Brief History of St Michaels Church
The building of Urris Chapel began on 17th. April 1887. The building was done by direct labour. The main contractor was Henry Doherty of Carndonagh known as Henry Castledoe because he came originally from the Castles, Isle of Doagh.
The chief stone masons were Hugh Doherty (Neilly), Letter and James Doherty (Seamus), Letter The carpenters and slaters were Denis McDonald of Dunaff, known as Denny Randal who was the chief carpenter and roofer of the Chapel. Many of his kin are still living in Urris.
Denis McLaughlin (known as Denis the Curate) from Culdaff. He was the Grandfather of Denis and John McLaughlin of the Castles, Isle of Doagh and Packie Farren of Clonmany.
Charles Doherty ( known as Charlie the carpenter) from Ballyliffin. His two daughters Fanny (over 90) and Maggie are living at present in Cloughfin. The slaters were all tethered together while working on the roof of the Chapel.
Jack's Mill, Letter was roofed by the same workmen, after their day's work on the Chapel, to earn their keep.
Urris Chapel which measures 75 feet long by 33 feet wide was modelled after the old Church in Desertegney but with one big difference. After being built it was found that the side walls of Desertegney Church began to bulge outwards due to the pitch of the low, almost flat roof so the Urris builders determined not to repeat this mistake. That is why the pitch of the roof on Urris Church is so steep.
The land on which Urris Chapel is built was donated by Ned "Owen" Doherty of Letter.
The stones used in the building were quarried locally and were brought to the site mostly by donkey cart. The Lime was carted from a kiln in Carndonagh while the roofing materials came from Derry -by train to Buncrana and thence by cart to Urris. The fee paid to the carters, who were paid, was five shillings.
The interior of the Chapel was finished in cement with an open roof, the principals being of stained pine. There was a metalic Communion Rail finished in black and gold.
The Chapel was dedicated and opened for Worship on Sunday, 22nd. July 1888. In the absence of the Bishop Dr. Francis Kelly, due to illness, the dedication ceremony was performed by Father William O'Doherty, the Parish Priest of Clonmany. The High Mass was sung by Father William McGlinchey P.P., Culdaff, the Deacon was Father Francis McCullagh C.C., Clonmany, the Sub-Deacon was Rev. D. Quigly, Maynooth and the Master of Ceremonies was Father James Maguire C.C., Clonmany who ministered in Clonmany for the whole of his Priesthood of 55 year, The Preacher was Most Rev. Dr. Patrick O'Donnell, Bishop of Raphoe, afterwards Cardinal of Armagh, and a relative of our present P.P. Father Gallagher. In his sermon he concentrated on the Angels, their attributes and their relations with mankind as the Church was dedicated to St. Michael, the Archangel.
Other priests present were Rev. John Kearney, P.P. V.G., Buncrana; Rev. Charles McFaul P.P. \ Waterside, Derry and former Curate in Clonmany; Rev. John McCullagh P.P.,Faughanvale and former Curate in Clonmany; Rev. John Doherty, Adm, Derry (native of Clonmany); Rev. Philip O'Doherty C.C., Carndonagh and Rev. Daniel Doherty C.C., Donaghmore.
After the sermon Fathers McFaul and McCullagh took up the collection which amounted to £257-18-11. This brought the total amount of money already collected to £600 which was a very considerable amount in those days of grinding poverty. Neighbouring parishes, the city of Derry, Bishop Kelly and the priests of the Diocese also contributed and after the ceremony Father O'Doherty P.P. thanked all the people for their tremendous generosity.
Sunday 22nd. July 1888 was a day of violent thunderstorms in Derry City and district which did widespread damage. The storms hit Moville on the following Tuesday but we don't know if the storms came to Urris. At the same time there was a major earthquake in Japan which devastated Yokohama. The famous Donegal priest Father McFadden was languishing in Derry gaol for his efforts for his beleagured people, his col1eage Father Daniel Stephens had just been released from Derry gaol and was greeted with bonfires and torchlight processions on his triumphant return home. The great Irish patriot John Dillon was in gaol in Edinburgh while. Rev. Mother M. Teresa Connolly had died the previous day in Moville convent after 40 years In the Mercy Order. The ships of the Anchor Line were sailing from Moville to America for £4 Steerage and £7 Second Class Cabin.
The first Baptism to be performed in Urris Chapel was the Baptism of the twin sons of - James Conaghan and Grace Doherty of Claggan, Michael and Richard (afterwards the Bell Ringer) who were Baptised by Father McCullagh on Monday, 23rd. July 1888.
The first wedding in Urris Chapel was between John Canny, Dunaff and Sarah Duffy, Dunaff who were married by Father James Maguire on 22nd. September 1888.
The first person to be buried in Urris cemetery was the father of Master Lanigan who taught in Tiernasligo. He did not want to be buried in Clonmany so the funeral was delayed for a day until the cemetery was Blessed and Consecrated.
The first fisherman to be buried io Urris after a drowning accident when his boat was lost on 11th. January 1890 was Michael Friel of Dunaff while the bodies of his colleagues were never recovered. This tragic coincidence was repeated in December 1980 when John Kearney (P) was the first fisherman to be buried in the new Urris cemetery while the bodies of his two colleagues the Kearney Brothers from Leenankeel were never recovered after the drowning accident off the beach at Leenankeel.
Priests from Urris: Father Roger Doherty (Ranty) who was P.P. of Culdaff about 1870. His brother Father Daniel Doherty who served in the Derry Diocese and who probably was the C.C. Donaghmore who was present at the opening of the Chapel. Father Daniel Doherty from Dunaff (1856-1902) who died in Boston while collecting funds for the spire of St. Eugene's Cathedral, Derry. Father Cornelius HcLaughlin of Letter who served on the American Mission. He was the uncle of Corney McLaughlin, the present Sacristan in Urris and also of Brother Denis C.P., Belfast Father Charles Logue C.C., Craigbane, Claudy; Father Michael Canny C.C., St. Eugene's, Derry and Father John M. Friel C.C., Strabane.Also Father Edward Doherty(P) Claggan in U.S.A The Sacristans in Urris were: Kitty Conaghan (Richard); Annie Diver; Sheila Kelly; Mary Gubbin (Maia) and Corney McLaughlin, the present one.
There was a Bell located on the site of the present Grotto, It was rung for many years by Richard Conaghan (the first child to be Baptised in Urris Chapel) and whose wife Kitty was the first Sacristan. After a time the tongue of the bell, which is still lying around the Chapel, fell out and the Bell was later sold for scrap about 1938. Joe McCann, Letter, bought some of the woodwork surrounding the hell.
There were no seats on the floor of the Chapel until Father Maguire became P.P. in 1900. After the Gospel of the Mass the men and boys would rush up to the Altar Rails the better to hear the priest preaching. When the seats were installed they were auctioned yearly and the front seats always went at a higher price than the back seats.
When the new marble altars in Clonmany Chapel were installed by Roger Harkin about 1912 the Stations of the Cross and the old wooden altars were brought to Urris where one of them is being used today as the Altar for Mass. However Dr. John Gallagher who was Curate in Clonmany from 1935 to 1948 brought new pictures for the Stations back from Rome and each Station was bought by an individual family. The Stations are painted on metal and are very colourful. There seems to be some discrepancy between the height of the Cross on the Twelfth and Thirteenth Station.
The Blessed Sacrament was not Reserved in Urris until Father Joseph Devine came as P.P. in February 1934. He was the successor to Father Maguire. A new Tabernacle and Monstrance were presented to the Chapel by Miss Polly McDaid of Derry who was teaching in Tiernasligo School. There was no weekday Mass or First Friday devotions until 1934. The first Holy Week ceremonies in Urris took place in 1938.
In Lent the people came to make the Stations of the Cross after work before the Blessed Sacrament was Reserved. The men were particularly noted for doing this devotion. Before 1934 there the-re were no funerals held in the Chapel which must have been a great burden for the people who had to carry the coffin a long distance.
Since 1934 the October "Stations" had always been held in the Chapel until Father Douglas who was P.P. from 1957 to 1976 gave them to the people who asked for them. This happened about 1964. So all the "Stations" are held now in the houses except Urrismana which is a very small "Station" and the "Station" for Urrismana in October is still held in the Chapel.
In 1936 Father Joseph Devine laid the concrete walks around the Chapel and installed the winding gate. In 1970 Father Douglas purchased the ground for the extension to the Cemetery and fenced it in with a wooden fence. In 1979 new toilets were installed at a cost of 2000.
In 1983 Father Gallagher bought the ground for the new Car Park, built a concrete wall around the cemetery extension, laid out the new extension with concrete walks and installed parking lights at a total cost of over £40,000. In 1988 a new electronic Bell System was installed, while the new Lourdes Grotto. the gift of the people of Urris to Our Lady during the Marian Year was Blessed by Dr.Edward Daly, Bishop of Derry on Thursday, 26th. May 1988 on the occasion of the first Confirmation in Urris Chapel.