One of Ireland’s most iconic churches has re-opened to the public having been closed for visits due to acts of vandalism.
The college chapel of the national seminary at Maynooth will re-open for four hours a week and members of the public are invited to come and pray or visit the historic neo-Gothic structure.
While due to declining numbers of students the building has not been the site for regular worship for the seminary community for more than 10 years, Maynooth President Fr Michael Mullaney told The Irish Catholic that all residents – both seminarians and priests – have 24/7 access to the chapel via swipecards.
Fr Mullaney said that “after a number of acts of vandalism and theft” there was only restricted access to the chapel including during public liturgies on special occasions or private tours.
Fr Mullaney said that due to increased public demand – including after the chapel was featured on a BBC series presented by Michael Portillo – it will now be possible to organise tours on Mondays and Wednesdays between 10.30am and 12.30pm.
Fr Mullaney described the chapel – first opened for worship in 1891 – as “a great monument of faith to the Irish people”.
Some 11,000 priests have been ordained from Maynooth down the years, many of them in the college chapel. At its height, the building was packed to overflowing with young men preparing to be priests.
However, currently just over 20 men are resident seminarians at Maynooth.
Fr John Joe Duffy of Raphoe Diocese said the limited opening hours are “regrettable” since “the chapel is a beautiful place of prayer – probably the most beautiful chapel in the whole world”.
Tuam priest Fr Charlie McDonnell told The Irish Catholic “it’s brilliant that it’s opened to the public again, it’s a positive step and an awful lot better than having it closed all the time”
Because of the size of the seminary community, he said “I can see why it mightn’t be used every Sunday, but it’s a pity that it’s not.
“I wouldn’t like it to become a museum. For generations of people that went to college there it’s something that’s very significant”.