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Rev. Hugh Malone

Kilgeever Parish - History

The history of the Louisburgh area is covered in detail in John Lyons' highly recommended book, "Louisburgh - A History". Published by Louisburgh Traders' Association in 1995, it is still available in most bookshops.

Two books by Micheál Mac Gréil S.J. are also recommended. "Quo Vadimus" is a report on the pastoral needs and resources of the Archdiocese of Tuam. "Ar Aghaidh Linn" makes proposals for developing the resources of the Archdiocese. Both books are published by the Archdiocese of Tuam.

St. Patrick's Church, Louisburgh

The re-modelled Church in 1974

Every family has its own family house, its home; it gives the physical environment and atmosphere for close association and intimate life. The parish, too, has its home, the Parish Church. There the family of God will learn to associate together and share an intimate life while re-enacting the sacred mysteries and performing the liturgical services. Catholics must learn to revere their Parish Church as they would a mother, for from it do they receive Spiritual Life and nourishment, Instruction and Protection.

The old church in Kilgeever was built by Saint Iomhair and is still in a moderate state of preservation. “Kilgeever” is the anglicised version of “Cill Iomhair”. Tradition has it that Saint Patrick came to Kilgeever after spending Lent on the Reek and it is said that the Church was built to Commemorate that Visit. O’ Donovan visited the old church in 1838 and concluded that it was built in the thirteenth or fourteenth century. There is a doorway in the sidewall of the south side of the church six feet high, gothic in style and made of limestone, the rest is of crude slate.

In the west side there is a very crude doorway in primitive style; this indicates that a more ancient church was remodelled and enlarge in the thirteenth or fourteenth century.

Kilgeever Church was probably suppressed in the suppression of Henry VII when many of the churches suffered the same fate. In a register of popish priests in 1703 Fr Augustine Mc Neill is listed in Feenone. The parish Church was then in Aillemore.

In 1801 Patrick Lynch asked in Louisburgh where he could get mass, and he was told one and a half miles towards the south, This was probably the shed in Carr’s Lodge which is Ballinamore Lodge where Mr Garvey allowed the Catholics to have mass. There are mass rocks in Bunowen, Furmoyle and Dereen. Local history tells us that before the church came to the town that it was at Foy's house in Tooreen and he told me of the mass paths there.

The next site for Saint Patrick’s Church was on the site our generation knew as Tom Harney's Garage near the square. In that church on the 4th of January 1849 the parish priest Father Tom Mc Caffey was buried before the high altar. Father Michael Curley P.P. was appointed in 1853. He decided to have a mission in 1854 and the fathers of charity gave it. The crowds were so large that the exercises of the mission were held out in the square. This was when Father Curley decided that a new church was necessary.

How large would he make it?. He saved this question in a simple rather novel, manner. One Sunday after mass he assembled all his parishioners on the selected site. He then measured the ground occupied by them, and worked out the dimensions of the church from the information obtained. His church is one hundred and sixteen feet long and thirty six feet wide containing a gallery considerably larger originally than at present

Laying the foundation Stone of the new Catholic Church in Louisburgh

On Saturday evening August 30th 1856 His Grace John Mc Hale Archbishop of Tuam accompanied by the Rev. Thomas Mc Hale D.D. of the Irish college of Paris arrived at the hospitable residence of Rev Fr Michael Curley, the pastor of Louisburgh; and on the following morning masses were celebrated from an early hour by the several clergymen who attended from the several parts of the Archdiocese to take part in the interesting proceedings of the day. His Grace attired in full pontificals and the clergy with soutanes, surplices and caps, formed into procession, the vast crowd of people in attendance numbering several thousands accompanying them, and proceeded through the principal streets leading to the beautiful and appropriate site fixed for the erection of the new church.

Having advanced to the eastern end of the proposed building, to the very centre of the gable in front of which the altar is to stand, and where the foundation stone and the stone on which it was to be set were duly prepared, His Grace blessed the holy water and the stone which he was to lay. The several anthems and psalms having been chanted and the full ceremonial prescribed by the Roman ritual having been gone through a vial containing the several coins of the realm and the Latin inscription on parchment was deposited in the understone in a place carved out for it and the Rev. Fr Curley P.P. handed his Grace a beautifully wrought silver trowel which was then used in the ceremony of laying the foundation stone. At the conclusion of this part of the ceremony, His Grace, with the clergy and people went in procession all round the foundation chanting the usual Psalms and antiphons sprinkling it with holy water as he went along. After taking the entire round of the spacious area they returned to the point from whence they proceeded and chanted the litany of the saints.

His Grace, the archbishop then ascended onto a platform prepared for the occasion and addressed the immense congregation then present, both in the English and Irish languages in one of the most powerful and eloquent discourses so peculiar to His Grace himself, strongly and earnestly recommending all to use their best endeavours to bring the good work that day so auspiciously commenced to a speedy and satisfactory completion.

When the Archbishop ascended the temporary platform the Rev. Michael Curley came forward and on behalf of the people of the parish presented His grace with the silver trowel used in the laying of the foundation stone which his grace accepted in the most gracious manner; but afterwards returned for the benefit of the building fund. At the conclusion of the religious ceremony the vast assemblage cheered most enthusiastically for His Grace the Archbishop, the most noble, the marquis of Sligo, George H. Moore esq., M.P. and for the several gentlemen then present who had come very long distances to encourage by their presence and subscriptions the great work that day inaugurated.

In those days the building of such a church imposed great sacrifices on all concerned. The parishioners gave very small holdings of rather poor land for which they paid high rents. When the rent was paid and the necessaries of life purchased, very little was left to give - even for a work so dear to them as the building of their parish church. Yet they contributed generously of the little they had and they gladly gave of their strength of their arms to the work on hands. But there was limestone to be carted from Lecanvey, and when that failed it had to be brought by boat from the islands of Clew Bay and Old Headland thence by cart to Louisburgh, and in the whole parish there were not more than six carts! the limestone had to be cut and skilled stonecutters - the Foy's had to be brought in to do that work. Skilled builders and woodworkers were also needed. And all this and timber and slates and other items cost money - much more money than was at hand so Fr Curley set sail for America and appealed to our Irish emigrants for help. They responded generously. Even in those early days the Irish in America responded with great generosity to many similar appeals from the land of their birth. After a considerable time he returned home. In his absence the work had gone on more slowly than he expected and was costing much more than he had anticipated. In time he found his funds exhausted and his church still unfinished. Undaunted he again sailed for America and made a second appeal. So successful was it that in three months he was again aboard ship bound for home. Backed by strong gales his ship made a record crossing and now a length he completed his work, he had laboured so hard and so long to accomplish.

After six years work Saint Patrick’s Church was completed. The dedication ceremony took place on Sunday September 7th 1862. Archbishop Mc Hale again officiated and present also were most Reverend John Mc Evilly Bishop of Galway, and most Reverend John Derry, Bishop of Clonfert who preached. When the work was finished it stood out as a church of enduring strength and beauty.

On August 11 1873 Father Michael Curley died. He was buried in the church he erected. It is his monument and his memorial. As long as it stands he will not be forgotten.

For the past one hundred years this church has withstood all the storms and tempests that beat upon our western shore. But after that long lapse of time considerable renovations were urgently needed. The most formidable of these was the reroofing of the church. The late parish priest Canon James Heaney had just completed this work when his lamented death occurred. The then parish priest Father Burke had carried out the interior renovation of the Church. The people of the parish and their friends abroad in America and England contributed most generously to the whole work of renovation. Then on the 12th May 1960 the centenary of the church was celebrated by the parish. On that day the Archbishop of Tuam Dr. Joseph Walsh solemnly blessed and dedicated to the national Apostle St Patrick this church of which Archbishop John Mc Hale had laid the foundation stone in 1856.

In a moving address to the parishioners the Archbishop applied to their church the words of Isaiah. “oh poor little one,  tossed by the tempest bereft of all comfort, behold I will set thy stones in order and will lay thy foundations with sapphires. Among those present for the occasion were three grand nephews of Father Michael Curley. They were Canon Hugh Curley P.P. Claremorris and very Rev. John Greally P.P. Partry. Thus across all the years the centenary of this church links up very closely with its foundation.

An extract from Saint Augustine formed part of the first reading on Ascension day 8th May 1975 when our parish church in Louisburgh was solemnly blessed and re-dedicated by Archbishop Cunnane following its recent renovation. The reading emphasised that the renovation of the church building and its dedication can be accomplished in a short time, but the building up and “dedication” of its people is the on – going task of a lifetime in each generation.

So now thanks to the untiring and generous help of thousands of people both in Ireland and abroad, Louisburgh has a beautiful parish Church, simple in its interior design, but telling in its insistence on the great essentials of our religion. Here is a quiet, prayerful house of God in a noisy world. Here is a holy place where Mass, and particularly the Sunday parish Mass can be celebrated in a way that easily calls attention to its eternal message – the call to community prayer and awareness and the need to praise and thank God through the sacrifice of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ.

Louisburgh people from overseas will be anxious to know how their parish church now appears. It is difficult to describe it or even to picture it from photographs. Externally the removal of a century’s grime from the stonework has been a remarkable success. A repeated comment from the stone – cleaning specialists who worked on it concerned the intricacy and perfection of the masonry as it was again revealing itself. The names of those fine Craftsmen are long forgotten but their work lives on. The mason of 1974 has quite rightly ensured that the letters T N S beautiful craftsmanship in the stone work facing the new porch and surrounding the new windows in the Blessed Sacrament chapel has not been left unrecorded – in a secret corner near the roof.

The Church was vacated after last mass on Sunday 4th February 1974 and the next mass celebrated there was on November 25th. In the meantime our congregation had moved to the cramped conditions of the parochial hall and the contractors Messrs Walkin and Cox under the supervision of the architect Mr Cyril Bowman moved into the Church. Their work was to be characterised by a thoroughness and loving care for detail that has reflected itself in all parts of the completed building. Parishioners and visitors alike who passed the closed church day after day were hardly aware of the amount of details that had to be attended to. Work on the gallery and ceiling alone necessitated scaffolding for ten weeks to the very apex of the roof.

It is the sanctuary of course that the most notable (and successful) alterations have been made. There is simplicity without bareness, a warmth and considered arrangement of altar, ambo, tabernacle and font that lends itself perfectly to all that the new liturgy requires. New stations of the cross in limestone, new Tabernacle in repousse bronze and vitreous enamel and most outstandingly the very beautiful cold) stained glass windows in the chancel revealed now as never before, all combine to make this church – as many visitors have remarked – one of the very beautiful old churches in modern Ireland. Thanks and congratulations are due to Canon Fitzgerald for the shouldering and heavy burden of renewal as the constitution of the liturgy laid down.

The happy gathering on the 8th of May of young and old, and of the Archbishop, Bishop Fergus, the native priests and sisters of Louisburgh the parish clergy and people came to thank God for all that his church has done for them and all joined in giving this Church to God renewed a fitting home  where he will always remain ready to receive us.

Compiled by Tony McHale in 1991 from various sources.