Real piece of history

Site foreman Con Flaherty inside the church.
Site foreman Con Flaherty inside the church.

Dnal Nolan

RENOVATIONS are well underway at one of the diocese's most architecturally-important churches in a €2million project that's set to protect its invaluable features for posterity.

Work got underway at St John's Parish Church in Ballybunion last October in a renovation project that could take as long as a year.

All is going according to schedule with the priceless stained-glass windows and original pews already under conservation works off-site, according to Parish Priest Fr Noel Spring.

Workers are also getting on quickly with the renovation of the church roof, with slates already on its apex.

"They're making very good progress now I'm happy to report, with the stained glass and pews removed for renovation work elsewhere," Fr Spring explained.

"The stained glass panels are original pieces that date back to the construction of St John's in 1897 and are now being conserved and releaded by experts in Dublin. Among the other works underway is the installation of a new heating system with a much larger boiler than existed before."

It's hoped that worshippers will be able to return to the church for Mass and other big events in line with the schedule that was initially forecast.

In the interim, Masses have been taking place at the former Mercy Order Convent chapel on the Doon Road at the usual times.

Costing €2.2 million in total, the project has been in the pipeline for years in a bid to underpin a church that is among the diocese's most important buildings, from an architectural point of view. The neo-Gothic church was designed by architect George Ashlin in 1894 and is one of only two churches in the county dating to the 'Pugin' period - the other one being St Mary's Cathedral in Killarney.

Its renovation was prompted by a survey of the state of churches in the county, undertaken by former Bishop of Kerry Dr Bill Murphy in 2006.

Work did not take place as early as the diocese had intended, however, as the plans had to go before An Bord Pleanála following an objection to the works by An Taisce.

The appeals board ultimately gave the go-ahead for renovations, but refused permission for the re-development of the altar rails and the extension of the existing sacristy.

"It couldn't have happened without the great support of the parish, including our Pastoral Council, the Liturgy Group and the Finance Committee as well as parish secretary Geraldine O'Connor and sacristan Bridget McCarthy," Fr Spring said.