A Short History of St. Mary's Church, Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo

Photo:Original size of St. Mary's Church, Ballinrobe

Original size of St. Mary's Church, Ballinrobe

Mayo Co. Library, Castlebar

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By Averil Staunton

This year 2013, is the 150th anniversary of the completion of St. Mary’s Church, Ballinrobe. The foundation stone was laid in 1849, and was finally completed and officially opened in 1863. During the famine years construction was delayed due to the paucity of finance and the death of its first architect Richard Pierce (1801-1854). Pierce had been greatly influenced by Augustus W. Pugin (1812-1852) for whom he was clerk of works.

Fr Peter Conway was responsible for negotiating the procurement of the sites from the landlord Colonel Nesbit Knox and his wife (nee Cuff) and starting the building project.

Years later, after the death of Fr. Tom Hardiman PP, the new Parish Priest, Rev. James Ronayne PP (served 1875 to 1903) started building a new sacristy c. 1875. He donated the large east Mayer stained-glass window, which was installed c. 1880 and was also responsible for adding the gates and the railings in front of the Church. In December 1894 the tower, steeple and new bell were consecrated. His next alteration was the enlargement with two transepts, resulting in a cruciform shape. Stained-glass windows representing the life of Jesus and Mary were donated for both transepts by Mrs. Maria Walsh.

 Msgr. Edward D’Alton PP (served 1911-1941) added a Mortuary Chapel in 1912 (now the Blessed Sacrament Chapel) designed by William Henry Byrne. Joshua Clarke created two double light windows for this chapel, which were donated by the Kilkelly Family. Further additions between 1918-19 included improvements to the oak screen and organ gallery, the insertion of marble communion rails, steps and bronze gates, with marble wall decorations lining of the chancel with Irish marble.

Msgr. D’Alton PP extended the church with the addition of aisles on either side to accommodate the large population and in 1924 was responsible for inviting Harry Clarke to create windows. The first two double light windows, on the south side representing the Life of Christ were quickly followed by two further windows representing the Life of Mary. On the north side, four more double light Harry Clarke windows were commissioned and installed in 1925 representing the early Irish saints, with most windows being donated by the priests and members of the local community. Harry Clarke visited Ballinrobe to see the installed windows that December.

Further improvements occurred in St. Mary’s over the years, with interior alterations carried out following the requirements of Vatican II.

In 1987, anticipating celebrations for the centenary of the Harry Clarke’ birth in 1889, Msgr. Tom Shannon PP commissioned the Abbey Stained-glass Company to survey and repair the Clarke windows.

In anticipation of the 150th anniversary of St. Mary’s, the current PP, Canon Conal Eustace had extensive repairs and conservation work carried out to the fabric of the building. One result was the redesign of the organ gallery enabling a view of the large west Harry Clarke installed in 1930 to be seen in all its glory. Saints Brigid, Patrick and Colmcille feature in this beautiful window.

This page was added by Averil Staunton on 14/08/2013.