Saint Joseph’s Church, a brief history

St Joseph’s Parish Church one hundred  years ago - now refurbished.

St Joseph’s Parish Church one hundred years ago - now refurbished.

In the 1870s the parish of Rahoon extended from Corcullen to Furbo. It had two chapels, one in Barna and one in Bushypark. Those people who lived in the town side of the parish attended Sunday Mass in the chapel attached to the Presentation Convent, but it was quite small and worshippers often had to kneel on the ground outside, no matter what the weather was like. As a result many of the major parish ceremonies were moved to the Pro-Cathedral. In 1881 no fewer than 300 children from the parish were confirmed in Middle Street, which gives us an idea of the population of the area.

On June 4 of that year, a curate from the parish of St Nicholas east (which largely comprised Bohermore and College Road ) named Father Lally was made parish priest of Rahoon, a large parish with no parish church. He set about collecting funds to build one and did quite well, because on June 22 1882, the foundation stone was laid. Fr Lally was obviously a charismatic man (they named a football team after him in the 1950s ) and he started to have the church built by direct labour. A few months later, the work had to be suspended when, on October 1, a hurricane blew down one of the walls, but they managed to start up again the following March.

The church was consecrated on February 7, 1886 by Dr Carr, Bishop of Galway. The Archbishop of Tuam, Dr McEvilly, said the Mass and Dr McCormack of Achonry delivered a homily in which he appealed for funds and sponsorship. In fact funds were so low that people were charged to attend on that day. Fitting out the building was a slow process, but gradually side altars, Stations of the Cross, and stained glass windows were installed.

The church was designed by William Hague in a style described as English ornamental Gothic and is built of rusticated limestone. It has a high pitched roof and aisles with buttresses, small pointed windows, and a portal door with carved tympanum at the west end. The interior has arcades with polished granite columns and foliate capitals and a hammer beam roof.

St Joseph’s became internationally famous in 1920 when one of the curates, Fr Michael Griffin, was abducted and murdered by the Black and Tans. They wrongly assumed he had heard the last confession of Patrick Joyce who was executed by the IRA, and they tried to extract details of the confession out of him before killing him. His funeral Mass was celebrated in the church and the funeral procession was attended by thousands of people and hundreds of clerics, in spite of dire warnings from the authorities of the day.

Our photograph today (courtesy of the National Library ) is of the interior of the church as it was about 100 years ago. For the past few months the building has been closed while the interior underwent change (nothing radical ) in line with the vision of Vatican II, in order to allow the full and active participation of all the faithful in the celebration of the Eucharist. This has been carried out under the supervision of Fr Martin Downey PP and his parish council and involved the lowering and moving slightly forward of the altar and the introduction of a marble lectern and a mosaic made by Feeley Stone. The altar rails have been moved to the back of the church, the pews refurbished, and there is a new floor and heating system. This old Galway church, a favourite of many, re-opened last Sunday, but they still have a balance to pay on it. If you would like to contribute, then contact Father Downey who would love to hear from you.

Our thanks to John McGinty for the above information.

Finally, there is an art project in Galway City Museum at the moment which is well worth a visit. Its title is Claddagh 1847-1849, a Famine Graveyard Remembered and it is based on a cemetery book from St Mary’s Church in the Claddagh which lists the names of Claddagh residents who died during that period. It is a powerfully evocative presentation by artist Edith Pieperhoff which lists the causes of death, “Want”, “cholera”, etc, and gives an indication of the scale of the catastrophe. Just imagine the idea of 11 children being buried in one village in one day. Highly recommended.


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