Monday, February 19, 2024

Councillors agree to help fund restoration of 146-year-old Wicklow church organ

Revival Gospel Choir (Arklow, Co. Wicklow) | Facebook

Arklow councillors have agreed to contribute part of their discretionary funding towards local efforts to help preserve and refurbish a 146-year-old pipe organ at Sts. Mary & Peter Church in Arklow.

Although the level of funding is yet to be determined, news of the councillor’s commitment has been warmly welcomed by community members who have been diligently fundraising to restore the 19th-century organ, raising between €70,000 and €80,000 of their fundraising goal of €130,000 through a series of concerts and initiatives.

Councillors Pat Kennedy, Pat Fitzgerald, Sylvester Bourke and Cathaoirleach Tommy Annesley put forth a motion at this month’s Arklow Municipal District meeting seeking to provide funding towards the restoration of the historic organ, which they said formed a “significant part of the public realm streetscape of Arklow Main Street”, and that it was “of the utmost importance to the culture and heritage of Arklow that this organ is preserved for future generations”.

Addressing the Arklow chamber, Cllr Fitzgerald urged his fellow councillors to contribute in the form of discretionary funding before opening up the floor to Cllr Kennedy.

“I suppose, just to give this a bit of background, the organ was built in 1878, and is a legacy for the town,” he said. “It was built by John White from Enniscorthy, and to purchase that organ today would cost €4.5 million – a staggering amount of money. It’s almost 150 years old, and I think we would be doing the people and the arts in Arklow justice if we, six councillors around this table, preserve it for another 150 years.

“And hopefully, when someone looks in at the records in the church in 150 years time, they’ll turn around and say that it was a great thing that someone thought it was worth restoring and keeping into the future.

“I think Arklow is rich with music and, as Peir (Leonard) has mentioned on many occasions, the arts,” he added.

“There is a huge legacy of music and song in this town, and the organ and the church form a huge part of that. I’d really like to see this supported.”

With a jovial mood in the district chambers brought on by Valentine’s Day festivities, after councillors had given their unanimous agreement, Cllr Annesley asked Cllr Leonard if she could play the organ yet, to which she replied: “Not yet – I’ll wait until they restore it!”

As part of the conservation drive to preserve the almost 150-year-old church organ, Sts. Mary and Peter Church has hosted a series of fundraising events, with the latest – a concert in November featuring the Inver Singers female voice choir, The Wicklow Male Voice Choir, the Arklow Shipping Silver Band, Michael Flood and The Walker Sisters – raising a whopping €6,000.

Headed by the church’s musical director and organist, John Bonner, a long-time music teacher at the nearby St. Mary’s College, the fundraising campaign hopes to complete the much-needed restoration work on the historic pipe organ so that future generations of Arklow musicians can learn how to play the unique instrument.

While some general maintenance work was undertaken in 1995 (removal and cleaning of pipes, mechanism and re-leathering of bellows), additional work is necessary to address some musical and technical problems that have long prevented its use as a recital instrument and its power to inspire congregations.

The conservation work on the Arklow will be carried out by noted organ specialist Trevor Crowe Ltd. of Co. Kildare, who restored John White’s final church organ (1908) at St. Agatha’s Church, Dublin, in 2003.

Praising the Arklow councillor’s recent commitment, John Bonner said: “We welcome all contributions and donations, and we’re delighted with how the whole community has responded to our fundraising efforts.

“The fundraising total stands at between €70,000 and €80,000 at the moment, which is just fantastic and will allow us to begin phase one of the works, which are due to start in May.

“We’re aiming to have the rest of the money raised for the following summer to do phase two, and we hope to have more concerts and fundraisers over the coming months.

“I suppose, the really important thing to mention, and a big motivation behind the restoration campaign, is that the organ is a musical instrument that could and should be enjoyed by the whole community,” he added.

“It’s not just an instrument for hymns or mass services. You can also give recitals and concerts, and we want to encourage more people to learn how to play it. It’s a mechanical instrument, and with an organ like ours, you just can’t replicate the warmth and sound of these old organs with more modern ones – so it really is a unique instrument.

“It would be great to see people sitting at it and playing again. I’m sure we’ll get there because the people of Arklow are so very, very good and generous.”

Sts. Mary and Peter’s have also appealed to people to sponsor one of its organ’s 900 pipes to the tune of €100. In return for each donation, a permanent record of the sponsor’s name will be placed in the church. Donors can elect to display their own name or in memory of a loved one who has passed.

To make a donation to the organ fund directly, visit the Parish website at or contact the parish on Facebook.