Parish History

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WHEN THE CHURCH OPENED...     (24/07/2012)

When the church opened in September 1983, the following people contributed to the ceremony.

Principal Concelebrant
Most Reverend Edward Daly, Bishop of Derry

Reverend Joseph Carolan Adm
Reverend James Clerking Adm
Reverend Michael Collins Adm
Reverend Oliver Crilly C.C.
Reverend Colm Diamond C.C.
Reverend Michael Keaveney Adm
Reverend Francis Lagan Adm
Reverend Brian McGoldrick
Reverend Neill McGoldrick C.C.
Reverend Patrick McGoldrick
Reverend George McLaughlin C.C.
Reverend Peter Madden C.C.
Reverend Desmond Mullan P.P
Reverend Kieran O’Doherty Adm
Reverend Patrick O’Kane C.C
Reverend Hugh B. O’Neill P.P

Present in the Sanctuary
Right Reverend Monsignor Austin Duffy P.P., V.G.

Masters of Ceremonies
Reverend Eamonn Graham, Diocesan Secretary
Reverend Edward Kilpatrick C.C.

Reverend John Doherty C.C.
Reverend Charles Keaney C.C.

FIRST READER : Adrian Ward
PSALMIST : Michael Cusack
SECOND READER : Corinne Coyle
CHOIR and ORGAN : Annie Coyle
CHILDREN’S CHOIR : Sally McCallion, Eithne McGlinchey


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The architects of this special church were Hegarty Masterson Doherty Architects, 12 Clarendon Street, Derry, BT 48 7ET - below is a small list of their thoughts and restrictions when actually designing the church.

The design of the new church in Ballymagroarty has been dictated by the following:-
1. The site, which is long, narrow, sloping and exposed on all four sides.

2. Our client’s requirements, for a church to seat 650 people; a parochial house for three priests and a housekeeper; and sacristies, committee rooms etc.

3. The housing and commercial developments newly built around the church site.

The scheme that finally evolved consists of two squares, connected by a short link corridor. The larger square is the church; the smaller contains the parochial house, sacristies, committee rooms, parochial offices etc.

Each building is clad in facing bricks, with pitched and slated roofs. The roof over the church rises to a highest point over the sanctuary and is finished with a glass reinforced plastic fleche. The roof over the parochial house rises to a central roof-light over a central staircase.

The church is steel-framed, brick piers have been formed around the steel columns on the perimeter of the building. Between these piers are located fourteen windows; each of which has as its centre-piece a stained glass Station of the Cross by Desmond Kyne. The inside walls of the church are in facing brick; the floor is carpeted and the ceiling is finished in redwood.

The parochial house is two-storeyed. The accommodation for each priest is a flat consisting of a living-room, bedroom and bathroom.

Car parking has been provided around the church with the remainder of the site being landscaped and planted. To increase car parking, a connection has been made between the church site and the adjoining supermarket site.

Hegarty Masterson Doherty Architects
12 Clarendon Street, Derry, BT 48 7ET

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Bishop Daly's Message - 1983     (24/07/2012)


This is the day the Lord has made!

I have looked forward to this day for the last three or four years, ever since I first decided to form a new parish in the developing Ballymagroarty/Foyle Springs area, and to build a church, parochial house and Catholic primary school to serve the Catholic community in this area.

The decision to dedicate this parish to the Holy Family was based on the fact that so many young families have set up their homes here. I believe that this is a very apt and happy choice of title.

The church itself is quite beautiful and we were most fortunate in acquiring such a central and ideal site for the church/parochial house/school complex. It is a building which will greatly enhance the attractiveness of this new area of Derry City. I look forward to the building and completion of the new primary school. It is urgently needed. Work will commence on this school as soon as the Department of Education gives the go-ahead.

I wish God’s blessing to Father Kieran O’Doherty, Administrator, his curate and all the people of this new parish. I hope that together you will build up a truly Christian community, a truly Christian family, reflective of the life of the First Christian Family to whom this parish is dedicated.

September 1983
Edward Daly
Bishop of Derry

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THE MC GROARTYS     (24/07/2012)

By Vera McFadden

One of Derry’s historic place-names is Ballymagroarty - Baile Mhic Robartaigh, the townland of the McGroarty family. The area is named after this herenach clan. In the middle ages, each parish had a herenach family whose duty it was to take charge of and preserve the church relics. In Derry and Drumholme, the McGroarty’s were the herenachs.

One of their most important relics - perhaps the most important of all - was the Cathach, an ancient psalter believed to have been written by Colmcille. It was a copy of the Old Testament psalms, and it was almost unornamented. But this hastily transcribed manuscript was the great saint’s work and so it was treasured for centuries. It had been preserved for about five centuries when a McGroarty called Domhnaill was assigned the task of having a shrine made for it. On the base of the shrine the following message was inscribed: “A prayer for Cathbarr Ua Domhnaill for whom this reliquary was made and for Sitric, grandson of Aedh who made it and for Domhnaill Mhic Robartaigh, coarb of Kells by whom it was made”.

The Cathach gets its name from the Irish word “Cath” which means “a battle.” The book was used as a talisman in battle and it was the duty of the McGroarty herenach to carry it in the field when the O’Donnell fought.

There is also an old tradition that the McGroartys used the Cathach at the O’Donnell inauguration ceremonies, when the new chief swore on the book and held a stick of willow in his hand.

The McGroarty's remained the custodians of this important book for centuries but eventually the O’Donnell family themselves took charge of it. It was later to be taken abroad and then returned to Ireland. Over the centuries, it was encased in a few different shrines, which were either replaced or repaired when the need arose.

Domhnaill Mac Robartaigh, the coarb of Kells, the man who was responsible for the making of one of the shrines lived in the 11th century. A contemporary of his was a very famous Mac Robartaigh - Muredach, who was born in Donegal in the year 1028. Known on the continent as Marianus Scotus, he founded the Irish convent of Ratisbon. He left Ireland when he was 28 and went to Germany, where he settled as a monk in Cologne for three years. Then he was ordained and spent ten years in the Abbey of Fuld. He died at Mentz when he was 58. Continental writers have mentioned his great sanctity and stated that he was the most learned man of his time, and that he had deep knowledge of the sacred scriptures, history, calculations and all the sciences.

Like Colmcille, Muredach Mac Robartaigh left an interesting book. One of his works, a copy of St. Paul’s epistles, is preserved in Vienna. It is illustrated with notes in the margins and at the end by “Marianus Scotus” he wrote his Irish name and jotted a note that he had written it for the use of Irish pilgrims and travellers - his brethren travelling abroad.

Today's McGroartys can be very proud of their herenach ancestors who for centuries protected the Cathach. Thanks to their safe-keeping of it, this work of Colmcille’s survived to this day.

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Detailed History     (24/07/2012)

The Church of the Holy Family in Derry is situated on an estate named after one of the city's historic place names - Ballymagroarty, which translated in Irish means the townland of the McGroarty family.

One of their most important relics was the Cathach, an ancient psalter believed to have been written by Colmcille - and a copy of the Old Testament psalms. The Cathach comes from the Irish word for battle and it was used as a talisman in battle where it was the duty of the McGroarty clan to carry it when the O'Donnell clan fought.

The McGroarty's remained the custodians of the important book for centuries, but eventually the O'Donnell family themselves took charge of it. In subsequent centuries it was encased in a few different shrines which were either replaced or repaired as and when this became necessary. Domhnaill McRobartaigh of the Court of Kells was responsible for making one of the shrines in the 11th Century.

A contemporary of his was the famous MacRobartaigh - Muredoch who lived in Donegal in the year 1028. He left Ireland at the age of 28 and went to Germany where he settled as a monk for three years at Cologne. Then he was ordained and spent ten years at the Abbey of Fuld.

He died at Mertz when he was 58. On the continent he was known as Marianus Scotus. It is interesting to note then that one of the first housing estates in the Hazelbank area of the parish is named after him - Marianus Park.

This housing estate developed shortly after the time when the Holy Family Church was first opened in Ballymagroarty. Ballymagroarty/Foyle Springs was the only existing area at that time and the Catholic population was around 3500. For three or four years prior to this, after the new housing development was completed the residents of the area did not have easy access to a nearby church.

Therefore, the decision was made to build a new church and make a new and separate parish.

In 1981 Bishop Daly appointed Father Kieran Devlin CC, St Eugene's Cathedral, as Priest-in-Charge of the newly formed parish which he chose to call Holy Family. The name was recognition of the fact that many families had set up home in the area, and it stressed the importance of the family unit and of the parish as one large family.

A central site was acquired and the foundation stone was blessed and laid by Bishop Daly on November 25, 1982 at an open air service. St Eugene's Cathedral Choir, under the expert direction of Donal Doherty, provided the music for the service with some very appropriate pieces of music.

The Holy Family Church was opened and solemnly dedicated by Bishop Daly on Sunday September 25 1983. The occasion was marked by an inaugural Mass at which the Bishop was the principal celebrant, assisted by the priests of both the newly formed parish and neighbouring parishes.

The historic and community occasion coincided with the Jubilee of Our Redemption. On January 16 1983, Pope John Paul II delivered a special message for that year which read: "This is an event that can deeply stimulate the lives of Christians, so that they correspond still more closely to the divine calling which is theirs to become children of God and true brothers and sisters of all, after the model of Christ.

It was hoped at the time that the new Holy Family church would be an instrument to achieving the Pope's vision. As time went by the Catholic population began to rise, with more housing estates sprouting up around the church. One of the most significatn developments was probably the build ing of the Holy Family Primary School.

This opened in 1987 with a roll of 460 children and 16 teachers. The school was officially opened and blessed by Bishop Daly on March 25 1988 shortly after the episcopal ordination of Bishop Lagan, the first Auxiliary Bishop of Derry.

Expansion of the community has meant that the current enrolment in the school is well over one thousand with a staff consisting of the principal and 48 teachers - making it one of the largest primary schools in Derry.

The Parish of the Holy Family Church has consequently, also become one of the fastest growing parishes in the whole of Derry city.

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In the Beginning.     (21/06/2012)

The Church of the Holy Family in Derry is sited at the end of the Ballymagroarty estate. Central to the local Primary School, shopping centre and restaurant, it now serves some 9000 parishioners from not just Ballymagroarty, but also from Hazelbank, Foyle Springs, the Branch, Templegrove, Whitehouse Park, Coshquin and the Springtown Road.

The splendid church building, which seats 650, was designed and built by Hegarty Masterson Doherty Architects and McCormick Building Contractors. It has 14 windows with a Station of the Cross, designed by Desmond Kyne, being the centre piece of each.

The inside ceiling is panelled in red wood and the seats are positioned in a semi-circular fashion which corresponds to the image of the church being a place which facilitates a communion of God's people gathered to praise His name.

The roof of the church rises to its highest point over the sanctory, and it is finished with a glass re-inforced plastic fleche. Adjoining the church is the two-storey parochial house whose steel-framed brick piers have been formed around steel columns on the perimeter of the building. It's roof rises rises to a central roof-light over hanging a staircase.

The land around the church has been landscaped and planted, and recently added flood-lights enhance the beauty of the church building by night.

The Holy Family Parish Church was opened and solemly dedicated by Bishop Daly on September 25th 1983.

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St Michael's Church     (21/06/2012)

St Michael's Church dates back to 1875. (An earlier church built in 1803 was located on the lower part of the present site). St Michael's was built in the French Gothic Revival style of architecture. The nave has thirteen bays of French Gothic windows.

The paintings of the Transfiguration, the Sermon on the Mount, Magdalen at the feet of our Lord, the Baptism in the Jordan, were by Charles Russell who worked in the 1890's while the Nativity window by Michael Healy was commissioned twenty years later.

The church was re-dedicated by Bishop Duffy on the 29th September 1996 following its re-ordering in accordance with Vatican II. Part of the re-ordering was bringing the altar closer to the congregation. On the front of the altar is a beautiful sculpture of the Pietá.

The beautiful organ on gallery was rebuilt using solid African walnut in 2000-'01. It was blessed by Bishop Duffy on 28th June 2001.

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