independent

Friday 22 March 2019

Landmark church to get a new lease of life

Campaign to raise €1 million to purchase and convert iconic 220-year-old building in Mitchelstown

Bill Browne

One of Mitchelstown's most iconic buildings, St George's Church, is set to get a new lease of life thanks of an ambitious €1 million plan to transform it into an arts and heritage centre. 

It is hoped that once the project has been completed it will form an integral element of a major tourist trail for the wider north Cork area incorporating other attractions including Mallow Castle and Doneraile Park. 

The idea for the concept was developed by local historian Bill Power who was approached by the Church of Ireland to come up with a plan to save St George's, which closed its doors just over three years ago. 

"We lost the Catholic Church in 1978 and irreparable damage has been done by vandals to other landmark buildings in the town, such as the Convent and CBS Monastery over the past decade. There was very much a sense that we simply could not allow this magnificent building to suffer the same fate," Mr Power told The Corkman.

He brought his proposals, to Mitchelstown Heritage Society whom, in turn, became patrons for the project and has overseen the establishment of the 'Brigown Arts and Heritage Project', a not-for-profit limited company with charitable status. Its directors are Mr Power (chair), Andrew Dineen (secretary), Anne Morrison (treasurer), Mervyn Hodges and Pat Mulcahy. 

Their task, in the words of Mr Power, is to "save the church and give it new life".

However, they are under no illusions about the enormity and scale of the task facing them, not least of which will be securing the estimated €1 million needed to purchase the church and undertake the project. 

While roughly half of the restoration and re-development costs will come through grant aid, the balance will need to be made up through donations from the public.   

"The plan is to turn St George's into a centre that will not only respect the heritage of the church but will give it a wonderful new lease of life as a place where everyone involved in anything to do with creativity, performance, the arts and heritage will find a home. We hope it will also become an integral element of north Cork's tourism offering," said Mr Power. 

"Those of us who have been quietly working in the background for the past two years on this have our plans in place, but we need money to fund it -lots of money. We have a long road ahead to achieve this but we are confident we will get there."

Key priorities will be replacing the roof of the 220-year-old building, restoring the steeple, bell and stairs, and installing toilets in a section of the church that has been severely damaged by wet and dry rot. It is estimated that these works alone will cost in the region of €500,000. 

"The interior of the building will be fitted out to accommodate a wide range of events across the arts, conferences, lectures, family and seasonal occasions, pop-up cinemas and drama, and anything else that we think makes sense," said Mr Power. 

He said the centre will have a dedicated history research library and the organ, one of the oldest in Ireland, will be fully restored to working order.

"We are also looking at new ways to heat and light the building using green energy. Everything will be done in accordance with best practice in building conservation and with respect to the wildlife for which the church has become a home. We even hope to encourage the barn owls, which were unfortunately evicted 30 years ago, to return to Saint George's," said Mr Power. 

He called on the local community to support the project through sponsorships, donations and other fundraising initiatives. 

"Your help is needed to help make sure that this iconic building does not become another derelict eyesore," he said. 

For more information about the project, to help in any way or to pledge a donation, email brigownspire@gmail.com.

"We would love to hear from you," said Mr Power.

Corkman

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