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St. Aidan's

Beside the ruins of a medieval church 

Situated  in the foothill of Binevenagh near St Cadan's


St Aidan's Church

St. Aidan`s church stands on the slopes of Binevenagh. No trace can be found of the original church established by St Colmcille in the 6th century but the ruins of a medieval church stand on its foundations. The medieval church was used as a place of worship for the Protestant community until 1773 when a new church, St Cadan’s, was erected by the Earl Bishop in a more central part of the parish. He bestowed the old church on the Roman Catholic community, a provocative decision during the time of the anti-Catholic Penal Laws. The Roman Catholic community made use of it until 1826, when the present Church of St Aidan was built.


There are several interesting graves at St Aidan’s. The grave of Denis O’Hampsey stands alongside the medieval church. Denis (1695 – 1807) was one of Ireland’s most distinguished harpers. He had the distinction of living in three different centuries and marrying at the age of eighty six. When Edward Bunting visited Magilligan in 1792 to annotate music from O’Hampsey’s vast repertoire, Denis told him that ‘It must have been the Devil that buckled he and his wife together for he was blind and she was totally lame.’ Nevertheless there was an offspring from the marriage.


There is also a headstone to the Allisons, a planter family, in the cemetery. The Allisons, who were tenant farmers, lived at Drumnahay, Magilligan. There are two grave slabs here recording the deaths of the first generation of the family; John, who died in 1736 and his wife Jane, who died in 1684. In 1768 their descendant, Joseph Allison, had a visit from the agent of his landlord and after having paid the rent, Joseph served the agent supper with the family’s silver spoons. But as the agent departed, he informed Joseph that if he could eat with silver spoons, then he could afford an increased rent. Disillusioned, Joseph left Ireland for Philadelphia. His vessel was shipwrecked off Nova Scotia, but he got ashore and set himself up from scratch again as a farmer. His family prospered and eventually his grandson became a rich banker, who in 1839 founded Mount Allison University, the first university in Canada. The silver spoons were then presented to the University!

Nearby is a holy well, which had its origins in pagan times.


Interesting Places Nearby

City of Derry / Londonderry - 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.

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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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