantation town of Londonderry. The building was burnt down prior to the construction of our Walled City and the ‘best-fit’ event for that fire would seem to be the 1608 O’Doherty rebellion when all the houses in Derry were burnt by Cahir O’Doherty’s troops”. 

Minster Durkin continued “A very small fired-clay tobacco pipe that dates to the period of Elizabeth I has further helped to date the early building. A small cannon ball from the time of the O’Doherty rebellion in 1608 was also found on the cellar floor of the early building but we may never know if it was fired in anger‘.

A map of Derry from 1603 (source)
A map of Derry from 1603 (source)

The building and artefacts were uncovered during an eight week excavation in the area formerly occupied by the Walker Memorial Garden on Society Street. The dig, undertaken by commercial archaeology firm Gahan and Long under licence from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), was a requirement of planning conditions ahead of the new Apprentice Boys of Derry’s visitor centre.

A selection of finds from the excavation  (image NoIE)
A selection of finds from the excavation (image NoIE)


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