Brief History of St. Patrick's, Dundalk
On a Sunday morning in late summer of 1748, the officer commanding the Dundalk garrison was returning from an early morning canter,when he noticed at St. Helena's Quay, a crowd of people assembled in and around an old shed. On enquiry he was told that they were Catholics attending Mass. Despite the fact that it was a penal offence, the officer was so impressed by the people's fidelity to their religion that he persuaded the first Earl of Clanbrassil to grant the Catholics of the town a site for a permanent church.
The first St. Patrick's was built in 1750 in Chapel St. This church served the needs of the people for almost a century. From 1843 it was used as a school and became the property of the Irish Christian Brothers from 1867. Fr. Matthew McCann (P.P. 1817-1836) acquired the present site for St Patrick's in 1834. He was succeeded as parish priest by Fr John Coyne (PP 1836-1848). During his time as parish priest the new St Patrick's was completed. The cost of this beautiful church was €25,000 and it took 12 years to build.
It was not completed until the end of 1847, but was in use from 1842. Fr. Coyne is buried before the high altar. A mural tablet to his memory was erected beside the Sacred Heart side altar. He was succeeded as parish priest by Fr Michael Kieran (PP 1848- 1869). He became Dean of the Archdiocese in 1857 and Archbishop of Armagh in 1866 and made Dundalk his mensal parish. He was the last parish priest of Dundalk and since then the parish has been run by an Administrator.
The high altar and reredos of Caen stone were designed by McCarthy, who was a pupil of the famous Victorian architect Pugin, while the side altars, representing "The Agony" and "The Dead Christ" were executed by the well known sculptor Sir Thomas Farrell. The reredos consists of 4 panels of finely sculptured groups representing "The Nativity", "The Adoration of the Magi", "The Presentation in the Temple" and "The Flight into Egypt". In 1850 Dean Kieran erected the screen which fronts the church. It was built by Robinson & Kelly of Belfast at a cost of £596.
St Patrick's is built of Newry granite and was designed in the style of King's College chapel, Cambridge. Its style is pointed Gothic. Inside, St Patrick's measures 144 ft. x 72 ft (44m x 22m). It has one long nave and 2 aisles, finely chiselled granite pillars and a "ribbed vaulting" type of roof which was inspired by English Monastic architecture. Exeter Cathedral is thought to have provided the inspiration for the interior of St Patrick's.
Most of the stained glass windows were made by Messrs. Meyer of Munich, while the last 2 on the Gospel side representing Christ the King and St. Malachy are the work of W. Early & Son, Dublin, as was the window in the campanile, now the mortuary chapel. The chancel window, behind the altar, has six rows of 5 scenes. The centre panels represent the Sacred Heart, Our Lady and St. Joseph with the Divine Child. The small top panels represent the apostles. The remaining panels are Irish Saints (St. Patrick, St. Brigid, St. Dympna, St. Malachy, St. Ita, St. Columba, St. Oliver Plunkett, St. Fanchea). The likeness of St. Oliver Plunkett in this window was given a halo, which is only allowed for saints, so his halo was painted out, but by 1920, the paint had worn away and St. Oliver got back his halo. (He was canonised in 1975.) The bottom row represents the 4 Doctors of the church, St. Jerome, St. Gregory, St. Augustine and St. Ambrose.
During the tenure of Fr. Bernard Donnellan (Adm. 1896-1902) an order was placed with Messrs Willis & Co. of London in 1899 for the building of a new organ. The new organ was "opened" on 1st July 1900 at 1.00pm. Mr H.L. Balfour, organist at the Royal Albert Hall, gave a recital of classical music. The solemn opening and dedication of the organ took place in early 1901 with Cardinal Logue presiding.
One of the outstanding features of the church is the splendid mosaic sanctuary walls, which is reckoned to be some of the best work ever done by Ludwig Openheimer & Co. of Old Trafford, Manchester. This work was begun in 1909 at a cost of £2,000. The campanile & tower was erected by Fr. M.J. Quin (Adm.1899 - 1909) in 1903. The tower was the gift of Mrs. Julia Hamill of Seat own in memory of her late husband John Hamill. It was designed by Messrs. Ashlin & Coleman and built by James Wynne & Co., Dundalk at a cost of\ £6,000. ln 1910 the commemorative tablets to Dr. Coyne & Archbishop Kieran were erected. Many iprovements were effected by Fr. P. Lyons (Adm. 1910 -1915). The original floor was of large Yorkshire flagstones. These were sold to Maynooth College and replaced by a wood block floor. He also provided the new terraced approach to the church in 1914.
In 1937 the sacristy, meeting rooms and stores were built to the plans of W.H. Byrne & Son by James Wynne & Co., Dundalk. Include in the scheme was a new bridge over the Rampart river. The extension is in the same style as the church and built of Newry granite. The cost was £14,000. In the same year a new mortuary chapel was provided on the ground floor of the campanile, where previously the baptistery was located.
On the 1st January 1842 St Patrick's was opened for divine worship and Daniel O'Connell, the Liberator of Irish Catholics attended Mass in St Patrick's on that day.
St Patrick's was solemnly consecrated by Archbishop Dixon on Sunday, 30th September 1855.
On Friday 3rd September 1858, St Patrick's welcomed another famous visitor, Cardinal Wiseman of Westminster. High Mass at noon was celebrated by Archbishop Dixon at which the Cardinal presided and preached the sermon. The Cardinal was accompanied by Sir George Boyer, M.P. for the area, who was a convert to Catholicism, and who gave many gifts to St. Patrick's including the statue of Our Lady which came from Asia Minor, a Monstrance and also vestments made from the coronation robe of the Czar of Russia.
In St. Patrick's on Sunday 3rd February 1867 Dean Kieran was consecrated Archbishop of Armagh by Cardinal Paul Cullen of Dublin.
Archbishop Kieran died at his residence, at Forthill, Dundalk on 15th September 1869. His remains are interred in front of Our Lady's altar. Also buried in the church are Fr. John Coyne PP (1848), Fr. Francis McGinnity (1860), Fr John Landy (1863) and Fr. Henry Edward Macardle (1861).
On 2nd August 1896, Fr. Hugh McSherry, former Adm., was consecrated Bishop of Justianopolis, South Africa by Cardinal Logue in St Patrick's.
On Tuesday 25th June 1932, Cardinal Lauri, Papal Legate to the Irish Eucharistic Congress, visited St. Patrick's accompanied by Monsignor Spellman, later Cardinal Archbishop of New York.
In February 1939 the new mortuary chapel was opened. The mosaic was carried out by Messrs O'Hara & Sons to the design of Mr. Byrne the architect. T.M.C. Products Ltd (Dublin) had executed the table-altar.
The centenary of St. Patrick's was celebrated on Sunday 28th September 1947 with high Mass at noon at which Archbishop D' Alton presided.
On Thursday the 25th October 1957, a Solemn requiem Mass was celebrated in St Patrick's at 11 am for the funeral of Mother Kevin, founder of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa. Her remains had been flown from Boston where she had died.
St. Nicholas' Church
In 1859, it was decided that a second church was needed in the parish. Rev. Dean Kieran and Patrick J. Carroll paid a cheque for one hundred pounds into the Belfast Bank to pay Mr. Hale for the ground of the Chapel in Bridge Street.
Dean Kieran appealed for funds and he gave a donation of £100 out of his own pocket. Fr. Mc Ginity and Dean Kieran spoke about their plans for the new Church and the collectors were sent out to canvass their respective areas. A week later the people handed in the sum of two thousand pounds for the new Church.
The architect chosen to do the building was Mr. John Murray, who was from Dundalk. The grounds for the new Church was levelled and the foundations cleared out in February 1859. The committee stipulated that the church should not cost more than three thousand pounds and that the front of the chapel should face Bridge Street. Mr Hammond of Drogheda was the builder employed. The committee met in August 1860 to organise the dedication of the new Church.
In 1873, the Primate, Dr. Mc Gettigan chaired a parochial committee meeting. The main committee business of the year was the cleaning down of the interior of St. Nicholas' Church, the repair of, and the rlocation of the organ in St. Nicholas' and the finalities of purchasing the new parochial house in Francis Street.
In January 1894, the acquisition of land for Castletown schools was completed, and heating was provided for St. Nicholas' Church the following Autumn. This was for the sum of one hundred and sixty three pounds.
St. Nicholas' Church, built inexpensively and in hard times began to show signs of decay. The spire was in a shaky condition. Many believed this was caused by a stroke of lightning or to the blasting of rock on which the church stands in order to make way for the Bridge Street main swer. The top of the spire was taken down as a result of the damage. The inside of the Church was appeared to suffer from dampness and the floor of the chancel had sunk alarmingly.
By December 1903, the work of renovating was progressing. In 1904 the high altar was brought forward, so that those in the new transept could see the priest more easily. In the same year the organist's salary, which came from several parish groups, amounted to ninelty pounds per year. This was later raised to £100 which was to come directly from the Church funds.
By February 1940, St. Nicholas' Church was greatly enlarged and renovated. It was packed for mid-day Mass when His Eminence Cardinal Mac Rory blessed the new transept and the new mortuary chapel. A new shrine of St. Brigid had been installed and a recorectoration of teh church carried out.
In 2001, Fr. Gerard Tremer, who was at that time the administrator of the Parish, did major renovation on St. Nicholas' Church and also electrical work on St. Patrick's. The estimated cost of this work was £1.5 million.
During the summer of 2008, St. Nicholas' Church has once again been refurbished by Fr. Gerry Campbell, administrator. The Church was partialy closed during this period. Once again the people are delighted that the Church is been maintained and kept in a fitting condition for the celebration of the Eucharist.