The Parish copes, 1991-1999

Early in 1991 an appeal had been made for nominated persons to act as lay Ministers of the Eucharist in the parish.  Bishop Farquhar came to the Parish in June and commissioned fifty-eight Ministers of the Eucharist.  In December these Eucharistic Ministers met in ‘Kenbaan’ to organise the bringing of Holy Communion to the sick and housebound on Christmas Day.  This was a ‘first’ for the parish and it was recorded that if it was well accepted by parishioners the Ministers of the Eucharist would do this every Sunday.

In April Bishop Patrick Walsh was installed as Bishop of Down and Connor at a ceremony in St Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast.

Canon Fitzpatrick was appointed Chancellor of the Diocese and moved to Belfast.  Fr Sean Connolly was to succeed Canon Fitzpatrick.  He arrived in the Parish on 8 August 1991.

Canon Fitzpatrick returned to the Parish in August to celebrate Mass which was broadcast on Radio Ulster.

On 11 October Bishop Walsh installed Fr Sean Connolly as Parish Priest of Ballymena.  This was a ceremony introduced by Bishop Walsh which he intends to carry out on the appointment of a new Parish Priest to the parishes of the diocese.  Priests from neighbouring parishes and Fr Connolly’s family were present.

For the first time a Penitential Service was held in All Saints’ Church on 22 December.  Fourteen priests were present and confessions were on for over an hour and a half.

Early in 1992 a meeting of all parish organisations was held in the Youth Centre to float the idea of working towards a Parish Pastoral Council.  It was believed that a long period of preparation was foreseen so that parishioners could be familiarised with the purposes a pastoral council was meant to serve for the benefit of the parish.  Later in the year the first in a series of five talks on ‘The Church’ was held in St Patrick’s High School.  These talks were held on Thursday nights during Lent and were part of the process in preparation for the establishment of a Parish Pastoral Council.

Due to the large numbers attending the Saturday Vigil Mass in All Saints many people could not get a seat.  Fr Connolly arranged to put on a second Vigil Mass in Harryville at 6 00pm.  The Vigil Mass was well received by parishioners.

Fr Colm McBride came to work in the parish during July and stayed for about five weeks until he was appointed to Poleglass Parish in Belfast.

An appeal was made for volunteers who under the direction of Sister Josephine would form a Faith Preparation Team.  It was envisaged that the members of the Faith Preparation Team would help converts or take a course on the faith as part of an Adult Religious Education effort in the parish.

Fr Brian O’Kane SMA came to help out in the Parish in a temporary capacity.

The 27 September saw the beatification of seventeen Irish Martyrs in Rome.  One of them Conor O’Devaney OFM was a former bishop of this diocese.  There was a stained glass window of him in All Saints Church.

Ballymena was ahead of the times!

Later in the year, on the Feast of All the Saints of Ireland, all the priests concelebrated Mass to commemorate his beatification.

As part of the on-going process towards a Parish Pastoral Council an exhibition of all Parish Organisations was held in the Youth Centre.  It didn’t arouse much interest and most participants were disappointed at the response.

Fr John Murray left the parish after three years.  He was appointed Parish Priest of St Joseph’s, Antrim.  Fr Feargal McGrady came from Portaferry to replace him.

Catholic Schools Week was inaugurated in December with all four primary schools,  St Patrick’s High School and St Louis Grammar School being responsible for the liturgy of one Mass each.  Pupils from the schools sang the parts of the Mass, did the Readings, Prayers of the Faithful and Offertory Procession.  Parishioners commented favourably on this and it was evident that the schools had done a lot of preparation.

Everyone in the Parish was stunned to hear, on 15 December, of the sudden death of Monsignor Tumelty.  His housekeeper found him dead in the dining room after he had taken his tea.  He had taken a heart attack.  He had been active during the week with school confessions and had taken a funeral Mass that morning.

The funeral Mass of Monsignor Tumelty was held in The Church of Our Lady, Mother of The Church, Harryville on 17 December.  Afterwards he was buried beside All Saints’ Church.

A Month’s Mind mass was held for Monsignor Tumelty on 15 January in All Saints’ Church.

His death left the parish with one priest less so Bishop Walsh invited Fr Frank Mullan, a Vincentian priest, and brother of Fr Liam Mullan a former curate in Ballymena, to come for a year to the parish.  He took up residence in the Parochial House at Harryville.  Fr Mullan was a former Provincial of his congregation for the Irish Province.

The systematic visitation of homes which had begun in 1992 continued with two or three streets taken at a time.  It was found to be difficult to find people at home, particularly during the summer months. 

In August Fr Denis McKinlay was transferred to Lisburn and replaced by Fr Daniel Curran who came from St Paul’s Parish, Belfast.

Fr Mullan was joined in Harryville by a fellow Vincentian, Fr Eamon Cowan.  He had no official appointment from the Diocese but he was a welcome help in the parish and a good companion for Fr Mullan in the isolated dwelling in Harryville.  Fr Eamon agreed to act as Chaplain to St Louis Grammar School.

It was hard to keep Ballymena out of the news – a parishioner, Eamon Loughran, won the World Welterweight title at the Kings Hall on 16 October.

The year 1994 started quietly but the peaceful atmosphere was soon shattered when a parishioner, Cormac McDermott of 11 Fisherwick Gardens was shot in his sitting room by a loyalist assassin.  His wife Cecilia had answered a knock at the door to be met in the hallway by a gunman whom she tackled.  In the ensuing struggle she was shot in the neck as she pulled the mask and glasses off the gunman.  This led to his arrest later and his sentence for murder.  Cormac was shot in front of his three year old daughter Saorsie.  Many messages expressing sympathy and support to the family and the Catholic community in Ballymena were received from people and Ministers of Religion from the town and other places.

On 13 February Monsignor Michael Dallat, a native of Ballycastle and Parish Priest of St Paul’s Parish in Belfast was ordained Auxiliary bishop of Down and Connor in St Peter’s Cathedral.

In March a very significant event in the local and wider community took place with the opening of the new Antrim Area Hospital.  The loss of the Waveney Hospital from Ballymena caused much inconvenience to the people of the town and the surrounding area, especially the Glens of Antrim.

The St Vincent de Paul organised a Mass for the sick and housebound in the Youth Centre on Sunday 26 June.  Carers for the sick including doctors, nurses, health visitor had their hands blessed.

Fr Paul Lyttle, a native of Ahoghill Parish was ordained to the priesthood for the diocese in Ahoghill Church.  He said a Mass for the people of Ballymena on Friday 5 August.

September 1995 saw another new parish society coming into existence.  Fr John Murray, Diocesan Vocations’ Director helped to launch and initiate a branch of St Joseph’s Young Priests Society to promote prayer for vocations and raise money to assist students whose families could not financially support them.

It was the aim of the priests of the parish that Eucharistic Ministers would bring Holy Communion to the housebound each weekend.  To enable a Rota System to be established it was agreed that at least eighty people would be needed.   Forty three parishioners responded during the annual recruitment drive and they were inducted on the first Sunday of Advent.

A new initiative began in the parish in November.  A special Mass was held for all those parishioners who had died during the year.  A special letter was sent to the family of each of the deceased inviting them to be present.  The Mass was concelebrated by all four priests and as the name of each deceased person was read out a candle was lighted for them.  Those present said they found it to be a very moving experience.

This year which had begun with the murder of a parishioner ended with the murder of another.  On 22 December, Noel Lyness who was a mature student at Queens University was brutally beaten to death with breeze blocks somewhere in the Village area of Belfast.  His family lived in Granville Drive in Ballymena.   This was a sad conclusion to a year in which in every month there had been a tragedy in the parish, some suicides and some young people killed in motor accidents.

A survey of the two Parochial House revealed extensive areas of dry rot and wet rot.  Both houses needed re-wired and re-plumbed and had obsolete and ineffective heating systems.  The original brickwork was beginning to space and since the walls were solid without cavities this was causing dampness.  The roof also needed attention.

The decision was made that the best investment for the future was to knock the houses down and rebuild.  It was decided to have one house with each priest having his own apartment.  A plan of the new building was displayed at the back of All Saints.

The focus for 1995 was to have an extended Parish Mission organised by the Vincentian Fathers.  Fr Jay Shanahan came to the parish in January to introduce the approach the Mission Team would be taking – it was called a Renewal Programme.  He spoke at all the masses and a discussion was held in ‘Kenbaan’.  Much planning and discussion would be required and many people were to be involved.  Six or eight adults and six or eight young people were to attend a seminar in All Hallows College, Dublin along with representatives from other parishes who were having the same kind of Mission.  Meetings were held in February to select a Steering Group for the Mission.  A Youth Committee was also selected.

In March the IRA declared a ceasefire to the great relief and joy of everyone.  An evening of Thanksgiving and Prayer was held in High Kirk Church and was attended by a good number of parishioners.

The Parish Mission began on Sunday 21 May.  A lot of meetings had been held and much admirable work had been done.  The Steering Committee had met weekly.  A very elaborate brochure with all the Mission events, both in the churches and other locations, was circulated to the homes of all parishioners.  A Mission Logo had been designed after a competition held in all the parish schools.  Miss Aine McCormick from St Louis Primary School submitted the one selected.  A Mission Prayer had been composed and printed on cards for circulation.  There was a great buzz in the parish.  The Mission programme incorporated social events which were held in local hotels and at Slemish Park the GAC grounds.

One of the outcomes from the Mission was the introduction of girls to be altar servers.

Pope John Paul had asked that each year the Feast of the Sacred Heart be a special day of Prayer for Priests.  The Bishop designated three centres in the diocese, Ballymena being one of them.  Priests from the area were to gather for an hour.  Members of the laity were invited to attend.

A mammoth task which lasted for three days saw the old Parochial Houses being cleared out and furniture moved into the new premises.  On 1 August Canon Connolly and Fr McGrady were able to occupy their new apartments.  The downstairs floor of the new Parochial House was semi-public with reception rooms, offices and an oratory at one end and a kitchen and dining room at the other.  Upstairs are four suites of rooms.

The Parish Office, open Monday to Friday, opened in September 1995. 

Miss Maire McCormick was employed as the first parish secretary.

The old Parochial Houses and garages were demolished.  A new block of four garages was constructed and the car parking area was almost doubled in size.  The ground adjacent to Broughshane Road which had been a wilderness of grass and weeds had been incorporated.  This left the grounds to be landscaped and planted.

On Christmas Eve for about the past five years Grellan MacRory observed a twenty-four hour fast.

He was joined during the past two years by Barney McKeown.   Parishioners on the way into All Saints contributed and the money raised went to a variety of charities.

With the breakdown of the IRA ceasefire the Bishops of Ireland called for a Day of Prayer on Sunday 10 March.

A Service of Reconciliation was held on Palm Sunday.  The Inter-Church Group believed that the local churches should be seen doing something together.  On Good Friday a few people from each church carried a cross from their church to Broadway and stood in silent witness for fifteen minutes at the Bandstand.  A good number of people gathered.  Along with the parishioners of All Saints the churches represented were:   Church of Ireland, West Church Presbyterian, Moravian from Gracehill and the Salvation Army.

The underfloor electric heating in St Mary’s Church, Harryville was inefficient and expensive so it was decided to install an oil fired system with radiators.  When the Planning Application was published there was a petition against the proposal from a large number of residents of Harryville.  Planning Permission was granted.

All the schools in the parish, especially St Mary’s and St Joseph’s were affected by falling intake of students.  Canon Connolly agreed to help St Mary’s start a Pre-School Playgroup.  St Joseph’s decided to apply for a proper Nursery School.

Fr Brian McCann from Glenavy, a Deacon, was assigned by Fr McManus to be in the parish for the month of July.

Ballymena Borough Council erect a few plaques each year to mark historic sites in the town.  In 1996 they selected the sites of two former Catholic Schools.  The Mayor and a number of councillors were present when a plaque was placed on the wall of Graham’s new furniture store; Railway Street to mark the site of the old school opened in 1854 and closed in 1924.  A second plaque was put on the wall of All Saints’ Boys School which opened in 1861 and closed in 1966.  They intend to put one on the walls of the first church built in this parish from the time of the Reformation – the church at Dunnyvadden which closed down in 1797 by Papal Interdict.

During July a new computer system, programmed to suit parish needs, was installed in the Parish Office.

It had been anticipated that the summer of 1996 would be a time of tension because of loyalist reaction to the banning of some parades in 1995 and especially the aftermath of the Drumcree parade.  On 8 July the car belonging to Fr Frank Mullan was set on fire outside the Parochial House in Harryville.  He had been in bed but the flames flickering outside his bedroom window wakened him.  The car was completely destroyed.  Later, when the fire brigade and police had gone a mob of some fifteen to twenty persons returned and threw large masonry blocks through the parochial house sitting room and office windows.  It was a particularly frightening time for Fr Frank as he was in the house on his own.  He later moved into the Parochial House on the Broughshane Road.  He used the Parochial House in Harryville as his base during the day but his nights were spent at Broughshane Road.

Parishioners arriving for Vigil Mass at Harryville on Saturday 14 September found that a number of protestors had blocked all gates into the church grounds.

Fr Mullan and Fr Cowan were inside and had already decided that Mass was to be celebrated no matter what number was present in the church, even if no one was present.  Mass was celebrated with nine parishioners present.  They had arrived before the blockage began.  This was the beginning of what came to be known as ‘The Harryville Protests’ which were to last for two years.

Even though a contractor had been appointed to install the new heating system in Harryville it was decided to defer the work as it was believed the workmen would have been at risk.

In October three Jesuit priests from America, Slovenia and Spain came to reside in a house on the Ballymoney Road whilst they participated in their tertianship.  They helped out in the parish and attended mass in Harryville.

In September St Patrick Secondary, later St Patrick’s High School became St Patrick’s College.  This change of title was to give them an equality of perception with the Integrated Secondary School.

Monsignor Harry Magill, a retired priest from Mobile, Alabama, who lived with his sister on the Liminary Road died rather suddenly during Christmas week.  He had been a contemporary of Monsignor Tumelty at Queens University.  He had made a name for himself in Mobile Diocese where he had been responsible for fundraising and looking after diocesan finances.  He had been very generous to his home parish of Ballymena.

The year ended with continuing protests at Harryville.

1997 started on a bright note with All Saints’ Primary School being featured on a television programme – ‘School Around the Corner’.   St Mary’s had featured on the same programme in 1996.

This Church Year was dedicated to the Son of God, Baptism and Faith.  It was year one in a three year preparation for the Great Jubilee 2000, the Millennium.

During Lent three Jesuit priests were invited to the parish for six days of Guided Prayer sharing their Ignition spirituality with the parishioners.  They met people in a one to one situation for a half hour.  They came to the Parochial House in the forenoon and the evening.  Thirty six parishioners participated.

Also weekly session were held in ‘Kenbaan’ where invited speakers talked about how to form a Parish Pastoral Council.  This topic had been discussed at the Parish Mission.  Parishioners from Glenravel and Moneyglass also attended.  A Core Group was formed and it was decided that it would meet monthly.

On Good Friday the Inter Church Group again carried crosses from their churches to Broadway.   From there they processed to Harryville corner and stood in silent witness there.  The visit to Harryville had been suggested because of the protests at the church.  Later the Inter Church Group organised a celebration of Pentecost in West Presbyterian Church on Pentecost Sunday.  Rev David Jardine was the speaker.

In order to try to break the continuity of the Harryville protest Canon Connolly and the other priests proposed suspending the Saturday Vigil Mass for the months of July and August.  After discussion with Bishop Walsh and a representative group of parishioners it was agreed that the mass would be suspended from 22 June until the first Sunday in September.

During the summer of 1997 the Church in Crebilly was closed while it was rewired and a new oil fired central heating system installed.  The wiring showed the effects of the bombs in the early 70’s.  The interior of the Church was repainted and the Church reopened on 13 July.

August 1997 brought about the clerical changes.  Fr Cowan was leaving as his Congregation had appointed him to be Spiritual Director at St Patrick’s Training College, Drumcondra.  He had originally come North to investigate the possibility of opening a Vincentian house in Belfast.  The Congregation had decided, with Bishop Walsh’s approval, to do this.  Another Vincentian priest, Fr Sean Johnston was available so Fr Mullan was asked to go with him to establish a Vincentian community on the Glen Road.  As they left they were replaced by the young and the old.  Canon Kevin Donnelly was retiring as Parish Priest of Loughguile.  He had been a curate in Ballymena twenty five years previously and was happy to return. 

Fr Eugene O’Neill recently ordained and a native of Antrim also took up duty.

The year 1998 was designated as the Year of the Holy Spirit, Confirmation and Love.  A group of young priests in the diocese took on the Jubilee 2000 preparation.

Canon Connolly and some other priests met with Fr Brendan Keane in St Clements Retreat House, Belfast to share ideas about how St Clements could help parishes in preparation for the Jubilee.  Canon Connolly suggested trying the old parish retreat.  Fr Brendan came to the parish and spoke at the masses.  The retreat was arranged for Saturday 21 March – over sixty people attended.

Bishop Dallat blessed a new oratory in St Patrick’s College.  It was set up in a spare classroom and Fr McGrady put a lot of effort into getting it furnished.  The Blessed Sacrament was to be reserved there during term time to encourage visits from students.

The Core Group set up in 1997 to work towards the setting up of a Parish Council had been meeting monthly.  Canon Connolly suggested they organise a Parish Census.  They did this with great enthusiasm.  Over a weekend in April every home in the parish where catholics were believed to live received documentation to be completed.   This was collected the following Monday.  Seven thousand people registered as parishioners.  Maire, the Parish Secretary was very busy putting all the information onto computer.

As a way of highlighting Pentecost for the parish community the priests decided to hold a Triduum of preparation with forty hours adoration – including two all-night vigils.  Each street or area was assigned an hour.  It was a remarkable success.

Canon Connolly had a CB Radio system installed in All Saints’ Church.  This was to enable housebound parishioners with a receiver to participate in all that happened in the church.  The feedback received was very positive.

Over the years the uneven surface around All Saints’ Church had been the subject of complaints so in October the whole area was given a bitumen surface.

Canon Donnelly had a triple by-pass operation in early November from which he made a miraculous recovery.  He was out of the parish for some time recuperating.

The year 1999 was the Year of the Father and the last year of preparation for the great Jubilee 2000.  It was to be a year of reconciliation as everyone repented for the sins of the past century and millennium.  It was also to be the year of Hope with the approach of a new century and millennium.

The falling intake in the parish primary schools highlighted a few years ago had become more serious.  Canon Connolly invited a representative of  the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools to meet with the members of the four Boards of Governors.  At a second meeting the option of rationalising into two schools or one new large parish school was met with shock.  The next step was the Department of Education carrying out an economic appraisal.  They would then make recommendations.

The priests of the parish decided to send personally signed Easter cards to all the parishioners.  The gesture was much appreciated.

Canon Connolly believed it appropriate if the parish commissioned a work of art or erected some monument to mark the Jubilee.  He suggested this at a meeting of the Core Group and a sub-committee was established.  People were invited to submit ideas, and from those the idea of a bronze figure of the Risen Christ erected in the church grounds, was selected.  Submissions were invited for this and two artists sent in drawings and costings.  

Miss Liz O’Kane was a parishioner and Mr Philip Flanagan was from Fermanagh.  Miss O’Kane’s cost was almost £20,000 and Mr Flanagan’s £40,000.  The drawings and costings were displayed at the back of All Saints and parishioners were asked to vote.  The idea was rejected.

To complete their Silver Anniversary year Bishop Farquhar celebrated Mass at St Mary’s Primary School.  Mayor James Currie and his wife Lynda were present at the Mass and later at a meal in the Adair Arms Hotel.

The Diocesan Jubilee 2000 Committee of priests planned a diocesan Mission during October.  This was held in every parish on the same week and priest within each vicariate gave talks on Baptism, Reconciliation and Eucharist.  In preparation for this clergy attended a Diocesan Clergy Retreat held in Garron Tower.

Fr Gary Toman who had been in the parish as a Deacon in 1998 came back to say Mass on Friday 30 July.

Fr Hugh Boyle, a native of the parish who for many years before ordination to the priesthood had been a Silesian Brother, celebrated his Silver Jubilee Mass on 9 August in the church where he had been ordained, The Church of Our Lady, Harryville.  Afterwards a family meal was held in the Adair Arms Hotel.

As part of Jubilee 2000 preparation a Diocesan Pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, Moneyglass was held on 15 August.

For a number of months the Stations of the Cross had been taken away one by one to be restored and refurbished beautifully by Miss Cosi Sarkar and Mr Sean Butler. 

Before restoration

After restoration

Canon Connolly then asked them to restore the script writing around the wall heads as it was scarcely visible. The sanctuary ceiling also needed treatment – it had been untouched for one hundred and fifty years!  As Cosi and Sean worked the ceiling revealed a secret – the name of the original painters and the date October 1857, three years before the official opening of the church.

The interior of the church was repainted and the floor covered with a green carpet.

This final year of preparation for Jubilee 2000 had been designated the year of pilgrimage.  As part of the parish preparation a Mass was celebrated at the Caugherty Mass Rock on the farm of Mr Kevin McAuley on 26 September.  Three to four hundred parishioners attended and Fr Aidan Kerr preached the sermon.  The choir of St Patrick’s College provided the music and choir with Mr Billy McFarland providing the personal address system.  Mr McFarland was from Ahoghill and was not a catholic yet he provided the personal address system free of charge each year at Crebilly for the Corpus  Christi procession.

The Core Group decided to proceed with the formation of a Pastoral Council.  Nomination papers had been sent to all homes in the parish.  Forty candidates were nominated and voting took place in All Saints Youth Club on 7 October.  Twelve members were elected and Canon Connolly nominated four others.  This was a big step forward for the parish.

Fr O’Neill undertook to arrange a Children’s Liturgy at the 10 00am Sunday Mass and an initial meeting in October had an enthusiastic attendance.

The local branch of The Knights of Columbanus celebrated their fortieth anniversary.  Cardinal Daly was invited to say Mass in St Louis Convent Oratory.  The group quietly do much good work especially collecting hundreds of hampers for needy families from parishioners and sending them to Belfast each Christmas.

The Jubilee 2000 committee had prepared a Liturgy for New Year’s Eve.  It was held at 6 00pm in All Saints’ Church.  Canon Connolly attended a New Year’s Eve event organised by Ballymena Borough Council at the behest of the local Clergy Fraternal.  It was held on Slemish around 5 00pm with the lighting of a beacon, a short religious service and a short fireworks display.  Unfortunately strong winds, heavy rain and low cloud put a dampener on the whole event.

Was it an omen for the new century and the new millennium?