SAINT PATRICK’S CHURCH
by Tom Kenny
This photograph of St. Patrick’s Church and part of Forster Street was taken from the Galway/Clifden Railway Line overlooking James Mahon’s Field where the circuses used to be long ago. It was taken c.1920.
When, in May 1836, Fr. Bartholomew Roche began building St. Patrick’s Church, it was well outside the city proper. It extended from the West Bridge to Grealishtown, numbered some 7,000 souls and was known as Bohermore Parish. The church opened for worship in 1837 but two years later, on the night of the ‘Big Wind’ the roof was blown off and Fr. Roche had to go on another begging tour. The repairs took some time but eventually the new church, though far from complete, was opened on January 11th 1842. It was blessed by the Bishop, Fr. Roche said the mass and the sermon was delivered by the famous temperance reformer, Fr. Theobald Matthew.
When the Jesuits came to Galway in 1859, the Bishop offered them this church and they ministered there until 1863 when they opened their own church on Sea Road and handed this one back to the Bishop. The church grounds consisted of various plots held on short leases from different parties; when these leases fell in, the owner of the plot in front of the church refused a renewal and erected a wall cutting off regular access to the entrance, so the church could no longer be used for its original purpose. From 1863 to 1897 it functioned variously as a Parish Hall, a concert hall, a venue for evening classes, a band room and finally as a carpenter’s shop.
In 1897, the Bishop finally bought the plot in question, the church was renovated and a sacristy added and on March 13th 1898, the building was rededicated. The carved angels on top of the entrance pillars were the work of a local stone mason, Thomas Nugent from St. Patrick’s Avenue. In 1936, the top storey of the tower, as seen in our photograph, was taken down because of structural faults which had developed. In 1972, this church was replaced by the current building.
The vacant site, part of which we can see on the street on the far right of our photograph was later built on and the house occupied by a Mr. Izars, a piano tuner. The three storey house next door belonged to Harry Clare and his brother Lawrence. They had a stone works there and also a house, yard and garden at College Road which they rented from Martin J. Blake. The entrance to the stone works was through the archway you see to the right of the building. Here they made Celtic Crosses, Headstone, Tablets, Vaults, Grave Kirks in stone, marble, and they would also build tombs. Every description of stone work supplied, lettering done in town and country.
The “Dublin Builder” issue of September 1st 1859 reported that “Inside the grand entrance to the (Augustinian) church is placed a holy water font of black marble, designed and executed by a Galway artist, Mr. Clare, probably one of the most splendid in any church in the United Kingdom”. Several pieces of Mr. Clare’s funerary sculptures can still be seen in Forthill Cemetery. In later years, the sculptor Clare Sheridan did some work here. They had a spring well in the back garden which was used by neighbours to get their water from.
The thatch house next door was owned by ‘Mamo’ Spellman who had a sweet shop there. It was much frequented by the younger locals, especially when they saw Dean Considine in the vicinity as he had a well-known habit of distributing halfpennies to the kids. This building was subsequently demolished and became part of the church grounds.
The house on the left of the church gate was occupied by Nurse McKeon and later by the Sweeneys. Next door lived Johnny O’Leary and “Copper” Walshe lived in the house on the far left.
Our second image is of the mass-servers from the church who were in Ballybrit for Fr. Peyton’s Rosary Crusade on May 9th 1954. They include Michael Lohan, Michael Joyce, P. Fahy, Mick Feeney, Gabriel Darcy, N. Walsh, P.J. O’Brien, ‘Junior’ Power, E. Griiffin, P. Griffin, P. Pender, Fr. Brendan Darcy, J. Walsh, Tommy Killeen, Tommy Joyce, Tony Conboy, Michael Grealish, Liam Sammon and Gerard Forde.