Church of the Immaculate Conception
By The Culture and Heritage Group
On Christmas Day 1830 the church was opened temporarily for Divine Worship. Rev. Dr Kirwan the parish priest responsible for the erection of the church was a remarkable man – a brilliant orator. He later became the first President of Galway University, but was obliged to resign after the Synod of Cashel refused to sanction the establishment of the Queen’s Universities.
Neglected and mountainous district
Arriving in Oughterard in 1827 he wrote, “I found a neglected and mountainous district with a large scattered population of 10,000 souls and literally destitute of a house of worship. I had peculiar difficulties to encounter in erecting even one principal parochial chapel as there was no resident Proprietor in the parish and the extreme poverty of the people precluded them from affording me any effective assistance. I was nonetheless encouraged to commence the erection of a house of worship by Thomas Martin MP who bestowed for that purpose an acre of land in the town of Oughterard with a subscription of £50 and £50 from his father Colonel Martin. A similar sum from Mr St.George of Tyrone and other small sums not amounting to £50 in all, was all the support received from the parish or those connected with it.” The people of the parish may not have been in a position to offer financial assistance but they did offer voluntary labour, a factor that helped reduce the cost of erection very considerably.
The Martins and the O’Fflaherties.
A dispute arose over the title of the site when the Martin Estate went into liquidation and the site passed to The Law Life Insurance Company and the O’Fflaherties. The Martins had not given proper title of the site to the church authorities. They were ordered to quit, but Dr Kirwan, petitioned Daniel O’Connell to intervene and he made a national issue out of it. The Lord Mayor of Dublin was one of the many important people who signed a petition against O’Fflahertie, who eventually relented and gave over the site.Daniel O Connell’s service was sought because his daughter was married in Oughterard to Mr Nicholas J. French, a magistrate. Daniel O’Connell arrived in Oughterard March 14th 1840 and within two days the case was settled out of court.The contract for the building of the church was given to William Brady of Nun’s Island, Galway who also won the contract for the building of Queen’s College (N.U.I.G.). The bishop of Galway, Dr. Plunkett Browne, dedicated the church on the 24th August 1837 and Archbishop Mc Hale of Tuam preached the sermon.
The original church was early Gothic with a Romanesque flat-pitched roof, the entrance flanked by two machicolated towers. There was a larger bell tower on the west side. In January 1879 a fire destroyed most of the church. Between 1932 and1934, it was reconstructed by Archdeacon Mark Conroy, P.P. At this time the altar was moved from under the gallery to the north wall.
Harry Clarke stained glass
The church is worth a visit to see the famous Harry Clarke stained glass window, depicting the Crucifixion, behind the main altar, erected at this time. The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet – alpha and omega are in two panels on the left and right hand bottom corners of the window . The altar was made from Connemara marble and was designed by Mr Hughes of Galway Marble Industries. The organ was built by L. Isaac, 20 Forster St., Galway.
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Oughterard Church has a plaque indicating the year 1829 as the year construction of the Church commenced. The parish had been founded a little before then at Oldchapel. It was originally called ‘St. Mary’s’. at a later date it was changed to ‘St. Michael’s’ and for some time now it has been known as ‘The Church of the Immaculate Conception’. On the 8th December 2014 a special Mass marked the 185th anniversary of the construction of the church. This was a happy occasion of thanksgiving to God for our long history. Rev. Gary Hastings, Church of Ireland, Kilcummin Church preached on the occasion and St. Paul’s Secondary School choir provided the music.
On that date 8th December 2014 the church launched its webcam service for the very first time. Now services can be broadcast to the Diaspora of Oughterard.
This page would be gtreatly enriched by the inclusion of a colour photo of the Harry Clarke stained glass window taken with either natural or artificial light behind it.
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