While travelling through the mountainous, picturesque regions of Donegal and Derry, one may be fortunate to chance upon one of the many McCormick gems, dotted throughout the landscape. Church designs by architect Liam McCormick were gifted to both the urban and rural areas of this region. McCormick’s deep understanding of the area and its people is to the fore of all his design work and the churches that scatter the countryside of the North West are testament to this.
At the foot of the Blue Stack Mountains sits the village of Glenties. In this place between two glens, the Church of St Connell’s rises from the ground. Since 1974, this church has sat as a reflection of the people’s lives and the nature of their place. Through its simple, geometrical composition the Church’s form echoes the stability and toughness of the mountains that lie behind. A pitched, slated roof dominates the Church’s appearance as it reaches from ground to sky. Along the base where roof meets ground a fissure exists, through which, both the congregation and light can enter. The rough, dashed walls of the church are reminiscent of the vernacular rural cottage, while the farm animal gargoyles that adorn the roofs edge depict the rural and humble essence of the people’s lives. These gargoyles spout into a small body of water resting at the base of the low windows. Similar to McCormick’s Church at Creeslough, water is used to great effect at St Connell’s. While being a pragmatic device to reflect light it can also be read as a symbolic gesture of the congregation crossing over water and the significance of water in the Sacrament of Baptism.
The geometry of the roof planes is reflected in the interior of the Church creating a cavern of space, broken up by shards of light. The stained timber lined ceiling is contrasted by the roughened white wall behind the altar, towards which your attention is drawn. Light streams through a void between the two end walls across this white backdrop. This stream of light illuminates the humble concrete altar and religious artworks. Ornament so long associated with churches is stripped away and all is laid bare. A sensible approach was taken by the architect, reflecting the culture and the means of the people. The doors and furnishings show a care and tradition of craft and an appreciation of beauty in simplicity. Bare concrete blocks are added to the material palette of the interiors and this modern material compliments the white washed walls. The simple concrete artwork depicting the Stations of the Cross were dimensioned to the size of the concrete blocks used, fitting seamlessly into place, showing the great level of care taken by the architect and an understanding of the materials he was working with.
St Connell’s at Glenties is a physical and symbolic embodiment of the spirit of a place and its people. The Church successfully echoes its surroundings and sits seamlessly within it. It is a masterclass in forming space, shaping light and creating atmosphere. From overall form to door handle, each careful move made by McCormick has culminated in the delivery of a very special piece of architecture, a place of congregation, worship and belonging for the people between the two glens.