Article by Anne Sands

01 May 2020
Admin Manager By Admin Manager

Friends of Mountmellick Embroidery Museum,

Welcome to week five in our ongoing series of articles on aspects of our local history which have attracted many views. These articles all written by members of our Museum Committee will continue to be published each Friday while our Museum is closed due to Covid 19 restrictions. In that vein, we sincerely hope that you, your family, and friends are keeping well and remaining safe. Please do feel free to share any of these articles with friends who may be interested in the subject matter and we would welcome any comments or suggestions that you may have.

In last week's article, by local historian, Ger Lynch who brought us on a trip down memory lane where he outlined how Mountmellick acquired the name of the "Manchester of Ireland" such was the level of Industry across many diverse enterprises that brought much prosperity to the area in the pre-famine times. Alongside all of these industries, there flourished a number of Churches which catered to the spiritual needs of this growing population.

This weeks article written by Anne Sands a member of our museum Committee outlines the history behind two of the six Churches established in Mountmellick over the last few centuries i.e St' Paul's Church of Ireland, and St Josephs Catholic Church, the history of the remaining churches will be incorporated into future articles in the weeks ahead as space and time permit us. Enjoy, tune in next Friday for another article of interest.

It's over to you Anne.

In these difficult and troubled times, a poet called Parkington has spoken for most of all when he wrote the following,

" I wish there was some wonderful place called the "land of beginning again",

where all-out mistakes and all our heartbreaks and all of the present grief could be dropped like a shabby coat at the door, AND NEVER PUT ON AGAIN.

While each of us would desire a land of "beginning again", we have to be realistic and recognize the present position where we find ourselves RIGHT NOW, its really our door for change and achievement.

"The past is gone, we say, but the future is yet to come, when, in fact, the only part we have is RIGHT NOW TODAY".

For all the bad things currently going on in the world, we must do our best, to focus on the good and count our blessings, as an act of self-care.

History of St Paul’s Church of Ireland Church, Mountmellick

The original Church on this site dates back to 1665 as a ‘Chapel of Ease’ for Rosenallis Parish (an ancient site of Christian worship).  The oldest gravestone in the graveyard is dated 1709.

The growth of the town of Mountmellick meant that a new place of worship was needed, and a detached Georgian Gothic Parish Church was erected in 1828, paid for mainly by the Board of First Fruits (a central Church body).

The Church became a Parish in its own right in 1870 and was dedicated to St Paul in the 1950’s.

A changing building:

There are memorials to many of those who made donations over the years.

In 1868, the present Font was donated to the Church while in 1870, major building work was undertaken. This included the building of the Chancel (at the front of the Church), Vestry (robing room for Clergy) and the replacement of the original steeple with a spire. From the outside of the Church, you can see the original side entrance doors to the Church.

You will notice that the pews are numbered, this is a legacy of the times when pews were paid for (the closer the front, the larger the fee!).

The 1890’s saw the addition of both a new brass Lectern (the stand for the Bible) and a Pulpit made of plaster and marble.

The organ was made by Peter Coacher and Co, Dublin in 1903 and an extension was built to for it. The gas lighting was fitted in 1903 and the fittings, which have been retained, provide an interesting feature in the Church. Around this time, the spire was damaged by lightening, you can still see the repairs. The Holy Communion Table and Communion rails were donated in the 1930s. The relief designs on these reflect the designs of local Mountmellick Work (a form of white on white embroidery). Holy Communion cloths were made by a parishioner in Mountmellick Work in the early years of this century and the pew cushions are also a recent addition.

The original parish school and schoolhouse were built in 1848. A new, purpose-built school was built close by in 1976.

A living community:

In 1896, CL Hutchings wrote ‘looking back at Mountmellick in its prosperity, we are reminded of the many industries which from one cause or another have now ceased to exist.’  By the early 20th century, the town had changed from a manufacturing to a commercial town, with many large retailers present on the main street.

These traders and their employees were the backbone of the parish community. Larger retailers all employed staff ‘serving their time’ as apprentices, who lived in accommodation provided. They were often encouraged to sit in the gallery in St Paul’s. The married couples and families tended to sit in the main body of the Church.

The local YMCA Hall (on the site of the old Quaker meeting house) hosted many social entertainments, including legendary dances where many a ‘match’ was made.

The decline of the retail importance of Mountmellick has impacted on our church community today. We continue to take pride in our heritage and look to a new future as God leads.

St. Joseph’s Church, Mountmellick

Date of Church: 1878

Architecht: J.J. McCarthy

Cost: £6,555

Building Pastor: Fr. Thomas Murphy, P.P




The town of Mountmellick is of quite “recent” origin, as it does not appear on the map of Leix and Offally, made c. 1563. Mountmellick became a distinct parish in 1770. In 1776 the town had 508 Catholics. In earlier times Derryguile had a Mass Pit. Prior to the present church, Portnahinch and Ivy Chapel had a church and graveyard while Kilmainham had a still earlier church. Before the building of St. Joseph’s, a church in Graigue (Tullamore road) was in use from 1812. In 1833, the third parish priest of Mountmellick was appointed. He was Rev. Andrew Healy, who introduced the Presentation Sisters in 1854. He was succeeded in 1864 by Rev. Thomas Murphy who was responsible for the building of St. Joseph’s.


St Joseph’s Church was built on a site of which a lifetime lease was obtained from Marquis of Drogheda. It was designed by the Architect J.J. McCarthy and cost £6,555.97 Interior decoration cost £2000, Organ cost £500 and the Altar £100. The first Mass was celebrated by the Rev. Thomas Murphy PP ON Friday 26th July 1878. The Stations of the Cross were installed in 1879, seven of which were donated by Helen Beale of Quaker background.



In 1912 the tower was erected at a cost of £1,400. The clock cost £100 and the bell £112. When the Church was being redecorated and refurbished in 1927 it was examined by Kelly & Jones, Architects, Dublin. They declared that the roof was unsafe as some of the principal rafters on the Epistle side were not resting on the walls. As a result, Iron tees were installed across the Church to secure matters and steel wedges were put under the rafters. In 1965 at a cost of £100,000 the Church was converted from rectangular shape to a cruciform shape, designed by J. R. Boyd Barrett, Architects. The addition compromises a transept, sanctuary, side chapel, sacristies and boiler house. A special feature is the large windows lighting the transept. These windows are cut in limestone with decorative glass in a geometrical pattern. The ceiling is arched and constructed in fibrous plaster. A special feature was made of the crossing of the nave and transept comprising of decorative grained panelling. The new work designed to complement the existing architecture and form one unified design.  The official opening was attended by President De Valera.


The Church was refurbished in 2006 under the guidance of Mr Eamon Hedderman, Liturgical & Conservation Architect. The sanctuary was extended out into the congregation, completed by marble sourced from Italy to match what was already in place. This was part of the move as a community to celebrate Mass together as opposed to the priest “saying” mass and congregation “hearing” mass. The new altar was constructed using the marble panels from the old pulpit. The ambo and chair were designed to match and compliment the altar. The rails from the old altar were incorporated into the side altars and in St Joseph’s Grotto. The sanctuary lamp dating from 1880’s was restored.

Anne Sands