As outlined elsewhere on this site Athboy has been a parish since the 12th century. The original church having been constructed in the medieval period where what is now the Church of Ireland (which was constructed int he 18th century) stands. With Catholic Emancipation in the 1820s the Catholic church began to construct it’s own churches.
It was during this time that what remains to this day the most impressive building in the entire town of Athboy was completed. St. James’ Roman Catholic Church was built by parish priest Rev. James Rickard, a native of nearby Kildalkey. Rickard according to a plaque on the wall of St. James’ Church in Athboy had been involved in the building of schools and a chapel. He had taken up the role of parish priest for Athboy and Rathmore in 1830 and the church Rickard’s lasting legacy. The current church was built upon the site of the previous chapel and on the same site which housed the dwelling of the priests until the Parochial House was built in the 1860s. The Ordnance Survey fair plan map of 1836 indicates the presence of two structures on the site, possibly the chapel and the church under construction.
The modern church does not appear on a map until the town is surveyed again in the early twentieth century. The construction and design of the church is noted in Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of 1837 when the building was still several years from being complete. The entry stating that:
the chapel is now in course of re-erection, and when completed will be a handsome and commodious edifice in the ancient style of architecture, with a steeple 90 feet high; it will be lighted by five windows of considerable dimensions on each side, and three at each end, and will have three entrances in front.
Other than Lewis’s description of the church during its construction most of the information about the construction of the church comes from local knowledge. According to local tradition the part of the town on which church was built is bog land and as a result the foundations were supported with tree trunks which were sunk into the ground to prevent the building from sinking. There is also a local story about a young man who while working on the building with his father failed to secure his rigging correctly and fell to his death. (This story may have it’s roots in a 1914 accident quite some’s time after the construction of the church)
The church was completed in 1845 and Rickard’s name is inscribed on the outer wall of the church along with the year of completion. When Rev. Rickard died on 18th April 1848 at the age of 67 he was buried in the chapel. A marble slab was placed on the wall of the church near the altar on which he is commemorated. It reads:
To the memory of the
Rev. James Rickard, P.P. of Athboy,
Who departed this life
on the 18th of April, 1848,
in the 67th year of his age,
and 40th year of his ministry.
His life exhibited a true portrait
of a zealous minister of Christ
and a faithful dispenser of the
mysteries of God.
He was pastor of Kildalkey fifteen years,
where he built a chapel and two
schools, and during the eighteen years that he
was afterwards pastor of Athboy,
he erected this splendid church
and eight schools.
Amiable in disposition.
Affable and unaffected in manner
He lived in the affection of his flock.
Requiescat in pace.
If he were to walk into to the building today Rev. Rickard would still find it somewhat recognizable despite a few changes brought about either through modern needs or changes in the Catholic Church. As well as being a place of worship it is one of the town’s most impressive landmarks.