St Cronan's Church, Balla in Co. Mayo

Balla Catholic Church

The history of the present Roman Catholic Church goes back to 1910. The then Parish priest Fr John Mc Dermott went to America to raise funds for a new church in Balla. The following report taken from The Pittsburgh Chronicle appeared in The Connaught Telegraph on Saturday, August 13th, 1910: "Fr John Mc Dermott is making a tour of this country to raise funds for the erection of a new church to take the place of the old one, built 156 years ago, and which is now falling to ruins."

The church which is Gothic in design is one of the best designed by R M Butler and was commissioned at the same time as the church in Newport which it resembles. Balla and Newport churches are hall churches, i.e. the central aisle is tunnel-vaulted and the side aisles are flat ceilinged similar to the churches at Temple Moore. The aisles of the church in Balla are flat, concealed by impressive Irish battlements. The southern porch resembles the medieval doorway of Cong Abbey. The altar of the Lady Chapel is a copy of the altar in Holy Cross Abbey. In spite of this careful historicism the design of the church is of such simplified Gothic style that it could only have been built in the early 20th century. The high altar built in 1918 is of multi-polychromatic marble. The stained glass windows are by Harry Clarke and The Clarke Studies and bear the inscription in Irish: "Ros Dairbhreach is ainm don Ait seo fe lathair - Ball Aluinn is feasta is go brath."

The Church Bell

The bell in the churchyard has an interesting history. William Dobson of Dounham, Norfolk in England, originally cast it in 1817 for the General Post office in Dublin where it remained for about sixty years. In the 1850s it was decided to establish a Catholic University in Ireland. A site was acquired in Drumcondra for the proposed University. The Drumcondra project never materialised however and the Jesuit Order continued to teach at the University College at St Stephen’s Green.

It did not have the power to confer degrees and from 1880 a body known as The Royal University was set up for examination purposes. It occupied premises at Earlsfort Terrace. The clock and chimes originally made for the GPO were removed in 1884 to the Royal University building in Earlsfort Terrace. The NUI was established in 1909 and five years later the buildings at Earlsfort Terrace were rebuilt. The Campanile, the clock and bells were removed.

The clock tower was acquired by the Board of Works and rebuilt and erected at Kildare St where it can be seen today as the tall chimney of government Buildings. The bell, which weighs two tons and 12 cwt, was removed and went to Balla churchyard where it stands to the present day. A similar bell was acquired for the church in Spiddal, Co. Galway.

By Brian Hoban

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