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18 September 2014
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Wars and Conflict - The Plantation of Ulster

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Plantation Architecture
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Londonderry Cathedtral
- Bob Hunter

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We are looking at a drawing of the 1730s of the Cathedral in Londonderry as it stood some time after the Siege. Quite a number of new churches were in fact erected in Ulster, mainly in the 1620s and 1630s, and mainly in the new Planter towns and villages. One can see them in places such as Lifford and Letterkenny in County Donegal, or Belturbet in County Cavan. The most famous of these, and still surviving because Derry wasn’t captured in 1641, was this Cathedral.

The building of it coincides in time with the erection of the Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh, and the church in Covent Garden in London designed by Inigo Jones as part of a new suburban development there. Unlike the latter which was an ultra-modern example of classical architecture, this is mainly a Gothic structure to which the term ‘Planters’ Gothic’ has been applied. The architect contractor for it was William Parrott, an Englishman who lived and also worked in Coleraine, and it cost about £4000 to build.

It was not particularly large like a great medieval Cathedral in England or France, but it was substantial - about 100 feet long and 60 feed broad, not including the tower. This drawing of it, published in the 1730s, shows it as it was after the Siege. The corner turrets are a very interesting feature. Parrott may have intended to reflect in them the flanker towers on the planters’ bawns in the countryside. They were probably designed to give access to the roof for repairing it - but possibly it might also have been thought that they could be put to defensive uses in an emergency. Some of the church plate and bells date from the same period. You will notice the buttresses, the porch, the crenellations on the walls, and the four light mullioned windows.

This is a drawing of the east end of the Cathedral in Derry. Particularly noticeable is the large Gothic window and the two corner turrets. When it was consecrated in 1634 by Bishop Bramhall who was one of the new ceremonial high church Anglicans, like William Laud who was Charles I’s Archbishop of Canterbury, it was named after Saint Columba, the famous local saint, probably to assert continuity. Had he been a radical Protestant like some of the Scottish ministers in County Down or those who went to New England at this time, it would probably not have been named after a saint at all because of their belief that only what was scriptural should be permitted, and to avoid what they called ‘the peril of idolatry’.

The Cathedral as it stands today is different in two respects - one, in the later 19th century it was enlarged by extending it and so the present east-end window is not the same, though similar in appearance, to what has been shown in the drawing. In the first drawing we see a tower (also with turrets) which no longer exists because a new tower and certainly a new spire was built in the 18th or 19th century.

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