On Saturday January 31, on his 66th birthday, Rev Patrick Towers, will retire as Rector of St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church. In the nine years he has been Rector he has played an important role in Galway’s civic life and been one of its most active clergymen.
Many will be sad to see him go as he is one of the city’s great characters and entertainers, but also a profound and challenging advocate for Christianity and a positive affirmation of that which is noble, intelligent, and compelling about the Christian faith.
From West Ham to Galway
Rev Towers was born in 1943 in Queen Charlotte’s Hospital, West Hammersmith, London. “It’s amazing how many Galway people have told me they were born in Queen Charlotte,” he tells me as we sit for the interview on a Wednesday morning. “It’s not surprising though as the area is home to a large Irish community.”
Despite being born in West Ham, Rev Towers does not follow West Ham Utd. “No I follow Spurs,” he says, “and although I actually live near the area I could never bear to follow Chelsea.”
Rev Towers is an extrovert, an optimist, and has a dynamism and flamboyance that has seen many warm to him, but his early life had hardships and disappointments.
“My parents divorced when I was five or six and I was sent to a boarding school from eight to 18, not for academic reasons or by choice, but because my parents were divorced. At half term I would see the other boys going back to their homes and I would end up being farmed out to some happy family.”
However the seeds of the optimistic extrovert possessing an unshakeable Christian faith would be planted in those early years and come to fruition in the 1960s and 1970s.
“In boarding school I was extroverted, played sports, did well academically, you needed to develop that to survive,” he says, “but a ‘public’ school is called a public school for a reason as there is a resentment of anything that is private.
“For me the Christian faith was something personal that none of the other boys could touch. It was very important to have this and guard it and that faith developed throughout my life.
“When I had finished school I was wondering what to do with my life. One day I heard a talk from the Dean of King’s College London and I was so impressed that I rang him and he said come over.”
While there Rev Towers threw himself into the study of theology but initially resisted ordination to the Anglican clergy. Around this time he also met Ann, who was to become his wife.
“We were both children of the 1960s,” he says. “We were quite bohemian. It was a very exciting time. There was Vietnam, society was changing, you felt as if you could find yourself one day sitting down with the Baader-Meinhof gang!”
From 1972 to 1982, Rev Towers lived in Japan where he worked in a university and ran a cultural centre. In 1974 he became an Anglican priest. In the 1980s he came to Ireland and was in Nenagh, Co Tipperary for a decade, before taking over as Rector of St Nicholas’ nine years ago. He found Galway perfectly suited to his temperament.
“Galway is a place where my personality type is digestible,” he says. “I have a form of manic energy without the depressive element. St Nicholas’ struck me as a very august place and I explained to the Bishop that I wasn’t sure if my temperament would be suited to it but he said I might not do terrible damage by being myself.”
So what is it about Galway that he likes the most?
“Galway is a great place,” he says. “It’s got a creative energy that is slightly subversive. I like that subversive beat as it creates an entrepreneurial culture from the bottom to the top - from the busker to the Volvo Ocean Race. People feel they can do things. There is a dynamism here that is very attractive.
“Yet at the same time there is a sense of social justice. People in Galway aren’t afraid to make money but there is also a city concerned by social causes and an awareness of what is happening in the wider world.
“Walking up Shop Street on a Saturday is like taking a moral walk. There will be stalls from Amnesty International, the Galway Alliance Against War, Palestine Solidarity, and Galway for this or Galway for that. There is a real energy and moral and ethical disputes and causes and that is very exciting.”
Although Galway’s Church of Ireland community is small, it is a vibrant one, and Rev Towers, the clerics, and parishioners have played a key role making this a reality. The consequence is that St Nicholas’ is seen by all Galwegians - regardless of the religion - as the church of the city, a place that belongs to all of us.
“This church, this mediaeval splendour that is at the heart of the city, should not be an island left behind,” he said. “It must not be a donor to the life and culture of the city, but a contributor to it and part of the civic dialogue and make up of the city. To have been given the opportunity to have been Rector of Galway’s church, I am very grateful for.”
In his time as Rector, Rev Towers has many achievements to look back on. During his time, the Church of Ireland Synod was held in Galway for the first time; Russian Orthodox services were held in the church; African churches celebrated there, MorWax Theatre Co performed Dracula, dance performances and music concerts have taken place; and the Ahmadiyya Muslims were able to address a Christian congregation on the special place Jesus holds in Islam.
However Rev Towers is most proud of the time when St Nicholas’ celebrated not just Anglican services but the Roman Catholic Mass when the Augustinians used the church while St Augustine’s was being renovated.
“To have walked up from St Augustine’s holding the Paschal candle, with Fr Dick Lyng, and the congregations, through the narrow mediaeval streets was so visually impacting,” he says. “That was a big moment for the city and between the churches.”
Although retired from being Rector, Rev Towers will of course remain a clergyman and will be leaving the Rectory in Taylor’s Hill for Mountbellew. Now that his official duties are over what has he planned?
“I would consider entering politics,” he says.
So might we see him running for a seat in the Galway County Council in June? “Don’t be surprised if it happens but I don’t know it will,” he replies. “What party would I join? I’m not sure. The Greens maybe as I have a considerable interest in ecological issues and I would be more conformable with a party that is less established.”
He will miss being Rector of St Nicholas’ terribly but yet retirement will also be an exciting time for Rev Towers as it will give him the opportunity of doing new things.
“I am the sort of person who gets into things,” he says. “Sometimes it has happened that things have come up and I’ve taken the risk. That’s what I like to do