On this day, February 7, in the year 1886, St Joseph’s Church was consecrated. It was to be the main church of the Parish of Rahoon, which at that time extended from Corcullen to Furbo. There were already two chapels in the parish, one in Bushypark and one in Barna, and they served their own areas. For those parishioners living closer to the town, there was no designated church. Some would attend Mass in the chapel of the Presentation Convent, but it was not very large and worshippers often had to kneel on the ground outside, irrespective of the weather conditions. The parish had a big population and major annual events such as confirmation had to be moved to the Pro-Cathedral.
In June, 1881, Father Lally was made parish priest of Rahoon. Dr McEvilly, Bishop of Galway, was appointed in November of that year to the Archbishopric of Tuam and Father Lally was made Vicar Capitular of the Diocese in the interregnum until the appointment of a successor to Bishop McEvilly. Bishop McEvilly was aware of the fact that Rahoon had no designated parish church so he gave a sum of money to Fr Lally to start the process of erecting one beside the Presentation Convent.
Fr Lally set about collecting funds. He must have been a charismatic man because the subscriptions came in. The new Bishop, Dr Carr, contributed, as did the Patrician Brothers. A former parish priest had tried to erect a church on the site but had failed due to lack of funds, but Fr Lally was determined to succeed and he set about building it by direct labour. The foundation stone was laid in June 1882. They ran into a great many problems but they persisted, and eventually plans were made for the consecration of the church on Sunday, February 7, 1886.
It was a dark and gloomy morning, but happily everything went to plan. All of the seats were taken, most of the occupants having paid for the privilege. Extra chairs had to be placed in the sanctuary. The band of the industrial school played outside as the crowd was gathering. Even though it would take several more years to install all of the fittings such as side altars, stained glass windows, and Stations of the Cross, the atmosphere was one of celebration. After the homily, liberal donations were received.
Our photograph today was originally taken in 1903, from the other side of the canal, roughly from the direction of Cooke’s Corner. The houses which Martin McDonogh built on Presentation Road, across from the church, did not appear until the mid 1920s.
The church made international headlines in 1921 when one of its curates, Father Michael Griffin, was abducted and murdered by the Black and Tans. His remains were eventually discovered in a bog near Barna, and had to be smuggled into the church as the Tans were on the rampage at the time. The table he was laid out on is still in the sacristy. In spite of dire warnings from the authorities, his funeral was probably the largest ever seen in Galway.
Some 10 years ago, Fr Martin Downey was made parish priest and he in turn appointed a parish council. Together, they drew up plans for renovating the church in line with the vision of Vatican II. The work was finished a few years ago and today, the interior of St Joseph’s is one of the most peaceful and spiritual in Galway. It is not too bright and has a curious mixture of the traditional with the modern. The stained glass windows range from a Harry Clarke of St Joseph to a contemporary window by Vicki Crowley, and they add to the contemplative atmosphere. It is an oasis of peace.
On Monday next, February 11, the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society will host a lecture in the Harbour Hotel at 8pm. It will be given by Dr John Cunningham on the subject “TJ O’Connell, Galway TD, Labour Party leader and INTO pioneer”. All are welcome.