He was the Bishop of Derry who in 1907 commissioned the building of the present Long Tower Church. But Bishop John Keys O'Doherty never got to see the completed building, the day after he made the announcement he was dead.
However on Wednesday, 101 years after his death the people of Derry proved they hadn’t forgotten about the former Bishop, as they gathered for the unveiling of his newly restored tomb in the grounds of Long Tower Church.
It was a day when the old was mixed with the new. As parishioners got their first glimpse of the limestone tomb now painted and restored to its former glory, Castlederg man Brian Devenney handed over a handwritten diary belonging to the Bishop O’Doherty spanning from 1855 to 1864. Mr. Devenney discovered the diary after buying a box of books at a house clearance. When he heard about the restoration of the tomb, he decided it would be a fitting tribute for the Bishop’s book to be returned to the parish.
The unveiling was the first in a number of events which will be held over the next year ahead of the centenary of St. Columba’s Long Tower. The parish is hosting a special Columban celebration on the ninth day of each month up to the Centenary. They are also holding a monster draw at 100 per ticket to raise funds for a number of restoration projects which are: to restore the Opus Sectile art-work above the tabernacle; restore all the stone walls; restore the angels to the church roof; upgrade the toilet area in the Sacristy; restore the Baptismal font to the Baptistry and repair the seats in the church; restore the original Stations of the Cross to the gallery; erect a statue of St. Columba in Long Tower School and publish the “Story of the Long Tower”
Administrator of Long Tower Church, Father Roland Colhoun, who blessed the tomb on Wednesday,spoke of how Bishop O’Doherty from an early age had a great love of the church.
“In 1855 Bishop O’Doherty went to Maynooth where he was a distinguished student,” he said.“He then returned to the Long Tower to be ordained in 1861. Bishop O’Doherty had been baptised in the Long Tower, made his First Communion here and was confirmed here. It was therefore fitting that he would return to be ordained here.
“Remember that in 1861, there was no Cathedral in Derry, the Long Tower was the church. However Bishop O’Doherty remembered his grandmother telling him how in the 1700s people would gather for Mass on Grianian Hill. She would later tell him how people gathered on the site where the Long Tower is now, under an old shelter for Mass.”
Bishop O’Doherty later went on to serve in parishes in Carndonagh, Malin and Newtonstewart before he was elevated to Bishop in 1890.
Restore and enlarge
He commissioned the spiral and bells of St Eugene’s Cathedral, built the Nazareth House and in 1907 along with Father Willie Doherty agreed to restore and enlarge the present Long Tower.
On February 24 1907, Bishop O’Doherty officially announced the restoration of the Long Tower Church. The next day on his death bed he said: “Here will I finish, let my successor do the rest.” He passed away shortly after.
Plans were made to bury the Bishop at the vault at St. Eugene’s Cathedral however, at the 11th hour his funeral was rerouted after it was discovered in his will that he requested to be buried at Long Tower at an “appropriate spot in front of the Calvary.”
The original tomb was erected on top of his grave and unveiled at the rededication of the Church. On the left hand side is a Latin inscription detailing the Bishop’s life and death.