150 years of Ballygar church celebrated

It was wet and windy in Ballygar recently when Most Rev Christopher Jones, Bishop of Elphin celebrated Mass, with the local community as part of the 150th anniversary of the building of St. Mary’s Parish Church in the town. Some of those present were also present on a similar wet evening in 1957 when the then Bishop of Elphin Most Rev. Vincent Hanley re-dedicated the church following restoration and extension work, which were part of the centenary celebrations at that time. At the beginning of Mass, a local teacher Mary Silke and the present Parish Priest Fr. Michael Breslin first welcomed everyone and then painted a rich backdrop to the evening of celebrations. They welcomed visitors who had travelled and they recalled those who had made a variety of contributions to St. Mary’s Church and indeed the parish over the past 150 years. Bishop Jones speaking in both Irish and English spoke of the history of Killeroran and Killian the ancient forerunners of the present Parish of Ballygar. He traced the existence of church buildings in the parish back to the early 1300s and he spoke graphically about the Penal laws when mass was celebrated in hidden places all around the parish in places like Cappagh, Ballachlea, Boherbannach, Lissavruggy and Toomard. He also quoted from the Report on the State of Popery 1731 where Mass Houses are listed for both Killeroran and Killian. He outlined how the Cistersian Order when they had been banished by Crown forces from their Monastery in Caltra, had been taken in by the local people of Tohergar and a safe Convent was built for them in a remote and safe location. The Carmelite Order ministered to the people of Ballygar parish for exactly 100 years (1770 to 1870). The friars established a school near the convent and provided valued education to the people of the area during the hedge school era. Even when the convent closed one of the priests, a Fr. Hopkins refused to leave and continued to live in the area until his death some years late. Bishop Jones had a special word for the people of the parish of Ballygar at the time of  An Gorta Mór, they, along with their local priests came together and decided to build a new church in the years immediately following An Gorta as at that time Mass and other religious services had to be  celebrated in a ‘thatched hovel scarcely fit for the meanest dwelling’ which was located on the Galway end of the present town.    He outlined how most of the work on the original church had been carried out by voluntary labour under the direction of the contractors Messrs Lyster of Athlone and how it must have been a truly massive undertaking at the time with local farmers attacking the building work of a church with ferocity. And they succeeded, Bishop Jones said, as he pointed to the huge Gothic interior of the Church. It was much the same story 100 years later in 1957. Ireland and Ballygar was in the midst of an economic nightmare with thousands of young people leaving Ireland every week for England. Ballygar however needed to refurbish and extend their parish church that had been built 100 years earlier and so they did. Again it was voluntary labour and this time the overseeing contractors were Messrs Langan Brothers from Ballina who carried out their work under the watchful eye of the Parish Priest at the time Canon John Feely PP. Before Bishop Jones finished the thanked his concelebrating priests Fr. Michael Breslin PP and Canon Gerald Donnelly. He also thanked readers Mary Madden and Johnny Geraghty along with Ministers of the Eucharist Mary Muldoon and Liam Cruise and co-ordinating minister of the Eucharist Frank Coyne. The Bishop paid a special tribute to The Choir of St. Mary’s Church under Conductor Tomas Kenny and Organist Bernadette Moran. The occasion was marked with the publication of a special commemorative booklet which was edited by Michael Naughton and Tomas Kenny. Following Mass, a function of was organised in the community centre where many of those involved in the reconstruction work of St. Mary’s Church just 50 years ago met and exchanged stories again about those days of yore. The night was rounded off with song and music in which everyone including Bishop Jones got involved.