Ambitious restoration works costing €650,000 are in store for St Fintan’s Church in Raheen, with the cost to be met through local donations.
Plans for the 155 year old Catholic Church include roof repairs, removal of the internal suspended ceiling, and a modern extension.
Fundraising for the restoration is already underway, and last Thursday night over 300 people enjoyed a concert organised by the Parish Council in the Manor Hotel Abbeyleix, with all proceeds going to the fund. Next on their fundraising agenda is their “Buy a Slate” campaign.
Parishioners are being asked to sponsor the cost of a new roof slate for €25, In return they will receive a certificate, and will be prayed for in a special Mass twice a year. Their names will be included in a ceremonial book in the church. The slates can be bought by individuals, as a gift, or in memory of loved ones. Batches of the slate certificates have already been delivered to houses in hopes that they can be sold to friends and relations.
As the church is a protected structure, the restoration work will be carefully supervised a Dublin architect specialising in conservation works, Edmund Selby, who has spent a year planning the restoration. He has written a fascinating account of Raheen Church’s history, from its early beginnings.
“The first Catholic Church was built in Raheen in 1729. The site was granted to the Church by the local landlord Mr Baldwin who was returning home from Church service one wet Sunday and almost met with an accident when his horse was startled. When he saw a Catholic priest celebrating Mass with his congregation in a bog hole he was moved with compassion, and in gratitude for his deliverance from injury he granted the site for the first Catholic Church. This was a small Church with a thatched roof and was used until the present Church was built across the road in 1857. The location of the Mass Pit is commemorated by a plaque on a stone plinth on the spot,” Mr Selby says.
As the last repairs were done in the 1950’s, urgent attention is now required. At present the car park is closed because of the danger of falling slates.
“The present Church is a magnificent building. The slate roof suffered storm damage and is now in urgent need of conservation and restoration. A number of slates have fallen and all roof slates require to be carefully checked and re-fixed or replaced as necessary. The copper-glad pyramidical roof to the belfry tower is also damaged and must be repaired,” he said.
The Dublin architect has designed a modern extension to accommodate a day chapel for mid-week masses and services, to be used as a “crying room” for upset children during Sunday mass.
“Fr Kelly PP and the Parish Council require additional accommodation to provide for a number of very important liturgical and functional requirements that will also enhance the spiritual qualities of this magnificent Church. This new accommodation will be enclosed in an entirely new unit designed in accordance with the principles of the addition of a modernist intervention into a period building. It is designed to be entirely removable and reversible, and to appear to be so. It will perform its functions simply and efficiently and will not obscure or confuse any features of the magnificent original building,” said Mr Selby.
The suspended ceiling in the church is to be removed as part of the works.
“A modernist acoustic tile, flat suspended ceiling was installed over the Nave c.1980 which entirely conceals the magnificent timber scissor-truss roof structure. It is planned to remove the suspended ceiling and to restore the interior of the Church to its former glory,” explains Mr Selby.
The low ceiling over the main entrance porch in the tower will also be removed to reveal the original high ceiling.
Other new additions will be a permanent space for the choir, a confessional, candle shrines and a small shop. The Victorian carved timber altar is to be restored, and the two side altars replaced in their original positions either side of the altar.
Upgraded electrical and sound systems are also planned, and a new high-efficiency condensing boiler will be installed in the Sacristy, restoring the north-west side porch to its former use. The church will be freshly painted and the floors refinished.
The exterior of the church is also in for a facelift. The cattle grid will be removed and a new wall and gate piers built. The car park will be repaired, with new lighting and landscaping.
A 3D model is now on display inside the church,