St Columba's Church, Long Tower facts for kids
The present church is built on the site of Roman Catholic worship which goes back as far as the 12th century. The current Long Tower Church began life in 1783 in a much smaller scale than seen today. Father John Lynch, a parish priest in Derry started action to raise funds for building the Long Tower Church and he received finance not just from Roman Catholics but also Protestant people in Derry at the time. The church was opened in 1788.
Refurbishments of the Church
The church was extended and refurbished in 1810 with the introduction of gallery seating, nave and the changing of the Altar to the northern side of the church. The High Altar was constructed with marble and supported by four pillars. The four pillars were first made of wood put proved to be not strong enough to hold the large and heavy marble altar and so the pillars were changed to be made out of marble. The layout of the church from 1810 onwards has remained largely unaltered. However, in 1908 a full refurbishment of the Long Tower took place which included addition of new stained glass windows, statues, shrines, baptismal font and the reposition of the High Altar and the introduction of a new sacristy.
The church's refurbishment was completed in 1909 and the church was then officially opened to the general public.
On the morning of 8 January 1934 a perimeter wall of the cemetery, facing Lecky Road, collapsed, causing a landslide of a section of the graveyard. No passers by were injured in the slide but many graves were dislodged, causing bodies to be strewn among the debris. The Lecky Road has been remodelled in the decades since but the area where the graveyard collapsed can still be seen from the Lecky Road flyover.
The Long Tower Today
Many parishioners in Derry City feel that the Long Tower is the home of Catholicism in Derry. Even though the construction of St Eugene's Cathedral in 1873 as the mother church of the diocese didn't differ people's feelings for the Long Tower. The beautiful interior which could match any church in Rome has remained unaltered to this very day.
When Vatican II changes in liturgy occurred in 1962/1964 the Long Tower priests and parishioners did not want to change the layout too much. Indeed, the Council documents did not mandate any changes to church sanctuaries. In 1964 a temporary wooden altar was constructed and installed in the sanctuary to accommodate Mass being said facing the people. In 1979 the wooden altar was taken out and a new marble altar along with a new marble lectern and celebrants ambo were installed. The installation was minor to ensure the remainder of the church stayed. When other churches at this time were removing altar rails, High Altars, confessional boxes etc., the Long Tower did not. In 2012 the celebrant's marble ambo was removed from the sanctuary and the marble was used to create a brand new celebrant's chair in the sanctuary.
The current parish population as of December 2015 is 6,761. The church overlooks the Catholic Bogside of Derry which has seen many instances of violence (Bloody Sunday of 1972), but this church ensures that people find peace and quiet there no matter what is going on outside the church grounds.
In the Diocese of Derry clergy appointments for 2010 significant changes were made by the then Bishop of Derry - Seamus Hegarty, the Long Tower parish would have to share an administrator due to a priest shortage in the diocese. Father Michael Canny administrator of St Eugene's Cathedral became administrator of Long Tower. The previous administrator of Long Tower Father Roland Colhoun was appointed curate to the Derry parish of Glendermott. Father Gerard Mongan CC remained as the Long Tower curate. The new changes took effect from Friday 27 August 2010.
In the diocesan appointments of August 2011, Father Paul Farren was appointed administrator of the Parish of Templemore.
From October 2013, the Long Tower parish was given independent status once again. Father Edward Gallagher was appointed administrator, with Father Brendan Collins as curate. The Bishop of Derry, Most Reverend Donal McKeown is the Parish Priest of the Templemore Parish of the Long Tower & St Eugene's Cathedral.
In August 2015 Bishop Donal McKeown appointed Father Eamon Graham as the new administrator of the Long Tower Parish, with Father Edward Gallagher leaving the parish after two years as administrator.
In September 2016 the Diocese of Derry announced a large number of priest changes made by Bishop Donal McKeown. The Long Tower bid farewell to Father Eamon Graham and Father Brendan Collins. Father Aidan Mullan was appointed the new administrator of the Long Tower Parish. Due to the priest shortage in the Derry Diocese, Bishop McKeown felt the Long Tower could cope with just one resident priest, with help from the neighbouring cathedral parish when necessary. This will be the first time the parish has only one resident priest serving it.
Funeral of Martin McGuinness
On Thursday 23 March 2017 the Long Tower Church became the focus point for the Requiem Funeral Mass of the former Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister and member of Sinn Féin Martin McGuinness, who died on Tuesday 21 March 2017 at the age of 66. The Funeral Mass was held at 2.00pm on Thursday 23 March 2017 in the Long Tower Church. The principle celebrant was Father Michael Canny, who was assisted by Father Aidan Mullan (administrator of the Long Tower), Father Christopher McDermott and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Derry - Donal McKeown.
In attendance at the Funeral Mass was the former US President Bill Clinton, Irish President Michael D Higgins, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster, along with a large number of dignitaries which included representatives of the British government, former Irish Prime Ministers, Mary McAleese the former Irish President, representatives of the Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist Churches, members and former members of Irish and Northern Irish political parties, as well as members of the general public who packed the church for the Funeral Mass.
Media from the UK, Ireland and around the world came to the Long Tower to cover the funeral which was relayed by camera links inside the church to a screen erected at "Free Derry Corner" in the heart of Derry's Bogside, as well as transmitted live online for all to view. Martin McGuinness was later buried in the republican plot in Derry's City Cemetery. It is estimated that thousands packed the streets of Derry's Bogside to view the funeral processions, with over a thousand packed into the Long Tower Church, with mostly family and dignitaries seated on the church's ground floor, with members of the general public seated and standing in the church's gallery seating on the first floor.
Long Tower Parish Timetable
- Sunday Obligation at 6.00pm (Saturday Evening Vigil); 8.00am, 10.00am & 12.00pm.
- Holydays of Obligation at 7.30pm Vigil; 8.00am, 10.00am & 7.30pm unless otherwise announced in the parish bulletin.
- Mondays to Fridays at 10.00am & 7.30pm.
- Saturday mornings at 10.00am.
- The Traditional Latin Rite Mass in the Extraordinary Form is held on the first & third Sundays of the month at 2.00pm, unless otherwise stated.
- Confessions are heard on Saturdays from 11.30am-12.30pm & 5.15pm-5.45pm.
- Confessions are heard Mondays to Fridays from 7.00pm-7.25pm.
- Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament takes place in the church every Wednesday from 10.30am until just before the 7.30pm Mass.
- Adoration is also held in the Adoration Chapel located at 18 Pump Street in Derry's city centre every Monday to Saturday from 9.00am-6.00pm.
- Devotions are held in the Long Tower on the Sundays of Lent.
- A Novena dedicated to "Our Lady of Perpetual Help" is held on the nine Sundays leading up to Christmas at 6.00pm.
- The Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet is prayed in the church before all daily weekday masses.
- Baptisms are held in the church on Saturdays at 4.30pm.
The church celebrated its centenary on St Columba's Day, 9 June 2009. The clergy set aside the 9th day of each month from 9 June 2008 until 9 June 2009 to finish many renovations and repairs to the church. Since June 2008, the church has had a memorial installed dedicated to a former Bishop of Derry Raymond O'Gallagher who was martyred in 1601 in Claudy, County Londonderry, water fonts in the balcony area of the church repaired, the old water font next to Our Lady's grotto repaired, the tablets on the church floor which gives visitors information of where the High Altars where originally placed repaired, renovation of statues and the unveiling of the renovated tomb of former Bishop of Derry John Keys O'Doherty.
Starting on Monday 17 November 2008, the three grand panels of the High Altar in the Long Tower Church, which depict Christ ascending into heaven flanked on either side by Saint Peter and Saint Paul, were taken down and transported to Belfast for urgent repair and renovation. The panels are made of lead and a recent expert survey concluded that they were dangerous and were in urgent need of repair. The panels were installed in the Long Tower Church in 1909 and for the past 100 years have not had any renovation work carried out on them. The repair work could not be done on site in Derry and had to be taken to Belfast. The work is expected to be finished for Spring 2009. In the meantime, photo replicas of the backdrop have been taken and have been put in place so not to take from the aesthetics of the church. The project will cost the parish around £20,000 and has been many months in planning.
In February 2009 the newly renovated Opus Sectile were re-installed in the church. There were officially unveiled in a special mass held in the Long Tower at 10.00am on Monday 9 March 2009. The Long Tower news letter gave more details on the work carried out.
"On the morning of Monday 9th March 2009, there will be a formal unveiling of the restored opus sectile in Long Tower. These are the three grand panels behind the high altar – the Ascension of Christ flanked by St Peter and St Paul. Opus sectile (pronounced “seck-teel-ay”) is the Latin name for a series of opalescent painted glass “tiles”, first used by the ancient Romans on luxury floors. Usually these glass sections are set in grout and there are many such examples around the inner walls of Long Tower. However what is distinct about the panels above the tabernacle is that they are set in lead. The experts say this is extremely rare and sets these particular panels apart as remarkable works of art.
The repair was extremely specialised work and has been done in studios in Belfast. It involved putting supplementary metal bars and additional wire ties into the three frames. Since lead is a high expansion material the restoration required re-gauging the glass and the lead to give the material space for expansion".
A special Mass to commemorate the centenary was celebrated at 7.30pm on Tuesday 9 June 2009 with the Papal Legate, Cardinal Keith O'Brien attending. This Mass was celebrated on the feast day of Saint Columba, while the church's anniversary had occurred on Saturday 30 May 2009. At 8.00 a.m., a Latin Mass was celebrated in the church which, apart from minor changes such as the addition of the mention of Saint Joseph in the canon of the Mass in 1962, was exactly the same as was said on the first day the church was opened to the public in 1909. After the evening Mass on Tuesday 9 June 2009 the annual blessing of Saint Columba's well occurred, which is located a short distance from the church in the Bogside. The following day before 10.00 a.m. Mass, Cardinal O'Brien planted an oak tree in the graveyard next to the Long Tower as a symbol of the renovation of the graveyard for the centenary.
The whole centenary celebrations of the 9/10 June 2009 where filmed for DVD. The DVD of the celebrations which included the full Mass celebrated by Cardinal O'Brien and the blessing of St Columba's Well, was available for sale via contacting the Long Tower parochial house. The DVD was a culmination of the past year's events to celebrate the centenary.
Long Tower Parochial House
It was announced on 23 August 2009 that the current Long Tower parochial house would now become the home of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal who are setting up a community in Derry. They have chosen the Long Tower Parochial House for their residence. This means the parish priests and staff will move their parochial house to the Convent of Mercy in Pump Street, which is located within the city walls of Derry. The sisters who had resided in the convent for 161 years have moved out to new residence and so the Long Tower will use this new city centre location as their new parochial house. Details of the move were published in the parish's Sunday bulletin on 23 August 2009.
In January 2014, it was announced that the friars would be moving out of the old Long Tower Parochial House which they have been residing in since 2009. The friars moved into the Galliagh Parochial House in Derry. The curate who serves the Galliagh area of Derry now resides in the neighbouring Carnhill Presbytery. The Galliagh Parochial House has now become St. Columba's Friary. The old Long Tower Parochial House in Victoria Place is now vacant. In October 2014, the decision was taken by the parish to return to the Victoria Place Parochial House, the priests returned on Thursday/Friday 16–17 October 2014.
Renovation and Restoration Work
It was announced in June 2016 that extensive renovation work would take place to the interior of the church during the summer. Details were published in the parish bulletin which read - "We are delighted to announce that works to the Church are beginning this week. These works will include internal painting of the whole Church, refurbishment of the internal and external lighting and restoration and repair of all the windows. These works will last until the end of September and have been scheduled so as to cause the minimum amount of disruption." Updates on the progression of the renovations and repairs are updated on the parish website and on the parish Facebook page.
In November 2017, the administrator of the parish, Father Aidan Mullan revealed that extensive repair and renovation work was needed on the stonework of the church, which was in dire need of repair. The fabric of the stonework is fading away, with many parts of the stonework falling to bits. A special prize draw entitled SOS Save Our Stonework was launched and by May 2018 sufficient money was raised for repair and restoration work to commence. The project will take place in stages, with different parts of the church's exterior repaired and restored at different times. The whole restoration work is estimated to be completed by 2020 at a total cost of £400,000.
St Columba's Church, Long Tower Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.