One of Ireland’s largest parish churches is currently undergoing a huge restoration project aimed at revitalising the building for the future.
To mark 300 years of their original building, Shankill Parish Church in Lurgan has launched its ‘Re-Imagining Shankill 2025’ project which aims to “restore and reorder” the building.
A Church of Ireland church has stood in the area since 1725, with the current building having been consecrated in 1863.
Canon Mark Harvey says the financially “colossal” project will bring a huge raft of benefits to both the parishioners of the church and the wider Lurgan community at large.
According to the church’s website, the stated aims of the renovations are to help them be a “vibrant church family” worshipping in a fully restored building and having the ability to reach out from the new building.
The building project, which started last year, comprises of four phases to be completed by 2025.
The first two phases, which are now completed, entailed the re-instatement of the church spire, and the treatment of dry rot, including the repair of all affected timbers and treatment of the stonework.
The restoration of the roof is currently on-going.
When that task has been completed, the final phase is the complete restoration and reordering of the church building.
Speaking to Armagh I about the project, Canon Harvey says that renovation to the inside of the church was being contemplated when he arrived in the Parish six years ago. However, 18 months ago an extensive outbreak of dry rot was discovered.
“That required immediate repair and that was when the church was initially closed for worship. We’re using the Jethro Centre at Flush Place at the other end of town on Sundays now. Initially, we were told that would take six to eight months to finish. It took a wee bit longer because it was quite extensive,” Mark said.
In the course of the repairs, an architect was commissioned to inspect the roof, which they discovered was in “very bad repair”.
Mark explained: “Local folks will have noticed about this time last year that there was some scaffolding on the spire. We had some repairs to do to the spire which which was really the first thing that we did. Then the dry rot outbreak was repaired.
“Those two phases are now complete and paid for and we’re now into the next phase, which is the roof and then the final phase after that will be the internal refurbishment of the church. This is to make it more welcoming, more accessible, more flexible – a building that will be fit for use for this current generation and for generations to come.”
He hopes that by the end of the process, the church will have a space that can be used by the wider community for large events, given the huge impact the church has had on the Lurgan skyline and its people for many years.
Mark added: “Going back to the mid-19th century, this beautiful big building has been part of the townscape of this place. It’s part of the fabric of the town. Wherever you go – in the Main Street or around the town – if you look, you can see the building in some shape or form. Whether it’s just the spire or whether it’s the building itself.
“I think it’s important for the community that the building is not just preserved…. but that it’s enhanced, it’s developed and it’s made fit for purpose, not just for us but so that we as a Parish can serve the community better.
“I think it is tremendously exciting to have this focal point of the town and to be able to develop it in such a way that the town can get excited about it and the town can really benefit from it. We hope that people will feel as the work continues that they can be a part of it as well.”
You can follow the progress of the ‘Re-imagining Shankill 2025’ project on Shankill Parish Church’s website.