The city of Derry traces its origins to a monastery founded here in the 6th century which sat high on the hill which is now at the heart of the walled city. Back in the first days of settlement here, the hill was a wooded island with water (or at least wetland – the ’bogside’) on both sides.
Derry is closely linked to the story of Colmcille. Colmcille is said to have set sail from Derry to found his new monastery in Iona in 563 and, in the centuries that followed, the monastery in Derry became an important part of the Columban ‘familia’ or community of monasteries, with monks travelling by boat between the two places and beyond.
Visit Derry to discover the story of the Columban monastery and how the life of Colmcille is still commemorated in the city today.
The first name for this settlement by the River Foyle was Daire Calgaigh. Daire/Doire is the old Irish word for an oak grove. By the 12th and 13th centuries the city was known as Doire Cholmcille in dedication to the saint.
According to legend Colmcille founded the monastery in Derry himself in 545, 17 years before he left to set up the monastery in Iona. It was said to be his first and most beloved monastic foundation.
The first time that this story is recorded is in the late 10th/early 11th century. A scribe who produced an Irish language preface for the Latin prayer-poem Noli Pater Indulgere writes that the Dubh Regles (Black Abbey) was founded in Derry by Colmcille.
There is no contemporary evidence that it was Colmcille himself who set up this monastery - or that it was in 545 when it was established. It’s possible that this first monastery was founded some time later by Colmcille’s relative Fiachra mac Ciaráin who died in 620.
The trail starts by the Guildhall and follows the line of the city walls. Head across the square and up the stairs on to the walls, walking anti-clockwise.
As you walk up the hill, Magazine Street lies below to your left. This was possibly the site of an ancient pilgrimage route.