During the eighteenth century, whilst schools were largely abandoned by Catholics, by the 1820’s there were five Catholic masters who ran small private schools in the Parish. Some of these schools were located at Desertone, Gortican, Clooney, Ardmore and Lisdillon. It is doubtful that religious instruction other than reading a Protestant version of the Bible was given. There was some attempt to hold Sunday schools such as Archdeacon McCarron’s efforts at Glendermott Chapel in 1829 with 22 boys and 28 girls. However, for some reason they were not enthusiastically supported by Catholic children. Other Sunday schools sprung up at Rosnagalliagh and Lisdillon around this period.
In the thirties came two events of importance for the Catholics of Glendermott, one being Catholic Emancipation and the appointment of Alexander J. McCarron as PP, known as the Archdeacon. Fr McCarron was a dominant personality and surely one of the best-known figures in the city at that time. Being careful of public altercation with Protestants, he was educated at Foyle College. (Coulter,1958)
Before 1836, the people attended Mass in the coach-house of Dr White in Duke Street, but in that year the Archdeacon bought an acre of ground from Liberal MP Sir Robert Ferguson, whose statue stands in Brooke Park. On 29th August 1838 Dr McLaughlin laid the foundation stone and after many disappointments the churlishness of the contractor, St Columb’s Church was opened in 1841, with Archdeacon McCarron celebrating the first Mass on 3rd January 1841. (Edward Daly & Kieran Devlin, 1997)
The Derry Journal at the time (Tuesday 27th July 1841) “On Sunday last (25th) St Columb’s Chapel, Waterside was Consecrated as a place of worship in connection with the Roman Catholic Church. The following gentlemen officiated on the occasion; The Right Rev Dr John McLoughlin, presiding and consecrating Bishop. Rev E. Kelly Deacon, Rev W O’Donnell Sub-Deacon; and Rev Dillon Master of Ceremonies. After the Celebration of High Mass, the Rev Thomas Maguire of Ballinamore delivered a discourse in his usual eloquent manner, adverted to the mean trick adopted by some in this city, posting placards that the Rev. Gentleman had been suddenly taken ill and implying the consecration was to be postponed, to prevent ones from attending. The Chapel, however, was densely packed during both evening and morning sessions with collections amounting to £144 11s 1d”. St Columb’s was designed by the noted Dublin architect J J McCarthy, who also designed St Eugene’s Cathedral.
Whilst, Glendermott was fortunate in that it came through the Famine unscathed, the Waterside workhouse had on average 500 patients by December 1846.
Bishop Edward Maginn, an outstanding Bishop and major national figure, was Consecrated as Bishop of Derry on 18th January, 1846 in St Columb’s, Waterside. He founded St Columb’s College, then based at Pump Street, as a Seminary. He highlighted plight of famine victims and channelled aid abroad to them. Especially noted for his work among famine victims in Buncrana.
The Redemptorists gave their first mission in the Diocese at Waterside, Derry from October 10th- November 1st, 1851. Three of them were Fr Joseph Prost, an Austrian controversialist, the renowned Fr Furniss and Fr Robert Aston Coffin, an Oxford convert from Anglican Orders.
Fr McCarron’s outspoken opinions irritated many non-Catholics. One such occasion was when an English MP Mr Chambers, advocated in offensive terms that “nunneries” should be open to government inspection. Fr McCarron mentioned the subject at Mass in St Columb’s on Sunday 12th June 1853, intending to advise the congregation to petition against the bill.
Before he could explain his suggestion, a young army officer, Everett, ordered the party of Catholic soldiers that he oversaw to leave the church. Archdeacon McCarron continued with the Mass, urging them to remain where they were. Almost 30 of the 70 soldiers kept their places, the rest leaving the Church. After Mass these men were arrested and punished for disobedience. Fr McCarron was cited before civil court, July 1853 accused of inciting the soldiers to mutiny. Whilst he was honourably discharged, he suffered a considerable vexation, taking a toll on his health. (Coulter,1958)
Following the death of Archdeacon McCarron, a brass and slate monument was erected by his grateful parishioners, today enjoying an honoured place in the Church. Since he died before the enlargement of the Church, he is buried opposite the side altar to Our Lady near to where his plaque is situated. (Coulter,1958)
Rev Edward Doherty built the Parochial House and to mark its completion there was a sermon in St Columb’s by Dean O’Kane of Maynooth, 17th September 1865. Another event was the extraordinary mission given by four Jesuit Fathers in October 1869, beginning on Sunday 10th October, and lasting for three weeks. The occasion bears convincing witness to the spirit of Catholicism in Derry, with one report in the Journal citing that almost 20,000 people received the Sacrament of Penance, with the Waterside Chapel thronged for every service, numbers being turned away on some occasions. He also started the school at Enagh Lough in 1870 which replaced a private school in Coolkeeragh.
Whilst the population of Glendermott increased between 1851-1891, from 9,925 to 10,701, townlands such as Bolies, Prehen, Kittybane, The Trench and Ardmore lost half their populations with evictions in the 1880’s. However, overall whilst the Catholics of Glendermott held their position due to an increase in the urban area of the Waterside which grew in the second half on the nineteenth century. In Archdeacon McCarron’s time the parish was essentially a rural community with a handful of Catholics in the municipal boundary; by the late 1890’s it had taken on all the characteristics and problems of an urban parish, with a large rural area attached.
On 4th Feburary 1873, the people of Derry heard a Catholic bell for the first time in over two hundred years since the Reformation. St Columb’s Church bell rung out across the Foyle, it was surely the symbol of a resurrected Church, bearing witness to the courage and sacrifice of those who had not let the Faith die. The bell was procured by Fr Devlin who also fundraised for parish schools in 1874 by inviting Father Tom Burke, the famous preacher, to give a special sermon in July of that year. (Derry Journal,1874)
Building work on the Waterside Boys School in Chapel road was initiated in 1874 as a single storey, the top floor was added a few years later.
In 1887 St Columb’s was enlarged by Monsignor McFaul. He took great care to preserve the grace and proportion of the building, with a chancel and transepts added to an otherwise plain rectangular five bay nave. The Church was re-opened on 6th May 1888 with Cardinal Logue preaching. In terms of style, this is the style adopted by gothic revivalists- rather dry Perpendicular, with battlemented parapet, western tower, spiky pinnacles on the buttresses and Y tracery in the windows. The walls are of whinstone with sandstone dressings.
Moreover, this made the Church more cruciform and the interior was brightened considerably. He installed a new Communion rail of polished pitched pine and added to the external appearance of the Church by separating the grounds of the school from the school with a large wall and erecting wrought iron gates, at the church entrance, which are still in use.
These improvements cost almost £3,000 but the parishioners were generous. On the opening Sunday, when the primate preached, the collection in the church amounted to more than £700 with Mallabuoy and Ardmore contributing £150 each.
To have given £1,000 in one day was tribute not only to the enthusiasm but also to the comparative affluence of the Catholics in Glendermott at the end of the nineteenth century.