|St John the Baptist Church|
In the year 1777, Fr Richard Devin was Parish Priest of Drumcree. It was during his Pastorate, and probably in 1777, that the chapel of Drumcree was built. It was a simple rectangular building. The bell tower was added at a later date. It was probably thatched. An indenture still exists dated 26 April 1795, a conveyance of lease of land, half an acre, in Selsion from Michael Obins, Castle Obins, Armagh, to Rev. Richard Devin, Parish Priest, Parish of Drumcree, County Armagh. The lease is for 41 years, the rent 2/6 yearly.
We have to turn to Ordnance Survey Memoirs of 1835 to find the fullest early account of the two churches in Drumcree Parish, the Church of St John the Baptist Drumcree and Church of St Patrick in Portadown :-
“Drumcree R.C. Chapel situated in the townland of Selsion is a plain stone building roughcast and whitewashed. It is 63 feet long and 28 and a half broad. It was built in 1783, the cost not known. There were repairs done in 1831 which cost £90, raised by public subscription. There is accommodation for 2,000 persons and the general attendance is 1,500. The Priest of the Parish is Rev. James O’Neill who receives £100 salary. The interior of the chapel is plain; it has a mud floor. There is a large gallery. Over the altar is a painting if the Virgin and Child. At the East end is a wooden tablet on which is the following inscription:-
Sacred to the memory of Rev. John Coyne S.T.P. faithful pastor of Drumcree who departed his life A.D. 1803 aged 44. ‘Consumatus in brevi explevit tempora multa
Constant in Prayer, in meditation high
Removed from earth and tending to the sky
Wise gentle humble modest kind,
Grace in his speech and virtue in his mind.
Erected by his Reverend Brother Father Michael Coyne Ord. Praed. S.T.P. who also departed this life February 18 A.D. 1815. Aged 48.
Requiescant in pace. Amen.”
The New Church of St John the Baptist
(The Church Near Completion)
Facts and Figures
In March 1974, Canon MacLarnon commissioned Mr Brian Gregory A.R.I.B.A and the late Mr Sean Tynan Q.S. to execute and price a Church for Drumcree to hold 1000 people. He asked that it be a square building with a diagonal interior arrangement and that it include a Children's Room, Meeting Room and Toilet facilities for the public. The organ, bell and stained glass of Old Drumcree were to be incorporated in the new Church.
In April, Mr Gregory presented a draft plan which Mr Tynan costed at £240 000 (and with the concurrence of the late Cardinal Conway) instructions were given to proceed with all speed to working drawings and specifications so that the job could go to tender as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Inflation was raging and when the plans were ready, the Quantity Surveyor's estimate was now £320 000! a "Crisis" Meeting was held in Ara Coeli and the decision was taken (1) to make certain economies and (2) to proceed with all speed.
The revised plans were ready in the summer of 1975 abd went out to public tender. The tender of Messrs Coary and Sons Ltd Dungannon at £285 000 was accepted. On 5th October, Messrs Coary, having completed the nearby St John's Primary School in a record twelve months, entered on the 3.5 acre site for the Church at the junction of the Garvaghy and Dungannon roads. Mr Coary assured Canon MacLarnon that the job would be complete in 24 Months and he has kept to his word.
It is useful to place on record the firms, surveyors and artists involved in the job:
Description by the Architect
The new Church of St John the Baptist is on a site of 3.5 acres at the junction of the Portadown-Dungannon and the Drumcree Roads. The site which slopes down from the corner in a northerly direction is immediately adjacent to the building grounds and Cemetery of the old Church of St John the Baptist at Drumcree.
The Church is sited to take into account its setting at the main road junction. It is built in reinforced concrete and sand-cement bricks with a slender campanile linked to the main structure by the lower level narthex, forming the entrance. This campanile forms the main vertical feature in the building which has a horizontal emphasis, with its heavy ring-beams of reinforced concrete with architectural accent on the main structural components, namely the heavy reinforced concrete beams and stanchions of the main frame. These are emphasised in the structure especially by contrast with the light tinted gloss of the clear-storey windows where the beams penetrate showing clearly the function of the building’s component parts.
The campanile of heavily-textured, chiselled concrete houses the bell. the plan form of the Church is square with the High Altar positioned in a corner of the square so that there is a strong diagonal emphasis and concentration on the Altar position and Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is spacious and raised 1’ 6’’ above the main Church floor level and has natural light by windows on the east and west sides and by roof light.
Although the Church is of modern concept the cross-form of the main structural beams is strongly reminiscent of the Bascilican Roof shape. In a matter of detail great care has been taken to use elements from the old Church. The glass from the windows has been very carefully re-modelled and re-leaded and designed within a new leaded framework, thereby preserving the very rich and beautiful old glass for future generations.
Similarly also the Bell which served for many years in the old Church in Drumcree has been taken and re-used in the new Church. Also the brass candle-holders for the Sanctuary have been taken from the old Church and adopted for re-use.
The Church itself seats 1100 people. The Church site has been laid out giving access to the Car Park, provision for up to 300 cars and from this, main access to the Cemetery. Paved areas in the grounds around the Church have been provided, and in due course, there will be planting of shrubs and trees in these areas.
(Taken from "The Parish of Drumcree" Booklet - a Souvenir Publication on the occasion of the Solemn Dedication of the new Church of St John the Baptist on Sunday 16th October 1977)
Refurbishment (2003 - 2004)
Refurbished Church of St John the Baptist (Exterior)
When appointed to the Parish, Fr Sean Larkin P.P. soon came to realise that the Church of St John the Baptist was in need of repairs and refurbishment. The flat roof had begun to leak, the lighting and ceiling needed attention and the Sanctuary needed re-modelling. The decision was taken in 2003 to close the Church and carry out these necessary repairs. The Church temporarily moved to St John the Baptist Primary School for the Weekend and Weekday Masses, while St Patrick's Church would be used for Baptism, Funerals, Weddings, First Holy Communion, Confirmation and other liturgies and ceremonies as required.
The once flat roof became a pitched roof, with associated ceiling changes and repairs and a copper Cross was placed at the very top of the Roof. Attic space for storage has also been created. The Sanctuary size has been reduced to allow for the creation of two separate Altar Servers' and Priests' Sacristies, with the former sacristy being converted into a meeting room for Parish Groups to meet. With this, the Sanctuary has been moved forward to accommodate these extra rooms, with the implication being a reduction in the seating capacity from 1100 to 800. The Sanctuary and Main Church were re-carpeted and the seats refurbished. Sanctuary Furniture was replaced to keep with the modern theme of the Church. A Baptistery has been moved to the former Children's Room with an entrance being formed in the Main Body of the Church and a new Aumbry being created inside the Baptistery. New doors at each entrance were also installed and the entrance halls being tiled and painted. Former Stained Glass Windows from the Original Building were restored and retained in the Refurbishment. The Sound System was also improved. Outside the Church, the Pathways have been replaced with modern stone flags and planting areas renewed and replenished.
The Church re-opened and rededicated on 28th November 2004 (1st Sunday of Advent) by the then Archbishop Sean Brady, Primate of all Ireland, with Priests from all over the diocese and further afield coming for this momentous day.
(Taken from "The Re-Opening of Church of St John the Baptist Drumcree, Portadown" Booklet - produced for the re-opening and rededication of the Altar at St John the Baptist Church, Portadown)