Forest Hill Cemetery — Early Settlers Plot Refurbishments

One Nutfield 300th project the Derry Heritage Commission has underway is the refurbishment of the early settlers plots in Forest Hill Cemetery.

This row of headstones includes Rev. James MacGregor—the “Moses of the Scotch-Irish” and founder of Nutfield who was buried in 1729—and his wife and sons and their wives. For perhaps a century it was surrounded by an iron fence, and in recent years sported a street sign identifying the “First Settler.”

The iron rods in the fence obscured the stones, and the handsome iron posts at the corners and midpoints of the fence needed refreshing. Local historian and Forest Hill Cemetery authority TJ Cullinane has been working with monument experts Cornerstone Cemetery Services LLC to develop a new, refined design to mark and protect these treasured headstones.

The new design will reuse the iron posts, first stripping, repairing and repainting them to restore their original appearance. The iron rods will be replaced with chains, which can be moved out of the way for occasional photography or videography. A new, distinguished granite post already in place identifies the plots as those of the “Early Settlers.”

From TJ Cullinane:

TJ Cullinane at Forest Hill First Settlers plot.jpg

”It’s heartening to see the support from the town and its residents for improving the First Settlers lot in honor of the Nutfield 300th observance. Equally gratifying is knowing that this support extends to our ancestral homes overseas, as this sacred spot continues to be a magnet for historians and documentary producers from throughout the North of Ireland and Scotland.”

Filming in Forest Hill for a BBC documentary (June 2012), by Waddell Media for a
BBC show on MacGregor’s descendants (March 2018),
and MacMillan Media for the Ulster Scots Agency (August 2018).

The work also includes refurbishing nearby historic gravesites, whose dilapidated condition detracted from the overall appearance of this historically significant area. Two have been completed already:

  • A table stone memorializing Thomas and Martha Steel

  • -An upright marker commemorating Robert and Dolly Taylor

Cullinane further commented:

“Here in Derry, we hold ourselves to the high standard set by the legendary British Prime Minister William Gladstone who wrote, ‘Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals.’ I strongly feel that we are meeting Gladstone's standard and perhaps exceeding it."

All the work should be completed in time for Founders Weekend (April 12–14, 2019), when the Early Settlers plot and the rest of the historic Forest Hill Cemetery will be featured in tours and talks.