St Augustines may be the site of Derry’s Columban monastery founded in the late 6th century.
Tradition says that the monastery was set up by Colmcille although the earliest written evidence for this claim was written about 500 years later. It is more likely that the monastery was established by his relative Fiachra mac Ciaráin (who died in 620).
The site was home to one of the (possibly the) first church in Derry – the Dubh Recles (‘the black church’) - and is now the location of St Augustine's a Church of Ireland ‘chapel of ease’ whose own history and that of its predecessors dates back to the early 17th century.
There are several legends which describe Colmcille as setting up the monastery in Derry.
According to the 16th century Life of Colum Cille produced by Manus O’Donnell, Colmcille had been studying in Glasnevin when a plague broke out and the students were sent home. The king of his homeland Aed mac Ainmire granted Colmcille land at Daire Calgach (Derry) where he could found a monastery. At first Colmcille refused but, after he had received a sign from St Mobhi - his master at Glasnevin - he decided to set up his foundation on the site.
To cleanse the land of ‘the works of worldly men’ in preparation for his monastery, Colmcille lit a fire. The fire spread and almost destroyed a grove of oak trees so, to protect them, Colmcille prayed and the trees were saved.
The book stresses how much Colmcille loved Derry and the trees that grew there, and says that Colmcille wrote this poem describing his love of the trees in the city,
Though truly I’m afraid
Of death itself and hell
I’m frankly more afraid,
Of an axe-sound, west in Derry.
Manus O'Donnell p54