St. Eunan’s Church Raphoe.raphoe church external

The foundation stone of this superb church was laid in October 1877, under the most promising auspices; and the opening ceremony consisting of the solemn blessing, a most touching sermon by His Grace, Lord Primate McGettigan and Benediction was performed on 3 November 1878.  Mr Heavey and Mr Mac Adorey, both of Belfast, were, respectively, the architect and contractor.  The Derry Journal of the following day furnishes a very elaborate description of the beautiful building, and a deeply interesting report of the proceedings witnessed at Raphoe on that historic day, when a Catholic Church was again opened, after the long interval of nearly three hundred years, near the old Cathedral of St Adamnan.  A few salient passages will not be unacceptable to the reader:-


“A prominent feature of the church is its round tower, modelled on the old celtic round towers, so common throughout Ireland.  It rises to a height of 100 feet, is visible from a very long distance and contains a side entrance to the church and a staircase to the organ gallery.  Over the main entrance in the western gable of the church is a “rose” or “wheel” window, lighting that end of the edifice, showing high above the organ gallery.  The side walls are pierced with lancets, at an elevation that leaves ample room for the altar and other equipments.  With the exception of the entrance doors, which are of oak, all the wood-work is of choice pitch pine, which is now recognised as most enduring as well as producing the most ornamental effect.  The roof is covered with American green slates, which contrast pleasantly with the light blue shade of the admirable masonry, and the pale dressings of Dungannon stone.


One feature in the construction deserving special reference is the system known as ‘hollow walling’, by means of which, no matter how absorbent or porous the outer facing may be, the inner surface is always dry.  There are practically two walls, the outer of stone, the inner of brick, two clear inches apart, and connected by slate ties, one to every superficial yard.  St Eunan’s is of the Romanesque character, modified to meet modern requirements, and is constructed to accommodate from 800 to 1,000 worshippers.


The dedication ceremonies were carried out with all the solemnity and order accompanying the sacred rites of the Catholic Church.  The morning was most favourable, the consequence being the large numbers of strangers, while the people of the parish, including a large accession of Protestants, turned out en masse.  The Lord Primate performed the dedication function before the High Mass, which was celebrated by Rev. John Doherty, with Rev. P Blake, Deacon, Rev. John Mac Nulty, Sub-Deacon, and very Rev. John MacMenamin, Master of Ceremonies.  The three Miss Reillys, Teachers in Raphoe, Glenties, and Falcarragh, were the most capable and most appreciated members of the choir.


After the first Gospel, His Grace the Primate addressed the congregation for almost three quarters of an hour in that strain of instruction and devotion for which the distinguished speaker is proverbial.  His Grace founded his discourse upon the last  portion of the eighteenth chapter of St Matthew: ‘Lord, how often shall my brother offend against me and I forgive him?’ and so on.  The peroration was particularly touching; he appealed to those present not merely to forgive their neighbour, but to practice charity, and to exhibit true generosity by giving liberal aid to their zealous Priest, Father Bernard Kelly.


Besides the Clergymen already named, there were present :  Rev James Stephens, P.P;  Rev Michael Martin P.P; Rev J Bannon (representing the Most Rev. Dr Rogers, Chatham, Canada); Rev John Doherty P.P Donegal;  Rev J MacGroarty C.C Killygordon; and Rev P McDevitt.  Among the distinguished laity were noticed:  William Wilson M.P,  Samuel Carson and William Young, D.I , Raphoe;  Edward Gallagher, Mr Keenan, Inspector of Schools;  Dr Petit and Henry Gallagher, Letterkenny;  Charles Flanagan, San Francisco;  William Devine and Patrick MacMenamin, Strabane.   At the close of the ceremonies, the Rev B Kelly, P.P, first explained the regretted absence of the Bishop, Most Rev Dr MacDevitt who was indisposed in Dublin, and then tendered his heartfelt thanks to the generous donors, and particularly to the Lord Primate.  The collection totalled £700”



 Information on what you see in St Eunan’s Church Raphoe.

The Church.
This Church of Romanesque style and dedicated to St Eunan, was blessed and opened on Sunday 3rd November 1878.  The tower, modelled on the old Celtic round towers, rises to a height of  100 feet and an unusual feature, for that early date, is that, it has cavity walls, an outer wall of light blue stone dressed with pale blue Dungannon stone and an inner wall of brick.

St. Eunan.
St Eunan was born in 624, very probably in Ballintra in south-west Donegal and died as ninth abbot of Iona where his kinsman Columba had founded a monastery in 563.  Eunan’s mother was from the Raphoe-Ballindrait district where Eunan spent the last seven years of his life.  He is regarded as the founder of the Raphoe Diocese and he either built or renovated the Cathedral of Raphoe before he died in Iona in 704.  It is probable that his remains were later transferred to Raphoe.

raphoe altarThe Altar.
The focal point of any Catholic Church is the Altar or place of sacrifice, where, at least once on week-days and several times on Sundays and Holy Days, is re-enacted and renewed the supreme sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, beginning with the offering of Himself at the last supper on the night before He died.  The central panel in front shows Christ, on Resurrection Day, revealing himself, by the breaking of bread, to two of his disciples at Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. (Luke  24:31)

The Tabernacle.
Behind the Altar is the Tabernacle where the Consecrated Bread or the Blessed Sacrament is reserved for the faithful and especially for the old and sick.  The red light which burns day and night in the Sanctuary indicates what we call the Real Presence of Christ – the food of our soul.

The Stone Heads.
The Stone Heads which act as corbels to the pillars above represent (from left to right) St Patrick, St Columba, St Eunan and St Brigid.

Windows of the Apse.
The colourful centre window shows us the victorious risen Christ.  Above his head is written in Latin the task he gave the apostles :  Euntes (Going)  docete (Teach)  omnes (all)  nations  (Nations).  In the top left-hand corner are the crossed keys symbol of the power given by Christ to Peter and his successors, the Popes.  “To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven”. Matthew 16:19.  From the mound on which he stands come seven streams which represent the seven sacraments by which his very life is not only given to us, but also nourished and strengthened and restored when lost by serious sin.

The window on the right represents St Columba who was born at Gartan near Kilmacrennan, in 521.  He holds in his right hand a chalice on the book of the Gospels and in his left hand a crozier, symbol of his position as Abbot of Iona.  Near him kneels St Baithin who was his successor and who holds a book of Psalms on which was written the last verse transcribed by St Columba  “But they that seek the Lord shall not want any good things”. Ps 33.   Knowing that death was near, he stopped writing and said “I must stop here, Baithin will do the rest”.  In the foreground is a crane which fell exhausted in Iona after a flight from Ireland.  He cared for it until it was able to make the return flight.  As Columba is the Latin for a dove, it is not surprising to have one here to remind us that he was also known as “the dove of the church”. 

Written in Irish is an invocation to Saints Columba and Eunan to pray for us.  The inscription at the bottom of the three windows read as follows:  “In loving memory of James Furey and Margaret, his beloved wife….(the centre window continues) “their family, Father Dan, Margaret, Bridie and Elizabeth donate”….(The third window continues)  “these windows. A.D. 1941.”  Father Dan referred to was later Vicar Capitular of the diocese on the death of Dr MacNeely in 1963 and Vicar General from 1965 until he died as Parish Priest of Glenties on February 1st. 1971.

The Apse Inscription.
Painted in letters of gold across the top of the Apse are the words: Haec (This)  est (is) domus (the house) Dei (of God)  et (and) Porta (the gate)  coeli (of Heaven).  These words were spoken by Jacob or Israel (son of Isaac, Son of Abraham) to describe the place where he had a vision of a ladder leading up to heaven, with angels ascending and descending.  (Genesis 28:17)  Flanking this on both sides are the words  “Ecclesis (The Church )  Sancti (of Saint)  Eunani (Eunan)  Rapotensis  (Of Raphoe)

raphoe baptismalBaptismal Font.
In the Porch (built in 1983) on the way into the church, next to the Sacristy is the Baptismal Font where through water and the Holy Spirit is begun the new life –over and above the physical in which we share in the life of Christ and are admitted into the Christian Community or family of God.  “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God”

The Confessional.
At the top of the Church and turning right we are reminded of the weakness and fickleness of human nature and of the possibility of losing the new life begun at Baptism, by turning away from God in sin, here is what is known as the Confessional. Priests exercise the power of restoring that life which Christ gave to the Apostles when he said :  “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.”  At the Font a new life begins; at the Altar that life is nourished and strengthened by Holy Communion and at the Confessional, the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance restores it when lost through serious sin.

Church Windows.
Turning away from the Sanctuary, the first window on the right shows us Christ as king (Christus Rex).  On the book are two letters – the first and the last of the Greek alphabet – Alpha and Omega signifying that Christ as God is the beginning and end of all things.

The second window on the right is that of Maria Regina-Mary the Queen of the World.  This was given to Our Blessed Lady by Pope Pius X11 in 1946.  Opposite is a window of St Patrick vested as a bishop with a model of a church in both hands.

The third window on the right is one of St Joseph with a lily in his hand.  This recalls a legend  that a husband for Mary would be the one whose staff would flower and bloom.  Opposite St Joseph’s window is St Brigid’s where she is shown holding a crozier – the symbol of her authority over many monasteries and convents which she founded.

The fourth window on the right is that of St Therese of Lisieux in France.  She is sometimes referred to as “The Little Flower” because while she was on earth (died 1897) she was content to be a small insignificant flower in God’s garden.  She said, however, that she would spend her heaven showering spiritual gifts as roses on those who invoked her.  Her approach to God was that of a child to loving father, hence her way to God is called: “The Little Way”.  Opposite is a window showing St Colmcille with a scroll in his hand – an obvious reference to his work in transcribing the Scriptures.

 raphoe stationsStations of the Cross.

The Stations of the Cross recall incidents on our Lord’s journey from Pilate’s Palace to Calvary – the via dolorosa or sorrowful way.  Here we have sixteen hand-carved plaques from Val Garda in the Dolomites – now the Italian Tyrol.  Christ’s death was foretold by Isaac 800 B.C and foreshadowed by Abraham’s preparedness to sacrifice in obedience to God his only son, Isaac.  This is the idea behind the first plaque.  Between this plaque and the last are the traditional fourteen stations.  The final plaque reminds us that death was not the end.  Christ conquered death, rose from the dead and ascended to his Father in heaven, in glory and triumph.  In Baptism we not only die with Him, but also rise to a new life with Him.

 Above extract taken from Canon Maguire’s “A History of the Diocese of Raphoe” Vol.II, Dublin 1920 (with minor current updates).