Following storms during the winter of 1983-84 resulting in damage costing £10,000 to repair, a comprehensive condition report was commissioned and Rooney and McConville, Chartered Architects, were appointed and submitted their results in December 1985. The Parish Priest, Very Rev. Francis McKenna, approved the report and consultants were engaged and a programme of costs was presented in June 1987. Work started on 1st December and it was estimated that it would take 18 months to complete.
The first consideration in the restoration was to clean and consolidate crumbling stonework and to ensure that the roof was watertight. New slating was required for the circular roofs over the Sanctuary and the Lady Chapel. Damaged windows were repaired and storm glazing fitted, the external doors were replaced and care was taken to ensure that the replacements matched the original ones. The entire church was redecorated and stencil work based on the early grave stones found at Movilla Abbey was applied. New lighting was fitted in such a way as to allow upward lighting of the ceilings and along with the detail spots on the Sanctuary are create a devotional atmosphere. When required, down lights bathe the entire church in a warm, bright light for the liturgy.
The west door was made the principal entrance to the church replacing the side porch entrance which was closed off and replaced with a new confessional. Opposite it the front panel of the 1877 altar, which was removed from the Sanctuary, has been saved and recessed into the wall. Off the entrance hall a crying chapel was constructed. The main nave, aisles, sanctuary and gallery were fully carpeted unfortunately covering the mosaic patterns underneath and the seats have been restored and reused. The gallery was also restored and carpeted and new fittings provided in the Sacristy.
The sanctuary was designed to the requirements of the Liturgy and as a fitting place for the prayerful worship of God. The altar rails were removed and new circular steps, reflecting the rear wall, have brought the sanctuary further into the Nave and closer to the people. The Altar and Ambo were carved in Donegal granite, while the Ambo base and the Sedellae screen are made of Isoko hardwood. The Lady Altar now forms the Blessed Sacrament Chapel with the tabernacle set on the existing Altar carved in 1876 and which blends the old with the new.
To the left and slightly to the front of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel is the Baptistry. This was formed by the removal of one confessional. It is a quiet, dignified space with a font carved from Donegal granite. A decorated Crucifix was hung centrally over the Sanctuary and on the wall to the right an old niche was reopened ad now forms a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of the Ards as well as featuring scenes from her life. The Movilla Abbey Cross motif features on the altar, on the Stations of the Cross and on some of the Priests’ vestments and emphasises the long Christian associations of the Newtownards area.
Much of the stone used in the repairs was taken from the 1846 church which stood in Ann Street and which had been demolished recently providing a welcome source of Scrabo stone. Design and supervision of the work was carried out by parishioner Paul Rea on behalf of Laurence McConville Architects, while the design work to the sanctuary area was by Ray Carroll. The main contractors were Killowen Contracts of Warrenpoint while Thoro Ireland Ltd., Belfast were the contractors for the stonework.
[continued on next page – use pagelinks below]