Church reveals its original soul in renovation

Members of the Building and Finance committees at Newbridge Church. Seated, from left: Delia Harkin, Fr. Michael Breslin, P.P., Ballygar, Fr. Louis Lohan, Chaplain, and Kathleen Flynn. Standing, from left: Tom‡s Heavey, Jack Lohan, Sean Connolly, Seamus Lohan, Mattie Crehan and Noel O'Brien.

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.

A lot of work has gone into maintaining the architectural features of the original building – in particular, the quoin stones and guttering on the exterior of the church.

“The quoin stones all had to be re-pointed because there was a film of pointing on the outside but when you scraped that away, you could get your finger in between them,” laughs Tomás. “Kilduff are the contractors from just across the border in Roscommon and the stonework was all done by Michael Harewood.”

The church has about 250 families in its catchment area and as part of the bigger Ballygar, Newbridge and Toghergar Parish, it serves as a hub for the local community.

Curate for the Parish, Fr Louis Lohan, is a Newbridge man and having returned from Mississippi a few years ago, he explains that he is delighted to be involved in the project.

“We have a great committee working on it – a building committee and a fundraising committee with an awful lot of people involved in it. People are proud of it and they want to see it done right.

“We have had donations from people who were baptised here – a lot of people who were away from the parish and living in other parts of Ireland or abroad,” says Fr Louis.

Tomás is a former school teacher and  having grown up in the area, he became involved with the church over the years.

That, he says, is his motivation for working on the project.

“There are two committees working on it – the building committee has seven or eight on it that are involved in construction so we are lucky to have them.

“They are able to get good work done at a reasonable price; we don’t want it done for nothing but we don’t want to be cleaned out either,” he exclaims.

Fr Louis explains that the side chapel will be renewed by the renovations – with some of the oldest features of the church maintained.

“The sacristy is out there so we intend to open a new door to allow us to go to and fro and allow us to use this as a side chapel from time to time.

“That is the old alter, one of the side alters and then there is the baptismal font – that is also one of the old ones and we are going to bring that inside to the main chapel; that is there since 1938,” says Fr Louis.

Tomás estimates that it will cost in the region of €500,000 to complete the build and while they are aiming to have it finished by next year, they are happy for it to take as long as it takes – provided they get the result that they need.

“I suppose if it is finished by this time next year, but hopefully before that. It is still functioning and we are not rushing it because the sort of work it is, you cannot rush it.

“At the moment, those are special gutters that are being put up – we want to keep the historical aspect. The stonework is new to us all; we want it to be done and done right,” he says.