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  • Northside East

Pastoral centre plan controversy

Monday, 1st July, 2019 8:00am

Story by Tony McCullagh
Pastoral centre plan controversy

Local residents Mary Sheehan, Gerry McCarron, Edgar McLoughlin, Maire Ní Laoi, Daire Ní Laoi, Grainne McCarron and Eamon Reid are among those opposed to any sale of St Columbanus Hall (pictured below) in Howth. Photos: Darren Kinsella

Pastoral centre plan controversy

Local residents Mary Sheehan, Gerry McCarron, Edgar McLoughlin, Maire Ní Laoi, Daire Ní Laoi, Grainne McCarron and Eamon Reid are among those opposed to any sale of St Columbanus Hall (pictured below) in Howth. Photos: Darren Kinsella

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A CAMPAIGN has been launched in Howth to prevent the possible sale of a 19th century building to fund the development of a new pastoral centre at the rear of the Church of the Assumption.

St Columbanus Hall, which is located across the road from the church in Howth Village, is a former national school that has served as a parish centre for many years. While facilitating parish groups and activities, up to 15 community organisations also use the building throughout the year, for which they are charged a nominal fee.

On foot of a parish assembly in 2016, a committee was established to oversee the refurbishment of the church and development of pastoral facilities. At a further assembly in November 2018, a proposal to locate a pastoral centre within church grounds was put forward by the committee, recommending that the plan should proceed to a planning application. 

This option has since been endorsed by the Parish Pastoral Council, the Parish Finance Committee, the Diocesan Buildings Committee and Diocesan Finance Committee. 

At a recent parish assembly in May, an architect appointed to progress the planning application gave a presentation on the design of the proposed pastoral centre. 

Subject to funding and planning permission, a decision to build could be made by the end of this year.

However, some Howth locals have expressed concern that the existing parish centre at St Columbanus Hall could be sold to fund the project, which is estimated to cost in the region of €1.4m. An online petition to oppose its possible sale had collected just under 500 signatures after a few days. 

Local resident Mary Sheehan said she would be opposed to any attempt to sell St Columbanus Hall to finance the proposed pastoral centre. She believes that the existing hall could be refurbished for parish and community use at a cost of €1.1m.

“St Columbanus Hall has a large play area to the rear which could be incorporated into its development,” she said. “In fact, a number of years ago a local architect drew up plans with disabled access to do exactly that and produced a plan which was spectacular in its design for a parish community centre.”

She claimed that the suggestion that St Columbanus Hall could be sold had caused “uproar” in the town as the building was “part of the living fabric and heritage of Howth”. She pointed out that the hall fell within an Architectural Conservation Area (ACA), which also included the Church of the Assumption.

Ms Sheehan said she felt that their objections were being ignored by church authorities.

Speaking to Northside People, the parish priest for Howth, Fr Gerry Tanham, said that the sale of St Columbanus Hall was just one of a number of options being looked at.  

He believed that the plan to co-locate the pastoral centre on the grass bank at the rear of the church had received a generally positive response at parish assemblies. He said he fully recognised the expressed view of some people that St Columbanus Hall should be kept as a community facility.

“We have looked at the pros and cons of all options and have come to the conclusion that the church site is better for a number of reasons,” Fr Tanham said. “We are happy to talk to anyone about their concerns about St Columbanus Hall but I can assure you that we are not rushing out to sell it.”

It’s understood that ease of access from the church to a linked pastoral centre was one of the factors behind the decision. In addition, it is also felt that the elevated location of St Columbanus Hall makes it less accessible for people with disabilities, the elderly and parents with buggies. The existing building is considered substandard and too small to cater for demand.

It’s envisaged that the new facility will be similar to the pastoral centre at St Sylvester’s Church in Malahide, albeit on a smaller scale. 

Northside People has learned that the parish has also been looking at the option of selling other church owned properties in the Howth area to finance the development of a pastoral centre. This includes another former school building.

A leaflet objecting to the possible sale of St Columbanus Hall has been circulated in Howth by local campaigners.

St Columbanas Hall, Howth.
Photo by Darren Kinsella

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