Faith Matters

New birth for Newtownabbey nativity figures

SEASON'S GREETINGS: Colm Denver and Seamus Kelly, pictured left, from Bawnmore Community Association join John Read from the Housing Executive and artist Janet Crymble, pictured right, at the nativity scene in Bawnmore in Newtownabbey

CENTURY-OLD nativity statues which were thought to have been beyond repair and about to be dumped have taken their rightful place around the baby Jesus' manger this Christmas after a restoration effort by young people.

The figures have gone on display in the Bawnmore area of Newtownabbey.

Seamus Kelly from Bawnmore Community Association said the roots of the restoration could be traced back to a lighting ceremony of a Christmas tree in the area.

"Almost 10 years ago a Housing Executive representative suggested we get a public Christmas tree in Bawnmore and the council helped us source one for external use," he said.

Fr Anthony Alexander, who was parish priest of the Loughshore parishes at the time, and the Rev Liz Hughes from Whitehouse Presbyterian Church led prayers at an event to mark the lighting of the tree.

"Afterwards, we spoke to Fr Alexander about adding nativity figures to accompany the tree and he revealed he was about to dump a pile of broken and damaged statuettes from St Mary's Star of the Sea Church - they were in such poor repair he wasn't sure if they were able to be saved," he said.

The figures had indeed been substantially damaged over the years, but restoration work from local young people - backed by almost £3,000 funding from the Housing Executive's Building Relationships in Communities programme - has given them a new lease of life.

The work was shepherded by Co Antrim artist Janet Crymble, who guided the young people in cleaning the figures, making new moulds and replacing and re-attaching missing limbs.

Painting workshops were also held and children painted base coats, fine details and final varnish to protect the statues from the elements.

"Many of the older parishioners remember these being on display when they were children - it's reckoned they're around 100 years old," said Mr Kelly.

The restoration has "really given the community a lift", he said.

"For seven weeks at the darkest time of the year this nativity scene will be on display at Bawnmore Park and will brighten up our community," he said.

"I'd like to thank the Housing Executive for their financial support and help in spreading Christmas cheer in our area."

The figurines are on display in the Bawnmore area in the run up to Christmas in a wooden shelter built specially by Murray's Sheds.

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