The ancient parish of Shankill included Belfast and its first Early Christian Church was situated in the disused cemetery on the Shankill Road. In the 1306 taxation of Pope Nicholas, for the Crusades, it is titled “The White Church of Shankill”. Later it appears that the church became redundant but its title and functions were transferred to a Church built close to the ford across the Lagan river and the Norman castle. The terrier of 1615 lists church property confiscated at the Reformation naming this church, “St Patrick’s Church of the White Ford”.
English Protestant settlers, who acquired the church, rebuilt it in 1812 renaming it in honour of St George the Patron Saint of England. Catholics reclaimed the ancient title for the church built in Donegall Street by dedicating it to St Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland.
The foundation stone of the current beautiful church was laid by Bishop Patrick Dorrian on April 18th 1875. During his ministry as the Bishop of Down and Connor (1865-85) 26 new churches were built. This Church of St Patrick was built in the Romanesque style of different coloured sandstone. Bishop Dorrian was buried beneath the Sanctuary behind the priest’s chair, marked out by a thin line of red marble and on the extreme left his memorial, of sandstone and alabaster, can be clearly seen bearing the arms of the Diocese of Down and Connor.
A CHURCH WITHIN A CHURCH
A previous church, built on this site in 1815, no longer sufficed for the increasing congregation but, to accommodate them as long as possible Messrs Collins Brothers of Portadown commenced building the new church around the old. It was then demolished in August 1876 and the entire fabric of the new church was speedily completed for blessing on August 12th 1877 by the Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Daniel McGettigan of Armagh. A 2 ton bell, cast by Thomas Sheridan of Dublin, had already been placed into the 180 foot (54 metre) spire. Thomas Heanvey, the architect of the splendid new Church, had been a former associate of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin and like him did not brook delays.
Inside the church, ten beautiful arches of red sandstone, supported by slender rose and grey Dumfries granite pillars separate the nave from each aisle. Three further arches separate the sanctuary from the nave. As the eye traces the orbit of the 50 foot (15 metre) high centre arch, it comes to rest on the pitch pine ceiling.
REREDOS AND ALTARS
REFURBISHMENT AFTER THE 1995 FIRE
After a catastrophic fire on October 12th 1995, every effort was made to restore the church to its original state by the then Administrator, Very Rev David White and his project manager, Mr Oliver Magill. To repair the reredos and its tabernacle, old sketches and photographs were consulted. The tabernacle is the name given to brass and gilded safe in the reredos in which the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood is reserved for the sick. In fulfilment of his promises Christ is present under the sign of bread in the Eucharist, “I am the living bread which has come down from heaven… anyone who eats this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:51).
The church was reopened by Bishop Patrick Walsh on October 5th 1997.
SHRINE OF MARY AND BAPTISTERY
STAINED GLASS WINDOWS
The valuable tiptych on the left of the nave was presented in 1917 by the renowned painter Sir John lavery, in memory of his baptism in the previous St Patrick’s Church on March 26th 1856. His second wife, Hazel Trudeau was the model for the Madonna while St Patrick and St Brigid were modelled by his daughter Eileen and step-daughter Helen respectively.
All of Lavery’s letters to the Administrator at the time, Fr O’Neill, are reserved in the Parish archive. They give great detail of the original setting of this work including the original side altar and furnishings commissioned from the great architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens which are, unfortunately, now lost.