Our Story So Far
The Church was first opened in 1815 and was in continuous with its own rector until 1964 when it united with Ardee Union. It continued in use until 2013 when it was closed because the electric wiring failed. This caused a crisis because Ardee Church could not meet the cost of the repair. During 2013 the Church was closed and its condition deteriorated.
Late in 2013 a group of local concerned people came together and set up Friends of Collon Church Limited. The Friends group was initially 12 members and others later joined bringing the wider Friends group to about 20 people from all sides of the Collon village community. The Friends group was immediately supported by the Conservation Office of Louth Co Council.
In 2014 the Friends set to work. There was a very successful fund raising garden party courtesy of the owners of Collon House. Work started on repairs to the side porches of the building under the guidance of the Diocesan Architect with the help of funding from the County Louth Conservation Office. Dry rot was identified and treated, the electric wiring was repaired and the organ was repaired.
In February 2015 the Church was reopened for Church service.
The rest of 2015 was a year of study into the problem of how to do the work of properly maintaining and restoring this listed building based on modern conservation principles. In this the Friends were ably assisted by the Louth Conservation Officer Angela Dullaghan and the Armagh Diocesan Architect Stephen Leighton. It was decided to commission outside reports to study the condition of the roof and plasterwork ceiling. These reports were done by Frank Keohane, Chartered Building Surveyor from Dublin and Richard Ireland. Plasterwork Specialist from London. The cost of these reports was supported by the Irish Georgian Society and involved over a month of inspection of the internal roof space between the ceiling and the outer roof, as well as a close up inspection of the plasterwork itself. This necessitated scaffolding both outside and inside the building and the building of supporting inspection gangways within the roof space. The inspection was very thorough and allowed the production of detailed reports. The Friends were pleased to learn from the reports that the structure of the roof timbers was basically sound and that the outside roof and inside ceiling were separately self-supporting. In other words the reports indicated that work can be done on the outside roof, and provided suitable procedures and precautions are taken, present information is that this can be done causing as little disruption as possible to the ceiling.
With these reports to hand the next step was to ask the Conservation Architect to produce a detailed Specification and Schedule of Work to repair and re-slate the outer roof. This was done and it is a substantial 80 page document including a detailed Health and Safety Plan prepared by a Civil Engineer. It was completed in 2016 and was sent to a Quantity Surveyor. The Quantity Surveyor prepared a detailed cost estimate based on the floor area and on standard costings for this sort of conservation work. Based on the work of the architect and surveyors a working estimate of €150,000 was arrived at, as an indicative figure necessary to re-slate the outer roof. This figure was based on reports only, and was a useful working figure to use as a fundraising target.
Also in 2016 a further grant was received from Louth Co Council to assist with repointing the stonework in the east façade. This was done to stop water penetration over the East window as recommended by the surveyor. This was done over 8 weeks in the summer of 2016 and the entire east facade was re-pointed using traditional lime mortar as recommended by the Conservation Officer and the Conservation Architect. A further grant was also obtained from the Irish Georgian Society and was used to install lead flashing over the east window.
From 2014 to 2016 the Friends group held many community fundraising events. There were 3 garden parties in 2014, 2015 and 2016 held in Collon House by kind permission of Michael McMahon and John Dunne. The Ardee Concert band played at two of these events and the Lourdes Brass band from Drogheda played at the third. During the winters of 2015 and 2016 the Friends organised Christmas Concerts in the Church given by the organist and choral arranger David O’Shea. These were successful and enjoyed by all. In June 2015 the Friends assisted the Church of Ireland with an evensong service. These events showed that the Church is acoustically very suitable for music events.
In 2017 the focus was on active fundraising to aim to raise money to repair the roof. The official fundraising campaign campaign was launched in May 2017 by Mairead McGuinness MEP, and Prof Christine Casey of Trinity College Dublin in a well-attended event which received good coverage in the local media. There were generous contributions from home and abroad and over €7,000 was raised. The garden party was again held in Collon House supported by the Lourdes Brass Band from Drogheda and over €5,000 was raised.
In autumn 2017 there was support from a music event organised by Martin and Dorothy Alioth of KenDu Music, and from a lecture organised by Michael Reid and given by Prof Terence Dooley of Maynooth University on Irish “Big Houses”. In December 2017 there was a significant centenary commemoration of James Emerson VC, killed in action in 1917. This was a particularly memorable church service with colour parties from the Irish Defence Forces, the Inniskilling Regiment, the Royal British Legion and the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen. In addition to the organ played by Wendy Strahan and Revd Joyce Moore the music was enhanced by the trumpet playing of Gillian Shields and the pipes played by Vincent Murray
In 2018 active fundraising was continued towards the roof repair target of €150,000. There were several enjoyable and well attended fundraising events. The opera singer Eugene Ginty and his friends - singer Sandra Oman and harpist Ciara Taaffe gave a wonderful concert in April – made more memorable from having been postponed from March due to snow storm Emma! Dorothy Alioth and her singers gave a lovely concert in May and also sang at the Christmas carol service in December. The garden party was again in Collon House in September, supported by the Lourdes Brass Band and was well attended. The Friends group joined with other village groups during the summer to prepare a Collon presentation for the 2018 “Pride of Place” competition. Judges visited Collon village in August 2018 and were shown around 10 village venues, including Collon Church. A video presentation was done by drone, and a power-point presentation was given backed by a 10 page booklet. The Friends joined numerous other groups for the final event at the local GAA Club – Mattock Rangers. Friends later helped to represent Collon at the Pride of Place finals in Cork City Hall in November at a gala dinner organised by Louth Co Council and attended by groups throughout the country.
In October the Friends group received excellent news that the roof repair project had been approved for a grant of €80,000 under the Town and Villages Scheme 2018. As a result of this grant Friends were delighted to complete the year by declaring they had successfully achieved the fundraising target of €150,000.
In 2019 the plan is to work with Louth Co Council and our other our other grant providers and our professional advisors to re-slate the outer roof. The outer roof remains in a fragile and precarious state because the slates are slipping due to nail fatigue. This is causing leaks which are damaging the precious plasterwork ceiling. The only way to fix this is to remove the slates and put them on again using copper nails and replacing any damaged slates. If this work is not done within the next few years it is feared the ceiling could be irreparably damaged and the unique character of the building lost. In due course tenders will be accepted through the eTender process. It is hoped that this work will happen during 2019.
Also in 2019 there are plans to commence repair of the internal plasterwork.
To assist with fundraising a further Garden Party in Collon House is planned for 2019, assisted by the Lourdes Brass Band
The Friends group continue to welcome all financial help to maintain and repair this important and historic building.