17 January 2016
An appropriate use for an old
former parish church in Duleek
Many years ago – more than a decade ago – I was involved in a visit to a Mediterranean country by an ecumenical group of Church leaders from the islands, including a number of bishops.
Everywhere we went there was a warm welcome, from ambassadors and abbots, in monasteries and cathedrals, in small churches and at lavish dinners.
There were formal occasions when ecumenical guests and government ministers from the country we were visiting were present. At all times, the Irish and British co-operation was friendly and fruitful.
The highlight of our visit ought to have been a formal reception hosted by the Patriarch of the main Eastern Church in the country where we were guests. We had met him earlier during the visit, but only briefly, but this was a very formal occasion.
To one side I could see a large tray, resplendent with an array of glittering icons. I realised that these were presents prepared for the visitors.
There were formal introductions, and then the Patriarch began to speak about the conditions of the Church in his own country, the sufferings it had endured in the past, and the struggle that Christians had engaged in to keep their faith alive. It is a challenge I am sure Christians have faced in virtually every country I have visited in the Eastern Mediterranean, and it has shaped and formed their narrative throughout the region.
But as he continued with his recollections, the Patriarch turned to his own analysis of the churches on these islands. In his opinion, we had little understanding of suffering, we had failed to struggle to keep our churches open, and instead of engaging in mission, we had sold off our church buildings.
He chided us. If only we had known the cost Christians in his country had paid to keep their churches open, we would not have been so hasty in selling or leasing our churches and allowing them to be used as car workshops, bars and restaurants.
As I spoke, I saw his eyes beckon one of his priests.
Silently and unobtrusively, without other members of our party noticing, the tray was removed, and replaced with a smaller tray, with smaller trays. In the course of the Patriarch’s address, he had decided our delegation was of less importance than he originally believed. We were demoted, although no-one else knew it.
This evening, four of us went for dinner in the Spire restaurant in Duleek, Co Meath. The restaurant is housed in a former Church of Ireland parish church beside the ruins of Duleek Abbey.
The premises were in a sad state of neglect for a number of years until Aogán and Karen Dunne re-opened the Spire on 14 August 2013.
The Spire Restaurant is located in the former Saint Cianan’s Church. The atmosphere reflects its ancient locale, illuminated by nature, and enhanced by the beautifully stonemason-crafted and flood-lit spire. The interior of the restaurant has been transformed into a splendid restaurant, and the food, fare and attention made this an enjoyable evening.
I am not questioning whether Duleek might not continue to benefit from a Church of Ireland presence, and perhaps a new expression of this may be found in the future. But in the meantime, despite the words of an upset and now departed Patriarch, it is better to see an old, disused church serving the community as a good restaurant than to see it fall into decay and ruin.