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Bishop Toal hopes cathedral concert increases support

— Michelle McManus tops bill at fundraiser, ahead of 1450th anniversary of St Columba’s arrival in Iona, after cathedral re-roofing bill comes in at £500,000

Television personality and singer Michelle McManus will join an array of musical talent in Oban next month for a concert to help raise funds for ongoing restoration work at the town’s St Columba’s Cathedral.

The cathedral has been closed since before Christmas, as re-roofing work is currently taking place, but Bishop Joseph Toal of Argyll and the Isles hopes that the St Columba’s community will be able to celebrate Ash Wednesday Mass back in the familiar surroundings of the cathedral.

It was discovered during maintenance work last summer that the roof of St Columba’s would need to be repaired at a total cost of £500,000. A grant of almost £250,000 was subsequently awarded to the restoration project by Historic Scotland, and Argyll and the Isles Diocese hopes further funds can be raised at next month’s concert as the diocese closes in on the total needed.

Concert preparations

The concert has been organised by Paul McCallum, a Gaelic singer from South Uist, and will feature Former Pop Idol winner Ms McManus—who ably compered events prior to the Papal Mass at Bellahouston Park in 2010—and the Irish tenor Patrick Hughes, in addition to many other local singers and musical performers.

Bishop Joseph Toal said the parish community and residents of Argyll and the Isles are looking forward to the concert with great anticipation and added that the appearance of Ms McManus, will be especially apt as she has been learning Gaelic and has recently enjoyed visits to South Uist and the Isle of Barra.

“Michelle has been taking lessons in Gaelic and is singing Gaelic very well,” Bishop Toal said. “We hope the concert will be a very successful event and we hope as many people as possible can join us.”

Mr McCallum, who has previously organised concerts at St Columba’s, has won gold medals at the Gaelic Royal National Mod, and has enlisted the support of Gaelic choirs, local schools, including St Columba’s

Primary School in Oban and an accomplished piper for the upcoming concert.

St Columba’s

The neo-Gothic styled St Columba’s Cathedral stands on the edge of Oban Bay looking west across the Firth of Lorne to Iona. Although building work on its construction began in 1932, it was not until 1959 that the final act in building the present cathedral was completed—the blessing of the great bells, Brendan and Kenneth—27 years after the first sod was cut.

In addition to the re-opening of the cathedral and concert, Bishop Toal hopes that St Columba’s can become a focal point for pilgrims visiting Argyll and the Isles in the coming months.

Although Oban and the surrounding area already plays host to a large number of visitors each year, Bishop Toal is keen to see many more pilgrimages made to Argyll and the Isles. He highlighted that the upcoming Year of Faith—recently announced by Pope Benedict XVI to take place from October 11, 2012, to November 24, 2013—and the fact that next year will mark the 1450th anniversary of St Columba’s arrival in Iona, may provide an incentive for people to visit Iona and Oban and take some time to visit St Columba’s Cathedral.

“We would be happy to welcome more pilgrims to the area and to visit the cathedral,” Bishop Toal said. “We would be happy to hear from people interested in making a pilgrimage to Iona and Oban, perhaps for the Year of Faith and the 1450th anniversary of St Columba’s arrival in Iona.”

Parish life

Above all, however, the bishop is keen for the parishioners of St Columba’s, who he said ‘have been very understanding at a difficult time’ to enjoy celebrating Mass once again in the cathedral.

“We hope to be able to celebrate Ash Wednesday Mass in the cathedral,” he said.

The bishop explained that Christmas Masses were celebrated in the cathedral hall and, although not the ideal setting, something special was added to the atmosphere of the festive celebrations.

“We had the altar on top of the stage in the hall and we managed to get the crib down below the stage,” Bishop Toal said. “It was a nice feeling having the Christmas celebrations in this way and it was something a bit different.”

— The fundraising concert for St Columba’s Cathedral will take place on Friday February 17 at the Corran Halls, Oban. Tickets cost £10 and further information on purchasing them can be found by contacting St Columba’s Cathedral by telephone: 01631 562 123.

Pic: Cardinal Keith O’Brien and Bishop Joseph Toal at the Thanksgiving Mass at St Columba’s Cathedral, Oban, for the canonisation of  St Mary of the Cross (MacKillop) in 2010 that also saw the cathedral reopen after extensive work. By Paul McSherry


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