According to legend, Eugene (which means ‘born under the protection of the yew tree’ in Irish) was a monk from Dublin who had a vision to travel north to set up a monastery. Eugene was said to have foretold the coming of St Columba who in the 6th century a.d. founded one of the greatest monasteries in Derry. By the 12th century the small monastery grew to become an impressive cathedral called ‘Teampall Mor’. This was located where the present Long Tower Church is and served Derry for over 300 years. In the 1560s, Teampall Mór was seized by English Forces in 1568 and was seriously damaged when it was used as a gunpowder magazine. In 1600, Sir Henry Dowcra entered Derry with a force of 4,000 soldiers, tore down the ruins of Teampall Mór and used its stones to build the Derry Walls. A Derry Bishop was also murdered by English yeomanry in 1601 and after this no Catholic Bishop was able to reside in Derry until 1720. This was the time of the Penal Laws and it was only after the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, that the Catholic community was able to contemplate building a new Cathedral. The foundation stone for this Cathedral was laid down on 26th July 1851. It was designed by J.J. McCarthy (1817-1882) who was the most outstanding church architect in Ireland of his time (his other works include St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh and St. Mary’s Church in Dingle). The 256 ft spire was only competed in 1903 due to a lack of funding. A statue of St Eugene is set in a niche in the tower above the main entrance doors. The bells still ring every night at 9 pm as a reminder of the Penal Laws (which forbade Catholics to attend mass and subjected them to a 9pm curfew).

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