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NEW CHURCH AT RATHANGAN, 1958

Leinster Leader 5 June 2008
‘One of the greatest days in the story of Rathangan …’
by
LIAM KENNY

The building of new Catholic churches in Ireland was at its peak in the years after Catholic emancipation … the half-century from 1830 to 1880 accounts for many of the fine churches still used for worship in town and country although a few of the humbler designs had been in place since the early 1800s. By the close of the 19th century spires and towers soared over every community in Ireland as the Catholic Church completed its building programme. It is thus unusual to read of the building of new churches a half-century later but this was the case in west Kildare when new churches were built in Allenwood, Caragh and Rathangan.  It was the solemn opening of the latter which featured on the front page of the Leinster Leader of 7 June 1958.
In what was described as ‘One of the greatest days in the history of Rathangan’ the bishop of Kildare & Leighlin visited the town to bless and open the new Church of the Assumption built over the previous number of years by local builder Mr. Andrew Cross who also built the new churches at Allenwood and Caragh – all three making use of the relatively new constructional techniques of concrete in contrast to stone which had been the material of choice for the 19th century church builders.
Returning to the ceremonials Bishop Keogh is reported to have blessed the church and the stations of the cross and celebrated mass. His concelebrants included Monsignor Miller PP of Droichead Nua; An t-Athair MacSuibhne, Kildare; Fr. J. Murray, CC. Rathangan. Fr. J. McInerney, CC, Kildare and Fr. James Dunne, a native of the parish and now with the Holy Ghost fathers in Kimmage.
It was also a special day in the life of the impressive number of 458 boys and girls from the local schools of Rathangan, Kildare town, Barnaran and Boston who received the sacrament of confirmation in the new church later that day from His Lordship. No doubt some of those young people are reading this column fifty years later and perhaps recall that great day for Rathangan when their confirmation coincided with the blessing of the town’s new church.
Describing the structure the Leader reporter was clearly impressed remarking
‘ Entering the church one gets the impression of brightness and airy spaciousness … the vaulted ceiling heavily moulded in panels has a rather startling impact until one realises that the magnificent interior is entirely devoid of roof supports and pillars.’ The new church was described as being splendid in proportion measuring 142 feet long, 53 across and 43 in height.’  It was also well illuminated: ‘ The brightness comes from a score of narrow windows, 200 feet high, the light being pleasingly filtered through stained glass in various bright colours.’
Although the church represented the most modern in construction detail of the time there were also appropriate connections with furnishings from the old St. Patrick’s church which had served the parish since 1816 and indeed had been built by the parishioners ‘ notwithstanding the general depression and consequent distress of that time.’
The bell of the old St. Patrick’s church, made in 1857 by bell founder J Murphy, of Dublin, was installed in the tower of the new church – a truly profound link between the old and the new. Still on a musical note another legacy finding its way into the new building was the old organ which had been presented to the old church during the pastorate of Rev. Dr. Murphy PP Rathangan and Fr. James Hughes, curate, in the years 1896-1901. The donor was a Mrs. Carroll (nee Coyle) who was born in Rathangan but had lived most of her life in the United States. Indeed the strength of the Kildare diaspora in the US was to come to the fore fifty years later regarding the funding of the new church. Kildare ex-pats in the US formed a Rathangan Church Fund Crusade in 1951 and their first fund-raising function had been held in the Henry Hudson Hotel, New York, in October of that year. Through the 1950s, according the Leader, ‘these loyal Kildare men and women have contributed hundreds of dollars to the building of the Church of the Assumption.’ 
While many people overseas and local had contributed to the project there was special praise reserved for local builder Andrew Cross of Drimsree, Rathangan who was described as being the ‘proudest and happiest man’ at the ceremonies. He headed up a building firm which had records of projects going back a hundred years: ‘A splendid employer … his employees are almost all local men and his wages bill for the Rathangan church has run into five figures.’  While the builder is lauded in the Leader article one has to search further afield for name of the architect of the church. The splendid guide to Kildare & Leighlin churches by John Duffy gives his name as Charles Powell who like Andrew Cross was responsible for the two other churches in west Kildare. All three are built of the same concrete construction with some stylistic differences – Rathangan’s gesture towards a round tower and Caragh’s imposing tower for example.
Today anybody driving past the commanding Church of Our Lady & St. Joseph on the hill of Caragh, or passing the Church the Immaculate Conception at Allenwood Cross, or visiting the Church of the Assumption in Rathangan in its 50th anniversary year can admire the design similarities of this trio of west Kildare churches which represented a statement of confidence by their communities in the Ireland of the 1950s.         
                                                                             
 Series No.70

 

Liam Kenny in his regular feature, 'Nothing New Under the Sun,' examines the newspaper coverage of the opening of the new church at Rathangan in 1958.


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