On International Women’s Day 2014, a year which also marks the centenary of the outbreak of WWI, it is timely to highlight one particular set of stained glass windows in Derry’s Guildhall. When you enter the main Assembly Hall on the first floor, facing you is a dazzling wall of stained glass, the gift of the Londonderry Women Voluntary War Workers. Dominated by female figures, it contrasts with the war memorial in Derry’s Diamond, with its grim statues of the sailor getting ready for action and the soldier in action with bayonet and rifle.
Lady Anderson, Mayoress of Derry, 1915-1919, played a key role in the commissioning of these Guildhall windows, as a WWI memorial. They were unveiled by the Duchess of Abercorn on 27th May 1925. Derry’s Women Voluntary War Workers wanted to have “a permanent record of their devotion, loyalty, and association with the men of the Navy and Army, and at the same time it would be a bond of sympathy, love and attachment between them and the mothers, sisters and sweethearts who gave their nearest and dearest in the cause of freedom and civilisation.” Worth a closer look when you next visit Derry’s Guildhall.
It was the skeletons which captured the public and media attention in the QUB archaeological dig in the grounds of the former Bishop’s Palace Gardens. However it is the artefacts in the time horizon’s beneath them, which have most potential to tell us more about the monastic and plantation settlements on the island hill of Derry. One of the most interesting finds, by the Queen’s University archaeologists, has been a large block of stone overlaid by the a patch of reddish soil, indicating burning. Tool marks are evident on the block of stone showing that it was formally sculpted to fit in some form of structure. Archaeologists and local historians believe that this stone was reused as a hearth stone. Such a fire could have been used by the English soldiers to cook their meals inside Docwra’s walls which then surrounded the hill of Derry. Equally there is a great deal of speculation about the original use of the tooled block of stone. When it is excavated next week and turned over, will it reveal the carved text “Foundation Stone of Colmcille’s Abbey”! Not likely, but perhaps equally interesting evidence will be discovered. The dig site was also littered with big-wigs last week; hopefully they will followup their media appearances with real investment in the heritage of the Hill of Derry.