The dream of an Australian-Irish Cultural Heritage Centre in their community is on course to become a reality for the locals of Crossley and Killarney in Victoria’s Western District.
A master plan for transforming St Brigid’s Church into a vibrant facility, where residents can take a step back in time and explore their Irish ancestory, will be unveiled on Thursday.
The project proposes to use interactive, user-friendly and technologically advanced displays, which will be removable. The group aims to maintain the church’s original functions and will continue to make the building available for weddings and funerals.
The project has been made possible by the tireless fundraising efforts of the Friends of St Brigid’s organisation, who describe their plans as “ambitious but achievable.”
The group was successful in their bid to purchase the church in December 2009, after raising $100,000 towards the purchase price and also taking out a community mortgage.
Friends of St Brigid’s secretary, Teresa O’Brien, explained how she and fellow members of the group have been working for almost six years to get the project off the ground.
“It’s a really exciting time for us, we’ve been working for so long to come up with a feasible plan that will be manageable into the future for our children,” she told the Irish Echo.
“The St Brigid’s church goes back three or four generations. It would have been my grandparents and their parents who worked hard and made sponge cakes to build it.
“Now we’re making sponges so not much has changed in 100 years really,” she laughed.
O’Brien said in addition to fundraising and donations by locals in the area, the project has been made possible thanks to the support of both the Australian and Irish governments.
The group used a $30,000 grant from the state government’s department of planning and community development to engage consultants and prepare a business plan, concept design and feasibility study. The Irish Government have also shown their support in getting the project off the ground by providing $15,000.
O’Brien says the next phase will be to officially open the doors of the cultural, heritage centre to the public, something the Friends of St Brigid’s group hopes to achieve by early 2014. According to the group’s spokesperson: “We have our centenary celebrations coming up shortly.
“The church was built in 1914 and by 2014 we’re really keen to have the first stage up and running. “We want to show people that the church has moved forward in the century that has passed.
“In Ireland the church is no longer the centre of the community as many people have turned away from religion. And it’s the same in Australia. We want to offer those people somewhere to go where they can feel that sense of community,” she added.
The master plan will be launched at the church on Thursday.
State planning minister Matthew Guy, Warrnambool mayor Jacinta Ermacora and Moyne mayor Jim Doukas are expected to attend.