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Church for Sale (2:52) Excerpt from film "Mixed Blessings", July 2006
The Sacred Heart Church in central Limerick, which has been holding services for almost 100 years, is up for sale.

Country: Ireland

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Guiding Questions
  1. What are the possible "future uses" of the Sacred Heart church?

  2. Why are parishioners concerned about the sale? Do you think they are justified in protesting the sale of the Sacred Heart Church?

  3. How is increased secularization indicated by the sale of the church? Compare and contrast this shift in religious allegiances in Ireland to other eras and countries you have studied.
Background Essay
Ireland now has a more diverse range of world religions than ever before. Despite its Catholic history, numbers attending mass in Ireland have halved and only eight priests were ordained in Ireland in 2006. The sale of Sacred Heart Church, in Limerick, is a cause of concern among parishioners who regret its closing and fear for its future uses. At the same time, the prospect of such a large property being up for sale in the middle of a real estate boom in Limerick is seen by property developers as an opportunity for profit.

Modern Ireland is now one of the most prosperous nations in Europe, for several reasons: economic dependence on the UK has decreased, there is reverse immigration, and a global economy is expanding. Real estate prices are soaring, women are entering the workforce in record numbers, and droves of foreign workers, particularly from Eastern Europe, have come to Ireland hoping to find work. For once in its history, Ireland is prosperous, modern, and a country full of immigrants to the country, instead of emigrants away from it.

All this prosperity is not without its downside, however. As a result of the economic transformation, self-sufficient towns with strong community ties have been replaced by cities, with their share of urban problems. The increase of women in the workforce has also created a change in family structure - family size has decreased and there is a struggle to balance home and work responsibilities. Furthermore, the Catholic church is in jeopardy - gone are the days when the parish priest was revered and Catholic doctrine was central in both government policy and private life.

The city of Limerick, which is located on the River Shannon, is an example of the transformations happening in Ireland. Limerick was historically an agricultural area. Since the 1990s, Limerick's industries and its fortunes have turned - the city has prospered in an economic boom and many multinational companies such as Dell, Analog Devices, and Vistakon are now based in Limerick. These companies now employ thousands of people and contribute substantially to the Irish Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Some see this rapid economic development as a mixed blessing, because at the same time as Limerick becomes more prosperous, traditions and beliefs are also being threatened. People who fondly recall "the good old days" are concerned about the changes within their city and country.

This clip is taken from an episode of WIDE ANGLE called MIXED BLESSINGS. In this film, many aspects of Limerick's transformation are explored. These include economic development, increased immigration and decreased emigration, urbanization, agricultural problems, real estate bubbles, working women, and secularization.

In the latest census we were asked to indicate our religious persuasion and when the figures have been counted it will indicate that Ireland now has a diverse range of world religions being practiced here.

Gone is the reverence shown towards the Catholic Church and with that the stranglehold on Irish society has been released. What happens when the attendance falls?

The real estate market has enjoyed a spectacular decade of ever-rising prices. What were once tenement slums in the days of Angela's Ashes are now multi-million dollar redevelopment sites. Des O'Malley is a local realtor with a new property to market.

Well, I suppose I did the first 20 years of my life Limerick and I went to Dublin for 10 years to work in the property market there where I thought it was very spectacular growth. I came back to Limerick in the late '90s and I actually couldn't recognize the city. People seem much happier in Limerick because of the amount of rejuvenation that's taken place.

They feel a little more pride in their city and you find that people are actually trying to push the boundaries of redevelopment of design and in terms of scale of projects. Where before people were very reticent about taking on a big development, now they seem to be much more bullish.

O'Malley's new property is for sale by public tender. Confidential written offers will be unsealed in one day's time. The sale will usually go to the highest bidder. But in this case there are some special considerations.

The asking price is over 5 million dollars.

As you can see, we have, we are absolutely delighted to have the Jesuit Church and residence for sale. It's a significant piece of real estate in Limerick City. It's very unusual to get something of this quality and of this glorious nature to come up on the market. Probably the future uses of this will be something like a theatre or a boutique hotel or possibly even a place of worship.

The Sacred Heart Church in the center of Limerick has been offering services for almost 150 years.

In the last 30 years, numbers attending mass in Ireland have halved and only eight priests were ordained this year.

Father Dermot Murray recently joined the congregation.

I was given the mission of overseeing the process of closing the church. The decision had already been made by the Jesuit Province Authorities and I said, "yes," because I have never asked for any job in the Jesuits but I've always accepted what they asked me to do.

Churchgoers have not accepted the sale. John Leonard, a lay minister at the church has launched a personal crusade.

I felt very sad and very disappointed and I just couldn't believe it, you know. I thought that if my uncle heard about that he'd turn in his grave really, you know. It's unthinkable that they should close such a beautiful church.

Related Links
Mixed Blessing on PBS.org

CIA Factbook: Ireland

Economic and Social Research Institute

Industrial Development Agency (IDA) Ireland

Jesuits in Ireland
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