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Compiled By The Late Mrs Eithne Donnelly



St. Columba's Church, Straw this year 2003 celebrates its sesquicentenary  (150 years) and as we celebrate this occasion we also celebrate, if the sources are accurate, the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of a church here.


By 1753 the Parish of Ballinascreen had earned its place in the history books. It had been the last refuge for Hugh O'Neill before the Flight of the Earls, under the terms of the Plantation of Ulster it formed part of the territory granted to the London Companies, divided between the Drapers and the Skinners, and it had survived the Penal Laws.


The church at Moneyconey, the church traditionally associated with both Patrick and Colmcille, had been the main centre of worship for the parish until 1739 when it fell into the hands of the Established Church. However, the Civil Survey 1654 describes the church at Moneyconey as "an old, decayed church", having suffered the ravages of war and plunder well before the Penal Laws came into existence.


The Parish of Ballinascreen still seems to have been a safe haven for the clergy of the diocese at this time and in the 1690's it had four clergy in residence. During the early eighteenth century Bishop Neal Conway, Bishop of Derry lived in a "safe house" in the parish, on the Cloughfin Road, not far from the present church.


Bishop Conway was buried in the graveyard at Moneyconey in 1738 and although the building was in the hands of the Established Church from 1739 burials still continued in the graveyard. It is said that only one protestant service was ever held in the old church.


Until 1739 it seems that Mass was said in the old church but there is much evidence to suggest that Mass was also celebrated at established sites in the parish. We must remember there were other priests in the area as well as diocesan clergy, "we are frequently infested with strolling Fryars and Regulars, who say Mass from parish to parish as they pass, in ye open fields or in ye mountains and great numbers attend them" [HDD]


Although Canon Law decreed that Mass could not be said in the open except where the crowd was exceptionally large or where there was grave danger, and then the altar had to be covered, it seems likely that Mass was said in the open in Ballinascreen as                 Dr. O'Loughlin P.P. (1834-1860) lists Mass Rocks at ;


  • Lag na hAltora, Doon;

  • Lub na hAltora, where the White Water joins the Moyola and at

  • Cnoc na hAltora, Labby

to name but a few and the Mass Rock is certainly celebrated in the folk tradition of the parish.


By the middle of the eighteenth century, although the Penal Laws were still on the Statute Books, a new level of tolerance was evident. The landlords were now responsible for law and order and it did not serve their purpose to have their tenants in rebellion. It was best to compromise.


Fr. Bryan McRory ordained about 1730 became Parish Priest of Ballinascreen about

1740  (Msgr. Coulter).  In 1744 he took advantage of the changing political climate and

built a church at Strawmore close to the site of the old Druid Circle. Some years later,

 it is said in 1753, he set about building the White Water Chapel, the first church to be built

on the site at Straw  where the old graveyard is now.


This building is described in sources as a Barn Church. This was quite a common thing at the time. The building was used as a barn during the week. It was swept out on a Saturday when the door was taken of its hinges and placed across two barrels to form the altar and it was ready for Sunday Mass. (Coulter) This type of building was not likely to draw the attention of the authorities in Dublin and as such could be tolerated by the local landlord. It was also, since it had no distinctive markings, unlikely to give offence to members of other denominations.


This Barn Church was built outside the town, most probably because the landlord there would have refused a site in the town. (J.R.Walsh)


 The land on which the church was built was owned by the Skinners Company, as incidentally was the site of the Strawmore Church. Little is known about this church but given the period to which it belongs it is likely to have been a small thatched wattle building built in times of great poverty. 




About fifty years after the Barn Church was built, in 1810, the Parish Priest Fr. James Murphy (1806-1834), or the "Dean" as he was better known, had a new church built on the site. No physical evidence remains of this church today but we do have written evidence from 1821 recorded by John McCloskey in his Statistical Reports of Six Derry Parishes. He reports:

"There are two catholic chapels in the parish, one at Straw, the other at Strawmore.  The former is a large slated house with the newly erected galleries."

John McCloskey goes on to give the estimated stipend (salary) of the Parish Priest, Dean Murphy, and his curate Rev. Francis Quinn as £10 per annum with 10 guineas from the Drapers Company. Sadly he also tells us that he is unaware of any parochial records so we have little chance of proving or disproving any of the evidence.  From McCloskey as well we know that by the early 1800's this part of the parish belongs to Robert Ogilby, Esquire, Dungiven, sublet to him by the Skinners Company.


In 1821 McCloskey records 1308 families living in the parish occupying 1263 houses with most of them involved in agriculture.


In 1836/37 the Ordnance Survey Memoir for Ballinascreen gives a detailed description of this church.  It is described as a plain rectangular building 94ft. by 25ft., situated close to the "high road" between Draperstown and the old church at Moneyconey. This suggests that the building was close to where the wall is now, the dates on the headstones will help to trace where the church was situated. It was a bare stone building with an earthen floor and a slated roof. This building had broad galleries all around it, which were seated with wooden forms. The Memoirs suggest that the main body of the church was also seated although Msgr. Coulter suggests otherwise. It seems likely that the galleries were seated, being too low to be otherwise, the side walls being 12ft. but that the main body of the church was not. It is said that the church could accommodate 1184 adults (a strange figure) and that would have meant standing room only.


The figures for attendance are borne out by figures in the Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland 1845 when it refers to the churches:

"The churches (Moneyneena and Straw) are under the care of two officiates", and it gives the numbers attending, "Straw is attended by 1,000 at one service and by 1,900 at the other."


The altar was on the eastern wall that means that the church faced the same way as the present church. Eight rectangular windows and a few skylights in the roof for the galleries lighted the interior.  It describes the building as being in good repair, saying it was erected in 1809 (1810 is the date given in parish records) on the site of the previous church and it goes on to say that this earlier church was built in 1753.


The fact that this building only served the people for about fifty years suggests that it was built to fulfil the needs of the growing population and was as good as the people could afford. This was certainly not a wealthy parish.


In 1821 John McCloskey described the people as being under a great burden paying taxes, leases and tithes. The produce of the farm was going to pay the rent when it would have been needed to feed families. He described life as a constant struggle where most depended on the income of the women from spinning or selling butter. He describes the people as being friendly, welcoming and hardy, with the children running around in all weathers without shoes or caps.  Those brought in by the Drapers Company are either native Irish or Scottish with very few English settlers. The language in common use was English although the Book of Common Prayer was still in Irish. The pre-famine population in 1841 was 8,384.


Dean Murphy died in 1834 and he was succeeded by Fr. Patrick O'Loughlin (1834-1860). A native of Granaghan, Fr. O'Loughlin was also Vicar General of the Diocese from 1851-1860. He was well known in the diocese having taken part in the Derry Discussions (1828) and he was the priest in charge of the parish during the years of The Famine (1845-1847), assisted at that time by Fr. James McNamee and Fr. James McCollum. It is difficult to define the effect the famine had in this area.  There are those who suggest that Ballinascreen did not suffer as much as other areas because it had plenty of corn mills and so the people were not as dependent here on the potato as they were in other areas. However, in Msgr. Coulter's "Ballinascreen" we have Draperstown named as one of fifteen Relief Districts and we are told that in 1846 there were five hundred people in the district engaged in "hunger work".

A year later the Northern Constitution reported that soup kitchens had been established in the parish, which helped some thirteen hundred people. It is said that the landlords, clergy and parishioners all contributed to this.


Whatever the social or economic effects of the famine we do have statistical evidence to show the drop in population. Falling marriage rates meant fewer births and that coupled with emigration led to a decline in population but five years after the famine Fr. O'Loughlin was ready to lay the foundation stone for the church which stands today.



To answer that question we really need to look at the diocese as a whole. The church in Derry was becoming more organised and disciplined under Bishop Francis Kelly (1849-1889). He made major changes especially regarding the sacraments. Baptism would now only be conferred in the church except in danger of death; confessions would be held in the church rather in private houses except for the "Stations" and it became an obligation to receive Communion between Ash Wednesday and 6th July.  The celebration of marriage in the bride's home in the evening was replaced with the celebration of the sacrament in the church in the morning and burials now followed the celebration of Mass in the church with the corpse present. (J.R. Walsh) The church was now much more central to the practise of the faith and as such needed a building that could accommodate the needs of the parishioners.


The 1850's saw an explosion of church building and Ballinascreen joined in that explosion. The church of 1810 with its low galleried walls was not going to be sufficient for the needs of the parish for much longer. The parish needed something larger and more suited to the needs of the community it would serve and as always Ballinascreen rose to the occasion.


Notes in the parish registers written by Fr. Peter O'Kane, 1881 state: "The new church at the White Water was built near the old graveyard. The first stone was laid on Sunday 1st. August 1852 by Right Rev. Dr. Kelly, Bishop of Derry. An elegant and appropriate sermon was preached on the occasion by Rev Daniel Mooney." and he continues: " It is built on the Skinners Company Estate. I do not know if there is a lease of it but no rent was ever demanded or paid for it. It is free of debt."  It is likely that the bishop would readily have accepted the invitation to lay the foundation stone. Fr. O Loughlin was Vicar General in the diocese by this time and Bishop Kelly was a staunch supporter of the building programme throughout the diocese recognising that the church needed suitable buildings if it was going to succeed in moving away from the homes of the people as the centres of religious practise. Fr. Mooney, who preached the sermon, was a native of Granaghan, he was ordained in the Irish College, Paris c.1840 and he later spent a number of years as a Professor in the same college. He has been described as a master of conference and a priest of great zeal and of rare powers of eloquence.  In 1852 Fr. Mooney was a curate in Lavey parish and was later to become Vicar Forane in the diocese. Fr. O Loughlin, although he was some twenty years younger than Fr. Mooney, was clearly aware of his skill as an orator when he asked him to speak on such an auspicious occasion and of course Fr. O'Loughlin was also a native of Granaghan.

The church is believed to have been consecrated by Bishop Kelly in 1853. The stone in the porch states:                               ST COLUMB KILLE’S


AD 1853

but there is no reference to a specific date. Given the fact that the church is dedicated to St. Colmcille it might be assumed that the church was opened in June. It has always been believed that Dr. Daniel Cahill preached the sermon on this occasion and we know that Dr. Cahill went to America in August 1853 so it was no later than that. It is strange that no mention of the opening has been recorded in the parish registers at the time, only the laying of the foundation stone, although in 1940 Dean McGlinchey records the church as being built 1852/53 with Dr. Cahill preaching the sermon in 1853 but he gives no date. It is also unusual that despite the name recorded and the strange spelling, or maybe because of it, the church has always been referred to as St. Columba's Church.


Dr. Cahill, a native of Queen's County (Laois), was ordained in 1822. His father was an engineer while his mother was of Spanish origin. In 1825 he was appointed as Professor of Natural Philosophy in Carlow College where he remained until 1834.  Following that he was involved in education, edited the Dublin "Telegraph", wrote widely for the press and eventually became a well known public preacher and lecturer. He gave lectures all over Ireland speaking about the plight of the people and his own love for Ireland. He died in New York 1864. His body was brought back to Ireland and in 1886 his works were published under the title "Life, Letters and Lectures of Dr. Cahill." In this text Dr. Cahill is described as having a grand figure, he was exceptionally tall, with a rich resonant voice and given to grand and eloquent gestures. In the pulpit, it is said, "his eloquence was thrilling and impressive in the highest degree. He could transport his listeners to heaven making them spectators of the glories of heaven or take them to the dungeons of hell. A sermon by Dr. Cahill was both intellectually and historically a treat."


However important Dr. Cahill was as a speaker there is no reference to Ballinascreen in either his letters or in the newspapers of the time. The Derry Journal of Wednesday 8th June 1853 reports on a highly controversial sermon Dr. Cahill preached in the Cathedral in Letterkenny on Transubstantiation which caused a great stir among the protestant clergy who questioned and challenged him. The paper goes on to say that Dr. Cahill was going to Fermanagh to stay with friends and then return to preach in Omagh and other places in the North. We can only presume that Ballinascreen was part of his itinerary.


Whatever the facts, the building remains as a testament to both the priests and people of this post famine period. The church is a seven bay sandstone hall with a square tower. Clearly the building of 1853 was not as ornate as the present church but the basic structure of the building remains unchanged and it has the original roof. We can only marvel at the craftsmanship of the people who built such a magnificent structure.


The church was built beside the old church and appears in the Griffith's Valuation 1859. It is described as occupying one acre and ten perches with the ground having a rateable annual valuation of £0.15.0 while the building was valued at £38.5.0. The total rateable valuation was £39 but it had exemption. The townland of Straw, which belonged to the Skinners, had been sublet to Robert Ogilby, Dungiven who is listed in the Valuations as the Immediate Lessor. It may have been that Ogilby was by now selling off parts of his land, and the land on which the church was built may have been in the possession of one Denis O'Hagan. Local information suggests that it was Denis O'Hagan who gave the land to the parish for the church although the parish records do not uphold this story.



The Statistical Report of 1821 suggests that there was no shortage of good sandstone and no shortage of skilled labour. The parish had 28 masons, 5 stone cutters and 14 carpenters, not to mention 5 coopers and 11 blacksmiths.  The church would have been built with voluntary labour using the local skills and it is said that Fr. O'Loughlin was often to be seen on the scaffold with the men. If, as is suggested, the foundation stone was laid in August 1852 and the building was opened and blessed in 1853 there must have been a large number of people involved on the project and it must have been a mild winter to allow the building to progress, especially if the reference to the foundation stone as being the first stone laid is true. Nicholas Cassidy, Cavanreagh was responsible for the roof and he was to roof Sixtowns in the next year. While there is no suggestion of an architect or any specific builder tradition has it that Denis O'Hagan, the man who had given the ground for the church was the "foreman."


We have no idea who designed the church, it was built four years before Edward J. Toye, the architect for Moneyneena, was born. The sandstone, it is thought, was quarried in Malahan's Quarry, Dunmurray but mention has also been made of Conaghie's Quarry, Drumard. We look in awe and wonder at this building built before the advent of mechanical assistance – a time when the stone had to be cut by hand and transported by horse and cart.  The stone would be cut in the quarry or on site and anything left over was used to fill the walls. A winch or pulley would have been used to get the stones into the cart. There would have been no fancy scaffolding either. Planks of heavy timber would have been bolted together using wooden pegs. The stones would have been raised using pulley blocks and ropes. It would have been heavy, time consuming work.  The timber for the roof, red pine, was brought from Ballyronan on drey carts. It would have come in to the docks at Belfast, probably from America, and come along the trade route to Lough Neagh and then up the Lough to Ballyronan.


This sandstone building has seven windows along each side, then with plain glass. It had a wooden altar and altar rails and was seated. It is interesting that Dean McGlinchey in his notes (1940) attributes the building of this church to Fr. James Collins who was the curate and who was living in Straw, behind where Seamus Kelly now lives, rather than to Fr. O'Loughlin. Notes in the registers dated 1881 also refer to Fr. Collins but most likely refer to his time as Parish Priest:


"Straw chapel and Sixtowns were finished in his time. He was a great builder of chapels and schools until his health failed when he resigned the parish 1868."


Clearly work was ongoing and Francis McGlade added the gallery later. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Fr. Patrick Grant tried to encourage the people to buy their seats but this caused some confusion as to seating arrangements.


Fr. Walter Hegarty P.P. Dungiven (1915-27), a noted historian, records this story about the church. Judge Torrens, in his red slippers, was passing through Straw on his way back from the Black Assizes while the building was in progress.  He sent his coachman, Kelly, to tell the priest that he, Judge Torrens, wished to give a subscription to the church. Fr. O'Loughlin sent back the answer that no blood money would go into the building of the church. Judge Torrens, it has to be said, did not have a good reputation and it was not the first time he had clashed with Fr. O'Loughlin.


This was a building suitable for the needs of the people of the parish and a witness to the faith of a people who only six years earlier had experienced the hardships of famine and who continued to suffer political unrest and the curse of emigration.


Fr. O'Loughlin went to his reward on 25th. August 1860 and he is buried at Straw.



Other than e-mails to heaven it seems unlikely that we could unravel the story that surrounds this period in the history of the parish nor indeed would we really want to do so as it is a part of our history that might be best left in the mists of the past.  We do know that Fr. James Collins was a curate in the parish, living at Straw from 1851 and that in 1860 he became Parish Priest on the death of Fr. Patrick O'Loughlin. We know that he left the parish in 1868, eight years later and that the two men who came after him were Administrators of the parish until Fr. Collins died in 1884, leaving Fr. James O' Loughlin with the title of Parish Priest for less than a year before he himself died. For the rest it seems best to let Fr. Daniel Magee, who succeeded Fr. Collins in 1868, speak for himself:


"Came to Ballinascreen on the evening of the 16th October 1868. The three churches of the parish were closed against priests celebrating Mass in any of them till justice be done to Fr. Collins” and later he adds: "The three chapels of the parish were opened on the 16th January 1869 the day after Fr. Collins returned from seeing the Bishop but the mob retained the keys to close them again. They closed them again on the evening of the 23rd January never to be opened again"  and he later adds: "Fr. McCloskey was appointed P.P. Ballyscullion on 28th  October 1869 and on the same day Fr. James Conway was transferred to Buncrana as C.C. Fr. McCloskey celebrated Mass for the four previous Sundays in Straw Chapel from the Nineteenth Sunday of Pentecost which this year fell on 26th  September. Fr. Conway celebrated Mass in Moneyneena on the same Sundays, the mob keeping the keys to prevent my officiating in either, keeping the doors locked until the priest arrived.  The keys of Sixtowns were handed over unconditionally by Larry Cleary, Cavanreagh on the morning of the 8th August to Mr. James Henry of Draperstown who drove me on his own car to the Sixtowns, opened the church and handed over the keys."  


No further reference is made so the situation seems to have been resolved in about a year. As to whether the parish was under interdict or not is unclear, certainly there is no evidence of this in the registers with baptisms and marriages being recorded throughout. Mass was said, according to local tradition, in the houses of the people or in public places and the Shambles is mentioned as a place where Mass was said at this time. 


Fr. Daniel Magee died in July 1881 and the Derry Journal reporting on his Month's Mind Mass describes the church at Straw as "being filled to a throng by the people of this extensive parish who came to show their respects for the memory of one whose labours for the church were acknowledged and felt by all." and so the life of the parish continued under the stewardship of the many Parish Priests and curates who followed him.


1914 saw the addition of the Mission Cross at Straw, similar to the one that was restored at Moneyneena for the centenary.  These were erected in remembrance of a Mission by the Redemptorist Fathers May 1914 and were a feature of many churches in the diocese, erected at a time when it became certain that war was inevitable.


Fr. Boyle died in 1925 while he was on a Holy Year Pilgrimage to Rome and he is buried there. A plaque dedicated to his memory adorns the wall at the back of the church at Straw. Dean James McGlinchey, a much-loved priest and ardent Gael, followed him.


In 1926 Dean McGlinchey began work on all three churches.  The successful tender for Straw went to James Deeny, Dungiven for £3,770. The architect was W.J. Doherty, 12, Castle St. Derry. Before the extensive renovation began on St. Columba's a temporary church was set up where McReynolds' Furniture shop is today. This building was then a disused factory owned by Patrick O' Kane. The wooden altar and other things they would need were brought from Straw. The task took two years to complete. The church was finished in time for a Redemptorist Mission in July 1928. A considerable amount of work was done on the building, work that transformed this building from a bare sandstone structure to the church, more or less, as we know it today. Fr. Leo Deery gave details of the work done in his booklet on the churches. The roof was sealed by James McBride, the inside walls were plastered and the church was painted. A new floor was added along with new seats and confessionals and new stairs were added to the gallery. The supporting beam at the front of the gallery was replaced. Electricity was installed using an engine. The present altar was fitted by John McAfee, Coleraine at a cost of £900 while the Stations of the Cross came from Germany at a cost of £294. The plans of the exterior of the church that have been preserved show that the intention was to build an extended porch at the front of the church with a rose window. This did not happen and it is likely to have been for financial reasons. This was an extensive renovation and it is said that James Deeny lost money on the contract or at least that was the reason given for pulling out of his contract to do St. Patrick's Church, Sixtowns when he had Straw finished.

OTHER WORK FROM 1931 - 1937

In 1931 land was purchased at a cost of £40 to allow the entrance to the church to be enlarged. New gates were added at a cost of £51 and the old gates were used at the entrance to the graveyard on the Cloughfin Road.  The side altars and the altar rails were added in 1937.


On 1st January 1943 Dean McGlinchey celebrated his Golden Jubilee with Solemn High Mass in St. Columba's  Church. The Derry Journal reported:

"His great work for the parish, of which the interior beauty of the parochial church at Straw is but an instance, has raised many memorials to his tireless energy."


Dean McGlinchey died 2nd October 1951 and is buried at Straw.


Fr. Michael Collins who had already been working as a curate in the parish succeeded him.



1953 saw great celebrations as St. Columba's Church reached its centenary year.  The occasion was widely reported in the local press. The Derry Journal speaks of the "notable event in this historical parish of Ballinascreen, the centenary of St. Colmcille's Church at Straw (the parish church)". The Bishop was Dr. Farren who spoke of the great catholic tradition of the parish and the remarkable number of priests that Ballinascreen had given to the Derry Diocese and other places. Fr. Michael Collins P.P. was the celebrant assisted by a large number of priests with Ballinascreen connections among them Fr. Patrick Heron (Bancran), Fr. Patrick Regan (Draperstown), Fr. James O'Neill (Dysart), Fr. Edward McNamee  (Glengomna) as well Dr. Mick Kelly (Straw).  The sermon was preached by Fr. Joe Kelly  (Fr. Augustine)  a Carmelite.

Speaking about the church Fr. Joe said: "He who laid the foundation stone and they who built the edifice have long gone to their eternal reward but their work remains, a monument to their faith and devotion."


The choir was under the direction of Miss Bernadette Bradley (Mrs. Regan).  A play "Baile na Scríne, the History of a Parish" written for the occasion by Nóra Ní Chatháin was performed before a distinguished audience in the newly blessed St. Colm's Hall. A film made by Dr. Mick Kelly, St. Columban's Navan, recalling a number of events in the parish, was also shown.  It was to celebrate this occasion as well that Msgr. Coulter wrote "Ballinascreen." Reviewing the publication for the Derry Journal C. MacC says: "Ballinascreen is a parish that has been in the forefront in the fight for the faith. It is a very happy coincidence that this publication should coincide with the celebration of Straw church, the erection of which marked a turning point in the penal persecution and the beginning of the march of the parish to the strong position it has today." And so it is very fitting that the Ballinascreen Historical Society should republish it in time to celebrate the sesquicentenary.


And so the work on the church continued. In 1963 the heating was put in to the church. In 1967 the altar was moved away from the predella, following the changes introduced after Vatican 11, so that the priest could now face the people when saying Mass. This work was carried out by John Cleary who made such a great job of filling in the "marble" at the back of the altar.


In 1979 the Holy Rosary Church was opened fulfilling Fr. Collins' dream for a church in the town, although sadly he did not live to see the dream become a reality. He died 6th February 1979.  Speaking at the funeral of Fr. Collins Bishop Daly described him as being  "part of the very fabric of your lives. I know you will miss him greatly and so will we all.   It will be hard to imagine the parish without him." 


He was succeeded by Fr. Leo Deery.


In 1980 Fr. Deery had more work carried out on the church. This time the contract went to the Cleary Brothers. A new door and porch were added at the side of the church bringing it into line with safety regulations and ending the age old tradition of some of the congregation leaving the church through the sacristy after Mass. Work was also done on the sacristy. New heating and lighting were installed and the marble chair and the baptismal fonts were added along with new confessionals. The church was carpeted covering the terrazzo tiling in the aisle and the sanctuary area.


On the Feast of St. Colmcille 9th June 2002, as parishioners in Moneyneena prepared to celebrate the centenary of their church, Fr. Deery passed away in the Mid-Ulster Hospital, Magherafelt. He had been Parish Priest of Ballinascreen from 1979 – 1998, when he retired and was appointed C.C. Keenaught, having already served two years as P.P. in Desertmartin before coming back to Ballinascreen. 


Speaking at the celebration of Fr. Deery's Golden Jubilee in 1997 Msgr. Joseph Donnelly said: "It is not for me to attempt to assess the enormous contribution made by Fr. Deery to the life of the parish of Ballinascreen over these eighteen years. There is ample testimony of that in all areas of parish life."


Fr. Deery did so much work on putting together family records and piecing together the available information on our schools and churches. Those who wish to go back in time in the history of the parish will be for ever in his debt.



In 2003 the church was closed after 6th January and was reopened the Sunday before Confirmation in March. Extensive renovation was carried out on the belfry. The church was painted and recarpeted, this time exposing the original terrazzo tiling and the floor of the sanctuary was raised. One of the side altars was turned into an Aumbry for storing the Holy Oils while the other became an Evangelarium for the Book of the Gospels.  The original baptismal font, sanctuary lamp and gong were restored and the rotating candelabra was electrified and placed at the back of the church beside the statue of Our Lady.  The contract was carried out by Heron Brothers and this time the GAA Centre provided a convenient place for the celebration of Mass during the renovations.


One hundred and fifty years is a long time. Much has happened, some is recorded and much has been lost. The church has seen times of great sadness and of great joy. It has been host to many great occasions - ordinations, silver and golden jubilees, Episcopal visits and much more. But the real importance of a church is its relevance for the congregation that it serves and this was summed up by Fr. Joe Kelly speaking at the centenary in 1953 when he asked: "What has this church meant to you, the catholic people of Ballinascreen, during the past one hundred years?" and in answer he continued " Here your forefathers assembled to assist at the offering of the Victim of Calvary to the Eternal Father. Every important event in the spiritual life of your people took place within its walls…to this building the children were brought for Baptism … they came to tell their faults and receive pardon for their sins …. here they were anointed with the chrism of Confirmation …. Here were sown the seeds of religious vocations … at the altar rails many were joined in the bonds of Matrimony. Here your dead were brought for Requiem Mass."


And that is surely the essence of what the church means to the people of the parish.

Priests will come and go, people will move on or die but the church at Straw will stand as a memorial to the all for many years to come.


The Diocesan Archive Material  (sincere thanks to Bishop Edward Daly)

The Parish Registers

Ballinascreen  (Msgr. Coulter)

Griffith's Valuation 1859 (Ballinascreen Historical Society)

Ordnance Survey Memoir for the Parish of Ballinascreen (Ballinascreen Historical Society)

Statistical Reports of Six Derry Parishes 1821 (Ballinascreen Historical Society)

History of the Derry Diocese (Ed. Henry Jefferies and Ciarán Devlin)

The Clergy of the Diocese of Derry (Edward Daly and Ciarán Devlin)

The Churches of Ballinascreen (Fr. Leo Deery)

Noble Story (Fr. J.R. Walsh)

The Derry Journal (sincere thanks to the Derry Library)

Newspaper Archives, Belfast and the Life and Letters of Dr. Cahill (sincere thanks to the Belfast Library)

Thanks are also due to Arthur Molloy and Kevin Kelly who shared their memories of many events relating to the church.


1753             The first White Water Church built                     P.P. Fr. Bryan McRory


1810             The new White Water Church built                    P.P. Fr. James Murphy


1852             The foundation stone laid for the new church by  Bishop Kelly, sermon  

                     preached by Fr. Daniel Mooney


1853            The present church, St. Columba's  was blessed by Bishop Kelly, sermon by 

                    Dr. Daniel Cahill, P.P. Fr. Patrick O'Loughlin

1914            The Mission Cross was erected


1926            Renovation of St. Columba's carried out by James Deeny, Dungiven for

                    P.P.Fr. James McGlinchey, the Dean


1928            Church reopened for Redemptorist Mission


1931            Land purchased to allow the entrance to be enlarged


1939            Side altars and new altar rails added


1943            Dean celebrates his Golden Jubilee


1951            Funeral of Dean McGlinchey, in October

1953            St. Columba's celebrated the centenary  


195?            Grotto built.

1963            Heating added to the church


1967            Altar moved out from predella to allow the priest to say Mass facing the 

                    people, work carried out by John Cleary, P.P. Fr. Michael Collins

1979            Funeral of Fr. Michael Collins, in February

1980           Further renovation work by the Cleary Brothers for P.P. Fr. Leo Deery


1997            Columban Celebrations


2002           Funeral of Fr. Leo Deery, in June


2003            St. Columba's celebrates its sesquicentenary



In an eloquent sermon after the first Gospel, Rev Joe Kelly, O.Carm, Knocktopher, Co Kilkenny, wrote  as his text –

"How terrible is this place! This is no other than the house of God and the gate of Heaven" (Gen28.17) said,

While Jacob was on his way to Mesopotamia to seek a wife for himself among his own kindred he arrived at Naran and being tired he lay down to sleep. While he slept he had a vision, he saw as it were a ladder standing on earth and reaching into heaven and angels ascending and descending. And he saw God himself at the top of the ladder and he heard him say to him, "I am the Lord God of Abraham, thy father and the God of Isaac, the land wherein thou sleepeth I will give to thee and to thy seed. And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth; thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in thee and thy seed all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed." And waking he said, "Indeed the Lord is in this place and I knew it not." And trembling he exclaimed:" How terrible is this place.  This is no other than the house of God and the gate of Heaven."

For a hundred years this building has been truly the house of God and the gate of Heaven to the people of Ballinascreen. For a hundred years it has been the dwelling place of the incarnate Son of God. God has dwelt here in our midst so that we could say in all truth, as we could say of any Catholic Church where the Blessed Sacrament is kept, "He is really and truly present here." And so for a century it has been the centre of Catholic worship for our people. It has been the font of the truth  which Christ came on earth to teach to men, that truth which He committed to the care of His church and of which the church has been a faithful guardian.



The Church, which Christ founded, guided by the Holy Spirit has ever been the uncompromising defender of the truth. The friendship of the world could have been hers if she had been willing to accommodate herself its principles. But the gates of Hell did not prevail against her and the promise of Christ that He would be with her all days even to the consummation of the world, and that the Holy Spirit would abide with her for ever could not be falsified, and so we in the Catholic Church today are as zealous in defence of spiritual values as when Peter and his companions went forth into the streets of Jerusalem on that Pentecost Sunday more than 1,900 years ago.

The world of today has changed little from Christ's day. The world of His time rejected Him because it preferred the perishable moods and the fleeting pleasures of life to the hard way of the Cross, which leads to eternal life. It chose Barabas rather than Jesus and followed its own will rather than His. Today Christ and His Church are still rejected by those who make the riches and pleasures of life the end of man's existence.


All down through the ages the Church has been persecuted. Scarcely has she merged from one persecution than she has entered another. But regardless of the attacks of her enemies she goes forward steadfastly on her divinely appointed mission. Never before, perhaps, in her history has she been subjected to such persecution as at the present day; but she goes serenely on to fulfil the destiny planned for her by her Divine Founder.


In periods of comparative peace the faith of the people found expression in the buildings raised to the honour and glory of God. All that was best in architecture and art was put into them so that our Catholic Churches the world over are witnesses to the strong faith of the Catholic people. In the Middle ages, before the unity of Christendom was disrupted by the so called Reformation, the magnificent cathedrals of Europe were erected and spoke eloquently of those enlightened times; but when heresy arose, in many places those beautiful buildings were appropriated by the followers of the new religion and even today are used to buttress their claim to an antiquity which they do not possess.



Ireland's greatest gift from the Almighty God has been the gift of Faith. We know how the faith flourished until Ireland became known as the Island of Saints and her fame as a seat of learning and religion was spread throughout Europe. But a time came when an attempt was made

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