Belfast’s landmark ‘Methodist Cathedral’ is saved from near ruin

Bright February sunshine floods into the now disused Carlisle Memorial church
Bright February sunshine floods into the now disused Carlisle Memorial church
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Former parishioners of Belfast’s one-time ‘Methodist Cathedral’ have been briefed on the restoration of the site.

Carlisle Memorial, between the centre and north of the city, was one of Ireland’s great churches but closed in 1980.

Outside view of Carlisle Memorial church between Belfast centre and the north of the city. It was once known as the 'Methodist Cathedral'

Outside view of Carlisle Memorial church between Belfast centre and the north of the city. It was once known as the 'Methodist Cathedral'

Part of the premises was sold to become an Indian community centre but the main building fell into disrepair.

In 2012 it was within days of being declared dangerous. The Belfast Buildings Trust, however, secured emergency funding from sources including government to carry out £1.5m in stabilising work and a later permanent roof repair.

Much more work is required but the trust is trying to promote possible uses of the building and is hosting a premiere of the Belfast Opera in June, that will make full use of the interior space and acoustics (see below).

Last month the trust briefed the News Letter about that project and their overall aim of regenerating the church. We then contacted some former worshippers, several of whom were recently shown inside the building by Shane Quinn of the trust.

Shane Ritchie of the Belfast Buildings Trust explains to former ministers and parishioners the emergency work that saved Carlisle Memorial. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Shane Ritchie of the Belfast Buildings Trust explains to former ministers and parishioners the emergency work that saved Carlisle Memorial. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

They included a minister from the 1960s, Rev Alan Meara, and the last minister before closure, Rev Edmund Mawhinney. Also present were people who attended Carlisle Memorial as children: the journalist Anne Hailes, the economist John Simpson (son of the late Vivian Simpson MP), Adrienne Catherwood (mother of the ITN presenter Andrea), Betty Orr (daughter of Austin Ardill MP), and two brothers, Dr Sidney Lowry, a retired oncologist, and Eric Lowry, a former accountant.

The group were delighted to see that the church had been saved from ruin, and reminisced about past Sundays there and famous visitors including Donald Soper and Norman Vincent Peale.

• See video of the visit here

FIRST EVER ‘BELFAST OPERA’ TO MARK REGENERATION OF CHURCH

From left, John Simpson, Betty Orr, Adrienne Catherwood, Sidney Lowry, Eric Lowry, Rev Edmund Mawhinney, Rev Alan Meara

From left, John Simpson, Betty Orr, Adrienne Catherwood, Sidney Lowry, Eric Lowry, Rev Edmund Mawhinney, Rev Alan Meara

Belfast Buildings Trust has commissioned a new opera for Carlisle Memorial in June.

The event is part of the bid to regenerate the church and use its huge interior.

Shane Quinn of the trust said the idea for the opera is “inspired by Belfast people’s personal connection to the industrial and commercial heritage of the city”.

The Belfast Opera is a combination of a libretto by the author Glenn Patterson and a score composed by the musician Neil Martin. Mr Quinn said: “The Belfast Opera is about Belfast’s people telling the Belfast story.”

The church's grand interior will be a good location for the Belfast Opera in June

The church's grand interior will be a good location for the Belfast Opera in June

A specially assembled 120-member community chorus will sing alongside a professional cast in the opera’s premiere performances on June 18 and 19.

Production aspects will be delivered by a 50-strong community creatives team. The trust, in partnership with the Prince’s Trust, says it has just launched the recruitment for young people from across the city to get involved in set building, costume making, and front-of-house roles for the event.

Mr Quinn added: “It is the first opera written about a city on these islands: Belfast will rank alongside Seville, with Carmen, and Rome, with Tosca.”

Anyone wishing to join the chorus (no experience needed) can come to a workshop in Grosvenor Hall, Glengall Street, at 7.30pm on Tuesday. More online at www.thebelfastopera.com about the community creatives.

Left to right.  Shane Quinn of Belfast Buildings Trust, economist John Simpson (former member, son of Vivian Simpson MP), Rev Edmund Mawhinney (past Minister at the church), John Orr with his wife Betty (former member, daughter of Austin Ardill MP), Adrienne Catherwood (former member,  who married there, mother of TV presenter Andrea), journalist Anne Hailes (former member), Margaret Meara and her husband Rev Alan Meara (a former junior minister at the church).  Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Left to right. Shane Quinn of Belfast Buildings Trust, economist John Simpson (former member, son of Vivian Simpson MP), Rev Edmund Mawhinney (past Minister at the church), John Orr with his wife Betty (former member, daughter of Austin Ardill MP), Adrienne Catherwood (former member, who married there, mother of TV presenter Andrea), journalist Anne Hailes (former member), Margaret Meara and her husband Rev Alan Meara (a former junior minister at the church). Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye