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Michael Tynan of te Oatfield Church renovation committee have secured funding under the Historic Structure Fund for upgrade and repair works at the historic church. Photograph by John Kelly

Oatfield uses lockdown time well to access repair funding

MONTHS of lockdown were put to good use with a successful application for funds to enhance one of the region’s oldest churches. The community who look after Oatfield Barn Church, one of just of three of its kind which still survive in Ireland, were able to use the time to make a successful application for a conservation grant under the Historic Structure Fund.
The fund which is administered by Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan, has allocated €15,000 for repairs to the protected structure.
The application was made possible with the support of the Tomar Trust which will also fund some of the works.
“We’re just delighted with this,” said Michael Tynan, Pastoral Council representative and Oatfield Church Project Co-ordinator.
“We had to have some of the money in place before we were eligible to apply for the Historic Structure Fund. Because we had support from the Tomar Trust, the way was paved for the application. Back in January, when we were in lockdown, there was very little else to do so that gave time to get the application right and we’re delighted now to have been successful.”
Because the church is a protected structure, a conservation architect, Michael Pledge has recently been appointed to oversee the essential repairs to the doors, bell tower, storage building and foot-paths.
Tenders have gone out for this specialised work and a contractor will be appointed shortly.  Other work being done for security, is erecting piers and gates at the car park entrance, and also for the comfort people, the kneeling boards in the church will be fully refurbished. 
The church committee have also been in discussions with those who look after the walking trails on the nearby 12 O’Clock Hills.
“We’re looking at making the carpark available when it’s not in use by those attending mass,” Mr Tynan said.
“We’re discussing this with Patsy Neville and the committee and if we can help out, we’d love to. The people of the area have been marvellous in terms of supporting the care of the church and we’d like to give something back.”
With masses returning to Oatfield Barn Church from last Saturday night, Mr Tynan noted a new sense of optimism locally.
“It’s great that the church is back in use and people are delighted to be able to go back to mass there,” he said.
“We’ll be working on a few paint jobs inside the church to refresh it and it’s important, for the general condition of the building, that it is now back in use.”
Barn churches were traditionally thatched barns, which would have been used at harvest time for threshing and storing oats. Under the repressive Penal Laws, introduced in 1695, when masses were banned, these barns were used for the covert celebration of mass.
The origins of the church dates back to mid-1600s, when a French priest, who is now known as St Vincent de Paul, responded to a request from Bishop Dwyer of Limerick to send priests to work in the city.
By 1651 Limerick was under siege by the Cromwellian army under General Ireton, and a plague had broken out. At least five Vincentians came to Limerick at that time.
Among them were two Irish priests, Fr Gerard Brin and Fr Edmund Barry, both of whom had been ordained in Paris.
The men managed to escaped from the destruction and pestilence which was rampant Limerick at that time, and made their way over the hills to Oatfield, where they settled in a small stone house in Derrynaveagh. According to tradition, they celebrated mass for the local people in the thatched barn, now Oatfield church.
The barn was reconstructed and consecrated as a church about 1830, at the time when Fr Jeremiah Tuohy was parish priest. On January 6, 1839, the roof was ripped off this building in what has become known as The Night of the Big Wind. In later years the third northern aisle was added, which gave the building its present cruciform design.
Again in 1952, the church had extensive repairs done to the roof and walls and in 1966, the Vincentian connection with Oatfield was recognised in when the church, previously dedicated to St Peter, was rededicated to St. Vincent de Paul, by the late Bishop Joseph Rodgers. A statue of the saint came from Paris and was donated to Oatfield church where it still stands today.

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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