No. 136 - St James' Railton - "A Wild Irishman Remembers"

In 1940, a correspondent for The Advocate using the nom de plume “The Wild Irishman”, recalled the laying of the foundation stone of St James’ Church at Railton 50 years earlier. What the writer remembered most vividly was the sermon of Father Gilleran. "Wild Irishman's' writing is almost poetic and I have reproduced most of his words:

“Reading of the golden jubilee celebrations of the laying of the foundation of St. James’ Catholic church at Railton reminded me of a beautiful autumn afternoon 50 years ago last week when we were met at Railton station by the long bearded coachman of those days, Gelvin Atkinson, with his four-in-hand, and driven to the site in the virgin forest, where the present day church stands.

After Archbishop Murphy had well and truly laid and blessed the stone, in my mind’s eye I can see the tall, stately, and benign faced Father Gilleran… in his black cassock and white surplice, walk on to the improvised pulpit, and preach the occasional sermon, and it was one I will never forget as long as life lasts.

Father Gilleran was an eloquent preacher at any time, but on that far off day he seemed to be inspired, and his deep, resonant voice made the surrounding hills and valley’s ring as he preached the sublime doctrine of the love of His Great Master. The hush that fell on the crowd was penetrating, and the very birds of the bush seemed to observe silence as the kindly words went out on the four winds of heaven, and whether father Gilleran’s hands pointed north, south, east, or west during that sublime and beautiful oration they pointed the right road to heaven.

So taken up with the young priest’s beautiful sermon was the late Archbishop Murphy that he took our loved priest away from Latrobe shortly afterwards to St Mary’s Cathedral at Hobart.

The late lamented archdeacon Noone, one of the N.W. Coast’s pioneer priests, organised the building of the Railton church, and as an acolyte of about eight years of age, the present writer attended the ceremony…”

There is not much more that I want to add to this story apart from bringing it to the present. Like so many churches it has closed its doors and has become a home of a different sort. A report in The Advocate from 2016 reveals the church in its latest incarnation and with new characters taking the stage in its continuing story. The building is still loved albeit in different ways and this will ensure its survival:

“Inside a 126-year-old church in Railton, Susan Williamson has made a unique home. Ms Williamson has lived inside the St James Catholic Church alone since she bought it in 2012. The church pews have been removed leaving a large room, which she has furnished with a bed and a wardrobe. Her own photography adorns the walls and a dining table sits on the altar. A sacristy located to the side of the church now holds a temporary kitchen and a washing machine. Above the altar, Ms Williamson has added a personal touch - a Harley Davidson sign, paying tribute to her love of motorcycles…. The church has no shower or toilet but Ms Williamson uses the facilities of her neighbour, John Verbi. Mr Verbi lives in the former presbytery, located just metres from the church, and has provided Ms Williamson with a key to allow her access to his bathroom. “I couldn’t live here without his kindness,” Ms Williamson said. “He’s a good man and he’s opened his door from the start.” She added she found the history of the church appealing”.

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

The church in 1913 - Weekly Courier 6 November 1913 Insert 4 (LINC Tasmania)

Archbishop Delany and Rev. Father O' Carroll with a group of children at a confirmation - Weekly Courier 6 November 1913 Insert 4 (LINC Tasmania)

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018


The Advocate Tuesday 7 May 1940, page 4

Weekly Courier 6 November 1913 Insert 4 (LINC Tasmania)
North West Post Thursday 11 June 1891, page 3
The Advocate May 31 2016  LINK HERE
Southerwood, W. T.  Planting a faith in Tasmania : the country parishes / [by] W. T. Southerwood  [W. T. Southerwood] [Hobart]  1977


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