St Patrick's History


St Patrick's

A Short History

Book of dedication

to Rev. Henry

Stewart O'Hara



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....In this new century we find traditional services existing alongside contemporary worship, lay and ordained staff working together and new organisations springing up alongside the old. The rich diversity of church life which flows from this marrying of the old with the new, reflects the essential nature of God - eternal, unchanging, yet timelessly relevant to people in every age; the God to whose glory the church of St. Patrick's is dedicated and bears witness. 'And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.' (Col.3: 17 [NIV])




St. Patrick's, together with its daughter church St. Andrew's, Ballysally, now forms the largest parish in the Church of Ireland,' with over fifteen hundred families. Parish life, which must focus on the needs of the people of Coleraine, reflects the contrasts of the building around which it has grown. In keeping with the wider Anglican tradition, the aim (present in both the original intentions of Rev. Henry Stewart O'Hara (Rector 1869-1894) and architect Thomas Drew is to combine the best of the old with the best of the new.


The outworking of this purpose in Sunday services and weekday activities has produced a parish life of contrasts, with elements both traditional and modern. Parishioners of all generations are encouraged to worship and grow in their faith in ways that are appropriate to them as individuals......


Under the leadership of the Rev. Henry Stewart O'Hara (1843‑1923), Rector of St. Patrick's 1869‑1894 and later Dean of St. Anne's, Belfast, and Bishop of Cashel and Waterford, a general assembly of the congregation in January 1883 decided to pull down the existing church and construct a new one.




St. Patrick's church occupies one of the oldest ecclesiastical sites in Ireland, Christian worship having taken place here possibly since the fifth century. The present building is a late nineteenth ­century design (refurbished internally 1994‑6), but it is the latest in a series of buildings going back many centuries. Archaeologists working in the church in 1994 discovered foundations of a building constructed probably in the fourteenth century, on top of which were seventeenth‑century remains. Some of these foundations can be viewed through a panel set in the floor of the north aisle.


The town of Coleraine has a long history as a port whose principal links with the outside world were via the river Bann and the sea. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries it was turned into an Anglo‑Norman stronghold. A fort was built at Loughan to the south of the town, and in 1248 a bridge was constructed linking Coleraine with the west bank of the river where a second fort was erected. In view of the strategic importance of Coleraine, Robert the Bruce, who in the early 1300s conquered the northern parts of Ulster, occupied the town and destroyed the bridge. Although the population of Coleraine during the middle  ages was only a few hundred, and even in the seventeenth century normally was only between 2,000 and 3,000, the geographical location of the town gave it a commercial and military importance beyond its size.



Coleraine underwent expansion in the early seventeenth century when it was included in territory granted by the crown to the Honourable the Irish Society in the scheme known as 'the Plantation of Ulster' (initiated 1609). The Irish Society developed the port facilities and provided a new lay‑out for the town based on a square (the present‑day Diamond) with two major thoroughfares running east and west (present‑day Church Street to the east, with Bridge Street and Captain Street across the river to west); minor streets branched off to the north and south. The medieval church of St. Patrick's, then in a state of dilapidation, was rebuilt by the Irish Society about 1614. The new structure in its essentials lasted until the late nineteenth century, although considerable restoration and extension was undertaken in the 1770s, and other alterations were made in the 1850s and 1860s. The Irish Society received from the crown the right to nominate clergy to St Patricks, and continued to do so until 1870.


The next principal phase in the growth of Coleraine was from the 1830s to the 1860s. Several new churches were built ‑Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Congregationalist and others ‑ and some key secular buildings: the court house (1852), railway station (1855), town hall (1859), Coleraine Academical Institution (1860), and the Irish Society School (1867)


By this time, St. Patrick's church again was in a poor physical condition. The building was crumbling, and dangerous structural defects had been discovered. The question arose as to whether further repairs should be made, or a more radical solution adopted: the demolition of the existing building, and its replacement by something larger and more imposing.



By tradition, the history of Coleraine goes back to the time of St. Patrick, who is reputed to have come to the district and made provision for a church on the site of the present St Patrick's. Since those early beginnings several buildings have come and gone, but the location has remained a place of Christian worship. The present building was erected between 1883 and 1885 at a time when the Church of Ireland was recovering from the double blow of Disestablishment and Dis-endowment. There was nevertheless an extraordinarily buoyant spirit throughout the church, and it is evident in the decision of the congregation of St. Patrick's in 1883 to sanction a new, large and imposing place of worship. Our own generation can find inspiration and encouragement from its predecessors who responded to the challenges and difficulties of their day with courage, vision and resolution. We hope that as you examine this building and inspect its architectural features, you will not only acquire a sense of the long tradition within which the building stands, but also of its active role as a focal point of the present‑day community of Coleraine. David J Sturdy Spring 1998

The decision to rebuild having been taken, the Dublin architect Thomas Drew (who also designed St. Anne's Cathedral, Belfast) was engaged. Later in the year the old church was handed over to contractors. On 22 August 1884, while work was still in progress, a memorial stone was laid to commemorate the project. It can be seen in the porch under the tower. Its inscription includes these words:  “This church, dedicated to the glory of God in memory of His


servant St. Patrick, was founded in the fifth century after the birth D17 Christ; was rebuilt by the Hon. Irish Society of London in the year 1614, and was again rebuilt in the year 1884.'


The new church was completed in April 1885, and was reopened with much pomp and ceremony accompanied by a series of special services at which leading members of the Church of Ireland ecclesiastical hierarchy preached. It is the church of 1885 which still stands, and although modifications have been made to the interior, the structure remains as Drew conceived it.



Drew opted for a fifteenth‑century perpendicular Gothic style, and in this regard St. Patrick's is a fine example of the 'Gothic revival' which was such a feature of British and Irish architecture in the nineteenth century. In an age of considerable social, economic and political change, Gothic architecture emphasised continuity between past and present, and encouraged people to uphold traditional spiritual values. When Drew, after consultation with O’Hara and other representatives of St. Patrick's and the wider Church of Ireland communion, decided on Gothic, he did so with specific religious and social purposes in mind.


The exterior of the completed building aimed for height and dignity, to impress upon the observer the continuing centrality of the church in the life of the community; the interior stressed space and light conducive to reflection and worship.


The Exterior


The external effect is achieved principally by the splendid tower, which is 28m tall to the battlements, and 34m to the summit of the pinnacles. It is divided into four contrasting sections. The first is le ground‑floor porch with its fine arch, the second contains a window in a pointed arch and stone tracing, the third comprises stonework adorned by a cross, and the fourth contains two open arched windows on each face. The uppermost level also houses the peal of eight bells (ranging from a quarter of a ton to just over a ton in weight) which were acquired in 1893. The tower is completed with a flourish by the addition of pinnacles. Of all the external features of St. Patrick's, the tower is that which most identifies the building. It can be seen from high points around the town, and is one of the defining landmarks of modern Coleraine.


The stone carving in the tower porch ‑ and also that surrounding the smaller south porch ‑ was undertaken by a Coleraine craftsman, Charles McGowan. The coats of arms above the entry to the tower porch are those of the City of London (on the left) and Coleraine.

The door mouldings on the south porch are decorated with alternating shamrocks and ferns, the symbols o St. Patrick. In the tympanum above the south doorway are three panels containing coats of arms: those of the diocese in the centre and of Armagh and the O'Hara’s on either side.


The Interior


The effects of spaciousness and light which Drew sought are achieved by the design of the building and the choice of materials.


The ground plan is irregular cruciform: it is based on a nave (29m long and 7m wide) with aisles, a chancel (9m long), and north and south transepts of unequal size. The sense of space is enhanced by the lofty roof, and by the use of high pointed arches both between the columns and, most strikingly, above the chancel. The columns in the church are varied in design, being circular, octagonal, or ribbed; all have foliated capitols.


One of the outstanding features of St. Patrick's is the glasswork, which transforms incoming light into a mosaic of colour. To admit as much light as possible, Drew introduced extensive ranges of windows on the ground‑floor and upper storey; especially impressive are the large cast and west windows, each of which contains important examples of nineteenth‑century coloured glass. Again in the interests of lightness, Drew selected pale‑tinted stone for use in the interior, to contrast with the darker granite of much of the exterior. Especially notable is the pinkish stone ‑ from quarries near Ballycastle ‑ which is used extensively in the arches, the columns and the chancel.


St. Patrick's, then, is a building of contrasts. Viewed from outside, it gives an impression of dignity, even austerity; inside, it emphasises space, colour and light.

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By 1992, problems in the fabric of the building again faced the congregation with a major challenge. As in 1883 it decided to close the church; not to build a new one on this occasion, but to overhaul the interior and repair the exterior. The need for restoration was increased by damage to the building which resulted from a terrorist bomb which destroyed much of Coleraine

town centre in November 1992.


The refurbishment created an opportunity to reconsider the lay­out of the interior, and to effect changes which would allow a more flexible approach to worship. Some of those changes will be evident as you walk around the church.





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