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St. Colmans Famine Church

Heritage > History & Archaeology

St COLMAN'S CHURCH (Famine church)

The Beginning
The first efforts to get a new church worthy of Mayo of the Saxons were initiated by Rev. David Walsh P.P. in 1826 (3 years before the ending of Catholic Emancipation). The meeting in the ruins of the old abbey called for the building a new church and school in Mayo Abbey.

Aeneas McDonnell a leader in Catholic Emancipation Movement and editor of the "Dublin Chronicle" address the meeting. He described the current place of worship as "a building used for school and worship, a low thatched house with a damp earthen floor, two small windows and a shattered door, which is converted into a table for the use of scholars".

Mr. MacDonnell submitted six resolutions to the meeting which were unanimously adopted:-
(Short version)
1) the population of three thousand parishioners are so destitute that sufficent funds cannot be raised to build a church or school-house, or build an enclosing wall around the burial ground, where the remains of many learned, and virtuous Britons, lie interred and are now a subject to be disturbed.

2) The writings of learned English historians, that this ancient Monastery and College of Mayo, and the adjoining lands were granted, many centuries ago, to provide education for Natives of England; and were used and enjoyed by them and their Successors so long as the Irish Government was administered by Catholic Irishmen.

3) We will present Petitions to our Beloved Sovereign, both Houses of Parliament, humbly praying aid towards our objects;

4) That we respectfully ask his Royal Highness the Duke of Ceases, to present our petition to the House of Lords, and that our petition to the advocate of Irish Claims, Henry Broughaun, Esq., secures to us his support.

5) That we solicit Edward Blount, Esq., Secretary to the Catholics of Great Britain to collect and receive contributions on our behalf;

6) That we request our Reverend Archbishop The Most Rev Dr Kelly, our reverend Pastor, Rev. David Walsh and our worthy neighbour Alex. Coughlan, Esq., to accept the office of Joint Trustees and Treasurers, for the receipt and management of such funds as may be raised..

(We now know that this petition failed)

The Building
The church, a plain stone and mortar building is oblong in shape with a belfry near its West gable. The stones required for the building were plentiful about the Abbey ruins and many fine cut and dressed stones were embedded in the walls.

It measures 84 ft. by 24 ft. plus a porch on the south side measuring 7 ft. by 7ft. 9 ins. The walls are 30 inches in thickness.
An error in the original design left the pitch of the roof too low and its flatness allowed the rain driven by the west winds to come in between the slates and thus saturate roof and walls.

The building was opened in 1845, 19 years after the first meeting.
It was dedicated to St Colman, Bishop of Lindesfarne and founder of Mayo Abbey
John Jennings was Parish Priest of Mayo at this time and a mural tablet in the Church is a monument to his memory.

At a meeting in 1894 the following resolution was proposed by Patrick Begley and carried unanimously.

"That fearing that this church erected by the piety of our ancestors might fall into a hopeless state of ruin if the present injuries be not remedied, we request our Rev P.P. [Fr. Pat Sheridan] to appeal for assistance".

Soon afterwards work commenced on raising the gables and preparing for the new roof. When the East gable was almost finished the workmanship was found to be faulty and the gable had to be knocked and rebuilt. The roof was completed in 1896.

Fr. T. A. Owens [1919 - 24] had the exterior walls plastered and new leaded light windows inserted. Fr. Michael Murphy [P.P. 1906 -31] donated the marble altar.
Fr. Biggins [P.P. 1931 - 50] put in a boarded floor, studded the walls, painted the inside and removed the porch from the West gable.

For many years (even when in use) the roof was subject to damage in stormy weather - with slates becoming loose and falling off. Through insurance claims and community funding it had been maintained in reasonable condition while vacant. In 1998, the building was weather proofed and partly redecorated and used as a set for the film "Amongst Women".

It was used on occasions, since then, for special church services. This was an added catalyst that aroused a desire in the community to preserve and utilise the building.
However the Hurricane of December 26th 1998 caused major damage to the roof. The Four-Foot high stone cross on the gable was also blown down and broken. The community with the assistance of Mayo County Council developed a preservation plan for the church and have re-roofed the church and restored the stain glass windows.

The church itself contains eighteen stained glass windows, four on the left and four on the right. There are three behind the Altar. The centre one is a circular window which incorporates a picture of Our Lord. The other two large windows were presented by Mary Stephens in memory of her husband Pat Stephens who died 29th December 1915.
Some of the stained-glass windows have a symbol of a Latin cross and others have a symbol of a Marigold cross.

At least four priests are buried under the floor of the church, and plaques on the wall identify who these priests were.

1858; Fr. Pat Lavelle appointed Adm. During his time here the first Jubilee (Parish mission) was held.
"Confessions were heard from morning to night. At the closing Mass 1800 people received Holy
Communion . (Freemans Journal)
1858; Fr. Thomas Walters appointed P.P. On arrival in Mayo Abbey Fr. Walter was obliged to say Mass for some days in a store house as the church was closed up with stones by those who wanted to retain Fr. Lavelle as P.P. Fr Walters built schools in Facefield and Mayo Abbey.
1841 Fr. John Jennings, P.P. built this church. On his arrival Fr. Jennings began the registration of Births & Marriages.
1971, Due to Fr Heaney's failing health Fr. Albert Lyons, was appointed to run the parish and oversee the building of a new church completed in 1978.

PARISH PRIESTS who served in this Church;
1841 - 1858 Fr. John Jennings, P.P. built this church. d.
Fr. Jennings began the registration of Births & Marriages
1858 - 1858 Fr. Pat Lavelle Adm. (to Ballyvoley). D. 1886. a. 59.
1858 - 1870 Fr. Thomas Walters, P.P. d. a. 70.
1870 - 1895 Fr. Pat Sheridan, P.P. d. a. 70.
1895 - 1895 Fr Burke Adm
1895 - 1896 Fr. Bernard Freely, P.P. (to Baken) d. 1912. a. 63
1896 - 1906 Fr. John McGreal P.P. d. a. 61
1906 - 1931 Fr. Michael Murphy, P.P. d.
He introduced Sunday Mass to Facefield.
1931 - 1950 Fr. James Biggins P.P. d. a. 76
1950 - 1980 Fr. Martin Heaney, P.P.
1971 Due to Fr Heaney's failing health Fr. Albert Lyons, was appointed to run the parish and oversee the building of a new church completed in 1978.

CURATES who served in this church

1869 - 1870 Fr. James Killeen, app. temporary curate. (to Achill) d. 1882. a. 39
1883 - 1894 Fr. John P Connolly, C.C. Carramore, said Mass in Mayo.
1894 - 1895 Fr Michael Burke, CC. Carramore said Mass in Mayo
1911 - 1919 Fr. John Noone . (to Ballinrobe). d. 1926. First permanent curate
1919 - 1924 Fr. T.A. Owens C.C. (to Knock). d. 1932. a. 50
1925 - 1937 Fr. John F. Kenny. (to Killereran)
1937 - 1940 Fr. John Mangan,
1940 - 1942 Fr. James Kilgariff,
1942 - 1943 Fr. Martin Geraghty,
1943 - 1952 Fr. John Lowry,
1952 - 1954 Fr. Richard Prendergast,
1955 - 1962 Fr. Charles Gibbons, (to Killascobe) d. 1864 a. 59
1962 - 1967 Fr. James Gibbons, S.T.L.
1967 - 1971 Fr. James Quinn,
1971 - 1980 Fr. Albert Lyons, (to Glenamaddy). d. 2003 a. 72

PARISH PRIESTS since the opening of the present church
**** - 1980 Fr. Albert Lyons, continued to run the parish. Transferred to Menlough
1980 - 1995 Fr Paddy McDermott P.P. (Canon )
1995 - 1996 Fr Chas Guthrie, Adm.
1996 - Fr Austin Fergus P.P. (Canon 2010)

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