On 17 May 1836, Dr. George Joseph Plunket Browne, Bishop of Galway, laid the foundation stone for St. Patrick’s Church in Foster Street. There was a huge fundraising campaign prior to this which was led by Fr. Bartholomew Roche. He continued in his quest and eventually raised the necessary finance for the church which continued while the building was under construction. It is interesting to note that much of the funding was raised in England and Scotland. The idea of building the church was proposed in 1834, when Fr. Roche was appointed Parish Priest to the parish of St. Nicholas East. His new parish had no church, and thus he decided to build one for the community. The church was still under construction on 6 January 1839, a date now known in history as the Night of the Big Wind, when a dreadful storm caused terrible damage around the country. The church did not escape as the new roof was swept away in the hurricane winds. Nevertheless, Fr. Roche again travelled abroad collecting money to have the building completed. His endeavours paid off and the new church opened on 11 January 1842. The sermon that day was given by Fr. Matthew, the famous temperance priest. He was on a crusade preaching against the evils of drink and was a regular visitor to Galway during that period. It seems strange, but the church wasn’t dedicated until 21 August 1842, over seven months after it had actually opened. At the time there was no seating in the church, which was quite common, and it could accommodate over 1,000 people. Many years were to pass before seating was provided and this reduced the capacity to about 400 people. The angels that adorned the top of the entrance pillars were the work of a local stone mason, Thomas Nugent of St Patrick’s Avenue. It was his granddaughter, Katie who later donated the land on which the grotto was erected.
Despite the great efforts of Fr Roche, the church closed in 1862 because of legal reasons. Roche also fought tirelessly for social justice throughout the famine years 1845-50. He died on 18 April 1867, after he contracted typhus, and the issue was still not resolved. It seems to have been a dispute over plots of land close to the church. The church remained closed for many years, until finally in 1897 it re-opened, much to the delight of the parishioners. However, by this period it was in need of repairs because of neglect and again funds were required. It was dedicated a year later and the following is an extract of report about the event, which appeared in The Galway Express in March 1898:
‘The above edifice (St. Patrick’s Church), which for some years past had gone into a state of dilapidation and decay, has now, through the indefatigable exertions of the Rev. Father Dooley, the worthy pastor of the parish in which the church is situated, been renovated at considerable expense, and will be dedicated on Sunday next (to-morrow) for divine worship, by the Most Reverent Dr. McCormack, Lord Bishop of Galway.’
The renovations were carried out by Francis Lydon, and the workmanship of his firm was reported as being excellent. The floors were artistically tilled; the walls were finished with extreme professionalism and the ceiling supports were completed in beautifully stained timber. The windows were composed of ‘Cathedral Glass’ in a variety of colours, giving the church a most pleasing atmosphere. Access to the organ gallery was gained by ascending a circular ornamental wrought-iron stairs and was capable of supporting a large choir. The timber work was described as being a ‘perfect model of the joiner’s art’ and the sacristy was a ‘model of perfection’. The excellent painting and decorating was carried out by John Carr and his son Roderick Carr, the most sought after people in their trade. The altar, which was beautifully molded and carved, stood on a solid timber base and was ascended by three steps. The exterior was dominated by a large bronze cross erected on the summit of the tower. Perhaps the most striking feature was a ‘magnificent statue’ of Saint Patrick, which was in an alcove mid-way on the tower. The statue was also painted by the Carr Company. The entire church, both inside and outside was exquisite with a brightness that was astonishing to all who attended the dedication ceremony. All of the work gave employment locally.
The following are the Parish Priests associated with the church: Fathers – Bartholomew Roche (1833-1857); Laurence Leonard (1857-1859); Patrick Kearney (1859-1863); James Davoren (1863-1867); Patrick Cullen (1867-1869); Peter Dooley (1869-1911); Anthony Considine (1911-1939); Patrick Glynn (1939-1943); John Hyland (1943-1952); George Quinn (1952-1966); Padraic O Laoi (1966-1983); Patrick Carroll (1983-1997); Patrick Whelan (1997-Present).
By the turn of the century the church was serving the communities of College Road, Bohermore, Prospect Hill, Eyre Square and some other areas. Many religious ceremonies were held there over the years including a procession and Benediction on St. Patrick’s Day 1961 in honour of fifteen hundred years since the death of the saint. Thousands of children had their first Holy Communion photographs taken at the grotto outside St. Patrick’s Church. There were of course other ceremonies preformed there, but these are simply too numerous to mention. It served the community well over the years, but by the 1960s, it was felt that the church was no longer suitable to support the attendance and it was again in need of repairs. It was decided to build a new church and thus another fundraising campaign began. The people from the parish generously supported the fundraising and the finance was soon in place to carry out the work. The architect was Simon Kelly and he came up with excellent plans that would give the congregation a full view of the altar and the priest a sweeping view of the entire church. The mahogany seats were specially designed and arranged in fan-like formation with the altar, which is set in the eastern corner as the focal point. This was built by James Brennan.
The new St. Patrick’s Church opened in July 1972 and was dedicated by Dr. Michael Browne, Bishop of Galway. He was assisted by the Parish Priest, Fr. Padraic O Laoi. The renowned soloist, Ned Joyce sang at the opening and St. Patrick’s Band played at the event. One of the people attending was Anthony Conboy from St. Bridget’s Terrace. He had been at the re-opening of the old church in 1898. The interior of the new church was wonderfully embellished with the altar and ambo being produced from Wicklow granite. The stained glass windows depict ten milestones in the life of Saint Patrick. They were designed and executed by George Walsh and William Earley of the Abbey Stained Glass Company in Dublin. A magnificent corona, ten feet in diametre, hung over the altar and contained twelve spotlights which light the sanctuary. The richly enameled bronze tabernacle was inserted in the wall behind the altar. Its bronze surrounds symbolise the Tree of Life. The Stations of the Cross, with the figures in relief, originally hung in the old church, but with different surrounds. The Bell Tower contains a set of chimes and stood on a podium. The new American organ was supplied by Allen Organs and was installed on 5 November 1992. The finance for the organ was raised during the Sunday morning mass collections and by a generous donation from the late Alice Hanratty of St. Bridget’s Terrace. The organ was dedicated to the memory of Jack O’Doherty, the former church organist. The present Parish Priest is the Very Reverend Patrick Whelan. The church continues to serve the community, however, growing smaller, with so many former family homes giving way to businesses in the thriving modern city of Galway.
Events of Note: The angels that adorned the entrance were removed sometime during the 1970s. One of them is now in the car park behind Ceannt Station. It was intact up to just over a year ago, but is now in a deplorable condition. The descendants of Thomas Nugent are very concerned over the condition of the statue and have approached the authorities on a number of occasions to have the statue given over into their care. They wish to have the statue restored and are willing to have this work carried out at their own expense, but to-date they have been unsuccessful. This statue is a wonderful piece of Galway history and it is very disappointing to see it allowed fall in to such a terrible state, particularly when there are people out there who wish to have angel restored.
(2) An Illustrated talk on ‘Synge & the Aran Islands’ will take place on Saturday 3 June at 2.30pm in Galway City Museum. John Millington Synge (1871-1909) first travelled to the Aran Islands in 1898, after which he returned every summer until 1902. In 1907, two years before his untimely death, he published The Aran Islands, which describes a way of life that has since disappeared. Join Dr. Ian R. Walsh, NUI Galway as he discusses Synge and what he called his ‘first serious piece of work’. (Ages 12+). For further details or to make a booking please contact the museum on 091-532460 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
(3) The Old Galway Society lecture programme has finished for the summer but there is one event forthcoming and that is the Annual Bus Tour going to Sligo/Leitrim including a visit and guided tour of Parkes Castle. This takes place on Saturday 17 June departing from The Cathedral Carpark at 10am taking the normal route to Sligo and returning via Roscommon with stops in Tuam, Drumcliffe, Parkes Castle and Roscommon. The fare covers everything except lunch in Davis Yeats Tavern, Drumcliffe. For full details and to book Contact Elizabeth at 087-2690791 or email liz email@example.com