“What a fine Church”, the comment of two Church of Ireland clergymen’s wives when they passed this way in 1977 on a heritage outing to Ballintubber Abbey. They were referring to St. Patrick’s Church, an appreciative remark that its builder the Rev. Walter Conway would surely be proud of, and today its weekend congregation will be pleased at a reference made by two ladies that were part of the spiritual affairs of similar noble buildings of the brotherly denomination.
On a gentle rise and guarding the western approach to the town, the imposing limestone pile of St. Patricks’s commands the streetscape and sweeping views are had from various points in the parish and beyond. Its striking elevation seen from the Cloncun marshes and from the sandhills at Gloon would justify the attention of an artist with easel and brush while at faraway Keelogues, the Angelus Bell prior to radio was awaited to set the eight-day clock.
The late Rev. Walter Conway ordained in 1872, a native of Scardane near Crossboyne in county Mayo was appointed P.P. for Boyounagh (Glenamaddy) in 1896. On his arrival, he found poor accommodation and immediately set to work in building a parochial house, a three bay square block completed in 1897 on land presented by the Fahy family nearby. A true nationalist, the new house was named “Árd Mhuire” and now is the seat of the Mercy Sisters since 1959. However, the scoring of a great goal was still to come in providing a fitting house for the Divine Lord to replace one built in 1820 of weak construction and now found too small for the local rising population.
Fr. Walter introduced his plan for a new Glenamaddy Church to Archbishop Healy and while slow in granting permission, the Archbishop considered his parish priest’s other great improvement works and church building at Clonbur and Killeen consented and graciously opened the fund with £30 with a promise of a further £50 later. The sapling now planted, Fr Walter nursed the young plant that in due course developed as a treasure of worship for numerous generations.
Parish churches had already been built in the neighbouring large towns of Castlerea, 1896 and Roscommon, 1903, both in the Gothic style-pointed arch and externally finished in limestone with much ornamentation. St Patrick’s was to follow the same theme sacrificing many features having regard to the expected finances of a less populated parish. It is noted the Fr. Walter was present for the solemn blessing of the stations of the cross in the newly opened Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Roscommon when he contributed £3.
Fund raising commenced and by the time the foundation stone was laid on St. Patrick’s Day 1904, over £1,000 was in hands. Many subscriptions were received at intervals ranging from £66 to £1 and Fr. Walter welcomed donations from outside the parish and overseas. Encouraging letters were written to the Press together with lists of generous benefactors, a tactic no doubt that helped the purse for the new church. One such letter concludes: “in return, we repeat the promise already made, that during our lives, we shall never assemble in the church to offer the Holy Sacrifice but we shall remember our benefactors, and shall leave it as an injunction to those who may come after us to do likewise. I may avail myself of this occasion to publicly acknowledge the receipt of a marble altar from a generous lady parishioner – May God bless her. I am, Yours very truly. W. Conway, P.P.” St Patrick’s Day, Thursday, March 17th, 1904 was a historic day when Archbishop Healy visited the parish and laid the foundation stone. Many clergy from the country and adjoining counties were also present. Glenamaddy then not much more than a hamlet was fittingly decorated with scrolls, flags and evergreens for this unique occasion when a great house for the Lord’s worship was about to rise. A streamer across the street from Owen’s Hotel (Divilly’s Welcome Inn) had “welcome” in gold lettering, from Conolly’s premises (Phelans) a flag hung saying “Céad Míle Fáilte”. Two more flags, one from McDermott’s property that extended “Welcome to our Archbishop” and the other from Donelan’s establishment (Oakland Hotel) in Barrack Street had the salutation “Hearty Greetings”. The committee responsible for preparing the town so gaily were: P. J. Owens, M. B. Collins, P. A. McDermott and J. Connolly, no doubt they were assisted by other willing hands. An annual St. Patrick’s Day feature, the fife and drum band played appropriate airs for the coming of His Lordship.
Around 11 o’clock an assembly of nearly a thousand turned up at the old chapel for Mass celebrated by Rev. M. Ronayne C.C. In the sanctuary were: Archbishop Healy, Fr. Walter, Canon P. Lynskey, Dunmore, Rev. Thomas Molloy, Rev. Tomas Morris, Rev. P. E. Brett and Rev. S. J. Walsh. Apologies came from Monsignor O’Loughlin, Roscommon, Monsignor Hanly, Castlerea, Canon Ronayne, Mountbellew and Canon Geraghty, Kilbegnet. In the body of the chapel were the Franciscan Brothers, Kilkerrin, John Martin, Chairman, Board of Guardians and other notables of the business and farming communities.
The choir was conducted by Chrissie McManus assisted by D. Collins, P. J. Fannon and M. J. Garvey and the scared music was rendered by the local school children. A door collection was taken up by John O’Keeffe, N. T., P. J. Owens, M. Walsh and M. Curley, to all of whom Fr. Walter felt deeply grateful. After Mass, Archbishop Healy preached a homily when he recalled the words from the prophecy of Haggai, “Is it time for you to dwell in ceiled houses…”.
The Archbishop, Fr. Walter, the visiting clergy and vast congregation than proceeded to the site of the new church from the solemn blessing of laying the foundation stone. It had been raining but when the procession reached the site, rays of sun burst forth illuminating this great event in all its purity.
A commissioned silver trowel described as a beautiful piece of work that had an engraving in Irish was handed to the archbishop to fix the first stone of the church into place. The trowel was then presented to His Lordship, the second he had received since his elevation to Tuam. The current Archbishop, Dr. Joseph Cassidy promised to investigate the whereabouts of the Glenamaddy trowel. Archbishop Healy then sprinkled the site with holy water standing at three points to say special prayers and when completed kneels down and says the “Veni Creator” and concludes the ceremony by asking God’s blessing for the work ahead. In keeping with tradition, the foundation stone contains a blessing for the work ahead, a sealed bottle which holds some coins, a newspaper and an inscription on parchment of the ceremony.
Dedicating to St. Patrick due to the association of the National Apostle with the original parish seat at Boyounagh, the new church was designed by Thomas Hamilton of Galway and its erection was put in charge of a clerk of works. Estimated to cost around £3,000, the stone work was executed by brothers Walter and Martin Murphy, Stonetown. The clear blue limestone from Barrett’s quarry in the shadow of Chequer Hill, near Dunmore, was made available.
In the Gothic style, the plan consists of a nave and side aisles, the clerestory of eighteen pairs of lancet windows and roof rests on sixteen octagonal pillars. Outside, the walls of ashlar limestone are supported by buttresses and a belfry located directly above the main door. The dimensions of St. Patrick’s is just twenty feet short of St. Michael’s Church, Ballinasloe but both compare at sixty feet in width.
The timbered roof is the work of John Fahy, Scregg, Kilkerrin, grandfather of Tom Fahy, a member of the teaching staff at St. Joseph’s Secondary School. The skilled Scregg firm was also retained for the furnishings that included the altar rails, pulpit, and confession boxes, the choir gallery front and stairs. For seats, Fr. Walter had a wish for a certain Gothic model but when priced were found out of reach of the parish purse. The situation was overcome when John Fahy advised to purchase one seat and from its design offered to make the required number.
The magnificent high altar of white marble, the throne of the Real Presence, was surely on entry intended to capture the attention of the faithful. Rising from the tabernacle and supported on four slender columns, the canopy with a cross created an endearing spiritual environment for celebrant and congregation. On either side appropriate statuary helped to recall the life of Christ. The central panel beneath the altar table exhibited the monogram I H S – Jesus Saviour of Man – in a pleasing spread of carved foliage. The chancel, or altar room has a window of three lights. In 1924, the Annunciation in stained glass from the Harry Clarke studios was installed. A series of windows lights the body of the church and a round window adorns the choir gallery. Since removed, the central panel of the imposing Lord’s Table went to St. Mary’s church, Kilkerrin, and it’s fitted in the renovated altar there and a town resident lovingly guards the canopy cross. Placed in the side aisles were two smaller altars, all three were generous gifts.
Other gifts presented to St. Patricks included statues the most notable being Christ the King and the Stations of the Cross in bold relief. The walls inside are finished in fine plaster and a plain but effective mould depicts the Gothic arches. The main door (since redesigned) was reached by a flight of stone steps inside a pair of iron gates with matching railings.
The descriptive particulars referred to were not fully complete by the 17th March, 1905, however, a wish made by Fr. Walter to Archbishop Healy at the foundation stone ceremonies that Mass could be celebrated in the new church on March 17th the following year was honoured. An overflowing congregation was present and God’s blessing invoked on all for their great generosity bringing the new edifice to almost fruition. Fr. Walter preached an eloquent sermon in the native tongue on the life of St. Patrick and implored , “in the name of God , and for the honour of St. Patrick not to degrade yourselves or dishonour the day by any of you taking too much drink…”.
I dedicate this account to the late Rev. Walter Conway parish priest from 1896 to 1919 and the generous faithful of the day for leaving us St. Patrick’s Church, a noble legacy that is ours to behold and pass on. May they rest in peace.
Author: Anthony Ward
Source: Glenamaddy Arts and Historical Society Journal, Vol. 1. 1991.
Acknowledgements: Mayo Co. Library Castlebar, publications on Ballinasloe, Roscommon and Ballinrobe Churches. Tom Fahy, Scregg, John L. Garvey and Martin Murphy, Glenamaddy, Revs. MI. Goaley, James Glynn, Glenamaddy and James Mannion Frenchgrove.