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Derry / Londonderry

The Historic Maiden City

Steeped in culture, the historic walled city was home to the Earl Bishop.


Derry / Londonderry

When Frederick Hervey arrived in Derry in 1768, it was a city of some 9,000 souls that had only recently begun to expand beyond its historic walls. Today, it is the fourth-largest city in Ireland with over 90,000 inhabitants in the wider urban area. To the outsider, the city`s variety of names can be confusing. The original early Christian settlement was referred to in Irish as ‘Daire’ or ‘Doire,’ which means ‘oak grove,’ because sure enough, oak is a native tree. Like so many Irish place names, this was phonetically anglicised, to ‘Derry.’ The ‘London’ prefix comes from the early 17th century, when what was by then a small garrison and its hinterland were developed by the then-wealthy London guilds, as part of the Plantation of Ulster. This was a planned colonisation of Ireland by settlers from England and Scotland.

The Honourable The Irish Society, which represented the London guilds, built the city`s walls during 1613-19, to defend the settlers. The walls withstood a siege during 1688-89, hence ‘The Maiden City.’ As a sign of how Ireland`s past can still dominate its present, the ‘London’ prefix is more contentious; people who consider themselves Irish rather than British do not use it, whereas those who consider themselves British do. As the Establishment Bishop for the city and county, Frederick called himself ‘Derry,’ since the Church of Ireland has always referred to the diocese thus, and still does. However, Frederick also believed that religious divisions were pointless and ultimately dangerous. This was a highly unusual attitude at a time when Catholics and Presbyterians were still subject to official discrimination under the so-called Penal Laws.

Today, Frederick is most fondly remembered for his tolerance. He was generous to his own clergymen but also extended his finances and friendship to other faiths – for example, he contributed to the building of The Long Tower, Derry`s first Catholic church. As the Church of Ireland Bishop, he was the most powerful individual in the city and county, and his generosity won hearts and minds amongst a population that was more accustomed to being at best ignored and worst persecuted and impoverished by the British establishment.

Frederick was crowned Bishop in Saint Columb`s Cathedral and when he was not travelling abroad, he preached there on Sundays. He lived in the Bishop`s Palace which still stands on Bishop Street, and he built a pleasure-house, or casino, a copy of which can be seen on Bishop Street beyond the walls. You can explore Frederick`s city by following the links below.


Interesting Buildings

Many of the city`s buildings associated with the Earl Bishop are still in use and visiting them will also help you learn about the city`s colourful past.


Saint Columba was a 6th-century abbot who founded the first Christian settlement in Derry and introduced Christianity to Scotland and parts of Northern England. For Catholics and Protestants, he is the patron saint of the city. Built by the colonial settlers with money from the London guilds, Saint Columb`s Cathedral was finished in 1633, in ‘Planter`s Gothic’ style.

Although the interior was updated during Victorian times, the cathedral maintains the solid air of a 400 year-old structure. During the Siege of Derry in 1688-89, the cathedral`s tower was used as a look-out and a gun emplacement; this was before it had a spire and was the highest point in the city. Frederick was created Bishop of Derry here in 1768 and immediately commissioned a new spire which was taller and thinner than the current one and eventually had to be replaced. A dedicated traveller, Frederick was frequently away, but when he was resident in the city, he preached here on Sundays. His sermons, some of which survive, portray God as a sort of generous patron – not unlike the view that Frederick held of himself!


Every corner of the cathedral drips with history, however it also houses a small museum, the Chapter House, which contains a beautiful desk that belonged to Frederick and was once part of the furniture at Downhill.

Bishop's Palace

Close to the cathedral on Bishop Street, this could probably be described as Frederick`s 'other' palace, as Downhill is also sometimes called The Bishop`s Palace. This building was actually erected by Frederick`s predecessor in 1753, but Frederick did remodel parts of it to suit his own taste. He lived happily here with his family when not travelling abroad - and before his family became extremely unhappy about the amount of money he spent on travel, art and architecture, but not on them!

On the 30th of November, 1790, Frederick addressed a huge crowd in front of the palace, that had assembled to welcome him home after one of his journeys. He was genuinely adored by the populace, not just for his tolerance but probably also at this point in time because he had provided the bulk of the funding for Derry`s first bridge across the River Foyle, which was now in the process of being built. Because the only way across the river until then was by boat, Frederick`s bridge probably had the same impact as the more recent Peace Bridge when it came to opening up the city for the benefit of one and all. 

The rear and sides of the palace were once occupied by a beautiful garden and small orchard - now unfortunately a car park. However, the building itself has fared better than many other Georgian buildings in Derry because it was acquired in 1945 by the Masonic Order, who have taken great care of it ever since. Parts of the interior are still original and can be viewed by arrangement with the Order.


If you follow Bishop Street out of the historic city centre through Bishop`s gate for about half a kilometre, eventually you will come to Lumen Christi College. The grey stone perimeter walls of the college were built by Frederick and are topped by pumice caps that he had brought back from Vesuvius! The college was originally called Saint Columb`s, and was built in 1879, long after Frederick`s death. When he was alive, it was the Bishop`s deer park and garden, and the area all around was open countryside, beyond the city walls.

Inside his deer park, Frederick commissioned his first-ever building, a casino, in the Neapolitan style. 'Casino' is Italian for 'little house' and its original sense was precisely that - the association with gambling only came as Frederick`s century wore on and it developed into a notorious obsession for the aristocracy. Frederick himself was not a gambler; his casino was designed as a summer house for his family, just a short carriage ride from the Palace within the walls.

The fate of this building is extraordinary, for it was demolished, yet it survives! If you look closely at the accompanying picture, you will see a fine little classical building on the left; then a barracks-like main block; then, almost hidden by a tree, an even smaller classical building, then a final barracks-like block on the far right. The little hidden building is Frederick`s original casino; on either side are the Victorian blocks of the college, and on the left a copy of the casino which was built to try to balance the whole facade out. It is this building that survives today - unfortunately the college demolished Frederick`s original in 1945 and replaced it with a Gothic-style chapel.

The casino 'copy' is a charming building in its own right, the upper storey of which contains a beautiful Victorian-era library. Visitors should seek permission from Lumen Christi to access the college grounds.

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The Earl Bishop was a strong advocate of emancipation for Roman Catholics and was instrumental in the preparation of the first Catholic Relief Acts. With the support of the Bishop, Father Lynch began building Saint Columba's Church in 1784. Prior to the construction of the Church Father Lynch had said Mass under a hawthorn tree, which stood close by. Hervey donated £200 to the building fund.

Father Doherty fostered the tradition that Saint Columba’s Church occupies the site of the original monastery founded by Saint Colmcille in 546 AD. He rebuilt the Church in the 19th century and installed magnificent stained glass windows, telling the story of Saint Colmcille’s foundation of the monastery.

The Bishop built a Casino (Italian for 'little house') a short distance from his palace in open countryside outside the walls. Remarkably a replica of the Casino still  survives to the present day. The Bishop planted an avenue of Spanish chestnut trees to landscape the Casina. The seeds or seedlings were  possibly brought back by him from Italy, where the tree grows in abundance. This delicate tree has an aversion to wind and frost but one has survived  here due to its sheltered location.

The estate was acquired by the Derry Diocese in the 19th century and it was here in 1879 that Saint Columb's College (now the site of Lumen Christi College) was constructed. The Long Tower area takes its name from the medieval Round Tower, which survives to this day in the grounds of the College.

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