ST. MICHAEL’S Church is a very prominent building in Enniskillen for many reasons. Architecturally speaking, its spire is a stunning sight as it stands tall in the townscape.

However, accompanied by the spire of neighbouring St. Macartin’s Cathedral, its visual impact is even more striking.

The two spires standing together is almost a metaphor for the close neighbourly relationship the two churches – one Roman Catholic, one Protestant – that have been nurtured through the years against the backdrop of what is often perceived as a divided nation.

St. Michael’s Church was built in 1875 and although the spire and belfry were on the original building plans for the church, they were not erected until 1992, more than 100 years later.

Prior to the construction of the church known as St. Michael’s, there had been a Catholic church on the site since 1803.

Unlike the present building, it was situated on the western half of the site, some distance from the main street, and at a much lower level.

Work began on the present church following the laying of the foundation stone by the Most Reverend Dr. Donnelly on August 15, 1870.

Five years later, St. Michael’s was officially dedicated to the service of God on March 17, 1875.

The church is rich in history and highly-rated for its French Gothic Revival architecture.

The exterior of the church is considered most impressive when viewed from a southern aspect.

Built in 1876, the three central double doorways of the church are elaborately moulded, carved and enriched by Newry granite.

The tympanum of the central doorway has a sculpture representing The Last Judgement – a common feature of French Gothic churches.

Inside the building, the High Altar, Italian-Gothic in style and first built in 1882, stands pride of place at the front of the church.

The side altars, along with the aisle seats, were added later, between 1885-1909.

The main altar, which is the original altar, has a significant carving of The Pieta, an image depicting the body of the dead Christ resting on His mother’s lap.

Adorning the interior walls of the church are exquisite paintings. One painting of particular note is ‘The Nativity’ (c.1908), by Michael Healy.

It is unique in the fact that it is the only known oil mural in a church by Healy, who was prolific in the art of stained glass.

Physically, the church is situated in the heart of the island town, but it also spiritually occupies a place in the hearts of many in the local community as a building that provides for all significant life events, from birth through to death, as well as offering an open space for everyday devotion.

Parish Priest Monsignor Peter O’Reilly elaborated on this concept, commenting that the church as a building has both “interesting architectural features” and “a good story”, but like all houses of God, it is more than just features, bricks and mortar.

He said: “St. Michael’s Church was established as – and continues to be – a spiritual space in the town.

“It is the place in which families continue to mark the main transformation of their life stories.

“In any given recent year, there are likely to have been 150 baptisms, 40 weddings, 80 funerals, and 120 confirmations.

“The Eucharist is celebrated ten times in any one week. In all this, it is a building that directs us to hear and answer the call of Jesus: ‘Go, make disciples’,” he said.

The visit of Queen Elizabeth II and her late husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh on June 26, 2012 was a significant moment in St. Michael’s recent history.

“That day, The Queen and Prince Philip formally met about 150 people representing various sectors of our locality: farming, fisheries, tourism, charities, hospice care, schools, public services, and sport,” said Monsignor O’Reilly, recalling how Prince Philip in particular reacted warmly to the beauty of the building.

Another visit of note was that of the Republic’s President Michael D. Higgins on Tuesday, September 15, 2015, where there was a prayer service in St. Michael’s Church before a reception in St. Macartin’s Cathedral.

The cross-community connection of St. Michael’s with other churches in the town is important to note.

Sunday, December 9, 2012 saw the first of a series of carol services between St. Macartin’s Cathedral and St. Michael’s Church, with clergy leaders of the main churches present, presided over by then Bishop John McDowell.

“On another occasion, the service was shared between Darling Street Methodist Church and St. Michael’s,” said Monsignor O’Reilly.

Highlighting other significant events in the recent history of the church, Monsignor O’Reilly noted how on Thursday, July 20, 2017, St. Macartin’s Cathedral and St. Michael’s Church jointly hosted an Inniskillings Museum event to mark the centenary of the death at Passchendaele of the Irish poet who joined the British army “because she stood between Ireland and an enemy common to our civilisation”.

He also recalled the Evening Prayer Commemoration of the Armistice to end World War I, which took place on Sunday, November 11, 2018, and was attended by one of the largest crowds seen in St. Michael’s Church for many years, with a massed band of pipers in the street.

“It was part of the commemorations of that day,” said the Monsignor.

Last year, on Friday, July 24, 2020, St. Michael’s Church held the funeral of Monsignor Seán Cahill, who oversaw the refurbishment of the church interior in 1995 and also the completion of the church spire to mark the Great Jubilee of Christianity in 2000, explained Monsignor O’Reilly.

He continued: “The architect was Tom Mullarkey, whose son, Ciaran, is our parish architect today. The builders were Tracey Brothers, a work of which the late Richard Tracey was particularly proud.”

A presence in Enniskillen town centre for more than a hundred years, St. Michael’s Church continues to be a space that makes a vibrant contribution to the life of the town and the parish.