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Belfries for Gilford and Laurencetown

In 1877, Rev. Bernard O'Hagan, Adm. Newry, was appointed Parish Priest in succession to the Rev. John Byrne. On leaving Newry he was extolled by his former parishioners as being an eloquent priest, a patriot and a private friend of everyone. Bishop Leahy requested Fr. O’Hagan to visit America on lecture tours to secure funding for the purpose of repairing the church in Laurencetown and building a new school in Gilford. Canon O'Hagan wasted little time in preparing for his visit to the U.S.A. On 19th. October 1878 he sailed on R.M.S. Bothia for New York. He spent several years there lecturing on a wide range of topics that were of interest to his Irish American audience. Only a man of gifted talent, academic excellence and literary genius could offer such a range of topics to include:

“John Mitchel and His Times”
“St. Patrick’s Mission – Its Labors and Fruits”
“The Irish Brigade of a Hundred Years Ago”
“Catholic Church of Ireland versus the Penal Laws”
“Ireland’s Hopes and Fears for 1880”
“Ancient Liturgies of the Mass”
“Ireland and its Course in the Present Crisis”.

The original church in Gilford had no tower or belfry. Ever mindful of this, Mr. Patrick Reilly, a former parishioner and by now a successful merchant in Baltimore, U.S.A., presented the bell as a gift to the parish of his forefathers. It helps to illustrate most forcibly the intimate association of kinship between Ireland and the U.S.A., and to understand how close the ties are that bound Irishmen together in the sacred cause of religion. On 2nd June 1889, His Lordship Most Rev. Dr. McGivern, Co-adjutor Bishop of Dromore, performed the ceremony of the blessing of the bell.

Canon O'Hagan was also responsible for building an extension to Bann National School, Laurencetown, as well as extending the Parochial House in 1873 and building a belfry at the rear of St. Colman's Church, Laurencetown. The bell was forged in Dublin in 1877 and, although no information relating to the erection of a tower survives, it is generally believed to have been built between 1877 and 1889. It must have come as a shock to parishioners and relatives alike to learn that Canon O'Hagan died suddenly while on holiday in Rostrevor on 10th. August 1895, aged 68 years.

On 13th. August 1895, Fr. Bernard McAleenan was appointed P.P. Tullylish. He was quite familiar with the parish; from 1883-87 he had been a curate in Tullylish and he had been curate in the neighbouring parish of Seapatrick for eight years prior to his appointment as P.P. His pastoral reign was short for, on 22nd. December 1897, he died and was interred in Laurencetown. He is best known for his generosity in donating to Dr. McGivern, Bishop of Dromore, the cash necessary to purchase the peal of bells for the Cathedral tower in Newry.





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