OVER 100 years of history will be bridged later this year when remedial works begin on the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Strabane.
Instigated by several instances of disrepair at the beloved Camus Parish chapel, it is anticipated that repairs could run to £100,000, though fund-raising has already commenced.
To date, after just two and a half months of the parish council’s Church Restoration Fund coming into being, over £20,000 has been collected, a sum which has left Fr Declan Boland both amazed and humbled.
“There has been no work done on the outside of the church – ever – I think,” Fr Boland remarked this week.
“Last September when some local boys were painting the transepts it was brought to my attention that the stained glass windows were buckled and there was a crack which had appeared. The windows have to be taken out to save them, and the stone work which surrounds them has been badly eroded and that has to be repaired. Then there is the stone work at the front of the building which also has to be looked at.
“On an old church, you could do a lot of work and spend a lot of money.”
Build in 1895, the Church of the Immaculate Conception has long been one of Strabane’s most iconic buildings, being the first spire many people perceive as they travel towards the town. Designed by JJ McCarthy’s pupil, William Hague, the church was part of the revival of Catholic Church architecture in the 19th Century. Fast-forward 122 years and the passage of time has left its lugubrious mark on the entire exterior of the beautiful place of worship.
“The parish council decided in December that once a month we would have a special envelope collection for the restoration project,” Fr Boland continued. “It’s only been two and a half months since then and already we have over £20,000 – and that’s before we start our official fund-raising.
“This church is iconic in Strabane and the people are very proud and attached to it. They have a real rapport with the church. There is a very good dynamic going on with regard to the project and that’s really pleasing. If we had let the stained glass windows go any further, we could have lost them altogether, so we’ve been lucky. I’m so proud of the people. This project is in its infancy but already the response has been amazing. I’m amazed and I’m humbled but at the same time, I’m not completely surprised by the response,” Fr Boland continued.
“I always say that a financial response like this says a lot of things. It’s help for the church of course, but it’s also saying something about our identity as a community. I say, let’s commend the people and rejoice in what’s going on here.”
Fr Boland and the parish council are also hoping that some significant funding can be obtained from the Heritage Lottery Fund so as to restore and protect the building for future generations.
“Before you can look for a grant everything has to be authenticated and properly done,” Fr Boland explained. “And you can’t do anything until you have raised a certain amount of money. What we’re doing now is getting an overview so we can plan on how best to proceed.
“I want to emphasise: I know this is a major commitment from the parish but already I have been more than struck by people’s generosity. Already it has been beyond my wildest expectations. Hopefully, the work can begin later in the year and I am quietly confident that by that time, we will have raised our £100,000.”