Many will recall the sense of outrage and deep hurt that descended upon the people of the Clifden area of County Galway generally and the good folk of the Errislannan Peninsula specifically in October 2017 when, one morning, they awoke to find their little church of Holy Trinity had been dreadfully vandalised. Windows had been broken, furnishings destroyed, even the lectern bible torn apart. This wanton act touched the hearts of the local community and, indeed, myriad people across the island and beyond. An appeal for help was launched and the response was overwhelming. Restorative work was undertaken on foot of the funds that poured in and the fruits of this work were celebrated on the 5th August 2018.
The Service of Re-dedication of the Church of The Holy Trinity, Errislannan saw the building full to capacity that evening. Evening Prayer was led by Priest in Charge, The Very Revd. Stan Evans. Lessons were read by Charlie Bourke of the Select Vestry of Omey Group, Geoff Brooks, Chairperson of the Friends of St. Flannan’s and Fr. James Ronayne Parish Priest of Clifden. The intercessions were led by Carole Reynolds, Diocesan Lay Reader and the music was provided by Alannah Robins.
Bishop Patrick Rooke and Archbishop Michael Neary both spoke to the congregation.
Bishop Rooke began his address with A verse from our second reading – (1 Peter2:4-10)
‘You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house.’
‘ How true it is that the Church is not buildings but people.’ he said.
‘ Perhaps that’s a strange place to begin as we gather to give thanks for and to re-dedicate this beautifully restored church dedicated to the Holy Trinity.
But we do need always to remind ourselves that buildings, beautiful and pleasing to the eye though they may be, are built to foster the spiritual well-being of the people of God.’
He welcomed all those who were attending the service and then went on to give a short history of Holy Trinity, beginning in the mid 19th century when the Rev Dr Richard Henry Wall, as part of his 1850 investment in the Errislannan estate, comprising most of the peninsula, built the church with support from various sources.
He recounted that, when the last parishioners died in the mid 20th century the church was earmarked or demolition.
The local community, many of whom belonged to the Society of Friends, the Quakers, was deeply un-happy and came to the rescue. The well-known Dublin GP Dr Maurice O’Connell and a prominent Quaker Rex Allen, both of whom had holiday houses here, along with the new owner of the Manor House, Donal Brooks, (and his wife Stephanie is still very much with us,) decided, in 1961, to form the ‘Friends of St Flannan’s’. A reprieve was granted and the Friends set-to and having raised funds oversaw the upkeep of the building.
Bishop Rooke went on to say ‘Thus, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge publicly, the vital part the Friends of St Flannan’s have played in maintaining this church down the years. Without you, Holy Trinity Church would have been a ruin many years ago.’
The Bishop spoke about the act of vandalism that had occasioned so much pain last October and the resulting response to the appeal for help to restore the church: ‘ Since the news broke in October, some E100,000 has been contributed towards this renovation from near and far – one donation was for E25,000 – and much of the funding came from the Catholic community. For example, I know of a cheque that came across my desk for E3,000 euro from Knock Shrine where another important re-dedication will take place later this month.’ Bishop Rooke thanked Archbishop Michael Neary for his support and encouragement. He also thanked all those who had been instrumental in the renovation work: ‘ Building work has been superbly overseen by the Project Manager, Roger Bewley on behalf of the Friends and he has worked closely with the representatives of the Select Vestry, with Priest in Charge, Provost Stan Evans keeping a watchful eye on all things – and I’ve been asked by those who have given such excellent leadership to extend special thanks to the construction companies involved and their employees.’
He spoke about the life of the Christian and the link between worship, service and buildings: ‘ Each of us, as our readings remind us, has the potential too, to become as ‘living stones’ for Christ and his kingdom. Beautiful buildings such as this are here to aid us in our worship of and service for God. Our churches cement communities. They are symbols of faithfulness down the generations. Like John the Baptist and the prophets of old, they point us to Christ. But, ultimately it is not they but we, the people of God who are his hands, his feet, his eyes, his body on earth.’
In conclusion Bishop Rooke offered his prayer that ‘ …..our service tonight for each one of us, may be as much a re-dedication of our own lives in the service of almighty God, as it is a re-dedication of this church building.’
It was then the turn of Archbishop Neary to respond with some words of his own.
Thanking bishop Rooke for his invitation to attend and the opportunity to speak, the Archbishop told how the whole Christian community had been distressed by the damage done to Holy Trinity. ‘ The church is always a community more than it is a building’ he said. ‘ And yet the building itself enables us to become anchored and relate to the sense of place at a specific time, to God’s people and to the Lord himself.’ He spoke of the sense of history associated with a church building, linking us in our era with the continuing prayer of those who have gone before us. ‘ And yet’ he said ‘ despite it’s beauty and tourist attraction ( Holy Trinity ) is not a museum piece. The faith which we celebrate here….is alive and well.’ Like Bishop Rooke, the Archbishop commended and thanked all those who had responded so generously to the renovation appeal, ‘…people of all faiths and none’. But he also said that he felt that the damage done in Errislannan is a reflection of the challenge to the freedom of religious expression for all people in the Ireland of today.
The Archbishop left us with a reflection on the words of St. Ignatius of Laodicea:
“Without the Holy Spirit, God is distant, Christ is merely a historical figure, the Gospel is a dead letter, the Church is just an organisation, authority is domination, mission is propaganda, liturgy is only nostalgia, and the work of Christians is slave labour. But with the Holy Spirit, Christ is risen and present, the Gospel is a living force, the Church is a communion in the life of the Trinity, authority is a service that sets the people free, mission is Pentecost, the liturgy is memory and anticipation, and the labour of Christians is divinized.”
The Act of Rededication was now led by Bishop Rooke.
Next came a musical interlude by Clifden Comhaltas who played ‘Beatha an Scolaire’ ( The Scholar’s Way ) – a piece from Boroimhe Suite of Music.
Following this Martha O’Callaghan, a student of Clifden Community School, read the poignant poem ‘ In the Vacant Places’ by T.S. Eliot.
The service drew to a close as Bishop Rooke and Archbishop Neary pronounced the Benediction jointly.
While there is yet some work to be done on the roof and joists, the church has been restored wonderfully and with great sensitivity. It is good to know that Holy Trinity will continue to serve the needs of both regular worshippers and casual visitors seeking space for reflection in this wild and beautiful part of our island for many years to come.