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The Churches of Ballinascreen

By The Late Fr Leo Deery P.P.

The first church of Ballinascreen, dating back into the mists of history - to the eighth century at least - was the old monastery church at Moneyconey - "Scrin Colimbkille", which has given its name to the parish. The ruins of this church can still be seen in Moneyconey. This was the only church in the parish for over a thousand years and it served not only our own parish but many other parishes as well, parishes which had no permanent churches of their own.

Seizure of Moneyconey Church

In 1738 Dr. Neal Conway, Bishop of Derry and Parish Priest of Ballinascreen, died and was buried in Moneyconey. His funeral attracted such attention that the church was seized the following year (1739) and for the next few years the people of Ballinascreen had to depend on Mass Rocks.

Mass Rocks

Dr. Patrick 0'Loughlin, who was Parish Priest here from 1834, lists several of these Mass Rocks - “Lag na hA1tora" (the hollow of the altar) in Doon; another "Lag na hAltora" - in Drumderg; “Lub na hAltora" (the bend of the altar) on the White Water river near its joining with the Moyola; “Cnoc na hAltora" (the hill of the altar) in Labby.

And Dean McGlinchey wrote of two Mass sites in Glengamna on McNamee's land. The most famous of all these Mass Rocks was "Cnoc na hAltora" in Labby, where funeral Masses were said on the way to the burial in Moneyconey (although the church itself had been closed by the authorities; the cemetery was still used).

Dublin Disaster

Then in 1744 the upper floor of an old house in Dublin collapsed while Mass was being said and ten people, including the priest saying the Mass, were killed. Public opinion was shocked and, under the ensuing pressure, permission was given to open the churches again. Perhaps "permission" is too strong a word - at any rate it was known that the authorities were prepared to “turn a blind-eye".

New Church

Fr. Bryan McRory built a church in 1744 at Kielt’s corner in a field just across the road from, a Cromlech, the remains of a Druid‘s temple. This Cromlech stood in the field beside Patrick Kielt’s public house - now Ivy House. This Strawmore Cromlech was called "Slaght-Illeran" (the death place of Illeran). Because of this Cromlech, this church was known as the "Congregation of the Monument

Another Church

As this church could hold only a small part of the congregation, Fr. Bryan set about building another church. Permission had now been officially given to build new Catholic churches s but they must be at least a mile from the town. And so in 1753 Fr. Bryan built the "White Water Chapel” in what is now the old graveyard in front of Straw Church.

These two new churches were still only temporary structures. Catholics could now practise their religion openly, but at a price - the penal laws were still very much in force. Bit by bit during the next thirty years they were gradually relaxed.

Some historians claim that by 1782 the penal laws were completely wiped out. They point to the fact that Catholics could now teach in schools for the first time, that they could now own land. But there was a catch, a condition - they could do these things only if they took the oath of allegiance, something that many were, still unwilling to do.

During that time Fr. Bryan McRory died in 1772 and was buried in Moneyconey. His successor, Fr. Matthew McRory; died in 1785 and Fr. Walls, who became the next P.P., died inside the year.

Parish Priests Swap Parishes

Then came an interesting swap. In 1787 a Fr Ward was appointed P.P. Ballinascreen and a Fr. McLaughlin appointed P.P. Ballerin. They swapped parishes. The story goes that they met on the road while travelling to their new parishes. They stopped for a chat. The result of this exchange of views was that, when they continued on their journey, Fr. Ward went to Ballerin and Fr. John McLaughlin came to Ballinascreen. There is no record of Bishop McDevitt's reaction to the swap, but obviously he accepted it with good grace, for Fr. John McLaughlin spent seventeen years here as P.P. until he retired in 1804.

New Churches in Straw and Moneyneena

Fr. McLaughlin’s successor, Dean Murphy, was another church builder. He knocked down the now dilapidated White Water Chapel and built a new White Water Chapel on the same site. This was in 1810. And four years later (1814) he built the first Church of St. Eugene in what is now Moneyneena graveyard.

The Making of a Graveyard

Tradition has it that this particular field was chosen for the new church because of an incident that had happened some years before. One winter’s day a funeral was on its way from the Cloane area to the graveyard in Moneyconey. When they came to that last hill up to the Moneyneena Road, the snow and ice made it impossible for the horses to climb it. Rather than take the remains back home, they lifted the coffin over the hedge into Ambrose Kelly's field and decided to try again the following day. But when they returned it was still impossible. So they had to bury the deceased in Ambrose Kelly's field, and that is how the field became a graveyard and later the site for the new church. And the steep hill came to be known as Ambrose’ brae.

With the building of the new church in Moneyneena in 1814, the Congregation of the Monument was no longer used and was allowed to fall into disrepair. It has long since disappeared completely.

* The item that follows was not included in the bulletin but, as it directly concerns the churches, I'll include it now.

1823 was an important year - the year that Daniel O'Connell founded the Catholic Association. It gave a glimmer of hope to Catholics and, with the hope, a growing awareness of the need for education. There were as yet no school buildings in the parish - only hedge schools. Dr. O'Loughlin, who was to Follow Dean Murphy as P.P. here, writes of a hedge school ("Lub na Scoile“) about 1739 in Dysart near where the White Water flowed into the Moyola.

In 1823 Dean Murphy set up schools in the two buildings which were obviously most suitable for the purpose - the two churches. They were still used for Mass on Sundays, but as schools during the week. There were two teachers in the White Water Chapel at Straw - James McAvery and James Rogers (great-grandfather of Patrick Rogers, Magherafelt Road) and one teacher in St. Eugene's Church, Moneyneena - Roger O'Kane (great-grandfather of Fr. David O‘Kane). Within the next ten years or so schools were appearing all over the parish, mostly in private houses but sometimes in special buildings, - Labby, Draperstown, Doon, Carnamoney, Blackhill, Moykeeran, Sixtowns, Drumard, Brackadysart, Bancran; Derrynoid, Straw and Moneyneena. These figures giving the schools with the most Catholic pupils might surprise you: Carnamoney - 229; Labby - 141; Blackhill - 108. How the population has shifted.

To return to the bulletin - Dean Murphy added two galleries to the Moneyneena church. Two years later he died on 24 February 1834 and became the first priest to be buried in Straw.

Dr. Patrick O'Loughlin had been P.P. Dungiven since 1825 and he was transferred to Ballinascreen on 12 March 1834.

When Dr. O'Loughlin came as P.P. in 1834 there were two churches in Ballinascreen. To find out something about these churches, to find out what they were like, I went naturally to our oldest Senior Citizen, our centenarian - Rose McDermott. She could tell me nothing about the old White Water Chapel - it was out of use over 30 years before she was born. But she was baptised in the Moneyneena church, made her First Communion there and went to Mass in it until she was nearly 16.

What was it like inside? She remembers perfectly.

Inside Moneyneena Old Church

The altar was not against a gable wall but in the middle of a side wall. If you can imagine the present church at Straw turned sideways - you’ll get the picture. At each gable wall there was a gallery. This rough sketch should give you the idea:




Around the walls of the church there were seats, but the whole centre of the church was bare - just a wooden floor. There was strict segregation, of course. The men kept to the right and the women to the left. A little of that segregation still remains in Moneyneena and Sixtowns, but most of it has disappeared.

All knelt on the-wooden floor during Mass. During the sermon the men stood and the women sat on the floor (except For the few round the walls who had seats). I'm sure a lot of them hoped the sermon wouldn't be long.

Rose told me that Fr. Francis McGeown, the Moneyneena curate when she was a child (he was curate there until she was 11), took Catechism classes for the children every Sunday. On the Sundays when he was not saying Mass there, he would take the class in Moneyneena before going to say Mass in Straw or Sixtowns. (The Moneyneena curate at that time lodged with Laurence McCloskey in Cloane, the late Peter Paul’s grandfather). Rose has seen 20 curates in Moneyneena and 19 in Straw.

St. Columba’s Church, Straw

The present church of St. Columba, the parish church, was built by Dr. O'Loughlin. The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Kelly on 1 August 1852. Fr. Daniel Mooney preached the sermon for the occasion. The speaker at the consecration and opening of the church by Bishop Kelly in 1853 was Dr. Cahill. It was built at the very edge of the old graveyard, so that the present walk between the church and the old graveyard covers quite a few graves. This was exactly 100 years after the building of the original White Water Chapel.

Dr. Patrick O'Loughlin was also the Vicar General of the diocese as well as being Parish Priest here. He was obviously a strong-willed man, a man who stood for no nonsense. To give just one example -he clashed with Judge Torrens and came off best. It happened like this:

The Parish Priest v the Judge

The teacher in Judge Torrens’ school in Derrynoid had broken the judge’s rule by allowing Catholic children to read their own bible in the school instead of the orthodox bible. The judge sacked the teacher and closed the school for a few months to give himself time to get another teacher. The school was due to open again on Monday 18 August 1845. But on Sunday 17 August the P.P., speaking from the altar, asked the parents not to send their children to the school. When the children didn't turn up on the Monday, the judge had to admit defeat. So he visited the P.P. and came to an agreement with him, and the Catholic children returned to the school. And when the P.P. needed a new teacher the following year for his boys’ school in the town, he caused a bit of a sensation by appointing to the post the teacher who had been sacked by the judge, Bristow Minies, a Presbyterian.

I mention this little incident to show that this particular P.P. was a man with "a mind of his own", as the people of Sixtowns were to Find out.

Sixtowns Church

They had long been anxious for at church of their own. For many centuries they had the only church in the parish, the old monastery church at Moneyconey. And now, with the building of the new church at Straw, they pointed out that there wasn't a church between Straw and Greencastle, a distance of almost 13 miles. But the P.P. remained unmoved by their plea, even when they offered to build it themselves.

Frustrated, they decided to do just that - to go ahead without permission and build it themselves. But the building hadn't gone very far when the P.P. arrived on the site, with Bishop Kelly in tow. The Bishop ordered the builders to stop, and to dismantle what they had already built. This was a bit of a setback for the builders. They talked it over amongst themselves and decided that they couldn't disobey the Bishop - they had to stop. Whereupon the delighted Bishop blessed the building and gave them permission to go ahead with their church, the present church of St. Patrick. The year was 1854.

To round off the tale of the D.I.Y. church, there is a story handed down in Sixtowns of a workman on top of the building who dropped a trowel at the Bishop's feet. (If he’d dropped it on the Bishop's head they'd probably never have got their church). At any rate Bishop Kelly stooped and picked up the trowel, and the workman shouted down - "Now, my Lord, you're in it as much as the rest of us."

But this incident in Sixtowns was only a skirmish compared to the trouble which erupted in the parish 14 years later - when all three churches were closed.

The Trouble That Closed the Churches.

Dr. Patrick O’Loughlin died in 1860 and was buried in Straw. He was succeeded as P.P. by his nephew, Fr. James Collins, who had been curate in Moneyneena since 1851. Both Dr. O'Loughlin and Fr. Collins were natives of Maghera parish. Fr. Collins was P.P. for only eight years when he was suspended by Bishop Kelly.

Some parishioners who had known Fr. Collins for 17 years were very annoyed at this, and immediately took matters into their own hands in a drastic way. They seized the keys of the three churches of the parish and set guards on the doors.

When Fr. Daniel Magee arrived on 16 October 1868 to take over as Administrator of the parish, he was informed that neither he nor the two curates would be allowed into any of the churches until Fr. Collins was re-instated.

With all the churches closed to him, Fr. Magee had to make other arrangements. But when he arranged Sunday Masses in any suitable buildings he could get, and even sometimes in private houses, the more violent supporters of the suspended Fr. Collins tried to stop the people going to Mass. There are many stories told about what happened during that troublesome period, but it’s impossible to separate fact from fiction. All we can rely on with certainty is what was written by the man at the centre of the trouble, Fr. Magee himself.

The priests had to make do. Baptisms and Marriages took place in private houses, and Sunday Mass wherever it could be fixed. It was almost a year before there was a break-through in the deadlock. The Sixtowns people were the first to reject the violence. In Fr. Magee's own words – “The keys of the 6 Towns Chapel were handed over unconditionally by Larry Cleary of Cavanreagh to Mr. James Henry of Draperstown on the morning of the 8th of August, who drove me on his own car to the 6 Towns, opened the church and handed me the keys. I celebrated Mass there on that day to the great joy of all the people of the district and the entire parish, except for the mob.” (James Henry J.P. was the grandfather of the late Mary Pat O'Kane. His car was a horse-drawn sidebar.)

And so Fr. Magee was 10 months in the parish before he was allowed to say Mass in any of the churches. And it was seven weeks before there was another break-through. This time it was a compromise. The curates were allowed to say Sunday Mass, one in Straw and the other in Moneyneena, but not Fr. Magee. To quote an entry made by Fr. Magee on 20 October 1869 – “Fr. McLoskey celebrated Mass for the four previous Sundays in Straw Chapel and from the 26th of September Fr. Conway celebrated Mass in Moneyneena on the same Sundays – the mob keeping the keys of these two churches and, to prevent my officiating in either, keeping the doors locked till the priest arrived.”

And then Bishop Kelly changed the two curates. He appointed Fr. McLoskey as P.P. Bellaghy and Fr. Conway as C.C. Buncrana. It turned out to be a good move. Fr. Conway had been in Moneyneena for eight years and was well known and well liked there. The Moneyneena people, who had been the chief supporters of the suspended Fr. Collins, didn't want to lose Fr. Conway too, and they persuaded the Bishop to let Fr. Conway stay on in Moneyneena. And when the Bishop agreed not to change Fr. Conway, it was the beginning of the end - it wasn't long until the churches were opened again. The trouble was over.

When the trouble was over and things had settled down in the parish, Fr. Magee made an appeal from the altar:

 “Let us forget that this episode ever happened. Let it never be mentioned again, even amongst ourselves.”

That silence would explain why the details are so hazy and why we have to depend for the truth on the comments Fr. Magee himself wrote down during the trouble. These comments stopped at the end of 1869. After that - silence. The suspended Fr. Collins finally relinquished the management of the parish schools on 30 April 1870. He then left the parish, with the churches re-opened and the keys handed over to the Administrator, Fr. Daniel Magee. And Fr. Conway, who had almost been changed in 1869, was still curate here for another seven years.

Father Magee Starts Building

When the dust had settled and the parochial house became vacant, Fr. Magee decided not to move in, but to build himself a new house in the town. It was built by Patrick Trolan, Cahore and his eighteen year old son, Patrick - grandfather and uncle of the present Paddy Trolan, Cahore and completed in 1873.

We can get more details of Fr. Magee's work from Fr. Peter O'Kane, who was his curate in Straw for four years and who was here when Fr. Magee died. Writing about Fr. Magee after his death, he has this to say:

“Rev. Daniel Magee Adm. of Ballinascreen built the parochial house in the town of Cahore on the property of Mr. Henry, Cahore in the year 1873. Fr. Magee built the parochial house out of his own money at first. But he applied to the Board of Works for money. They sent down from Dublin a valuator who valued the house at £800. The Board of Works gave Father Magee the two thirds of the money and Father Magee paid the other third. After that Father Magee built all the office houses and sheds at his own expense which would be valued for £100.”

In 1875 Father Magee built a National school beside his own new parochial house, and this school was in use for 87 years until it was replaced by St. Mary's Primary school in 1962. But I'll let Fr. Peter O'Kane continue the story:

 "He also built a Male and Female National school in Bancran in 1876. The Skinners Company gave a donation of £5 yearly to each teacher. Father Magee got a lease for the parochial house and the school from Mr. Henry and alto a lease for the Bancran school and for these he paid £65.

On the death oi Fr. Daniel Magee, Rev. Patrick Magee, the P.P. of Plumbridge, was made his sole heir and executor. Rev. Patrick Magee left the parochial house with the improvements viz. offices, houses, gates and fenders to the Parish of Ballinascreen for ever, so that his successor had nothing to pay - only get the key of the house and the lease.”

The last information that Fr. O'Kane gives us about Fr. Magee is that he was born in Gulladuff in 1819 in the parish of Lavey and that he was ordained in 1844 in Maynooth.

Fr. Daniel Magee, the Adm. who successfully survived the troubled period in the parish, died on 4 June 1881 and was buried in Straw. His headstone and the very distinctive vault can be seen in the old graveyard at the front corner of the church. He was still an Administrator at his death because Fr. James Collins, the suspended P.P. was still around.

Several Parish Priests in Succession

In the next six years there were to be four different priests following each other in charge of the parish.

First came Fr. James O'Loughlin, on 4 August 1881. He came as Administrator but, when the suspended Fr. James Collins died in Maghera on 14 May 1884, Fr. O’Loughlin automatically became Parish Priest. But he enjoyed his new title for only a few months - he died on 6 Oct. 1884 and was buried in his native Granaghan.

Fr. Henry Henry, who succeeded him, survived only a few years - he died on 8 June 1887 and was buried in his native Desertmartin.

And then came what must be the shortest reign as P.P. in the history of the parish. Fr. William McGlinchey came as P.P. in September 1887, did three baptisms and two weddings and was gone before the end of the year. He moved to Culdaff as P.P. No reason is given for the sudden flit, but it's possible that some people pointed out to him that three Ballinascreen Parish Priests had died in the last three years.

Father Patrick Grant

The priest who succeeded him was obviously not as superstitious, and how right he was. He was to be P.P. here for almost a quarter of a century, a priest still remembered by many of our senior citizens, Fr. Patrick Grant. And, with Fr. Grant's coming, it meant that the Moneyneena curate; Fr. John McEldowney, was serving his fifth boss in a space of less than seven years.

St. Eugene’s Church, Moneyneena

Father Grant will be remembered as having built the present church of St. Eugene in Moneyneena, Bishop O'Doherty dedicated the new Moneyneena church on 8 June 1902. The speaker was Fr. O'Kane, a blind Jesuit.

Fr. Grant announced that all children were to stay away from the Dedication to leave room for the big crowd that he expected. One of the ‘children’ who wasn't allowed to go that day was Rose McDermott, just under 16 at the time. Times have changed.

Church Seating

You may remember from a previous bulletin that the old Moneyneena church was only sparsely seated. The new church was fully seated in a way that saved the P.P. a lot of money. Families bought their own seats and sat on them. Not that it was compulsory - you could sit anywhere - but many families preferred to stay together in their own seats. The result was less segregation. Fr. Grant decided to try something similar in Straw. At the beginning of each year seats were allocated to families and they were expected to use those seats for that year. At first these seats were allocated free but later a token fee (usually 2/-) was put on each seat. But the allocation wasn't popular with everybody. Rose McDermott told me that she didn't like going to funerals in Straw at that time because she didn't know where to sit. It could be embarrassing if a family turned up later and you had to move out of their seat. So this system was eventually abandoned.

Moneyneena Seats

The seats in the new church at Moneyneena had been paid for by families. John F. McKenna decided that this was not a satisfactory arrangement and so he bought the seats from the families and presented them to the parish. In doing so he unwittingly brought back segregation to the church. The people no longer owned their own seats and so they drifted apart - men to the right again and women to the left. (John F. McKenna was a grand-uncle of the late Charlie Rogers who died so tragically in a unique accident in Moneyneena graveyard.)

What a Wedding Present

"There was a wedding in Cana of Galilee." We all know the story of that famous wedding, but not many would know the story of a wedding in Moneyneena on 2 September 1909. Father Grant P.P. did the wedding and he thought he would imitate his Master and do something nice for the young couple. Indeed he would go one better and give them something more valuable than a few jars of wine. The bride was the assistant teacher in Moneyneena school. As a wedding present Fr. Grant gave her the Principalship of Bancran girls’ school. I don’t think that gesture can ever be repeated - Education Boards and Trade Unions might raise their eyebrows. The bride was Mrs. Annie McMonagle's mother; the former Margaret McCloskey of Dungiven and the bridegroom, of course, was Patrick Kelly (Frank) of Crieve.

Fr. Grant died on 26 December 1912 and was buried at Straw. He was succeeded by Fr. Hugh Boyle on 20 January 1913. Fr. Boyle was a native of Lavey and a brother of Fr. Henry Boyle P.P. Desertmartin.

Another Parochial House

Fr. Hugh Boyle was the recipient of another generous gesture from John F. McKenna. John F. bought the house in High Street from Denis Henry and presented it to Fr. Boyle for a parochial house. (Denis Henry was the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland - he is buried at Straw.) Fr. Boyle announced the gift from the altar and moved in as soon as the house was vacant - in the autumn of 1924.

Although he had a pony and trap, Fr. Boyle sometimes walked to Straw in good weather. The story is told that he was walking back from Straw one Sunday soon after changing house. When he reached Burnside he had to sit down to get his breath back. He looked at the walk still ahead of him and panted - “Why did I ever move to the top of the town?"

Fr. Richard Walsh, the Straw curate, who had been living at what is now 34 St. Patrick Street (Jim McGuigan's), moved across the street into the present parochial house.

But Fr. Boyle didn't enjoy his change long - ‘he went on a pilgrimage to Rome in April 1925 and died in Rome. He is buried there, and a plaque-has been erected to his memory on the back wall of Straw church. He was succeeded by Dean McGlinchey.

Dean McGlinchey

Fr. James McGlinchey was inducted as P.P. in Straw church on 15 November 1925. He was inducted by Fr. Bernard O'Kane P.P., V.G. Maghera who was to be consecrated Bishop of Derry the following year. Fr. McGlinchey was always known as Dean McGlinchey, because of the years he had spent as Dean in St. Columb's College, Derry. He moved immediately into the house on High Street.

The Dean hadn't a car when he came here - very few people had cars in 1925 - but he brought with him a pony, and Fr. Michael Kelly of Dysart remembers often seeing the Dean doing his rounds of the parish on the back of his pony. Later he used to hire a trap for the pony. Eventually he bought a car, but he never learned to drive.

Renovation of the Churches

He had hardly settled into the parish when he announced plans for all three churches. And he kept a very detailed account of every transaction - no matter how small - and every penny spent. He covered more than 500 pages of a very large ledger. He must have made a note of nearly every nail and plank that went into the repairs, for his book is filled with items like these:

< >Paid to Paul Crilly for repairs - 5/6 To carriage on bell tongue - 1/4 To hooping holy water tub - 3/6To Gormley's, for 5 ton of coal - £1.0.0 To Harry Connier, Derrynoid - 9 loads of gravel - 18/- To Mick Crilly for 24 stakes - 8/- To white-washing Moneyneena school - 8/-To a poor man whose cow died - £1.0.0 To a man whose wife died - £1.0.0 To a person whose horse died - £2.10.0 the whole building was pointed the inside was plastered and painted the roof was overhauled inside and outside (Johnny spent over 6 months on the roof alone) a new beam across the Front of the gallery a new floor, new seats, new confessionals new stairs up to the gallery electricity was installed, linked up to an engine the present high altar was fitted by John McAfee, Coleraine for £900 those magnificent Stations of the Cross came from Germany for £294 (the price of about 150 tons of coal)

Straw church was re-opened in time for the Mission which began on 15 July 1928. (Dean McGlinchey had five Parish Missions, all starting in July and all given by Redemptorists - 1928, 1933, 1938, 1944 and 1949.)

The Other Churches

James Deeny was to have renovated Sixtowns church in 1928 when he finished with Straw, but he claimed to have lost money doing Straw, and he pulled out of the Sixtowns job. So the Dean got John Kelly of Straw to do the necessary work at Sixtowns and had it painted by Joseph Boyle, Cookstown. The painting cost £41.14.6

In the meantime St. Mary's Oratory was being built by Cowieson’s of Glasgow. As the Bishop was not free to come at the time, the Oratory was blessed by the Dean on the first Friday 7 December 1928 and dedicated by Bishop O'Kane on Monday 29 April 1929.

Fr. Richard Walsh papered his house in 1929. To mention that may seem strange except that the very distinctive wallpaper he put in the dining room is still there at 55 St. Patrick Street 58 years later.

In 1930 John F. McKenna came to the aid of Moneyneena church again and installed the present altar for £800. Charles McKenna, who had taken down the dangerous parts of the old Moneyneena church in 1926, was now hired by the Dean to dismantle and remove the rest. Several neighbours helped in the ‘removing’ bit. At least two houses were completely built by those church stones - one in Bancran and one in Derrynoid.

In 1931 new gates, costing £51.10.0, were fitted at the front entrance of Straw church and the old gates were used at the graveyard entrance on the Cloughfin Road

The final touch to Straw church came when the side altars were installed in 1937.

In the-meantime the G.A.A. had come to Ballinascreen with the Founding, on 2 April 1933, of St. Colm's G.A.C. Rose McDermott's husband, Sean, became its first chairman and Dean McGlinchey its first president.

Undoubtedly the next important milestone in the history of the parish was the arrival of a new curate in Straw in December 1939, a priest who was to spend the rest of his life here (almost Forty years), whose name was to become synonymous with Ballinascreen, Fr. Michael Collins. But we’ll return to Fr. Collins later.

On 1 January 1943 Ballinascreen celebrated its first recorded golden jubilee of an Ordination to the priesthood Dean McGlinchey had been ordained on 1 January 1893 in St. Eugene's Cathedral, Derry by Bishop O'Doherty. He had served under Bishop McHugh and Bishop O’Kane and now 50 years later Bishop Farren was joined by dozens of priests in Straw church to celebrate the Dean's golden anniversary. The Dean was almost eighty at the time, but he was far from finished yet, as the Drapers' Company and the Educational Board were to find out when he faced them five years later. The Dean himself explains the incident in his book:

Carnamoney School Incident

“At Carnamoney school, run by the Drapers’ Company, the pupils were all Catholic except one. I offered to buy the school from the Drapers’ Trust, Moneymore. They refused and instead they handed the school over to the Educational Board. So Fr. Collins got me a Nissen hut and had it erected. We took the children from the schoolhouse and set up school in the hut on 8 May 1948. Since the Drapers’ building was no longer needed as a school, the Board handed it back to the Drapers’ trust. It lay empty until I approached them again and bought the building for £900.”

This was on 12 September 1950 and the Dean transferred the children out of the hut back to the schoolhouse. He was 87 at the time.

In 1949 John Cleary put up the present gates, pillars and wall at Sixtowns church.

The Dean died on 2 October 1951 at the age of 88 and is buried at Straw. Fr. Michael Collins was installed as P.P. on 5 November 1951.

Father Michael Collins

In 1952 Fr.Co1lins spent £961 on Sixtowns church repairs, which included a new floor and new seats. He bought the house in Straw for £2,040 for a curate’s residence and had the curate's house in Moneyneena built for £3,700.

And then Fr. Collins turned his mind to schools. The fifties and the early sixties was a great time of school building. Catholic schools were being built all over the North. On 5 July 1954 Fr. Collins put down £400 as a deposit for the site on the Magherafelt Road For the Intermediate school and he applied for permission to build three Primary schools as well

Dean McGlinchey Park

While Fr. Collins was waiting for permission to go ahead with building four new schools, the local St. Colm's G.A.C. had been active. A magnificent new Gaelic park was opened by Bishop Farren on 9 May 1954 and named after the late Dean McGlinchey. Writing about Fr. Collins’ part in the building of the new park Seamus Kelly tells us (in the club’s golden anniversary book) “that the most active among the club’s workers was the club chairman himself, Fr. Collins P.P.”

Fr. Collins and Football

Fr. Collins love of football gave rise to a lot of stories, probably many of them fiction. He was often suspected of arranging the times of Holy Hours and evening devotions to suit certain football matches, like his supposed announcement - “By special request, the Holy Hour next Sunday will be at 12 midnight.” During my years on the Minor Board he never actually went so far as to ‘twist my arm’ to get under age fixtures changed, but he managed to let me know dates of school meetings etc - as if daring me to fix Ballinascreen matches on those dates. I was curate in Kilrea at that time, and it was always understood that I brought him every new list of fixtures, so that he would have time to arrange his programme accordingly. His greatest coup was in persuading the Bishop to bring forward a Ballinascreen Confirmation from Sunday to Sat. Was it just a coincidence that there was an important football match on the Sunday?

New schools. Two new schools were opened in the fifties. St. Columba’s, Straw (built by Mullan Brothers) was completed in October 1957 and St. Eoghan's, Moneyneena (built by P. Young and Sons) opened on 1 September 1958, exactly 113 years after the old Moneyneena school began its life as a National School on 1 September 1845.

Moneyneena Church

The following year (1959) Fr. Collins turned his attention to Moneyneena church. Leo Convery put in a new floor and new Confessionals, re-inforced the roof timbers with steel, and concreted the grounds round the church. At the same time new windows and new altar rails were installed, and a mosaic floor put in the sanctuary and terrazzo in the aisles.

The Two Big Schools

The early sixties brought us the two new schools on the Magherafelt Road. St. Colm’s Intermediate School (now known as St Colm’s High school) was built by J. Kennedy Ltd and opened on 11 September 1961. And St. Mary’s primary school was built by Heron Brothers and opened on 30 April 1962. And on Tuesday 8 May 1962 Bishop Farren came to bless both St. Colm's and St. Mary’s.

Fr. Collins turned back to the churches. Electricity was installed in Moneyneena church in 1963 and heating in all four churches in the following years - Straw and Oratory in 1963, Moneyneena in January 1966, and Sixtowns in Jan. '69

I remember calling to see Fr. Collins on Boxing Day 1978 and he told me he had said Christmas Mass in Straw for the 40th year. It was to be the last. He died on 6 Feb. 1979 at the age of 81 and he was buried at Straw.

In this bulletin we bring the story of the churches of Ballinascreen up to date. The present P.P. was inducted by Bishop Daly in St. Columba’s church, Straw on 26 April 1979.

Church of the Holy Rosary

The first task that faced me was to complete what Fr. Collins had started - the building of the 10th church in Ballinascreen. St. Mary's Oratory had already been pulled down, and Mass was being said in Donnelly’s car showroom, temporarily converted into a church, with the furniture from the old oratory.

The new church of the Holy Rosary was built by Heron Brothers and was dedicated by Bishop Daly on 15 Aug. 1979. Among the concelebrants at the dedication ceremony were no less than ten sons of Ballinascreen - Fr. Patrick Regan, Fr. Joseph Kelly, Fr. Michael Kelly, Fr. Patrick McGuigan, Fr. Charles Campbell, Fr. Seamus O'Neill, Fr. Kevin McKenna, Fr. Joey Donnelly; Fr. Victor Donnelly and Fr. Michael Devlin, who has since died (20 Jan. 1984) and is buried at Straw. While the new church was being built, three other major projects were being planned - the renovation of Straw and Sixtowns churches and the extension to Moneyneena school.

Renovation of Straw and Sixtowns Churches

In 1980 Cleary Brothers undertook the renovation of St. Columba’s Church, Straw. Their father, John, who had spent a lifetime working on the churches for both Dean McGlinchey and Fr. Collins, was now in failing health, and he was buried at Straw only three weeks after the church was re-opened. A new door, with porch, was opened at the side of the church. The sacristies were re-designed and re-furnished. New heating and lighting, a new marble ambo, chair and baptismal font and a new confessional were installed and the church fully carpeted.

In the meantime Peter Browne bought the ground across the road from the church, and presented it to the parish as a car park. Peter has since died (6 Oct. 1982) and is buried at Straw.

In St. Patrick's Church, Sixtowns the renovation was carried out by the Kelly brothers. The old sacristy had to be knocked down, to be replaced by a complete new complex. A new confessional, a new marble ambo, chair and baptismal font, new lighting and Stations of the Cross were installed and, like Straw church, the church was carpeted to the door. Outside a car park, a new graveyard, new driveway and entrance gates completed the picture.

The new extension to Moneyneena school, carried out by Eugene McGovern, was completed in 1981.

New Layout in Graveyards

And so, as we take our story down to the present day, as we reflect on the priests and people who have played their part in that story, it-is appropriate that the latest significant work in the parish has been the improvement to our graveyards. New paths were laid through the upper Straw graveyard by the McGlade brothers. And, since that, paths have been laid in Moneyneena and Sixtowns graveyards and in the old graveyard at Straw - by local workers under the auspices of Ace.

As we write the last chapter of this story in the month of the Holy Souls, hopefully the new lay-out in the graveyards will encourage us to visit them in all weathers, and to say a prayer not only For our own families, but for all those - both priests and lay people - who have kept the faith alive in this historic parish of Ballinascreen.  

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