The chairperson of Aras Colmcille based in the grounds of St Columba’s Church, Long Tower has urged local people to get behind the museum’s bid to win a heritage lottery good causes award. Grainne Mc Cafferty, speaking on behalf of the trustees said they were delighted to have been shortlisted for the award and would love to win it, not just for the city but for Northern Ireland.
“We would urge everyone to give the project your support by giving it a vote. This is a vote for Columba, for Derry~Londonderry and for Northern Ireland. We would call on everyone to give the project a vote before the closing date of July 29th. We would like to use this opportunity to add to and raise the profile of our historic city”
Grainne revealed how the St. Columba Heritage Centre opened in 2014 on June 9th and since then has seen both visitor and school visit numbers increase. The Centre is housed in the former Wee Nuns’ School at the Long Tower. The listed building, dating from 1813, was completely derelict when the restoration began in 2013. The restoration programme was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, NI Tourist Board, NI Environment Agency, Derry City Council and the Diocese of Derry at a total cost of £1.6 million. This included fitting out the restored building as an exhibition centre and hospitality space. The building has been beautifully restored to a very high standard. It has retained the galleried area, originally used for teaching, as an audio visual area where visitors can enjoy a number of video presentations about Columba.
The exhibition area focuses on the early monastic foundation of this city, which is one of the longest continuously inhabited places in Ireland and illustrates the shared history and legacy of Columba in this city and beyond. Columba is also known by other variations of his name, Columb and Colmcille. The exhibition area, which covers two floors, provides an enjoyable and informative experience for children and adults alike. The centre has on display a facsimile copy of the Book of Kells and other illuminated manuscripts associated with Columba and his followers, with interactive opportunities for all visitors of all ages to explore the heritage and history of Colmcille. Some video footage enables visitors to see the island of Derry recreated as it was, before the building of the Walls.
There are also photographs and stories from past pupils of the Wee Nuns’ School. One exhibit is of interest and that is the exercise book of a child, Edward Boyle, who attended the Wee Nuns’ School in 1891. He describes the building of the larger Long Tower School nearby and describes the desks in his own school as “not very accommodating”. The centre has on display one of the old desks rescued from the derelict building, which fits Edward Boyle’s description.
Large-scale books for children containing some of the legends of Columba have been created in English and Irish and local voices can also be heard retelling these stories on a specially created listening throne.
A curragh, of the type that Columba would have used to sail to Iona, was presented to the Centre by the Fanad Curragh Group.
A recent welcome expansion of the facilities in the building has been the addition of the Cherry Blossom bakery and café which provides a range of locally sourced, home cooked meals throughout the day. All information about opening hours of both the centre and the Cherry Blossom Bakery can be seen on the centre’s website www.stcolumbaheritage.org.
The legacy of Columba is undisputed. He is associated with some of the oldest and best manuscripts of our heritage. One of the oldest poems-perhaps the oldest in the Irish language or in any European language called the Amra Choluim Chille - is about St. Columba.
The oldest Irish illuminated manuscript, the Cathach, is attributed to Columba and the most important and best of such illuminated manuscripts from Britain and Ireland, all come from Columban monasteries and he is the founding father of this city as a result of his monastic settlement on the island of the oak grove of Derry.
His name is interwoven into the fabric of Derry with buildings from both main religious traditions being named in his honour.
He is in all senses a shared saint and it is a particular aim of the trustees of Aras Cholmcille to ensure that the centre is very much a shared space to be used and cherished by all. But Columba’s influence does not end there as the tradition of learning, writing and recording of history, in books known as Annals begun with Columba, inspired the spread of learning throughout Scotland, England and eventually through some of his followers, throughout Europe.
Wherever they went they brought their love of learning and skills in book making. All visitors are welcome to visit the centre, to see, appreciate and enjoy for themselves the hidden gem that is the St. Columba Heritage Centre.
Mairead Fox, Centre Manager at the St. Columba Heritage Centre said, “We have had such tremendous support in our first year that to win a National Lottery Award would be the icing on the cake.
“The people of Derry ~Londonderry have been behind us ever since we opened our doors to the public 13 months ago and it would be such a lovely thing for our city to be recognised on a national level as having such fantastic heritage and a commitment to remembering it.”
To vote log on to http://www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/project/%C3%A1ras-cholmcille-st-columba-heritage-centre