The City Cemetery based on the hill in Creggan is the largest cemetery in the city and very visible from the city centre. The main cemeteries before it were at St Columb’s Cathedral, St Augustine’s and the Long Tower. By the middle of the 19th century these became overcrowded so a new municipal cemetery was built in 1853 and by 1867 the 3 main cemeteries in the city centre stopped accepting new burials. The cemetery was the main burial place for both Catholics and Protestants until Altnagelvin cemetery opened in the 60s which then became the preferred burial place for Protestants.
The cemetery has the history of the city from the mid-19th century to the present literary written in stone. There are unmarked pauper graves and lavish upper class graves showing the class differences of the 19th century; graves for those that died in the Cholera outbreaks of the 19th century; graves for people that died that sea after leaving from the city’s harbour, graves for solders that died the World Wars and graves of those that died as a result of the troubles.
The evolution of grave stones over the years is very visible, Victorian era graves often showed the person’s status, rich people with often be buried with ornate monuments often in neo classical styles influenced by ancient Greek and roman art. Throughout the 20th century graves became much more subtle, mostly influenced by regulations for size and stone surrounds disappeared to be replaced by lawns.
The City Cemetery has went through many expansions and more are planned and is the final resting place for over 70,000 people including some of the city’s most famous people:
Cecil Frances Alexander (1818–1895) – Irish poet and hymnist
John Guy Ferguson (1829–1901) – Architect who designed numerous prominent buildings in Derry
John Hume (1937–2020) – Nobel Peace Prize laureate and nationalist politician who played a prominent role in ending The Troubles
Eddie McAteer (1914–1986) – Leader of the Nationalist Party
James McCarron (1851–1918) – Trade unionist and Labour politician
Martin McGuinness (1950–2017) – Former leader of the IRA and Sinn Féin politician.
Hugh O'Doherty (~1829–1901) – Nationalist politician who was the first Catholic Mayor of Derry since 1668
Patsy O'Hara (1957–1981) – Leader of the Irish National Liberation Party and hunger striker
William Tillie (1824–1904) – Established the first shirt factory in Derry with his partner John Henderson in 1851.
A project to preserve the history in the cemetery from Friends of Derry City Cemetery is underway as many headstones have started to decay or have the subject to vandalism. The project hopes to photograph all the early headstones, add some research and leave it for future generations. A project from the Tower Museum has put many of the burial records into an online database. Tours of the cemetery available from Friends of Derry City Cemeteries that takes you around the sections of the cemetery and gives the history behind the graves.