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Parish History

Leckpatrick in the 17th Century
The parish of Leckpatrick is situated in the north western part of Tyrone and had for long been closely associated with the neighbouring parish of Donagheady. There appears to have been a well established parochial structure in the area in pre Plantation times and monastic/church centres at Grange and Donagheady provided the means for religious observance and for Christian burials.

The Bodley map of 1609 shows church owned land at the present day Leckpatrick glebe land and Bishop Montgomery’s survey of the same period lists Cormac O’Cleary and Aeneas McEneaney as officiating clergy in Leckpatrick parish while earlier records suggest that John McCallion, Patrick O’Duffy, Patrick O’Brien and Phelim O’Carolan were priests in the parish in the years before 1600.

In Donagheady parish the names of O’Divin, Mc Colgan, Carolan and O’Hegarty are mentioned as pre-Plantation clergy. Oral tradition tells of an abbey foundation in the Leckpatrick area, located near Artigarvan, and the district was seen as a refuge area for Catholics in the Plantation period, due largely to the patronage of the local landowner, Sir George Hamilton, himself a practicing Catholic. Names like James Farrell, Andrew Hadaway and Robert Angeo were reported to government in the 1620s as Scottish settlers who gave active support to native Catholics in the area around Strabane
Active Persecution of Catholic Clergy

Despite the period of active persecution from mid 17th century onwards Leckpatrick parish retained a Catholic clerical presence and government reports from 1696 and 1704 show a Tagh O’Luinsechan (possibly Lynch) as the parish priest. In 1681 there was a government clamp down on Catholic clergy and priests like James Devine of Donagheady, James O’Kelly of Ardstraw and James McConnolly of Badoney were being hunted by the military.

A letter was sent from Strabane gaol in 1695 by a number of priests seeking release from prison, with the names of John McNally, Badoney, James O’Hegarty of Fahan, Tagh O’Luinsechan of Leckpatrick and James McConnolly signing the appeal. A government list of 1704 suggests that Fr O’Luinseachan was living in Fyfin and parish priest of Leckpatrick while a Bryan O’Hegarty was registered for Donagheady and living at Aughafad. A further report in 1766 suggests that an old priest, possibly Fr Hegarty, was in charge of the combined parishes of Leckpatrick and Donagheady, with a younger priest, probably a curate, located in the Donagheady part.

In this period of the Penal Laws there was no distinct church building but again tradition talks of Mass and church services at Mass Rocks in Glenmornan and at Cloughcor. Local tradition also talks of a Fr Nugent being killed during the penal period, but with some differences over the actual location of the death: certainly the century from 1640 to 1750 was a dangerous time for Catholic clergy and those found celebrating Mass were liable to face imprisonment if not death.

Building Cloughcor Chapel
Land had to be acquired and this was eventually provided by Lord Aberdeen, guardian for the young Earl of Abercorn. Equally important, however, was the issue of finance and it must have been a daunting task for a relatively impoverished population to raise the necessary money to build the chapel. In an age when there were very few people with surplus income after basic living costs there must have been major sacrifices made by the local population in the quest to build the church.

Tenant farmers, weavers, labourers and cottiers made up the bulk of the population and much depended on the very few prosperous merchants of the parish. One such person was linen merchant, Francis O’Neill, and in later years tribute was paid to his generosity in supporting the new church and ensuring its erection by 1823.

A recently unearthed biographical account suggest that Michael Kavanagh, lock-keeper at Greenlaw and a leading corn merchant in the area until the 1860s, was also a major supporter of the developments at Cloughcor and other names mentioned in this report were Mc Shane, Phillips and McGettigan.

Renovation work in 1895/6
There are no extant records of further work at Cloughcor chapel in the post Famine period and the next major landmark appears in the period 1895/96 when major renovation work was carried out under the promptings of the recently appointed parish priest, Fr Sam Connolly.

The union with Donagheady parish had been ended in 1891 on the death of long time pastor, Rev. Bernard Mc Kenna, at his residence at Cloughcor, and his forty four year service as parish priest is commemorated in the plaque inside the current St Mary’s church. His successor was Monsignor Bernard Mc Laughlin but he remained only until 1893 when he was replaced by Fr Samuel Connolly who remained in charge of Leckpatrick until his death in 1931.

A newspaper report for October 1895 describes the commencement of fund raising for the renovations to Cloughcor church and suggested that the building was in a very dilapidated state and urgently in need of major repairs.

Fr Connolly on this occasion paid tribute to the support and generosity of the people of Strabane in helping to raise the funds and also extended his thanks to his Protestant and Presbyterian friends for their generous assistance. The church was rededicated and opened in 1896 and the repair work must have proved effective since the church has remained until the present with little further major structural renovations.

Relaxation of the Penal Laws
The laws were relaxed from the 1750s onwards and the mass rocks gave way to mass houses: the Abercorn letters of 1785 record a petition from Cloughcor Catholics to the Earl of Abercorn seeking help in the provision of accommodation and access for a center for worship. Abercorn promised support when feasible but other factors clearly intervened since nothing was done until the 1820s.

It seems likely that in this period the Catholics of Clochcor attended service in some sort of Mass House or converted barn and this would have been a major advance from the open air church at “the Old Altar Green”, adjacent to the present Clochcor church, sheltered by a holly bush under an ancient oak tree, according to oral tradition.

Church Building begins
From the early 18th century the parishes of Leckpatrick and Donagheady had been administered jointly and by the early years of the 19th century it was felt that every effort should be made to ensure that proper churches were erected in the most populated areas of the district. Glenmornan chapel had been built in 1793 but it was always more difficult to get approval to build in areas nearer to towns and prosperous farming areas.

It is likely that Fr Rogan had been responsible for the building of the Glenmornan chapel but little else is known of his work and he died in 1804. Fr William Mc Cafferty being appointed as successor and he later moved to Donaghmore.
He was followed by Father William O’Kane in 1817 and it is Fr O’Kane who appears to have been the driving force in the erection of Clochcor chapel.

This extract from a William Petty Map of Tyrone was produced in 1685 and provides detail on many of the townland names that were in existence at that time. Some of the spelling of placenames have changed over the centuries as have some of the actual names. Thus an area like Hollyhill was then known as Balliborne while Konkill appears to be modern day Woodend. Ballyskeagh was then shortened to B.skith while Cavanraak on the map would seem to represent present day Owenreagh. Clearly not all townlands are recorded but some of the names are still recognisable

Additions in the 1840s
Evidence suggests, however, that the church was only partially completed by this stage and we can assume that lack of finance prevented any adornment of the church’s interior.

An account book of the next parish priest, Father William Mc Laughlin, appointed in 1836 on the death of Father O’Kane, itemises the accounts in 1843/44 for the erection of an altar in Clochcor church and the building of a vestry room there. A stone cross, at a cost of £1-5-0, was also provided in this period and it would be likely that seating and other interior arrangements would have come even later.

It is clear that raising the necessary finances for church building was a laborious process and very likely a staged and gradualist approach to completion of the church was adopted.

Heating Installed 1950's
Considerable internal work was carried out in the 1950s when heating was installed and the ceilings repaired while further work was done in the late 1960s and early 1970s in changing the layout of the altar and refurnishing the interior with carpeting and new seating.

The church has remained in regular usage and the weekly Sunday mass is supplemented by the celebration of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, first communion and marriage, as well as frequent funeral services. The congregation has declined somewhat in the past twenty years, due to some extent to the availability of Mass at other times in other churches in the parish, but the local community and the parishioners in general are determined that the St Mary’s church at Cloughcor should be retained as a vibrant center of religious worship and a living link to the sacrifices and commitments of previous generations.