The oldest building ever discovered in Derry’s city centre has been found during construction work, with intact centuries old wine bottles, clay pipes and even pottery fragments which date from the 1100s.
The shock find was revealed by Environment Minister Mark Durkan and archeologists from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency in Derry on Thursday.
The building was discovered a routine excavation on the site of the Apprentice Boys of Derry’s Memorial Hall Museum extension.
Archeologists believe the brick and wood building perished during the O’Doherty Rebellion of 1608- pre-dating the City Walls by several years.
Cahir O’Doherty was a local Irish chieftain who turned on the English Planters who had set their sites on establishing their own city in Derry.
In previous centuries Derry had been inhabited by native Irish people and was an important ecclesiastical and maritime destination for centuries. An earlier Plantation settlement is believed to have been established on the ruins of the Augustinian Abbey and religious buildings before the modern grid pattern of the inner city was implemented.
O’Doherty and his troops set fire to numerous buildings as they swept through the north west during the ultimately unsuccessful rebellion.
Archeologists said only a small part of the discovered building survived and had stone foundations and a cellar above which the upper floors were constructed of timber.
When the building burnt down its wooden walls and roof collapsed into the cellar where they have now been found just over 400 years later.
The collection of artefacts unearthed during the dig include a strap handle for a medieval pot dated to between to the 12th to 14th Century, musket balls and a small cannon ball.
Speaking as the findings were revealed at St Augustine’s Hall on Thursday, Minister Durkan said: “This is a really exciting find here in the city. Derry is famed for its rich history and heritage. It seems the further we go on the more we discover about our past.
“The building discovered here most recently is the oldest building discovered in what would have been the old island of Derry so this is something that has caused huge excitement for archeologists and many people in Derry and beyond.”
NIEA Archeologist Paul Logue said the find was “absolutely fabulous”.
He said: “The find is highly significant because what we actually found was the stone foundation of a building which was on a completely different alignment of the modern streets that date from the Walled City period, so we were guessing straight away this was an early thing we found.
“The remains showed us this was a stone building with a little cellar with stone steps down to it, and on top of the stone foundations you had what we called a half-timber building and that is something that if you were on holiday in France or Germany you see these timber framed buildings, that is exactly what used to exist in Derry as well.
“What had happened to this timber frame building was that it had burnt down and collapsed into the cellar. We were able to date the building’s foundation to 1601 or 1602 before the Walled City, before the Plantation. We known by 1610 from Plantation maps it was gone.”
Apprentice Boys governor Jim Brownlee: “We were lucky to find quite a range of artefacts dating right back to the medieval period, which predates the city itself. That in itself is significant.”