Una O’Kane’s Speech at Official Opening


Three years ago this month a small group of us – Paddy, Patsy, Raymond & myself met with Fr Peter Murphy, (our Parish Priest at the time). We talked to him about how we might best move forward to provide some kind of facility or centre where our parishioners could come together for a range of activities, celebrations, parish & family functions. That was the beginning of quite a long journey & this isn’t the occasion for rehearsing the highs & lows of those three years. There are, however, two things that stand out on that journey for us:

  1. We will always be grateful to Fr Murphy who said “yes, the priests of the parish will give you every support”. And indeed they have- Fr Murphy, Monsignor O’Byrne, Fr Boyle, Fr Moore & of course Fr Gates have done that & more;
  2. When we look around this beautiful centre this evening – & our particular task has come to an end – we know it has all been worthwhile.

Magherafelt parish has a rich history; it has magnificent churches, excellent schools & most importantly people who cherish the traditions & values that unite a community. I am very proud to be a Magherafelt parishioner & I am passionate about the identity & life of my parish. As a child growing up in Magherafelt I observed & experienced the people of the parish sharing their talents & innate goodness for the benefit of others.

It is always our past that informs our future. And it is the richness of times past in Magherafelt that we want to capture, to maintain & to develop for the future of our parish. This centre is an amazing facility. It will allow our whole community to come together for all kinds of celebrations – family celebrations, parish celebrations, to enjoy hobbies & interests, to meet to chat over a cup of tea or coffee, & to offer comfort when friends & family need it most.

But it is only a building – albeit a very beautiful building. It needs the people of the parish to make it come alive, to be a living focal point for who & what we are & how we live our lives in Magherafelt. It is the hope of our small group that the heart & soul of our parish & the talents of our parishioners will be evident day & daily in our parish centre.

Our experiences over the last three years have highlighted that willingness to help, to participate, to be involved and these are our greatest hope for the success of the centre. We have been overwhelmed on numerous occasions by the generosity of so many people who have helped us towards this day.  In the early days Mrs Sadie Marron, Ballymena Parish, Mr John O’Neill, Donaghmore parish & more locally, as Fr Gates has already mentioned, Canon Scott, Miss Betsy Bell & members of the St Swithin’s Community, all warmly welcomed us to their centres, talked us through what would work, what wouldn’t, answered endless questions & gave hours of their time.

In preparation for today our local football clubs offered help with parking & stewarding- in fact any help we needed they were willing to provide. When we needed help with refreshments for today I had only to make one phone call to Mrs Pauline Mc Gurk who worked with me in St Mary’s and without hesitation she said of course I’ll help and she brought four or five of her colleagues with her. We ordered hundreds of pieces of crockery & cutlery – it all had to be unpacked, washed & put away. Paddy & his wife & friends spent hours in the kitchen washing, stacking & sorting – even Fr Gates was up to his elbows in soapsuds. Paddy & Patsy had volunteers to build this stage & put out chairs. Frances Colton from Holy Family Primary helped with the final clean up.

It would go without saying that being the only female in the group I knew we simply could not open without paintings on the wall. I also knew by the look on Fr Gates face that I hadn’t much of a mission! A quick phone call to the Principals of each of the parish schools – Holy Family, New Row, St Pius & St Mary’s and by the end of June we had four beautiful & unique paintings for our coffee shop.  Gerard’s Flowers put the final aesthetic touch yesterday with magnificent floral arrangements.

This evening our local professional artistes– Gino, Brendan, Pandy, Damien, George, Niall, Brian, Mark, the Mulholland family, Smith School of Irish dancers  & Peter & Philip Kerr – have offered their talents.  The entire evening has been coordinated by our centre manager Mrs Mona Mc Glade. Mona has worked tirelessly over long hours to make sure parishioners have an evening to remember.


It is abundantly clear from that long list that the values & traditions that characterised Magherafelt past are alive & well in Magherafelt today. This augurs well for our future success.

 It would be very remiss of me on this occasion not to make special mention of our new, or nearly new, Parish Priest, Fr John Gates. It would be fair to say that he seemed a little unsure on his arrival in Magherafelt as to what our little group was about. But I’ll give him this  – he’s not easily fazed and we would never have made it to the finishing line without his enthusiasm, energy & sheer hard work. Its also very special for us to have Fr Gates’ mother with us this evening – you will always be welcome in Magherafelt Mrs Gates, you did a great job on your son & I can assure you the people of Magherafelt will look after him well.

 There really is very little left for me to say except please enjoy & make use of your centre. It represents our past- indeed the name of the old primary school, St Joseph’s, is built into the building- it forms the cornerstone which the “builders did not reject” and it represents our future, hopefully the lifeblood of our parish.

  And finally, finally…. I know this evening I have talked a lot about Magherafelt past & present & our hopes for the future. In all of that I am struck, as I am sure you are too, that we have in our parish someone who has been a constant thread that binds our past, our present & hopefully for a long time yet our future. I refer, of course, to Monsignor O’ Byrne. He came to our parish when I was a child – in fact Fr Gates wasn’t even born!  He has been a guiding presence in our parish and a well respected church leader in the community. It is obvious, therefore, that when our group thought about naming this hall there was only one name that fitted the bill completely. While I have been speaking the name of the hall has been put in place above the doors. I would now ask the platform party, led by Monsignor O’Byrne to go down and have the first photograph under our newly named hall – the O’ Byrne Hall. Thank you everyone & enjoy your evening.