Major renovations breathe new life into the ‘first decent church in Tyrone’

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One of the most historic places of worship in the district, once described as the ‘first decent Catholic Church in Tyrone’ is to re-open next weekend after 18 months of extensive renovations.

A special service of thanksgiving and dedication will take place on Sunday at 3pm in St Patrick’s Church, Donaghmore, which first opened its doors during the great famine.

Due to the huge crowds expected to attend the opening ceremony, the church will be opened for viewings for several hours on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons and Saturday morning.

The highlights of the work, which are the fourth major renovations in its history, include a major facelift of the stone exterior, the demolition and rebuilding of the sacristy, committee room, boiler house and toilets, stained glass restoration, new plaster moulding and lowering the floors.

Work on the church began early in 1845 at the instigation of Father Neal McGuckin, who ordered the pulling down of the old Mass house in Donaghmore. Sadly, Fr. McGuckin became ill with typhoid fever and died in August of the same year. Fr. Francis Devlin, parish priest of Tullyallen, was appointed parish priest of Donaghmore.

He had built the church at Eglish in 1834 and had the necessary experience to finish the work on Donaghmore chapel.

The new church was consecrated by Archbishop Crolly on 23 October 1846.

After Fr. McAleer’s appointment as parish priest in 2003, he initiated a rolling ten year programme of investment in the parish assets across Galbally and Donaghmore. By the end of 2012, the other church assets in the parish had been protected and it was time to consider Donaghmore Chapel and how to secure the building for future generations.

Architects McKeown & Shields produced the drawings and QMAC Construction Ltd. from Coolmaghery, a firm owned by Peter and Rhona Quinn, were appointed Main Contractors for the refurbishment project. The contract programme was timed for 72 weeks and work started in February 2014.

During the upheaval, the church was completely stripped out, the existing floors removed and the walls replastered with traditional lime mortar. Iron pipe-work was installed along with cast iron radiators in keeping with the character of the original church and a new and up to date heating system was installed.

The stained glass windows in the sanctuary which date from the 1890s were beautifully restored by Portadown Stained Glass Studio and they were also storm glazed and got new window frames.

A spokesperson for the parish said: “The interior of the church is really beautiful, the sanctuary floor with

its creama marble tiles, the nave and aisles with their Victorian tiles and liturgical rugs.

“The window frames and doors have been made to a very high standard and in best quality timber. The door panels are engraved with attractive Celtic and Gothic designs.

“Four panels of the main ceiling have striking blue and gold decoration and lettering. The columns in the church

and the panels behind the altar have been beautifully marbled and there is striking artwork at the side altars. “There is elegantly executed stencil work on the upper and lower gallery ceilings and on the ceiling of the porch. “The sanctuary has a superbly sculpted marble High Altar, baldacchino, reredos, pulpit, ambo and a beautiful marble Main Altar with a finely sculpted “Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci, precious items dating from the late 19th

Century, that add beauty to the church and all of which were most generously donated to St. Patrick’s Church, Donaghmore, by a Dungannon family, in memory of their father. They also donated the lovely marble baptismal font at the front of the church and two beautiful marble statues.

“The Stations of the Cross came from Belgium and are very, very old.”