A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE STORY OF ST MARY’S
The following are some of the key moments to date in the story of St Mary’s Church, Castleblayney.
- 1 January 1803 – Andrew Thomas, the 11th Lord Blayney granted a lease of land at Onomy to James Frain, a land surveyor, and Edward McArdle, a publican from Market Square, for the erection within four years of ‘a Chappel eighty feet long and forty feet wide and nineteen feet high in the side walls’ and it to be roofed ‘with foreign timber and cover the roof thereof with slates’. The lease was backdated to 1 November 1802.
- 1805 – Work began on the building of the church specified in the lease, under the supervision of Fr Edward Maguire (PP Muckno 1788-1818). In 1807, Fr Maguire, together with John McPhillips and the above-mentioned James Frain, borrowed £500 sterling from Lord Blayney to complete the church. Prior to this, the people of the town and surrounding areas worshipped at Mass Rocks in Concra and Carrigartha or at the small church that stood at Oram since 1770.
- Christmas Eve 1814 – upon his return from the Napoleonic Wars, Lord Blayney presented the church with a painting of the soldier and martyr St Sebastian ‘by one of the most esteemed masters’ as ‘another additional proof of his Lordship’s kindness and generosity towards the Catholics of that place.’
- 1851 – In view of the growth of the town, plans were drawn up for the building of the present St Mary’s Church. The architect was James Hughes, Charlemont, Co Armagh, who was commissioned by Canon James McMeel (PP Muckno 1838-1861 and later PP of Enniskillen where he had the present St Michael’s Church built).
- 1853/4-1858 – The present St Mary’s Church was built during these years. The new church was described as being one hundred feet in length, eighty feet wide and fifty feet high on the inside. The cost of building was put at £2,500 sterling. In 1856, while building of St Mary’s was underway, the Sacrament of Confirmation was celebrated in St Patrick’s, Oram.
5 November 1861 – St Mary’s Church was solemnly dedicated to the service and worship of God, under the invocation of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by the Bishop of Clogher, Most Reverend Charles McNally. The sermon on that day was preached by Most Reverend Patrick Dorian, Coadjutor Bishop of Down and Connor and the celebrant of the Mass was Canon James Donnelly PP, Roslea, the future Bishop of Clogher (1865-1893).
Bishop Charles McNally (Bishop of Clogher 1844-1864) who dedicated St Mary’s in 1861. From the Maynooth College Collection.
- 1869 – A gallery was added to St Mary’s, thus increasing its capacity. This work was commissioned by Canon Peter Birmingham (PP Muckno 1861-1882).
- 19 June 1883 – St Mary’s Church was the venue for a political convention which selected Tim Healy as a candidate for the Monaghan Bye-Election, a contest which Healy won in the interests of Charles Stewart Parnell’s new movement, The Irish National League.
1884 – Renovation and renewal works carried out under the commission of Canon John Hoey (PP Muckno 1882-1895). This work included the erection of the stained-glass window in the sanctuary, by Meyer of Munich.
- October 1924 – Electricity supply connected to St Mary’s in time for a Parish Mission, thanks to the generosity of John Coleman, publican, Main Street.
- 1930 – 1936 – Extensive renovations, especially to the sanctuary of St Mary’s, under the supervision of Canon Andrew Maguire (PP Muckno 1929-1952). Estimated cost was £12,500 sterling. The architect was John Francis McGahan, Dundalk, the principal contractor was Peter Donnelly, Carrickmacross. The extensive re-ordering of the sanctuary included the erection of new altars, a new reredos, marble floor, surrounds and altar rails. This intricate work was undertaken by Italian sculptors Vanucci and Favilla. Canon Maguire himself applied a significant amount of money towards the cost of the sanctuary from an inheritance he had received from his late brother Thomas Maguire, Munville, Lisnaskea and this is commemorated in the base of the altar.
- 13 December 1936 – Consecration of the new high altar by Most Reverend Patrick McKenna, Bishop of Clogher. The sermon on that day was preached by Most Reverend James Joseph McNamee, Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise (native of Fintona, Co Tyrone) and the attendance also included Most Reverend Edward Mulhern, Bishop of Dromore (a native of Ederney, Co Fermanagh).
1953-1954 – Mosaic added to the wlls of the sanctuary by Italian artists Berlendis, Marinetti & Mantellato from Venezia.
- 1955-1957 – Building of extension to St Mary’s Church, together with extensive structural renovations, including a new roof, under the supervision of Canon James O’Daly (PP Muckno 1952-1959). The architect for this work was W.H. Byrne & Son, Dublin while the principal contractor was John Leahy & Co, Ballybay. Total cost of work was £26,000 sterling.
- 12 May 1957 – Solemn blessing of the new extension by Most Reverend Eugene O’Callaghan, Bishop of Clogher. The preacher was Fr Daniel Duffy, Carrickmacross – a native of Muckno Street.
- 1963 – At the instigation of Canon John McKenna (PP Muckno 1959-1973), a bell was erected and dedicated outside St Mary’s following a bequest from and in memory of local businesspeople Arthur and Susan Kelly. The bell was automated in 2010. There is a tradition that the original lease of 1803 had a stipulation that there be no bell on the church, but this is untrue in fact.
- 1962-1965 – Second Vatican Council was held in Rome and it ushered in a period of renewal and change, especially in the area of liturgical practice and devotional life. Many of the changes which the council brought about were aimed at recovering the tradition of the early church and to draw from the sources of the church’s life – Scripture, liturgy, ecumenism – and to proclaim the Gospel in the world of today. As a result, churches such as St Mary’s saw profound changes in the decades following.
- 1974 – A re-ordering of the sanctuary of St Mary’s was undertaken under commission from Canon John J Tomany (PP Muckno 1973-1983). This work was of a minimal character and resulted in the erection of a second marble altar within the existing narrow sanctuary space, together with the creation of an ambo and presider’s chair, both made from the marble of the pulpit, which was removed. This resulted in the loss of much of the sanctuary floor from the 1930s. In addition, the baptistry was removed.
- June 2000 – To mark the Great Jubilee Year of 2000, as well as the ongoing peace process on the island of Ireland, and to honour the Golden Jubilee of Priesthood of Canon Vincent Morris (PP Muckno 1983-2001), the Canon Morris Peace Garden was blessed and opened.
- 2006 – Purchase and installation of a new church organ, at the initiation of Canon John McCabe (PP Muckno 2001-10).
- 2010-2018 – The most extensive re-ordering and renovation of St Mary’s to date. This involved the transformation of the sanctuary area into a space where the entire assembly can celebrate the sacred mysteries in a worthy manner, while continuing to honour what tradition has given to us. The work involved the creation of a safe entrance area and welcoming space, the renewal of all furnishings, the removal and restoration of the roof to enable the installation of insulation, new heating and electrical systems and new lighting as well as the painting of the entire building. The recycling of material for re-use was one of the strong features of this renovation. The total cost of all this work was €2,100,000.
This outstanding work was initiated with vision by Canon Patrick McHugh (PP Muckno 2010-2018) along with the members of the Parish Finance, Property and Administration Committee, chaired by Declan McAteer. The architect was Karl Pederson of Mullarkey Pedersen Architects and the principal contractors were McGuigan Builders, Clontibret.
Another worthy aspect of this renovation work, and one which also draws from the command of Christ and the vision of the Second Vatican Council, was the fact that during the period of closure of St Mary’s (June 2017 until August 2018), our community was generously and willingly accommodated by the Church of Ireland community next door at St Maeldoid’s Church. This was due to the offer of the Rector, Rev Neal Phair and the Select Vestry and the agreement of Bishop Liam MacDaid and Bishop John McDowell.
- 2018 – Installation of webcam, for the livestreaming of Masses and other liturgies via the internet, at the instigation of Canon Shane McCaughey (PP Muckno 2018-2020).
- 8 December 2019 – Re-Dedication of St Mary’s Church by Most Reverend Lawrence Duffy, Bishop of Clogher (himself a priest in this parish, 1978-1994) on what is ordinarily the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
- October 2020 – Purchase of adjoining property at Beech Corner for the development of a car park for those attending St Mary’s.
‘The building of a church represents a huge commitment on the part of a community. Above all, the church building is a statement of the faith of a community, past and present. It declares and draws forth recognition.’
– Gary Carville, On The Way: the journey of the people of Muckno (2011), p. 83
By Dr Gary Carville.