Local Churches of Louisburgh in Co. Mayo

Killeen Church 1897 (Church of The Holy Family)

Initially there was a lot of opposition to the building of a new church at Killeen. Gowlaun, the existing church was in relatively good condition and the locals wanted to continue using it. However due to a huge number of evictions in the previous years the area west of Gowlaun had lost one third of its population. Killeen was now considered the centre of the half parish, the graveyard was already situated there and in light of this it was perhaps the obvious choice.

Fr Joyce, ordained in 1859 became the Parish Priest in Kilgeever in 1877, and was the instigator of the plans for a new church at Killeen. It was dedicated The Church of the Holy Family on Sunday 1st of August 1897 by Archbishop MacEvilly of Tuam. Donations were requested from anybody connected with the parish at home and abroad, and tenders were submitted for the new building. Walter Heneghan of Louisburgh was the builder and the masons employed were Messrs Hoban and Sons, Westport.

The fundraising continued and donations arrived from America and any other countries where emigrants from Louisburgh had settled. By the end of 1896 the main building work was completed but much remained to be done internally.

As in the case of the dedication of the Louisburgh church in 1862, 1897 proved to be a difficult year for the parish, crop failure again resulting in many people facing starvation or eviction. As a result Fr Joyce had difficulty raising the extra monies needed to complete the church, however the cost of the church at the time of its dedication was £1500 and only £200 remained outstanding.

On 7th August 1897 The Mayo News wrote about the new church: The new church is built in a style which will suit the nature of its surroundings. It is in the Lancet-Headed Gothic style. It was built by Mr Walter Heneghan, Louisburgh and was designed by him in conjunction with the zealous and learned PP Father William Joyce.

Though small, its proportions are so nicely adjusted that it is as a whole impressive. Its length is 100ft, width 26ft and height of walls 18ft. It is not high in proportion to its width but this is a necessity of its situation on this exposed coast. The material is granite, procured from the granite quarries in the neighbourhood.

The ground plan is a simple oblong; the nave is lighted by twelve pointed windows, six on each side. The western gable is pierced by two lofty lancet-headed windows and from its Apex rises the Belfry. The church windows, four in number are fitted with stained glass. The Church is substantially built and possesses in addition to beauty and lightness, solidity and strength....

...The high altar is the gift of his grace the most Rev Dr MacEvilly, Archbishop of Tuam. It is a beautiful and costly piece of work. It is built throughout in white Carrara Marble and it is the work of Mr Ryan, Dublin."

Gowlaun Church: 1816-1897

The parish of Kilgeever at the turn of the century included Louisburgh, the half parish of Killeen and the half parish of Lecanvey and also included were Clare Island and Inishturk.

Historically the churches were situated in Louisburgh, Kilgeever, firstly in Doughmore and later in Gowlaun. Gowlaun Church was first referred to in 1839; it was erected after the Catholic Emancipation of 1839. Made from rubble stone and plastered with windblown lime and sand it still stands complete today, a testament to the craftsmen that built it.

Though there is no apparent reason for naming the church Gowlaun (it is situated in South Devlin) the site was already a place for gatherings for mass and trading. There was already a pound for herding strays, a public house and patterns were held yearly.

According to folklore it was the MacNamara's of Bunlough, Devlin North who built the church. The builders deserve special mention regarding the steeple in particular. Built 35 feet high the stones at the bottom were the same weight as the top, which gave a uniform balance to the walls. A block and tackle made of wood was used similar to that used in the raising of the sails in sailing ships of that period. The more blocks used, the easier it was to lift heavy stone with little friction to the required height.

The church was roofed twice in its lifetime. Firstly with thatch and secondly in 1871-1872 when it was slated. The same family, the MacNamara's carried out the work.

Rev William Joyce, the parish priest founded a new church at Killeen, although the church at Gowlaun was in a good state of repair. Apparently the priest felt that following the evictions at Thallabawn, all the congregation lived north of the church.

Most of Bundorragha who previous to this attended mass at Gowlaun started to go to Leenane. The local people were very distressed at the founding of a new church especially since the slates of Gowlaun were removed and used to roof the new building at Killeen.

Gowlaun Church has two important features.

Louisburgh Catholic Church, (St Patricks) 1862

By 1855 the Louisburgh Catholic Church on Chapel Street, (later to be used as Harneys Garage), was in a sad state of disrepair. A committee was set up to organise the building of a new church. They began by requesting a site from the Marquis of Sligo who granted two acres of land, rent free forever, to be set apart as a site for the erection of the church, schoolhouse, or any other building which was required for devotion to pious and ecclesiastical purposes.

The church was funded by donations from the church itself, traders, merchants, landlords, etc; anybody connected with the parish was approached for donations. Site clearance commenced in 1856 with the architect John S Butler from Dublin overseeing the work. Following the receipt of tenders the estimated cost was £2,500.

Fr Curley, the Parish Priest was in charge of raising the funds but a year later it was obvious that the Kilgeever Parish was not able to fund such an amount. The total sum collected was £700. Fr Curley had to spread his wings and started to look for help from the Irish in England, Scotland, America and Australia.

He personally went to America to raise money, arriving arrived in New York on the 27th of October 1859 after three weeks sailing. The Priest spent until Christmas collecting donations, and sent home to Fr McHale, the curate, the princely sum of £1,500. He was given a hero's welcome on his return to Louisburgh in February.

In October 1861 the building was roofed and well finished externally. The Telegraph reported, "Ornamental tiling extended over the entire ridge of the roof chancel and vestry, in all 156 feet. The roof is an open frame one, and the entire roof is painted oak-colour and the spaces between the rafters all finished off with three coats of plastering. The entire Church is now to be glazed, the plastering of the main walls, the stucco-work of the chancel and vestry are to be done, and a grand altar to be erected..."

St Patricks Church, Louisburgh was dedicated on Sunday the 7th of September 1862, however it's construction had cost £4,000 leaving a huge parish debt. The timing of this project put a huge strain on the desperately poor people of Kilgeever.

Rains in 1861 had wiped out essential crops for the local people and many faced starvation. A committee, The Louisburgh Relief Committee, was organised to try to help the local poor and Father Curley continued trying to reduce the church debt.

By Bernie O'Malley

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