The Parish of Enniskillen belongs to the diocese of Clogher where the first bishop was Saint Macartan about 500 A.D. Macartan has always been the patron of the diocese and since 1850 the bishop lives in Monaghan.
In Fermanagh the first parish churches were on the islands or along the shores of Lough Erne. There was a cluster of these around Enniskillen, the most important being on lnishkeen Island about two miles south of the modern town. The patron of lnishkeen was Saint Fergus and the parish priests held the title of Dean of Lough Erne, among them the famous Cahal McManus who compiled the Annals of Ulster at the end of the 15th century.
Nearby at Rossorry was another church which was dedicated to Saint Fanchea and later attached to the abbey of Lisgool. Derryvullen and Derrybrusk were also separate parish churches and lay in adjoining townlands between the present village of Tamlaght and the lough shore.
All these churches were destroyed and their property confiscated during the wars and plantations of the 17th century. A Government report in 1731 says that there were then three priests, unregistered, in charge of lnishkeen and Rossorry, and "itinerant friars officiated in the parish." The Report adds that there was no Catholic church or Mass-house in the parish, but three altars or stations at which Mass was celebrated in the open air. One of these was at 'Grania's Green' in Cavanacross and another in Drumclay between Hillview and the Mill Lough.
About 1750 a small thatched church with earth floor was built near the present entrance to Saint Fanchea's Secondary School off Mill Street.lt was used down to 1803 when the old Saint Michael's was opened in Darling Street on the island proper. The plot for Saint Michael's was made available by the Kernans, one of whom, Edward Kernan, was parish priest of Enniskillen and later bishop of Clogher. The choice of Michael as patron was especially happy when one considers the long tradition of Enniskillen as a fortification, both in the time of the Maguires and as a garrison colony.
Michael was soon called onto play his role as defender of the faith. Enniskillen is one of the very few towns in the whole of Ireland where Catholics succeeded in having their church on the main street and there was determined and prolonged opposition. So much so that the walls had to be guarded nightly while the building was in progress. The church stood back a distance from the street, on a much lower level, and was approached by wide stone steps. In the 1820s three galleries were added to accommodate the growing congregation. These galleries finally caused the old church to be abandoned in 1867 when they were heard to creak during the mission of that year. The lower storey of the schools at the East Bridge, now the Reading Rooms, was used as a temporary church until the new church was ready in 1875.
The new Saint Michael's was erected on the site of the old and remains today a highly rated example of French Gothic Revival architecture. The architect was John O'Neill who had previously built Saint Peter's in Belfast and Saint Patrick's, Downpatrick. His design had included a belfry and spire; but these could not be built because of the soft foundation. The most impressive view is from the rear where the church rises like a giant fortress, grey, dominating and massive; the angled views reveal the great length of the nave, with thirteen bays of French Gothic windows and a single, steeply-pitched roof of banded tiles with cast-iron cresting.
The preparation of the site was most troublesome and expensive. Over forty feet of solid masonry was needed to reach the floor level of the sanctuary while the scaffolding and building materials had to be placed on the public street. The Town Commissioners of the day were very helpful. Unfortunately, the tenant on the Darling Street side refused to allow scaffolding on his premises and it was not until 1921, when the premises were acquired as a presbytery, that the west wall was reinforced by massive flying-buttresses. These buttresses are a unique feature of the church, as will be appreciated by parishioners who have occasion to visit the sacristy. The sacristy was also built in 1921.
The interior of the church is ornamented after the style of the period, with columns "whose capitals are heavy with vegetable matter and bearded faces" and elaborate carving in the soffits of the arches. Most of the furniture dates from the 1880s and the 1890s. The florid Italian-Gothic High Altar was built in 1882 and later in the 1880s the side altars were added and the aisles seated. The pine ceiling in the nave and aisles was completed in 1898. The paintings of the Transfiguration, the Sermon on the Mount, Magdalen at the feet of our Lord, the Baptism in the Jordan, were by Charles Russell who worked in the 1890s; while the Nativity window by Michael Healy was done twenty years later. The pipe organ was rebuilt in its present form in 1964.
Saint Joseph's Church, Cradien, as we know it today, was built by Archdeacon Smollen in 1890. The old chapel was on the same site at right angles to the present church and was a long low thatched house dating from the end of the 18th century. Before that the people of the area attended Mass at a little chapel at the 'Yellow Ford' on the borders of Ballylucas and Cavancarragh. The ruins of this building have been recently restored.
Saint Mary's, Lisbellaw, was built in 1858-60 by voluntary labour under the guidance of Father Hughes, C.C., assisted by masons and workmen who were then constructing the railway from Clones to Enniskillen. It replaced an old thatched chapel, which was built about 1745 on the site of the present sanctuary and sacristy.
The story of the building of these churches sums up the development of the modern parish of Enniskillen. The first parish priest of the new era was the influential Edward Kernan (1799-1816) whom we already mentioned. He was succeeded by James Sheil (1816-46) who lived through the contentions of the Catholic Emancipation period and the epidemics of typhus (1817) and cholera (1832) before dying during the Great Famine at the age of 63. In 1836 he was given a second curate. The appointment of a third curate came under his successor, Daniel Boylan (1846-61), who also introduced the Sisters of Mercy in 1856. The next pastor was James McMeel (1861-82) who built the parish church. Peter Birmingham (1882-86) went to Carrickmacross before leaving his mark on the parish and was succeeded by Thomas Smollen (1886-1909), in many ways the most impressive pastor and administrator of the 19th century.
During his time the Presentation Brothers came to Enniskillen, in 1899. His three successors, Patrick Keown (1909-19), John Tierney (1919-41), and Patrick Gannon (1941-62), are all remembered by older members of the parish, as also are two curates who served for many years, Thomas Meegan (1919-481 and Charles Dignam (1920-52).
On behalf of the present generation we honour their record of enduring service and leadership and pray that, as a result of their labours, the Body of Christ may continue to grow in our midst.
Macartan of Clogher 506-2006
Saint Macartan was a companion of Saint Patrick. His name associates him with the Rowan Tree, or Mountain Ash. Patrick gave him responsibility for the early Christian community in Clogher, where he died in 506.