As the year 2000 approaches, we can justifiably say that this Christmas we are on the eve of celebrating one of the true milestones of the ages. The last time that generation prepared to take their leave of one millennium and face into the uncertainty of the next, our country and our faith had just undergone a couple of hundred years of Viking influence. No predatory long-ships loom on the horizon thes days. However, the influences and dangers which confront, particularly our young people, are probably more sinister and harmful than any bearded band of marauding morons who, having, initially plundered and pillaged, later contributed to our cultural and commercial growth as well as to our gene pool.
To try and imagine what life in Ballyhaunis and its hinterland will be like for the generation who will celebrate the year 3000 is the stuff of science-fiction, and is best left to those with a more imaginative flair than this humble scribe. So let us concern ourselves with our own millennium. This one is in our hands. Future generations will look back and ask how did we mark this major calendar event. What answers will they find? What indelible mark will we have left behind us? Any testimony of our vision? Any bold badge of identity of which we might feel justifiably proud? Or will the people of this fine parish sneak anonymously from the second to the third millennium. Moves which have been afoot now for some time hereabouts suggest that these probing questions will be very well answered.
Just over a century ago, in 1893, the then Archbishop of Tuam, Dr MacEvilly, showed most astute judgement in appointing Canon Canning as Pariush Priest of Ballyhaunis. What he achieved during his twenty-five years of active service can only be described as phenomenal when one considers the paltry resources at his disposal. During his time here he oversaw the construction of, among other buildings and works the Parochial House, the Convent ofMercy with its schools and the jewel in the crown, Saint Patrick's Church. To say that his resources were limited is merely a reflection of the fact that he startcd with no money. This deficiency, however was more than compensated for by the zeal and vigour which he brought to bear on all he undertook and especially by the manner in which his people rallied to the call both at home and abroad. It is true to say that the magnificent Parish Church, which we take for granted, would not have risen from the ground behind the old church were it not for the dollars and pounds which crossed the seas and the oceans during those much less affluent days.
A huge proportion of the readership of Annagh Magazine can take pride in the fact that their ancestors worked for and contributed to the architectural splendour that today is Saint Patrick's Church. How they must have toiled and striven to raise funds between May 27th, 1900, when the first meeting was held to launch the project, and October 10th, 1909 when the edifice was dedicated. Would it not be a wonderful tribute to their work and sacrifice if this generation were to put in place the final embellishment which our predecessors did not get as far as: the addition of a spire to the tower.
The train of events which will hopefully see this novel, imaginative and exciting project become a reality has been in motion for some time. At a meeting of the Parish Pastoral Council on September 23rd 1998, the project was formally adopted, much to the satisfaction of our Parish Priest Canon Joe Cooney PP, in the recesses of whose mind, one feels, this idea has been lurking for years. It is now a matter of record that, at a well attended public meeting held on October 1st 1998, the project gained further currency when it was proposed and seconded without a single voice of dissent. Significant monies have already been pledged to the concept from as far away as Australia. Many people in the community have both publicly and privately indicated that when push comes to shove, their shoulders will be to the wheel.
A firm of Chartered Architects who are acknowledged experts in this field have completed preliminary works and studies. Their findings and observations are most interesting, commenting on the fact that Ballyhaunis and its Parish Church are quite hidden among the rolling hills of Mayo. Words such as "powerful stone built structure" are used in the same sentence as "strangely discrete and self-effacing" in their description of the church. McCormick, Tracy, Mullarkey, the firm in question, have prepared drawings of the church, together with a proposed soaring spire placed on the tower; adding in the region of seventy feet to the present structure. The spire will be of steel, clad in timber and slated in such a way as to match the church roof. It will, they feel, "identify the church and town from miles away over the rolling countryside and will form a powerful focus within the organic street pattern of Ballyhaunis".
Naturally, there are a number of obstacles to be overcome in the short term before any work can be embarked upon. At the time of going to press a firm of structural engineers are to assess the foundations and their capacity to carry the extra weight. Planning permission must be obtained and in this regard it is interesting to note that a team of European Engineering students, preparing a Ballyhaunis Development plan for Mayo County Council a couple of years ago, suggested that a spire should be added to the church tower and have shown this in their drawings.
Applications have been made to central government for a share in a fund set aside for Millennium Projects of which we will hear much in the coming year. One can be sure of being bombarded by the media with "millennium mania" as the countdown gets underway. But as they try to take possession of the party, don't expect them to remember whose birthday it is we are celebrating. We feel that our project satisfies all relevant criteria. We will be paying a fitting tribute to our deceased forefathers who built Saint Patrick's Church. We will be providing a legacy on which our descendants can look with pride. And as the spire points to the Heavens we will be saluting Jesus Christ, born two thousand years ago.
We are embarking on this project with a sense of confidence and courage. A courage not enjoyed by the last generation of Irish people to celebrate a millennium as they built round towers to escape the wrath of the Vikings.
This is a unique opportunity to complete some unfinished business.