Church reveals its original soul in renovation

Tomás Heavey at Newbridge Church holding a photograph of when it was plastered. Photos: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Stripping back an old building can be a recipe for disaster – often throwing up costly surprises and delaying progress with any development.

The community in Newbridge have had an altogether different experience though, as works continue on the restoration of St Patrick’s Church.

Back in May, works began on the church and as the plaster was stripped back and the fixtures moved, the history of the building began to reveal itself.

That’s according to Chairman of the Restoration Fund Committee, Tomás Heavey, who says that their knowledge of the church’s previous existence as a market house – and its subsequent extension – has grown since the layers were peeled back.

“We didn’t know the quality of the stonework there [in the oldest part] – that was the original building and it was an old market house. The two arches, that were in it originally, are of better quality and the third one in the middle was added subsequently.

“The Market House was built around 1840 and this wasn’t built until 25 years later. The church was a yard in front of the market – that was the original building and the landlord’s stone is a good bit better quality than the other stone,” he explains.

The difference between the two is stark – with even experienced stone masons unable to point the poor quality stone in the extension.

“The last major refurbishment was in 1977 – they did the roof and they did the ceiling at the time. The floor was put in around 1957, which is a parquet floor, and it was later covered up in carpet.

“We took the carpet up and got that polished up and when it’s done, that is the way it is going to be left. It has to be plastered on the inside and it got three coats of plaster on the outside because we had a problem with rising damp and water and all that.

“We are going to leave a gap in the plaster to show the difference in the stonework from the two different buildings. Wainscoting is also going in around the walls, we’re getting a new heating system and we’ll be getting new lighting as well,” adds Tomás.

The works on refurbishing the church have led to a renewed interest in the history of the building – a story beginning in the landed estates of East Galway.

St Patrick’s Church is quite unique in that it was originally built by a Landlady, Marcella Gerrard, who had extensive estates in Galway and Meath.

The building was unused by locals due to the unpopularity of Gerrard and when she died, her estate was left to John Fallon – a Catholic landlord in Co Roscommon.

Fallon gave the site for the construction of a church and with that, an example of imperialism became a site of worship.

See full feature in this week’s Community Matters, which this week turns the spotlight on Newbridge in the Connacht Tribune.

Next week Stephen Corrigan will be reporting from Gort – and if you want your area featured in Community Matters over the coming weeks, you can contact Stephen at stephen.corrigan@ctribune.ie