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Leinster Leader 20th May 2010
The church on the hill … a fifty-year celebration

‘A bit white perhaps, and new looking, but the storms of winter will soften its colour …’ – such was the comment by a contributor to the souvenir book marking the opening of the new church in Caragh in May 1960. Whatever about the softening effect of the past fifty winters the Church of Our Lady & St. Joseph is looking bright again following a refurbishment and repainting in time for the fiftieth anniversary of its opening this month. Its hilltop location makes it one of the most conspicuous churches in this part of Ireland. Indeed the name Caragh is interpreted as referring to a ridge of high ground, in this case the fertile hill standing between the boglands of west Kildare and the grasslands of the Liffey catchment to the east.
The writer of the introductory observation was Mr. Joseph Partridge, principal of Clongory National School (closed 1972) at the time. He was one of several talented contributors to the substantial souvenir book of 1960: others included Very Rev. Peadar MacSuibhne, PP, Kildare town and historian of 1798, Stephen Rynne, countryman and broadcaster from Prosperous, and his wife Alice Curtayne, writer and biographer of Francis Ledwidge.  There was also much content supplied from local knowledge, inspired no doubt by the larger-than-life parish priest of Caragh at the time Very. Rev. Jeremiah Bennett (parish priest 1954-87) who mobilised  support from Caragh and beyond for the building of the landmark new church. 
The celebrations later this month will naturally focus on the place that the church has played in the life of Caragh parishoners. However its construction in 1960 can also be seen in a wider context in Co. Kildare when looked  through social and architectural perspectives. It was the third in a trio of churches of similar construction technique and design built in west Co. Kildare within a few years: the first, the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Allenwood was built in 1954 followed by the Church of the Assumption and St. Patrick in Rathangan in 1958. In the same year the foundation stone for the Church of Our Lady and St. Joseph was laid in Caragh and construction carried on over the next two years. Joseph Partridge gives an eloquent account of how it materialised on the hilltop site: ‘ We’ve seen it rising course on course, the ground around it churned by lorries and the spidery scaffolding standing gaunt and stark against the setting sun of summer and then winter. You can see it from whatever road you take into Caragh, for it stands on the highest hill.’
Andrew Cross of Rathangan, and Charles Powell, were the builder and architect for all three, and there is notable uniformity in their use of the relatively modern techniques of concrete construction in contrast to stone and mortar which had been the materials used in church building of an earlier era. The marble interior of Caragh church was the work of Christopher O’Neill, sculptor from Carrickmines while the Harry Clarke Stained Glass studios fashioned the large windows with imagery of the church’s patrons – Our Lady and St. Joseph, the Sacred Heart, and the diocesan saints, Brigid and Conleth.
As part of the current refurbishment the lettering of the foundation stone has been repainted and its Latin wording, prominent at the entrance gable of the church, is a striking souvenir of the pre-Vatican II era of the church when Latin was the language of liturgy. The wording signifies that the stone was blessed by ‘Thomas Keogh, Ep. Darensis et Leighlinensis’ – the Latin title for the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin.
While other parts of Co. Kildare, indeed of Ireland as a whole, were still in something of an economic torpor following the punishing years of the 1940/50s, the west Kildare districts were benefiting from a localised boom based largely on the influx of new people brought in by the big semi-state companies on the Bog of Allen.  The increasing tempo of the ESB and Bord na Mona operations on the bog, and the an earlier influx brought by the division of old estates into Land Commission holdings, meant that there was a growing population to be served, thence the three churches in Allenwood, Rathangan and Caragh, built within a few years of each other. 
Their construction was no doubt helped by those who had emigrated from the locality during the hard years of previous decades; the foreword of the souvenir booklet recognises this expatriate dimension with its declaration ‘ It is hoped that this booklet will find its way to every Caragh emigrant in Great Britain, USA and Australia.’ It was not the first connection between a Caragh church and the United States: one of the small stained glass windows transferred from the old church to the new bears the inscription: ‘ Pray for the soul of Bridget Kelly, Lakeville, Connecticut, America, 1886.’
A charming footnote in the May 1960 book relates that the lace albs to be used at the dedicatory High Mass, and for the veil of the tabernacle, were the gifts of the parish priest’s nieces who had donated their wedding frocks to the church. They had been married in the old church in October 1958 and June 1959. It was said that ‘this was a very old custom in Caragh in the last century.’ Series no: 178. 

Liam Kenny in his column 'Nothing New Under the Sun' from the Leinster Leader of 20th May 2010 reflects on the fifty-year anniversary of Caragh church.  Our thanks to Liam.  

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