Built with the help of Protestant worshippers, St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Belfast has stood witness to 200 years of the city’s turbulent history. John Monaghan reports on plans for its bicentenary celebrations.
A HISTORIC Belfast city centre church has revealed plans to celebrate a very special anniversary.
A church was first built on the site of St Patrick’s on Donegall Street in 1815 to accomnodate an influx of Catholic workers into the city. And, as the population continued to grow, a new building was constructed and consecrated in 1877. The second oldest Catholic church in Belfast, plans to mark the bicentenary of St Patrick’s include a Mass to be celebrated by Down and Connor Bishop Noel Treanor, a dinner dance in the Titanic Suite, and a pilgrimage to Rome. Historian and author Eamon Phoenix is also due to give a talk about the parish at Belfast City Hall on March 9, while a lecture by Anne Stewart from the Ulster Museum on April 20 will discuss the life and works of painter Sir John Lavery, who was baptised in St Patrick’s. Sir John was the creator of the famous ‘Lakes of Madonna’ typtich painting which is displayed in the beautiful interior.
‘In 1941 the parish suffered enormous losses as a result of the Nazi bombings. Then in the 1970s there were events such as the McGurk’s Bar bombing and the Shankill butchers were operating. There has been a lot of suffering for the parishioners – Fr Michael Sheehan.
Parish priest Fr Michael Sheehan, who will talk about the history of the parish on the religious satellite channel EWTN next month, said the foundations of the church had “stood throughout some of the main points in Irish history”. “The first parish records we hold date back as far as 1798, (The year of the United Irishmen) before the church was even built, and contain baptisms and weddings which probably took place in St Mary’s in Chapel Lane,” he said. “In 1941 the parish suffered enormous losses as a resuslt of the Nazi bombings. Then in the 1970s there were events such as the McGurk’s Bar bombing and the Shankill Butchers were operating. There has been a lot of suffering for the parishioners.” In recent years the church found its3lf at the centre of a parading dispute, after tensions in the area were raised by sectarian music played outside its doors by a loyalist band during a July 12 march.
But with around a quarter of the funds raised for the original building by the Presbyterian community, Fr Sheehan said that he hoped to present gifts to other churches to recoginise the cooperation between various congregations which led to the parish’s birth. “The bicentenary provides us with the opportunity to acknowledge the generosity of our Christian brothers and sisters who helped us build the church,” he said. “We would also appeal to anyone with old photos of the parish to donate to our collection which we are preparing”. Built in the Romanesque style of different coloured sandstone, another distinctive feature of the church is the addition of a columbarium for the interment of ashes. However, restoration work requried to the building – at a total cost of £1.3 million – has been hampered by delays in funding from outside agencies. “We were expecting around £300,000 from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, however they have stalled any decision on funding for the past year.
‘The bicentenary provides us with the opportunity to acknowledge the generosity of our Christian brothers and sisters who helped us build the church – Fr Michael Sheehan.
And the Heritage Lottery Fund had approved over £200,000 but won’t release their funds until we get the sufficient money elsewhere to finish the work,” the parish parish priest said. Finances have also prevented the parish from fully digitising its invaluable archive of records from 1798 to the 1940s, after Fr Sheehan was quoted a figure of £98,000 to complete that task. “We stopped allowing people to view the archives themselves as some people were ripping out pages from these old documents. People can view the records at PRONI (Public Records Office), and we can still do the issuing of cirtificates.” A fire in October 1995 devastated St Patrick’s but following repairs it was officially reopened two years later by Bishop Patrick Walsh. Today it continues to attract a mix of parish residents, former parishioners who moved away, and city centre workers – as well as many tourists. The church either holds or owns a number of relics and shrines, including St Anthony of Padua and two relics of St Patrick, amongst them a small piece of bone taken from St Patrick’s burial site in Downpatrick.
With many thanks to: The Irish News, for the origional story.
Building’s link to 1916 Easter Rising hero Patrick Pearse
THE building of St Patrick’s Church bears a link to another famous Patrick in Irish history.
The altar and statue of St Patrick above its door were carved by the father of Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. James Pearse was born in London in 1839 and upon settling in Ireland founded a stonemasonry firm in Dublin, Pearse and Sons. Commissioned to carry out work at St Patrick in 1877, it is with a certain irony that various historians have attested to James’s atheism. Such was the cynicism around the sincerity of his religious views, according to the magazine History Ireland, that in 1883 James Pearse is said to have written to Archdeacon Kinnane of Fethard maintaining that his conversion to Catholicism, which occurred when married to his first wife, was genuine. However, the report notes “there is evidence to suggest that he may have published anti-religious free-thought pamphlets under the pseudonym ‘Humanitas'”. Despite openly criticising the Catholic Church and setting up schools outside the church’s control, Patrick Pearse, pictured above, is generally believed to have held stronger religious views than his father. James Pearse died in September 1900 while staying with his brother in Birmingham. The firm he created, Pearse and Sons, was wound up a decade later.
With many thanks to: The Irish News