By Carina McNally
AFTER five years of negotiations the disused Church of Ireland in Castletownbere has been purchased by the local development association.
Chairperson of Castletownbere Development Association, Cian Murphy said they were now looking forward to hearing from the community on how it can be used to best serve the area’s needs.
Praising those involved in the project he said: ‘The Church of Ireland made it possible. They weren’t looking for a lot of money and were happy for the church that it would be preserved. The fact that there was no one buried on the grounds made it a lot more straight forward.’
Weekly bingo at the Beara Coast Hotel was a main fundraiser to facilitate the purchase but an anonymous donation speeded up the sale greatly.
St. Peter’s was built in the heart of Castletownbere in 1841.
The original protestant place of worship was at the now ruined Adrigole Church, and a once thriving Church of Ireland community in Beara owed its origins to the Berehaven Copper Mining Company and the British naval base on Bere Island.
Interestingly some of Beara’s most distinguished historical figures are associated with the Church of Ireland, notably the scholar and collector of music, Cannon James Goodwin of Ardgroom, and probably Beara’s most famous son, Standish O’Grady of the Irish Literary Renaissance, whose father was a rector at the church.
After the Second World War, St Peter’s lost its rector due to a dwindling congregation.
However, in recent years Canon Paul Willoughby kindly gave the CDA permission to use it for various events including last summer’s highly successful Shay Hunstun Photographic exhibition - People of the Wild Atlantic Way – and a Teddy Bears picnic at Easter.
Notably, the churchyard ‘is the only green space in town’ and is an area which provides a safe place for children to play.
St Peter’s is a listed building, which means the CDA will have to work closely in conjunction with builders specialising in such renovation projects aswell as its main sponsors the Leader Programme.
However Cian stressed that all involved are commited to doing this right: ‘Ideas and costings are coming in at present. We are working closely with the council and we want to do it right’.
Immediately identifiable work includes replacing the roof and bespoke wooden windows.
To date the church benches appear unsalvageable. However, with the help of Castletownbere’s SuperValu’s Chris and Lorraine Downey a heating system grant has made available through Musgraves and SEAI.
Cian said he doesn’t envisage the newly acquired building ‘being pigeon holed’ for any one purpose.
Instead he sees it ‘functioning as a multi-purpose base’ for example a venue to hold public events in the town.
A series of meetings will be organised going forward for the people of Castletownbere to discuss the future of the building to which all are encouraged to attend to have their input.