14 May 2018

A new lease of life
for Saint Michael’s
Church in Waterville

The Church of Saint Michael and All Angels in Waterville, Co Kerry, reopens on Trinity Sunday, 27 May, with an ecumenical service (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

The current edition [May 2018] of Newslink, the diocesan magazine for Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert, reports that the local parish and the Rural Development Agency have signed an agreement on a 10-year lease for the Church of Saint Michael and All Angels in Waterville, Co Kerry.

Although the church will still hold services as usual, there will be opportunities to develop a heritage centre with exhibitions of local interest, in addition to a programme of concerts and other events.

The lease allows the parish to seek funding from a number of agencies to enhance the use of the church building. Heat and sound equipment are to be installed, and the dry lining to the ceiling is to be removed, revealing the oak beams that have been hidden for a long time.

Future plans include providing disabled access, toilet facilities and improved car parking. The funding efforts of the local community have made significant contributions to the feasibility of the scheme, and there have been generous donations from past parishioners.

An ecumenical service is planned for Trinity Sunday [27 May] to mark the completion of the first stage, and to thank Father Gerald Finnucane and the Saint Finian’s Parish, Waterville, for the use of the Waterville Oratory during the building work.

The Church of Saint Michael and All Angels was built in 1861 and consecrated in 1866. When I visited Waterville last month [19 April 2018], I visited the church which has a commanding view of Waterville Bay. It has an interesting graveyard that is also open to visitors, and the former Church of Ireland national school stands beside the graveyard.

Saint Michael’s and All Angels is a double-height over part-basement Gothic Revival church, dated 1866, and it was designed by Joseph Welland and completed by the architectural partnership of Welland and Gillespie.

The church has a four-bay nave, a single-bay, single-storey over basement lean-to vestry projection on the north side, a single-bay, single-storey gabled projecting porch on the south side, a single-bay, double-height lower chancel at the east end, and a corbelled limestone ashlar spirelet at the gable.

There is a pitched artificial slate roof with gable limestone copings and springers, replacement rainwater goods, and retaining slate roofs at the porch and the vestry.

The church is built with random rubble red sandstone walls with grey limestone dressings. There is a buttress at the centre of the west gable, a limestone corbel table to the gutters, carved rosettes at the west gable and a base batter.

The lancet windows have limestone surrounds and leaded diamond glazing with stained glass margins. There is a triple lancet east window. There is also a limestone door surround and steps up to the timber boarded door with decorative strap hinges. The church was first planned in 1858-1859 with a three-bay nave, a one-bay chancel, a south porch, a north robing room, and a bellcote. The foundation stone was laid in March 1859, and the contractor was DW Murphy of Bantry.

The plans were modified by Welland and Gillespie between 1861 and 1866, to incorporate a single bay chancel with the three-light east window. The church was consecrated on 29 September 1866.

The two-light west window, designed by Heaton, Butler and Bayne, was erected in 1882 in memory of John Edward Butler of Waterville and Youghal..

The former school beside the church in Waterville (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Joseph Welland (1798-1860) was the architect to the Board of First Fruits and later to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. He was born in Midleton, Co Cork, on 8 May 1798. His father, William Welland, was head agent to George Brodrick, 4th Viscount Midleton.

Through the influence of Lord Midleton’s brother, Charles Brodrick, Archbishop of Cashel, Joseph Welland became a pupil and laetr an assistant to John Bowden, architect to the Board of First Fruits, who also had a large secular practice.

His obituary in the Irish Builder says Welland ‘enjoyed an extensive share of business,’ with responsibility for many works, including Monaghan gaol and courthouse. When Bowden died in 1821, Welland was appointed the architect for the ecclesiastical Province of Tuam in the Church of Ireland. When the architects’ department was reorganised and centralised in 1843, he was given responsibility for the whole Church.

During his career, Welland designed over 100 new churches and altered and enlarged many other church buildings.

He married Sophia Margaret Mills, and their sons included Thomas James Welland (1830-1907), Bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore; and William John Welland (1832-1895), who worked as an architect with his father.

Joseph Welland died on 6 March 1860 and a month later his son William John Welland and William Gillespie were appointed joint architects to the Church Commissioners. They held that post until the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland on 31 December 1870. Over those 10 years, they developed an increasingly personal and idiosyncratic version of Gothic in the churches which they designed.

William Gillespie (1818-1899), a son of William Stawell Gillespie of Cork, was born in 1818. By 1847, he was working as a district inspector for the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. He retired in 1870, and died of ‘senile decay’ in 1899 at Plympton House, near Plymouth, Devon, a private lunatic asylum belonging to Dr Charles Aldridge.

The Friends of Saint Michael’s, Waterville, was set up in 2010, after the parish had helped facilitate Saint Michael’s Church being used as a venue during the Charlie Chaplin Comedy Film Festival.

From Trinity Sunday [27 May 2018] onwards there will be a regular service at 11.30 every Sunday in Saint Michael’s and All Angels. The report from the Kenmare and Dromod Group of Parishes in Newslnk says: ‘We look forward to welcoming our regular Sunday visitors, following in the footsteps of Charlie Chaplin and General Charles de Gaulle – why not join them for a day out to the far West of the Kingdom of Kerry.’

The Church of Saint Michael and All Angels in Waterville, Co Kerry, was designed by Joseph Welland and the architectural partnership of Welland and Gillespie (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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