‘Faith, trust and love soaked into the walls’


Pics: David Lawerence (Stained glass) and The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage

Áine Ryan

WHILE holy mountain Croagh Patrick dominates the west County Mayo landscape like an Egyptian pyramid, Westport’s skyscape is framed by the man-made edifice of Holy Trinity Church, now the subject of a major fundraising drive for essential repairs and restoration.
According to The Mayo Examiner of September 30, 1872, the town’s Church of Ireland’s ‘slender pencil spire rose to 185 feet’. Interestingly, Rector Val Rogers notes that ‘the contract drawings of 1869 say the top was to be 126ft from the ground, a spire of 70ft above a 56ft high bell tower’.
It is just one of the many fascinating facts about the church, the conservation of which is the subject of an ongoing series of community fundraising drives – the latest an upcoming concert of country-gospel music by renowned Achill singer James Kilbane and his band.
“The night is a fundraiser for repairs to Holy Trinity, a remarkable building … one of the glories of the west of Ireland,” says Rev Rogers.
Since 2004, James Kilbane has become a popular voice on radio and television across Ireland, with his mix of country, gospel and faith-based music.

BY 1855, the Church of Ireland community in Westport had grown too large to be accommodated in its original old church, which was built in 1797 and situated in the grounds of Westport House demesne.
In April 1869, plans were approved to build the new church on the Newport Road, near the original main entrance to Westport House.
The third Marquess of Sligo, George John Browne, donated the land and £1,200 of the £4,500 total cost of the building, while the  Church Commissioners contributed £2,400 and parishioners paid the balance in subscriptions, from two shillings to £50.   
Three years later, in 1872, Holy Trinity Church was opened, but its ornate decoration was not completed until 1890. It was designed by Thomas Newenham Deane in Ruskinian Gothic Revival style.
“It’s lovely, all those years later, to see Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John more than life-size above the Holy Communion Table, with Saints Peter and Paul on either side of them keeping each other honest across the sanctuary. Moses and King David are above and outside them to remind us where we come from,” says Rev Val Rogers.
He continues: “Murals line the interior side walls and back wall on great slabs of white Carrara marble. Carved lines filled with black cement form the letters and figures, all then brightened with real gold leaf.
“The Gospel passages chosen for the murals emphasise above all the love and power of God in Jesus and the need for a trustful, humble heart. They stress God would never turn any honest person away. And they tell us to defend, help and love each other, especially when people are down and out or are on the back foot for any reason. In fact the key picture over the great Rose window is of the Lord coming in judgment, as in chapter 25 of St Matthew’s Gospel, and saying in effect: ‘Come on in, you were good to me when I was in trouble’.  
“Faith worth the name helps keep us challenged and nourished for such a life, which is no small blessing. So, pointing to the murals, I say from time to time to our people: ‘The writing’s on the wall, folks’. There’s so much prayer, faith, trust and love soaked into the walls as well, and that awareness also spurs us on.”

THE rich narrative of Holy Trinity Church was outlined recently for Heritage Week by Áine Doyle, Conservation Consultant. The panels are available for visitors and parishioners to study in the church. Indeed, Rev Rogers reminds Mayo News readers that Ms Doyle undertook a similar project for St Mary’s Catholic Church, which is also the subject of a major repair and restoration project. The exhibitions chart the history, architectural design, interior decoration and conservation of both churches, their history and conservation.   
Earlier this year both churches successfully applied for funding from the Heritage Council  under the Heritage Management Grant Scheme to undertake a Conservation Management Plan. The project will culminate in a five-year plan of works for both churches ‘based on a thorough understanding of the significance of the buildings, of past conservation works and of the current condition of their fabric’.

The James Kilbane Country Gospel night will be held at 8pm on Friday, October 21.  Tickets, €15 each, can be purchased from Downtown Records in Westport and Castlebar, or by texting 087 1475597.