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Get Heritage Weekend off to a flying start at St Catherine's

By Eddie McIlwaine

St Catherine's Parish Church, built in 1712 long before man learned to fly, but now traditionally linked with the Royal Air Force at Aldergrove, will be taking part in European Heritage Weekend next Saturday, September 9 (2-5pm) and Sunday, September 10 (3-5pm).

The church, which is a listed building, with intriguing stained glass windows, is undergoing renovation work, but will still be open to visitors, who will be provided with afternoon tea in the hall.

"We will welcome callers," says church warden Dorothy Molyneaux. "There is so much to see in this old place of worship and out in the grounds, including the graves of 46 young RAF flyers who were killed during training for the Second World War."

On the Saturday, historian Aidan Campbell will give a talk on Old Belfast (3pm), flower arranger Frances Gibson will do a demonstration (2.30pm) and artist Jackie Campbell will be there at 4pm.

The base is now known as Flying Station Aldergrove since the Army moved in to share the facilities with the regular RAF, 502 Squadron of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the Northern Ireland Universities Air Squadrons.

And airmen and soldiers occasionally attend this unique little place of worship, which is the only civilian church in the UK within the boundaries of a military establishment.

The rector is the Rev John McClure, who will tell you that St Catherine's was named after St Catherine of Alexandria, or as she was sometimes known Catherine of the Wheel, because she was put to death for her Christian beliefs after being tortured on an instrument known as the breaking wheel in the fourth century.

The association with flying and aircraft is further perpetuated by the fact that one of St Catherine's most distinguished members, the late Lord Jim Molyneaux of Killead, the former Ulster Unionist Party leader, actually served in the RAF during the Second World War and is buried in the church graveyard.

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