Northern Ireland

Clonard Monastery facelift unveiled

Fr Murtagh in the newly refurbished Clonard Monastery
Image caption Fr Murtagh in the newly refurbished Clonard Monastery

For more than a century, Clonard Monastery has stood in the heart of west Belfast and like many old buildings, it fell victim to the ravages of time.

But now a four-year multi-million pound refurbishment of the church has been completed and the local community is impressed with the new ecclesiastical surroundings.

As rector of Clonard Monastery, Father Michael Murtagh is overseeing some of the last minute preparations ahead of this Sunday's official re-opening of the church.

At the end of 2008, an appeal was launched to raise money to give one of Belfast's most beautiful buildings a much needed facelift.

In recent years it had been showing signs of wear and tear.

During stormy weather, worshippers often had to sit alongside buckets set out to collect rain water seeping through the roof.

And the monastery's ornate wall mosaics, reminiscent of the Byzantine age, were starting to disintegrate.

Nearly four years on and at a cost of £3m, the renovation work is finished, marking a new era for the church.

Fr Murtagh said it was an investment worth making.

"It has been costly but Clonard was due a major refurbishment and we needed to preserve the fabric of the building," he said.

"We started from the top, cleaning out the building and erecting scaffolding to clean the ceilings and the rafters.

"Each of the mosaics had to be cleaned meticulously and they've turned out beautifully."

Image caption Parishioners helped restore the tiles in the monastery's central aisle

'A space in a holy place'

One outstanding feature in the renovated monastery is the centre aisle leading to the altar.

It contains 25,000 tiles, each one bought by members of the public as Fr Murtagh recalled.

"We asked people to sponsor a tile and we sold all 25,000 which was great," he said.

"Each person got a small post card to say thank you and to remind them of their space in this holy place."

Clonard holds a special place in the heart of its local community.

Some of its priests have played important mediation roles in the peace process, like Fr Alec Reid who initiated secret talks between Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and the former SDLP leader John Hume.

And during the Belfast Blitz, women and children from the Shankill and the Falls sought refuge in the monastery's crypt.

Such was the public anticipation to see Clonard's transformation, the monastery opened its doors unofficially last Saturday.

Surveying the ecclesiastical splendour before him was local man, Brian Keenan.

"It really takes my breath away because of what it looked like before and how it looks now," he said.

"It's a great achievement for all of the workers involved and it also highlights the spirituality of the place and how Clonard is the heartbeat of this area."

The last 12 months have meant some upheaval for mass goers at Clonard.

As the scaffolding and workers moved in, they relocated to a temporary place of worship nearby.

But the waiting is now over with an official service of dedication to take place this Sunday.

Clonard is more than a century old but this monasterial makeover has restored the church to its original grandeur which future generations will get to relish.

The official re-opening of Clonard will be celebrated during mass at 11:30 BST on Sunday.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites