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Parish Development

Renovations at Cloughcor
Development is an ongoing process and parish buildings have to be constantly maintained. Earlier this year substantial remedial work was done on the Sacred Heart Church at Derry Road and the car park resurfaced. The other major project was the restoration work at St Mary’s Cloughcor and this is now well under way.

This is one of the oldest churches in the Derry Diocese and the latest renovation work has uncovered evidence of earlier substantial modifications to the building. A door and window on the North wall had been built up and a further door on the east side had also been removed. An arched window on the south gable had been built up and the present porch added to the building.. In the present work the structure of the building is being left untouched and work is mainly concentrated on remedying waterproofing defects and prolonging the life of the church for another hundred years.

Fund Raising
A major fund raising programme has been undertaken to allow the renovation work to proceed and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund has been very important in the renovation process. Parishioners and their friends have been very generous in their support of the parish draws and other fund raising events and it is hoped that such generosity will continue. A monthly Draw helps to bring in much needed funds and this is continuing until next May when the current draw is due to be completed.

At present an innovative fund raiser, Buy a Slate, is under way to enable families and their friends to contribute to the development programme. Contributions to the fund are priced at £10 per slate and there are spaces for ten contributions per card. Other fund raising programmes will be developed throughout 2006 and all possible support is welcomed.

For details of events or about donations to the fund, contact the parish office, either through the email address or by telephoning Rita at 028 718 822 74. All contributions will be acknowledged in accordance with your wishes.
In addition to the work at the church at Cloghcour, extensive work is also being done at the car park, steps leading to the church and entrance, all with the aim of making St Mary’s as accessible as possible. Other work on the adjoining cemetery is planned when funds become available.

A school was also erected at Cloughcor at the same time as the church and it later became Cloughcor National School, with James Mc Davitt (Devitt?) as the schoolmaster.

This same James McDavitt was parish treasurer in the 1840s when money was being raised to complete the work at the chapel, with the building of a vestry room and the erection of an altar being the main items of expenditure. Another benefactor of the period seems to have been Michael Kavanagh, lock keeper on the canal at Greenlaw and also a mill owner and corn merchant in the period.

His biographer also mentions local families like Kelly, McGettigan, Phillips, Donaghey and Mc Shane as being involved in the building at Cloughcor and it is likely that oral tradition among those families could shed further light on this period when money was very scarce and contributions had to counted in pennies not pounds for many people.

Substantial renovation work was subsequently carried out at the chapel in the years 1895-96 when newly appointed PP of the separate parish of Leckpatrick, Fr Sam Connolly, organised a major fund raising programme to help restore the crumbling church and further work was done in the 1950s to help preserve the building. We are now embarked on another stage in preserving this historic building, built as the fulfilment of a dream by our ancestors.

Snippets from the past

St. Mary’s Cloughcor is one of the oldest surviving churches in the Derry Diocese, built in 1823 by the then parish priest of the combined parishes of Leckpatrick and Donagheady, Fr William O’Kane. He had been appointed in 1817 as successor to Fr William McCafferty who had served in the parish from 1805 and was then transferred to Donaghmore.

It seems likely that the preparatory work for the building of the chapel at Cloughcor was undertaken by Fr Mc Cafferty and this would have necessitated seeking the approval of the Abercorn family for the land on which to build. Local tradition tells of Mass being celebrated at an open air mass site under an oak tree beside the existing chapel and there is written reference to a mass house being in use in the 1780s when the Earl of Abercorn was petitioned for a grant of land on which to build a permanent church.

The reply was that the time then was not opportune and it was another forty years before the dream became reality. A recently uncovered plaque in the south wall of the church pays tribute to the organisational work of Fr O’Kane and also to another local benefactor, Francis O’Neill, a linen bleacher and merchant who lived at Mount Pleasant, near Burndennet. It appears from later testimony that O’Neill loaned a substantial part of the money needed for the building and was a driving force behind the development.

It is significant that he later became a major benefactor in the development of the Convent of Mercy in Strabane and was buried there; his will had provided for the erection of a memorial to him in Cloughcor but this does not appear to have been carried through.