A once-in-a-lifetime discovery that rewrites the history of Derry has been made in the grounds of a grammar school in the city.
A group of local historians say they have evidence to prove that the remains of what was thought to be an ancient windmill at Lumen Christi College is actually an early medieval monastic round tower.
And not just any round tower - but the original ‘Long Tower’ and probable site of St. Columba’s monastery.
The Derry Tower Heritage Group (DTHG) says the discovery of this ‘lost’ round tower - which dates to the late 12th-early 14th century - will radically transform our understanding of Derry’s early history.
Crucially, it debunks the widely accepted theory that the monastic tower was located close to the present day location of St. Columba’s Church, on the edge of the Bogside, known locally as the Long Tower.
Importantly, the group’s claims have been verified by experts using the latest cutting edge methods for determining the age of an object.
The historians say the monument - the only medieval structure still standing in the city - would have been in the region of 150 ft. tall and could have been seen from miles around.
With the help of a team of archaeologists from Queen’s University in Belfast, and radio carbon dating analysis, the DTHG, which has been studying the history of the tower for the last five years, believes it now has the scientific evidence to back up its claims.
It says the discovery of the round tower is “clear evidence” of Derry’s standing as a leading monastic centre in the early/middle ages and raises new questions about the city’s historic past.
“We are certain we have found the monastic Long Tower,” says Stephen Doherty, a member of the heritage group. “It is a colossus of a structure - impressive in every detail. The history books will certainly need to be revised.”
Dr. Colm Donnelly, Director of the Centre For Archaeological Fieldwork (CAF) at Queen’s University, says the new discovery is set to change our understanding of the early history of Derry.
“This monument is the only medieval structure still standing in Derry. All other medieval buildings that were once here are now gone, buried under the centuries of building activity that have happened in the city over the past 400 years.”