A brief history of Upper Creggan Parish & its Motherchurch, St Patrick's Crossmaglen

Note:  This article is drawn from various sources, written and oral.  It outlines the parish history and especially the develpement of St Patrick’s Church, Crossmaglen which in 2010 celebrates 175 years as our parish’s largest and oldest church.  The outline charts its way through the ministries of Upper Creggan’s fourteen parish priests from 1795 to the present.

EARLY YEARS: (Raymond O’Hanlon, PP 1795-96; Nicholas Murphy, PP, 1796-1829)

Upper Creggan Parish was formed in 1795 when the expansive area known as Creggan divided into the current parishes of Lower and Upper Creggan. Its first parish priest, Raymond O’Hanlon moved on to be PP Armagh after just one year while his successor, Nicholas Murphy PP lived at Creggan Bridge during his long term of office of 33 years and is buried, tradition has it, near the “Old Chapel”, Mobane, the parish church before St. Patrick’s.  A wall of the Mobane Chapel still stands at the old handball facility at Alley Road.

ORIGIN & GROWTH OF ST. PATRICK’S: (Michael Lennon, PP 1829 – 71)

By the time Michael Lennon was appointed as parish priest in 1829 the church at Mobane in a poor state of repair.  This and other factors influenced the decision to replace it.  In 1829 Catholic Emancipation gave freedom of worship, encouraging the erection of new churches and by then Crossmaglen was growing rapidly while Mobane was quite a distance from the centre of population.

In 1830 following a public meeting to discuss the acquisition of a site, local landlord, T.P. Ball, offered, free of charge, a piece of hilly ground in the townland of Monug.  The offer was gladly accepted and the task of clearing the site was undertaken by volunteers.  Drawings were provided by a Dundalk man named McAdory and construction began in 1833.

Much of the stone for the building was drawn from the remains of the old Franciscan friary at Creggan reached through what is now Boyle’s Lane.  So many local people volunteered to help that a daily rota had to be organised.  Local tradition claims that the Gregory brothers, Clarnagh, the Hearty brothers, Coolderry, and the Lambe brothers of Drumbally were the masons employed on the construction.  Every effort was made to ensure that quality materials were used such as granite blocks for the lintels and bangor slates, copper nails and good timber for the roof.  The Church was 55’ high and the sanctuary lamp was suspended on an iron rod its centre.  Three galleries were erected and two confession boxes were installed.  Plain bench seats without kneelers provided the seating, the floor was of clay.

The original sacristy was a small lean-to opening in line with the main altar.  There were also two side altars.  A door from the front gallery gave access to the belfry.  Shortly after the opening of the church this gallery was used as an infant school which remained there until 1848.  According to a census conducted by Fr. Lennon at the time of the opening of the church, there were 2000 families in the parish, each averaging 5 people this, of course, was before the ravages of the famine took their toll.  It is also noteworthy that early in Fr. Lennon’s ministry our church of the Sacred Heart, Shelagh was also erected (1838)

DISSENT AND CLOSURE: (John Rafferty, PP 1871 – 1887)

Fr. Rafferty’s time as parish priest coincided with the period of “The Crossmaglen Conspiracy” (events well-documented elsewhere).  It was an extremely difficult time for the parish priest and his curates, Frs. Mooney, Loughran and Quinn, culminating in the closure of St. Patrick’s for the duration of Lent 1885.  The church was re-consecrated at Easter 1885.

MAJOR IMPROVEMENTS: (Patrick McGeeney, PP 1887 – 1909)

Patrick McGeeney PP was responsible for important changes to the church and its surroundings during his long ministry.  The old plaster on the exterior walls was replaced with cement, three new porches were added, the front one having two entrances, a new bell was hung in the belfry.  In addition, a perimeter wall was built enclosing the existing cemetery and a new graveyard area, purchased.

No doubt, Mass-goers appreciated the solid-fuel central heating which was installed and the tiled flooring which replaced the original clay floor.

However, it was in the sanctuary and the surrounding area that the most significant changes were made.  The gable at the back of the altar was set back about six feet, bigger windows were added and a new entrance was made from the sacristy.

But the most impressive addition was the mosaic work carried out on the walls of the sanctuary.  In 1902 Fr McGeeney ordered mosaics from Oppenheimers of Dublin which were used to such good effect in the sanctuary.  After his death, in the first year of the new parish priest’s term of office, the stained glass windows clearly visible behind the altar were erected in memory of Fr. McGeeney (1910)

FURTHER ADVANCES: (Peter Sheeran, PP 1909-1932)

In 1911 the Stations of the Cross, donated by Miss Keenan of Annagad, were blessed and erected.  During the 1920s Henry Donaghy added kneeler-boards to the church seats.  In addition, the front seats of the women’s side, under the Crossmaglen gallery, were sheeted to the ground, to “eliminate a source of distraction for the men on the opposite side”.

In 1929 electricity was installed in the Church and Parochial house.  The generator was housed at the back of the parochial house and flex was taken across to the Church.  At this time a plan of the cemetery was drawn up and paths laid.

Canon Sheeran also devoted huge energy to the building of our exquisite church, St Brigid’s Glassdrummond and died a few short weeks after its opening.

THE DEPRESSION AND THE WAR YEARS:  (James McKeone, PP 1933-1947)

Fr. McKeone’s priority on arrival was to reduce the debt remaining on the building of St. Brigid’s Church.  The poverty of that time made his task more difficult and the “Second World War” added to his problems.  With strict rationing it was not a time undertake building projects or renovations and only minor repairs were undertaken, including that done to the wall above the main altar.

One of the highlights of Canon McKeone’s pastorate was the establishment of “The Sacred Heart Sodality”  a popular religious movement of the time.

His death in 1947 was against the backdrop of the most severe winter ever recorded with poverty rampant and rationing continuing.  In his will he left a personal legacy to endow stained glass windows in Sacred Heart, Shelagh and a pulpit in St. Brigid’s Glassdrummond.  Many years earlier, when he was based at Kilcurry he suffered the trauma of his housekeeper’s abduction and murder.  A native of this parish, she had been laid to rest in the cemetery at St. Patrick’s where now he too awaits the resurrection.  

OTHER PRIORITIES: (Harry Murray, PP 1947 – 60; Joseph McEvoy, PP 1960 – 65)

The post war years saw a period of concentration on upgrading parish primary schools and the provision of a secondary school (St. Joseph’s) so until the mid-sixties less work was possible on the parish churches including St. Patrick’s until the mid 1960s.

The liquidation of the parish debt was Canon Murray’s first priority and this he achieved within two years.  He founded the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association in 1947.  Four years later there were 400 members.

In the church he had the walls studded with timber and plasterboard to eradicate dampness, replaced the heating system with an oil-fired one and had the electricity supply connected to the mains.  A new amplification system was also installed.  During the 1950s a major programme of school building and renovation was begun.  As the parish had to meet a proportion of capital costs this laid a heavy burden on parish finances.  This was the time of “Sales of Work” and “Carnivals” as fund-raisers and social events.  Two new schools, Anamar and St. Patrick’s Crossmaglen, were built and the other schools were renovated during this period.  1953 saw the introduction of the “Blessing of the Graves” and the fondly remembered “Processions of the Blessed Sacrament”

Canon McEvoy replaced Canon Murray (RIP) in 1960.  His first major improvement to the church was the construction of the steps leading to the main door.  The floor of the sanctuary was tiled – the gift of Michael McConville, North Street.

Canon McEvoy was keen to see St. Joseph’s School opened in September 1964 although the building was not quite finished.  His sudden death in April 1965 occurred less than a month after the official opening in March 1965.

A TIME OF GREAT PROGRESS: (Joseph Kelly, PP 1965 – 79)

During Canon Kelly’s time as parish priest a number of changes were made in the church.  The front gallery was made smaller and the stairway enclosed.  A new partition with leaded coloured glass was erected inside the front door.  

The existing confession boxes were replaced with new ones built into the walls.  The stairs leading to the gallery on the Crossmaglen side were changed over.  A new tiled floor was laid throughout the church.  

The Stations of the Cross were cleaned and the frames removed.  In the sanctuary a red curtain was hung on the back wall, the main altar was turned around to face the people and the side altars removed, all following the Second Vatican Council.

A large crucifix was suspended from the ceiling and the tabernacle was moved to the Crossmaglen side of the sanctuary.

At this time, the main construction was the extension of the belfry from 70’ to 100’.  During these renovations the church was closed and the Rangers’ hall was used for Mass.  The Novena in honour of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal was introduced during this period.  An important innovation at this time was the “Offertory Promise Campaign” which eased the financial concerns of the parish.  Canon Kelly died on the day that Pope John Paul II came to Drogheda, 29th September ’79.


(Tomas O’Sabhaois, PP 1979-82; Hugh O’Neill, PP 1982 – 1991)

Canon O’Sabhaois’ brief period in Crossmaglen was the era of the “Small Groups”.  The parish Charismatic Group was launched, scripture meetings were held in the parochial house and a parish Renewal Group met to pray, share and discuss the scriptures.  “Aifreann as Gaeilge” was introduced monthly before Canon O’Sabhaois left in 1982 to join the Armagh mission to Lagos.

Canon O’Neill undertook a major refurbishment of St. Patrick’s.  In the sanctuary the mosaic work and stained glass window were restored.  New marble was also installed from designs by Mrs Pauline O’Donnell (now retired from St. Joseph’s High School.)

Improvements were made to the heating, lighting and amplification.  Interior walls and woodwork were painted followed by extensive carpeting.  A new shrine in honour of Our Lady of Lourdes was erected on the site of the old Baptistery.  Standard lantern lights were installed in the car park, a new roadway was laid through the cemetery.


(Thomas McGeough, PP 1991 – 2006; Joseph McKeever, PP 2006 – present.)

In the 1990s it fell to Fr. McGeough to build a new parochial house and office block in Crossmaglen and also upgrade the curate’s residence in Glassdrummond but alongside this financial strain and subsidising the large extension to Shelagh N.S., Fr McGeough undertook various projects at St. Patrick’s including: a large cemetery extension, major sacristy repairs, new central heating units, a new organ and the exposition oratory.

Replaced on his retirement in 2006 by his own curate, Fr McKeever became the first curate of Upper Creggan to be appointed its parish priest since Michael Lennon in 1829.

In the years since then to the present he has set up a buildings committee and a finance committee (both all parish) to advise and support on a wide programme of essential repairs and upgrading at St. Patrick’s, St. Brigid’s and Sacred Heart, Shelagh where, over the years, the most extensive needs had developed…similar refurbishment has also taken place at the parish rooms.  A new pastoral council with commissions on liturgy, administration and outreach has proved a vital support for this work which, of its nature, is ongoing and very much phased during recessionary times to avoid undue debt.

CONCLUSION: Outlook and Vision

Our Pastoral Council has been important too in a steady development and increased response to the annual parish Novena in St. Patrick’s.  A mission in 2007 drew large congregations (all three churches) and another took place in 2010 in St. Patrick’s and its sister churches, both lead Redemptorist Fathers Mission Teams.  The parish continues to offer and develop sacramental preparation through our schools.  The parish is supported by many committed lay pastoral volunteers at each of our three Church communities.  Measures to strengthen the catholic ethos of our six schools are monitored by conscientious Boards of Governors, the majority being volunteer parishioners while trained child safeguarding officers overview procedures to protect our younger parishioners and vulnerable adults.

In all these measures, material and spiritual, the faithful people of St. Patrick’s, Sacred Heart and St. Brigid’s together promote the mission to strengthen God’s people in Upper Creggan Parish and to be the “living stones” of the Church as the People of God.