‘When it was first built, 50 years ago, it couldn’t actually accommodate the people…. Now, we need about a fifth of it.’

Today with Sean O'Rourke

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Those words, spoken by Finglas parish priest, Fr Éamonn Cahill, could probably be repeated by many local clerics across the country as the stark reality of falling church attendance hits home.

Fr. Cahill was speaking to Paddy O’Gorman, as he reported for Today with Sean O’Rourke on the closure of one of the largest churches in Dublin, the Church of the Annunciation in Finglas West on the north side of the capital.

With a capacity of 3,500, its construction in 1967 was much-needed, as an earlier “tin church” in the same location proved inadequate for an expanding local population. Older people still remember speakers having to be placed outside that church to accommodate the crowds who could not get in. So a half-century ago, as Finglas expanded rapidly, a new church building of this extraordinary size was very much welcomed, as one of the parishioners reflected to Paddy.

“You couldn’t get into the church. There were four masses on a Sunday morning, two on Saturday evening. Sunday evening at 6:30pm.”

“I remember the sod being turned by Archbishop McQuaid” said another. But she continued, “things are changing, it’s got too big, too big for the parish at the moment. We are all elderly now.”

Apart from the falloff in attendance at mass, there are huge structural problems with the building, including leaks in the roof. The cost of reparations, given the current climate, would be unjustifiable.

According to Fr Éamonn Cahill,

“The footprint of the building itself is an acre. It is a huge building. When it was first built, 50 years ago, it couldn’t actually accommodate the people. You had to come down very early to mass to get a seat. Now, we need about a fifth of it. It is unsustainable.”

The enormous church will now be demolished and a smaller building will be constructed to accommodate in the region of 350 worshippers, one tenth the capacity of the existing building. The site will also accommodate some social housing and a pastoral centre with facilities such as offices, meeting rooms and a tea and coffee dock.

Paddy’s report for Today with Sean O’Rourke also included a vox-pop with people in the Finglas area, where there was widespread dismay at the news that the church was to be demolished. That said, even amongst those who described themselves as “disgusted” and “disappointed”, their attendance at the church was only occasional.

You can hear the full interview by clicking here.

© The Listener 2017

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