Belfast Telegraph

Demolition fears after Belfast church designated 'dangerous building'

By Sue Doherty

A tight knit community in Belfast is appealing for help to save their historic church from demolition after recent damage led it to being designated a 'dangerous building'.

Friends of St Joseph Church in Sailortown have been working tirelessly over the last few years to raise money and carry out repairs on the beautiful, much loved local building.

The church which was opened in 1880, was known as the "Chapel on the Quays."

For generations, it was a busy centre of spiritual and community life at the heart of Belfast's bustling docks but it fell on hard times and was de-consecrated in 2000.

Over the last few years, the Friends of St Joseph's Church have carried out a number of repairs. The latest project, assisted by the Dept. for Communities and Ulster Garden Villages, was £10,000 worth of work, carried out in March, to make the building waterproof. Before that, water was pouring in through large holes in the roof, and the church was full of pigeons and covered in vegetation, Terry McKeown of Friends of St Joseph's said.

The group hopes to restore the church as a Heritage/ Community venue focusing on Sailortown and Belfast maritime and industrial heritage.

Last month, though, their plans were almost entirely scuppered when a marble column fell from the spire, damaging the roof and guttering. A large piece of masonry fell onto an adjacent apartment balcony as well, resulting in the council issuing a 'dangerous building' notice.

This leaves the small, voluntary group having to immediately raise £30-50,000 to fund the essential safety works.

"We do not have the resources," Ms McKeown told the Belfast Telegraph. "With the loss of many historic buildings in Belfast in recent years it would be a tragedy if the church had to be demolished and another apartment or office block was put in its place.

"It is the last remnant of the old Sailortown community, Grade B Listed and of immense architectural merit.

"It's social and community value cannot be underestimated," she added.

"While delivering flyers in the area, everyone I met had a family association with it. It marked all life events from birth to death of the ordinary people of Belfast. e.g communions, weddings christenings, funerals.

"St Joseph is the patron saint of travellers and his statue stands on the spire looking out to sea.

"The spire was the first and last sight of Belfast Harbour for generations of people who worked the docks and ships.

"Many Sailortown people were sailors away on long voyages around the world, sending their pay packets home and bringing exotic stories and ideas back before TV and the internet."

With all the new commercial developments in the area, Ms McKeown said, "it is essential that this one iconic landmark be retained for the people of Belfast, visitors and emigrants."

As part of the redevelopment of the church, there are plans to link the docks with the Titanic Quarter, thus bringing more people into the area.

If you would like to support the project, there is a fundraising 'Buffet, Ballot and BYO' at 8pm on Friday, June 23 in 174 Church Hall, Antrim Road, with music by Dalriada folk band and a screening of a documentary about the history of the church and Sailortown. Admission is £5, payable at the door.

The group is also running a crowdfunder campaign, details for which can be found at Crowdfunder or the Friends of St Joseph's Church, Sailortown Facebook page.

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