Although I rarely get a chance to sit at it for long, one of my favourite views in Co. Fermanagh is the window at my desk in the vestry in St. Michael’s Church, Trory, looking out over St. Angelo Airport (of which I also happen to be chaplain).

The vestry window frames the view of landing and taking off aircraft perfectly.

Part of why I love this view from my private room to get dressed and ready for services is because so few people ever get to see it.

When I get the chance to look out, I get the feeling of a stolen moment, and a sense of my relative insignificance in the important history of St. Angelo and Castle Archdale aviation.

Today it is great to see and hear the airport in frequent use; emergency South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) flights containing organs for life-saving operations, the Air Ambulance base beside the SWAH, hobby pilots in aeroplanes and gliders, and various car and go-kart race weekends, fill the air with sounds of working engines.

When I see these, the view from my window is one filled with prayer for those in urgent need of medical treatment in the SWAH, gratitude for leisure time, and thankfulness for wholesome imagination and ingenuity with which we fill it.

St. Angelo Airport is still central to the health and wellbeing, leisure, and social life of the surrounding area.

The Airport Café is also an essential local amenity, and well worth a visit if you are in this direction.

As we approach the 80th anniversary of D-Day, St. Angelo Airport is playing a large part in local commemoration events, remembering the importance of this base, as well as Castle Archdale in the war effort.

When I look out and there is no activity on the runway, my prayers are those of grateful thanks for the allied air forces – not least as we rapidly approach the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

On June 8, there will be a day of celebrations at St. Angelo Airport, remembering the important role St. Angelo and Castle Archdale RAF bases, and the local community, played in the war effort.

The celebrations for the day will kick off at 10am with a service of thanksgiving in St. Michael’s Parish Church, Trory, and festivities continue all day from 11am at the airport.

If you are free, please do join us on the day. It is important we remember the vital part Fermanagh played in World War Two, and the legacy we still have.

I preface the next few paragraphs with a disclaimer. As a ‘blow-in’, I am still learning my local history, so I pray forgiveness if I have got any of the details wrong. I am retelling as told to me.

During World War Two, St. Angelo Airport had a longer runway than it currently does, and at a different angle, running across what is now the main road and through the Balcas and Severfield sites.

Hints of the recent aviation history of the area can be found in unusual places.

In the early 1940s, buildings for RAF personnel, accessed by concrete roads, were quickly erected throughout the surrounding countryside and remnants remain to this day, particularly around Ballycassidy.

The driveway of my rectory is still the cement turning arc for land vehicles on the original airfield, and the foundations which can still be seen in the rectory back yard, I believe are of a Naafi base which served the pilots of St. Angelo and Castle Archdale.

In 1944, one quarter of Fermanagh’s population were US Forces, stationed at more than 20 bases covering air, land and lough, including Killadeas, Necarne (Hospital), Lisgoole Abbey, St. Angelo, Ely Lodge, Crom, Colebrooke and Castle Coole.

The importance of Fermanagh to the US Forces was reflected by the visit of both General Eisenhower and General Patton to Enniskillen in early 1944.

These US Forces brought American culture to Fermanagh, including baseball, candy, doughnuts, comics, chewing gum, films, cartoons, jiving, nylons, new vocabulary, style and for some women, romance!

Fermanagh people welcomed the US soldiers into their homes and their hearts. Churches opened their doors, dances and cinema screenings were organised.

Lifelong friendships were formed, and letters exchanged.

But helping in the aviation war effort was not all plain sailing for locals, not least in Trory.

As part of the war effort, government orders were given to demolish St. Michael’s Parish Church as it was on a hill with an elevation which was perceived as getting in the way of aeroplanes wanting to land or take off.

The importance of the local church, and the hope it symbolised, meant the local community rallied, and made sure the church stayed unaltered where it was.

And as the roof and tower is still on the church, and the aviation war effort continued, I think we can safely say it was not an impossible obstacle for pilots to negotiate.

This essential need for the parish church as a beacon of hope then raises questions for us today.

Do we just tear down old structures because of a whim? Who gets to decide what is out of date, and what a community no longer needs?

Is there still comfort from knowing a parish church exists, a physical reminder, or a bastion of God’s love? A place of calm and comfort, to come and reset your soul regardless of affiliation?

How do churches, or any community effort, survive without your input?

Perhaps all of these can be answered in the words of Joni Mitchell. ‘Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. You paved paradise and put up a parking lot.’

Parish churches are historic symbols of hope, of peace, of everlasting love, and point us towards the paradise which Christians believe to be when we finally come to be with God.

The country parish church structure includes worshipping with your neighbours and family even if you disagree with them, and having loyalty to your local church, even if your personality doesn’t mesh with your current minister or priest.

This has served our country well for more than 1,500 years of Christianity, and in this area, it served pre-Christian Culdees monastic communities for centuries before.

Perhaps we need to relearn the value of the wisdom of age, and of the ages.

We should not be so quick to tear down ancient structures, physical or social, or dismiss the wisdom of our elders.

Moreover, we must relearn the art of disagreeing healthily, instead of just walking away.

I hope and pray that anyone who comes through the doors of a church in any denomination would feel the sense of prayerfulness and calmness that transcends time, and in feeling this, realise the necessity for these places, and the communities which sustain them.

Rev. Mark is the Church of Ireland rector of Trory and Killadeas parishes.