Bones beneath Derry church may be mass grave from siege
A mass grave dating back to the 17th century and the Siege of Derry has been unearthed under a Presbyterian Church in Londonderry.
Three sets of bones were discovered under the floor of First Derry Presbyterian Church during a restoration project.
It is thought the site is the final resting place of “a huge number” of Presbyterians who died during the siege.
The congregation of First Derry has been displaced for nine years now while an extensive £1.5m renovation project takes place, during which church pews and floors have been lifted.
The bones were found in soil which was under the floor and a team from the Centre for Archeological Fieldwork at Queen's University have begun an excavation of the site, where it was revealed that the find was “a probable mass grave”.
Minister of First Derry Rev David Latimer said the discovery of the grave will be given appropriate recognition within the church.
He said: “It is reassuring to know that at the time of the siege, when thousands of people perished, time was taken to give a dignified burial to those people who died.
“We know that one in 11 of those who died during the siege was Presbyterian, and this new find will help us tell the story of the Presbyterians in this city.
“Images of the bones found will be housed in the Blue Coat School, a new museum and interpretation centre that we hope to open later this year.
“But it is extremely important that the bodies buried in these grounds are allowed to rest in peace and I have asked that a special plaque be sited informing people that what is now a car park was once the final resting place for thousands of Presbyterians, and asking them to be mindful of that as they visit our church, which we hope will be reopening in May.”
The man responsible for dating the bones was Cormac McSparron, from Queen's University, who detailed the find.
He said: “We have uncovered one articulated skeleton, but at least three sets of bones in two smaller churches that predate the existing church.
“It it reasonable to extrapolate that there are likely to be a lot of burials in the area and the material which has been found around them are compatible with the siege period.
“It is probably a mass grave. Certainly the finds suggest from the relatively small area that we opened at the end of the church that there were quite a number of burials.”