Window on the past from city’s oldest building

The oldest building in Londonderry, believed to have been burnt down in Cahair O’Doherty’s 1608 rebellion, has been uncovered.

Details of the building, only a small part of which has survived, pre-dates the Siege and is the oldest dated building in the city. It had stone foundations and a cellar above which the upper floors were constructed of timber. When the building burnt down its wooden walls and roof collapsed into the cellar where they have now been found, over four centuries later.

A collection of artefacts was also unearthed during the dig including musket balls, a small cannon ball, pottery sherds, clay pipes and, a rarity on archaeological excavations, a number of intact wine bottles. The earlist find was a sherd of pottery possibly dating as far back 1200.

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said: “This is a truly exciting and important discovery. Archaeologists working for the Apprentice Boys have uncovered the earliest dated building in Derry and it is fitting that some of the artefacts uncovered will now go on display in the new museum.

“The building’s alignment is east-west and has been dated to the early 1600s. The east-west alignment is radically different to our presen day Walled City street pattern. This clearly shows the building reflects the earlier street parrent 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.

“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.

“Although the dig doesn’t appear to have found any remains dating to the 1689 Siege of Derry, rare finds have been uncovered including two complete glass bottles and near complete plates dating from the 1700s.

“These important discoveries will add value and content to the information discovered on the successful NIEA led community dig at Bishop Street car park in 2013.”

Billy Moore, General Secretary of the Apprentice Boys Association, said: “It has been fascinating to see what this archaeological dig has uncovered.

“We hope that once the archaeologists have had a chance to review their findings, we will be fortunate to identify that some of the artefacts relate to the period of the Great Siege.

“We are pleased and delighted that the dig has added significantly to the history of Londonderry. We eagerly look forward to placing the information uncovered and some of the artefacts on display in our new visitor centre, which we anticipate will open in the summer of 2015.”

The building and artefacts were uncovered during an eight week excacvation in the are 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.