Spiritual revival leads to rebuild of landmark

DURING the spiritual revival of 1859 it is reported that 100,000 people were converted in Ulster alone while the rest of Ireland was unmoved.

Similar outpourings were occurring in Scotland, Wales and northern England. Perhaps it is no surprise that the people of Lurgan also reacted.

The Anglicans in Lurgan (Church of Ireland), led by the Brownlow family, felt their building too small. It is probable that the petition to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for a new church was brought about by the prompting of Lord Lurgan and his family.

Thus it was at the acquiescence of the said commissioners that the foundation stone of the new church was laid in 1861. The church was built around the walls of the old church, which was then demolished on completion of the new edifice.

Taking two years to complete, Shankill’s congregation was accommodated in the town’s Methodist and Presbyterian churches. This must have put a tremendous strain on everyone involved but apparently all went fairly smoothly until the building was completed in 1863 at the colossal cost, for those days, of £8,000.

The church was constructed of local basalt, incidentally used also for St Peters. Basically symmetrical in plan form it is 38.5 metres in length and 27.25 metres wide. The spire is 180 feet high (55 metres) and may be easily seen from across Lough Neagh at Arboe Cross on a good day. The Primate, Archbishop Knox, whose brother Rev Thomas Knox was rector of Shankill at the time, consecrated the new structure in 1863, dedicated to Christ the Redeemer. The capacity was just short of 2,000.

Linen in the 1800s was the main provider of employment in Lurgan and the ‘linen lords’ were mostly members of the Church of Ireland. At the opening of the new church in 1863, James Malcolm, ancestor of Shankill Parish historian Sammy Malcolm, presented the weather cock and the magnificent Walker organ to the Church. The same organ, which will be 150 years old in 2013, is the subject of an appeal for £150,000 for repairs. A comparable new organ would cost over £1 million.

In 1873 Francis Watson presented the stained-glass windows depicting the four evangelists. The large central window shows the Apostles Mark and Luke and is 28 feet high. The 22 feet high windows on either side depict Matthew and John. These windows by Meier of Munich were severely damaged by a bomb blast in the 1970s. However they were removed from their housing and successfully restored to their former glory.

The Johnston family, of Johnston and Allen fame, added stained glass windows in 1989, depicting a weaving factory.

The Brownlow family and several Lord Lurgans were intimately connected with Shankill Parish. A stained glass window on the south side of the chancel represents Faith, Hope and Charity - sacred to the memory of Rt Hon Charles Brownlow, Baron Lurgan 1847. In 1937 the beautiful oak vestibule was presented by Third Lord Lurgan and in 1985 the side chapel was added by his successor. It was designed by parishioner Thomas Donnell, Diocesan Architect.

Tablets on the wall commemorate Deans Campbell and O’Loughlin, both long serving rectors of Shankill.

The beautiful white slate pulpit was erected in 1898 and the original wooden one transferred to Kilmore where it is still in use. A magnificent golden eagle lectern welcomes those who have to read the lesson from it.

James Ussher, a Lurgan solicitor persuaded Select Vestry members to back him in his efforts to procure a peal of 8 bells, commensurate with Shankill Parish’s standing as one of the great Anglican churches in Ireland.

In 1950 a carillon, playing eight different hymn tunes was added - the gift of Mr DJ Kyle.

1932 saw the remodelling of the chancel, new communion rails and beautifying of the sanctuary.

In the early 1960s, choir stalls were positioned in memory of James Johnston JP and the opportunity was taken to relocate the organist and choir from the gallery to the newly installed choir stalls next to the chancel. This meant that the choir were much closer to the congregation.

1996 was the year when work commenced to provide a number of amenities within the church. There had been a poor provision of toilets and this was rectified together with an enlarged narthex and choir rooms. This has allowed the modern trend of ‘coffee at a meeting place’ after morning service and is much availed.

Actuality of the present time is that after standing for almost 150 years, the mortar binding the old blocks of the spire had become dusty and unsafe. It was propounded that a strong wind could have removed a large part of the spire, with consequent damage to all below and a huge insurance claim.

The top 17 rows of blocks had been subjected to one and a half centuries of acid rain and become very porous. When these blocks were removed, it was found that more blocks were not up to required quality.

So after a year’s work, the scaffolding was finally removed in August 2011, and various cosmetic alterations done to the building.

Much of the sandstone has been cleaned and contrasts well with the basalt of the building. The Church of Christ the Redeemer, Shankill Parish celebrates its 150th anniversary this week.

The building of the 1725 church cost £2,000.

The next one (the present church) cost £8,000 in 1863.

A conservative guess as to the cost of replacing this beautiful church would be £5 million.