dedicated blogsite to Dave Wood's participatory poetry project in Northern Ireland. Started late August and finishing September 2004, it does a compare and contrast with previous visits 1988 - 1998. Also see

14 Dec 2004

complete interview at St.Columb's Cathedral, Derry.

(beginning of) Interview with Billy Baygely of St.Columb's Cathedral, Derry. (I hope I've spelt the name correctly).

(The blog will be updated with links. Please keep your comments coming in)

About the cathedral

The church is the oldest building in Derry built in 1633. It started in 1628 and finished 1633 so five years to build a church is just amazing considering there was no mechanical aids. We have the oldest peal of bells in Ireland. Two bells from 1613, the remaining 6 bells from 1633. So we've the oldest peal of bells in Ireland and the oldest building in the city….A lot of improvements have been made down through the years, see the big pillars? Those are original. The walls are original. We've got the north side and the south side with the nave in the middle. Not much else is…the floor was changed from a wooden floor to a terracotta floor in 1860. And the roof was changed from a stone roof to a Canadian pine roof in 1823. 1860 the pews were changed, for box pews to gate to those oak pews.

Why changes at that time?

Well, we had a bishop came here. New Kings make new laws. And this Bishop was Bishop Higgin. And he decide against the wishes of most to renovate the church, to do away with a lot of old things and bring in new things. There's those that didn't agree but they went ahead and did that. The gallery that you see at the back of the church, that ran down each side of the church, there was no stained glass. That stained glass is Victorian as well. The gallery was taken down by Bishop Higgin. The windows boarded up at the top are bricked up at the top and moved down a bit where the gallery was. The stained glass was introduced..the nice oak pews that you see…all the wood that you see in the church is oak, except the bits that see which is Canadian pine. The name Derry from the old Celtic word, Doire, meaning oaks or place of the Oaks. Derry's name meaning Oakgrove. That's all local wood that was used in the church.

Derry and Londonderry

Up until the 1950's nobody had any bother calling the place Derry. This cathedral is called Derry Cathedral. We have the apprentice boys of Derry. They didn't change their name, the Cathedral didn't change its name, nobody had a problem until certain people decided that you can't call it Londonderry. You tell someone you can't do something, they say 'why can we not?, why can we not call it…?'

[then there would be the reply] 'Oh you can't. We've changed the name of the city from Londonderry to Derry. Derry City Council changed that. That's when people got their back up and said 'Oh no we're going to call it Londonderry not Derry. But up until 1960 there was no problem in the city. People referred to the city as Derry. We've got the Sash, the old Protestant song; [lyrics] Derry, Aughrim, Enniskillin and the Boyne, it's not Londonderry, Aughrim, it's Derry, Aughrim.

All of a sudden people are telling us we can't call it Londonderry on the one reason. And the city's been Londonderry since 1613 when the charter was added by James First for Derry to become a city.

Faith and the Cathedral

It's very much a working cathedral. The unfortunate thing about our cathedral is late 1960 and early 1970's a lot of the protestant people left the west bank and went to live in the east bank of the city. At one time, the west bank was 60 -40/ 55, 65 whatever, population nationalists, protestant and catholic. Now the population of the west bank is 98% Roman Catholic -that's only 2% Protestant.


My belief is that there was a conspiracy to get the Protestants out of the West Bank to the East Bank. I loved here and I moved and my mother and father moved, we all moved. We didn't want the troubles that were going on here - pretty frightening for the time. This cathedral before 1960 had eight hundred families - 10 per church. Now we're down to 200. Lost 600 families by a shift in a population of the protestant people from the west bank to the east bank. And that shift was planned. That's my line. That didn't happen accidentally; hundreds of people from all the districts of the city - from the bishop Street District, Dark lane, Rosemount District, Stranroad District; those people just didn't leave just like that for no reason. They had a reason. Now, the west bank of the city would be 70 - 30 in the protestant vein. There still is about 30% Roman Catholic population living in the east bank.

Using the Cathedral

We have a big Sunday School for young people. We've go a mixed men and boys' choir. 14 boys and eight men. We have youth organisations like the cubs and the scouts, the rainbows and whatever. We've a good mixture of people in the church. Our average attendance on a Sunday would be about 250 - fairly good for 200 families. But there was a time before the 1960's (in the 20's, 30's, 40's and 50's) that the church would be packed. The church holds 780 people and It was packed at the time. In saying that the general trend in young people is not to go to church compared to who you are or 40's and 50's, people have dropped off . I think it's a sign of the times; young people have more to do; cinemas open everything's open play football, it's got everything going on a Sunday. The church comes last with some of the young people which is unfortunate but that's the fact.

The relationship to faith still strong?

It's a good question. This is a trend that's happening in the Roman Catholic Churches as well - not as many people going to chapel as there used to be, not as many people coming to church as there used to be - [it's] a young people's trend. Unfortunately a lot of it started when the troubles started; they liked to do other things rather than go to church. This is my bee on it. When I was born are reared on the street - it was mixed and we had no bother leaving our doors open at night. The neighbours would have come in then - had a cup of tea, borrowed a cup of sugar then went out again. That doesn't happen anymore - even in their own community they do that and a mixed community seemed different...everybody running into everybody's houses.

future renovations?

yes - we have a big restoration program's mapped out which is going to cost two and half million pounds.

how will you raise that?

well we don't know. Unfortunately we had a break in the church nine years ago - that's nine long years - Christmas time and vandals broke into the church - destroyed the organ that 's...The organ's getting rebuilt at a cots £400,000. We have £300,000 gathered and we've started the work. We hope to have the other 100 000 - that's all gathered by parishioners.. we have had no help. We applied to the Arts Council for lottery grants and they sent us a nice letter saying that this area was over suscrbed and they couldn't give the church anything - we appealed it. They came down and they said no - we can't. So we're gathering that money ourselves...things like that put back the restoration. The stone work in the church isn't bad especially up there especially on the roof. But the pillars on the roof, the battlements's a Gothic cathedral built of sandstone and sandstone's very soft and doesn't last the pace. It's been here for four hundred years - I suppose it's not too bad. That's the financial part of the church. The church doesn't have the money and we can't get the grants for anybody to help. Everybody gets grants fatigue - maybe I'm biased. That's the way I think. We had a stained glass window broken. The second one down on that side. We had a panel on that broken. We had a grill on it. That was pulled off and a stone was thrown through it. We have a lot of problems with young people in the church grounds at night with their carry-outs and having parties. They come over the railings. We don't want to go to the extent of putting barbed wire up or anything.

And that's what happened - it was just an act of vandalism. I don't think it was sectarian - it was just an act of vandalism and that cost us £2000 which we have gathered for that and we have fixed. But the organ's ongoing.

Visions and faith...

People come to church to worship God. They wouldn't be here if they didn't have a faith, so that's 250 people. A lot of young people thank goodness and the church looks healthy at the moment and we hope we're here for another 400 years… As I say, it's the most historic and the oldest building in the city, it’s not a problem. Trying to get money in is a problem…we depend on visitors.

souvenirs and visitors

The only problem we have…we have an average of 30,000 visitors oer year. We don't ask for payment to come into the church. We ask them to make a donation, if they wish. Out of that 30,000 our box shows £10,000. We find a lot of European visitors, and I don't want to tar them with the same brush, but Spaniards, Germans, Italians don't really want to pay anything to come into the church. And saying that, the 30,000, that includes school children, they're all coming in the summer time. All the schools, Roman Catholic Schools especially, come here to see the Cathedral and to see a little bit about the good seeds of Derry all those years ago [tape illegible]. We don't expect payment from the children, but [tape illegible] that adds to the thirty thousand, maybe it's a distorted view. But a lot of visitors that come into the church don't give a donation

Quietest times

Wintertime - say November time to March must be our quietest times. Though we do get visitors from Australia and New Zealand and Europeans. There's not a country I don't think, in the world, that I haven't spoken to in seven - eight years of being here

Any other drops in congregation?

Well one year we had the foot and mouth and then the same year was the 11th September -the Americans stopped coming. And the next year was the same - there were less Americans traveling. But that's built up again.

Anything else?

About the church…well, everybody that works here, loves the church. They're just thrilled to bits - they can't get enough of it now. My great grandmother, grandmothers, my mother, myself and my children were all baptised here - we go back generations ago [tape illegible - but I'm working on it]

So you can expect it to carry on..


Thank you