HISTORY (by Aileen Pollard)

Old plan of church

Plan of church now

St. Columba’s Parish Church is built on the site of the first Church of Ireland church to be built in the town of Omagh.

The original parish church was some two miles south of Omagh in the town land of Drumragh on the banks of the Drumragh River, hence the name of the parish. Part of the walls of this old church still stand. The graveyard remains the property of the parish and is in occasional use.

In the mid 1700’s the town of Omagh was expanding and the Mervyn family, at the time the main landowners in the town, built a new church on the hill overlooking the town on the site of the present church. The church, which was opened in 1777, was in the Grecian style with a lofty tower donated by Bishop Knox, Bishop of Derry. In 1820 the church was extended by the addition of a north aisle and interior galleries.

The population of the market town was increasing rapidly and by 1861 the population of the parish was 1,706. A decision was taken to demolish the existing church and build a replacement on the same site.

An article in “The Irish Builder” describes the new building in detail. The church was under construction at this time and was dedicated the following year on 20th October 1871.

"The architect was J.E. Rogers, FRIAI, under the superintendence of William Hunter and the contractor was Mr John Collen, of Portadown. The design of the church consisted of a nave, chancel, north and south transepts, aisles, southwest porch, organ-chamber and vestry tower and spire. The total length from east to west is 94 feet; from north to south transepts 88 feet; width of the nave 86 feet; of transepts 85 feet; height from floor to apex of nave roof 52 feet and the size of the southwest porch 18 x 12 feet. The style of the building is Gothic of the thirteenth century, the details throughout being plain and massive character.

The walls are of clay brick; the dressings are of Dungannon freestone and random rubble limestone, locally obtained. The ceiling is open stained and varnished and the single pews and reading desks are also of stained and varnished wood.

It was, at first, intended to retain the tower of the old church and to remodel it in order that it might harmonize with the new building and to raise the spire but it was later decided to rebuild it entirely. The height of the new spire is 139 feet above floor level and adds greatly to the symmetry and beauty of the structure."

[The Irish Builder 15th October 1870]

The church today is basically the same as when built and the above description largely applies though some alterations were made over the years. The original building had a vestry in the bell tower, which is now used as the main entrance. The present vestry was a side door to the church accessed from a small gate on the lane beside the church. An old photograph shows a large arched doorway from the present vestry to the main building at the point where the pulpit now stands.

In 1957 the east wall was in a very dangerous state and it was decided to demolish and rebuild it. The new wall is faced with artificial stone to match the colour of the existing limestone.

In the 1970’s a toilet block was added using similar artificial stone to match that of the reconstructed east wall.

In the 1970’s, an architect (Mr Harry Malone) who was also a member of the parish, presented and installed a Chapel [Communion & Baptistery] in the west transept. The oak panels came from a church in the south of Ireland, which was disused and about to be deconsecrated.

The most striking features of the church are the massive interior, which seats in excess of 500 people, and the huge windows. These windows vary in character and one of the most impressive is the east wall window presented in memory of Thomas Stack, a past curate in the parish and a member of a prominent Tyrone clerical family. At the other end of the church there is the west wall window, which was presented by the Galbraith family, local landowners and major benefactors to the parish. In complete contrast, the north transept wall houses a modern window donated by the parish to commemorate St. Columba and St. Cecilia in the Columban celebration year 1987. The remainder of the windows were presented by prominent families of the parish.

There are many plaques and memorials in the church, most of which have a military theme since Omagh was, for years, the home of the Inniskilling Fusiliers.

The church has had at least three organs each one situated in slightly different places, the present organ being a pipe organ installed by P. Conagher of Dublin and dedicated in 1953 in memory of those from the parish who fell in the Second World War. This organ has recently undergone a complete restoration.

Over the years much repair and restoration work has been carried out to the church, which is a listed building and therefore cannot be altered without approval from The Historic Buildings and Monuments Branch. The last major restoration was carried out in the early 1990’s and dedicated in October 1992. In all this work, including the 1990’s restoration, the objective was to restore the building as closely as possible to its original state.