Many churches in Ireland claim a connection to Ireland’s Patron Saint, and the Parish of Skerry, Rathcavan and Newtowncrommelin in mid Antrim has perhaps more justification for making this claim than others.
Tradition holds that St Patrick, enslaved as a youth, tended herds on Slemish Mountain which overlooks the parish, and during this time encountered God in his life.
Whether the Saint was here himself or not, the grouped parish, today centred on St Patrick’s Church in Broughshane, has a colourful past and a vibrant present.
Situated in the Braid Valley in the shadow of Slemish, the Parish of Skerry and Rathcavan was at one time in the patronage of the Marquis of Donegal. St Patrick’s Church in Broughshane was erected by Charles O’Neill of Shane’s Castle in 1765. The church was enlarged in 1829, and in 1859 a chancel, transept and vestry were added. The spire was removed in the 1980s for safety reasons; the tower, roof and windows were extensively repaired in 2005 and a new lighting system installed. The church building has just been renovated to update heating system etc.
St Patrick’s contains many beautiful stained glass windows, some of which were manufactured by William Wailes, Newcastle-on-Tyne, in the 19th century. The East window was erected by friends of the Rev WC Crawford to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his ministry in 1865. Recently a beautiful window was dedicated in memory of Pamela McKee a young mother who made a tremendous contribution to the life of her church.
A figure of historical note is the Rev Canon Dr John Grainger, rector from 1869-91. Canon Grainger was a skilled Antiquarian and toured extensively collecting fossils, minerals, fine art, books and curios, which he bequeathed to Belfast Corporation in 1891, shortly before his death.
This vast collection of over 60,000 artefacts forced the then City Fathers to build a municipal museum, now the Ulster Museum.
A member of the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society and a distinguished scholar, Canon Grainger is buried in St Patrick’s churchyard where a replica of a 10th century Monasterboice cross marks his grave.
Broughshane is a rapidly growing area and the parish embraces the opportunity to welcome new families. The rector, the Very Rev John Bond, Dean of Connor, says the parish has an exceptional voluntary ethos. “We have been greatly blessed by the faithfulness and commitment of so many parishioners down the generations,” he said. “Broughshane, the Garden Village of Ulster, is a vibrant growing community and the Church, the Body of Christ, is a living, changing, vigorous organism where all are welcome.”
As Dean of Connor, Dean Bond is responsible for the Chapter of Christ Church Cathedral, Lisburn, Connor’s Diocesan Cathedral. The Chapter comprises two archdeacons and seven canons. His duties also involve the ordering of services for diocesan and civic events, the Installation of canons and dignatories, appointments and chairing the Chapter meetings. The Chapter was formed in 1609 by James 1 and Dean Bond has been Dean of Connor since 2001 and rector of Broughshane since 1999. He is assisted in St Patrick’s by the Rev Adrian Halligan, who was appointed curate last May.
Dean Bond said: “In St Patrick’s we are a church family that assures a warm welcome to all with an emphasis on teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and helping people to lead committed and faithful lives. Through our activities we aim to deepen our understanding of God, to have a wider understanding of each member’s love and to equip members as ministers serving God and our community.”
The Dean said every member of the parish has a ministry, with parishioners offering their time and talents in worship, and in activities like the Holiday Bible Club, toddler group, crèche, Sunday School, youth organisations and choirs. The Mothers’ Union hosts activities for ladies and families, and the parish also sees regular Men’s Fellowship Breakfasts, Healing services, Prayer and Bible study. All of this is overseen by a very progressive Select Vestry. Dean Bond said: “As a parish we must be outward looking to see the needs around us and to meet those needs in practical and loving ways.”
He stressed the importance the celebration of the Holy Communion has in the worship of the parish. Other forms of worship involve Morning and Evening Prayer, Healing Services and occasional informal worship. Services of Holy Communion take place on the first Sunday in the month at 11.30am, the third Sunday in the month at 9am and the fourth Sunday in the month at 6pm and on Saints’ days. Morning Prayer is at 11.30am on Sundays and Evening Prayer at 6pm. “We encourage members of our congregation to participate in worship as Choir members, Intercessors and readers,” the Dean said.