Derry coffins may date from sea disaster


FORENSIC experts in Derry yesterday carried out initial tests on the remains of six coffins found by workmen on a building site in the Waterside area of Derry.

The coffins were found in grounds close to a former Victorian workhouse which opened in 1840 and which was officially closed in

A local historian and author of a book on the workhouse, Mr Patsy Durnin, said he believed more coffins would be found on the site.

"The remains could be those of former residents of the workhouse. However, it's more likely that they are those of 72 men, women and children who died on board a paddle steamer, ironically named Londonderry, in 1848 going from Sligo to Liverpool, who suffocated on board during a storm.

"The grilles on the deck of the steamer which effectively acted as an air vent were blown off during the storm and the crew put tarpaulin sheets over the holes.

"When the ship pulled into Derry port on December 1st 1848 to shelter from the storm, the people were found to have suffocated and they were buried in a mass grave close to the workhouse.

"It's been known for some time that a mass grave is in this area. It is now time to re-inter the remains with an appropriate religious ceremony.

"It is also possible that the remains belong to former inmates of the workhouse, and if that's the case, questions have to be asked why the grave was not marked," he said.