Memories of the Old Church in Ballycastle

by Thomas Langan (1909 - 2002)
Originally published in the North Mayo Historical Journal Vol. 3 No. 3 1995/6
as "Memories of the Old Church in Ballycastle, by Tom Langan Ex-N.T."

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I was baptised, made my first holy Communion, and was confirmed in the little old St. Bridget's Church, Ballycastle, with it's low roof of brown Bangor slates, grey plastered walls, and windows of diamond shaped, coloured panes. After all the years it is hard to realise it standing on the same site as the present church well almost. For as work on the new church proceeded, the southern end, including the gable and main entrance which was in the side-wall had to be demolished to allow the foundation of the northern gable to be laid.

The site of the original church was very limited, just a few feet longer than the actual building which was cruciform, it's northern gable forming part of the street boundary. The main entrance was in the side-wall near the southern gable and the altar faced south. There were three galleries. The main gallery, which was approached by a stairs from the front door, had a little organ. On Sundays, the boys in the top classes in Ballycastle Boy's School, had a Catechism class there. This was usually taken by the Principal, William Keafsey, or in his absence by his son, Willie, who also played the organ for Benediction.

The three galleries were fully seated but the body of the church was only partly seated. The majority of the congregation stood and knelt on the floor. The seats both on the floor and on the galleries were rented to those who could afford them. There was an annual announcement to remind them when the rent was due. Dr. Crowley and his family had a seat at the front of the gallery, on the Gospel side, while and Corcoran and the Deane families were on the Epistle side.

Sunday Masses were at 8.30 and 11.00 a.m. (or when the P.P. decided the congregation was all inside). All communicants went to early Mass, owing to the very strict Eucharistic fast --- not as much as a teaspoonful of water since midnight. At the 11 a.m. Mass, the long Acts of Faith, Hope and Charity were read, followed by the prayers before Mass. Mass was in Latin and was usually followed by Benediction, with hymns in Latin also.

The new church stands on an almost totally new site, due south of the old site. on the Sunday morning the Black and Tans decided to search the congregation after 11 o'clock Mass, one could see their out-posts were standing on high ground, outside the wall, overlooking the churchyard.

When work started on foundations, large quantities of soil had to be removed. Only then it was realised that a lot of quarrying had been done here in earlier times which involved a good deal of extra work and expense for the parish. The specification was for stone walls.  After a number of possible quarries had been examined, one on a field called "Log", (a hollow), on the farm of John (Tony More), Heverin, Doonfeeny was selected and all the building stone required was procured there.

Concrete blocks and Ready-Mix were still a long way in the future. Mass concrete was mixed on the site and placed in position with wheel- barrows or buckets. The gravel for the mix was quarried in Sweeney's pit in Ballyglass, which, at the time, belonged to Peter Sweeney. After large quantities had been removed for concreting there was a demand for plastering sand. This material was at a lower level and right under their feet. One fine day, as the builders, Michael and Peter Sweeney were shovelling up fine sand out of a trench the high face of the gravel began to run-. Seeing the danger, the brothers tried to fly, Peter, the younger and taller made it over the edge of the trench. Michael was not as lucky, armed with spades, sheets of corrugated iron and lengths of shuttering the whole team from the church was quickly on the scene.  But the utrnost efforts were of no avail --- Michael Sweeney died there before their eyes.

Some time later Patrick Kelly, Ballycastle suffered severe head injuries, in a fall, from a high scaffolding. He made a satisfactory recovery and lived a full life afterwards.
It is not possible to mention building in Ballycastle without talking of Father, then Canon Munnelly, later chancellor and finally Archdeacon Michael Munnelly who was most active in all activities in the parish. He had actively backed the co-operative in the mill and store. He had got the new Parochial House built, but they were trivial in comparison with the new church. How did he manage to raise the necessary finance? The only fund raising projects seems to have been the Killerduff Horse Races and Regatta. Of course, the parishoners contributed - door collections every Sunday, annual household contributions, but I wonder if Canon Munnelly would have been able to proceed with the contract if he hadn't gone on a fund raising tour of the U.S.A. I never heard how much he raised on that tour, but he happened to go at a very good time. Some years before the Wall Street collapse which crippled so many Irish Americans for many years afterwards.

The main contractors were a Co. Sligo firm, Kilcawley, Moloney and Taylor. Messrs. Kilcawrey and Maloney were not very much in evidence, the day to day running of the work being left to the Taylor brothers, who were experienced tradesmen.

It was a big day in Ballycastle when the Bishop, Most Reverend Dr. James Naughton laid the foundation stone.
Opening day of the new church in Ballycastle, 1933

                      by Thomas Langan (1909 - 2002)