Home

Paul Meacham Heber AZ

Paul Meacham the genius. Now a few minutes earlier it might have been argued that he was a master builder of a giant wooden church in Heber AZ, just off the city’s port town of Portadown, with a name like that. But not exactly. A few months before Meacham took his own life, he had been working on another of his masterpieces, another enormous slab of concrete, about 100 metres long. This had a different name — it was called “The Ballymena Building”. “I would have lived to tell the story — I was a little bit proud of my achievements. I felt I was just about finished, because the first building I designed to open up Northern Ireland,” Meacham said. “That wasn’t my only architectural masterpiece, which was my old Belfast Church of St Patrick, and I did many other great designs in the city of Belfast. “But I really wanted to build a church for the whole city — not just on one of the cornerstones. As you can imagine, many people hated it, saying this is too big. I don’t understand how anyone could dislike the name of such a beautiful city.” So Meacham decided to make his big concrete church stand in a corner of Belfast, the only one of its kind in the whole world. “They didn’t know about my work, and I had to fight to get them to see the concrete that I am making now,” Meacham said. From its original wooden form, called “The Ballymena Building” to its concrete structure built with steel plates and concrete, there was a long history behind the brick church. In the late 1840s a construction firm was given money to build the Belfast-Sinn Féin Road Bridge by James O’Connor, the Protestant president of Ireland at the time. O’Connor told the builder’s partners: “A bridge is the place for your men to come and go and be killed… If they come, they will be the first to be killed, and if they don’t kill them, all those soldiers of fortune will kill them.” In September 1846, Meacham designed the road bridge in Belfast, and the Irish-Irish war that would follow it. Meacham says he liked what he saw. “I saw a place where the Irish, Irish-Irish, Irish-Irish could walk,” he said. The bridge, completed in 1852, saw Irish soldiers and British soldiers meet and share tea with the British when the war broke out. “The whole thing was spectacular,” he said. “It was huge.” It was during the war that his grandfather, John Meacham, was killed, and he himself was wounded in action. Meacham decided to do something for their memory, but wasn’t overly ambitious. When asked what the project that was named for him looked like at the time of his death, he replied: “The Ballymena building on the corner of the road.” The building took the form of what is now referred to by the Irish as “a three-storey brick building with a two storey roof. “I have a painting by Frank Herbert, who lives here at the time — he was an avid comic. His drawings are as vivid as the real building, and were a delight to the artists I did the drawings with.” By the mid-1800s it was the main church building in a small building called “the Church of St David, also the ‘Ballymena Church of St. Patrick’,” which was constructed by Irish immigrant workers of all social class. “The Ballymena church’s main hall was called the church’s church hall,” according to the Belfast Life magazine, which first mentioned the building in the 1858 edition of the city’s weekly. The building is now a popular site for weddings and other events. The family of Meacham’s grand-daughter, Kate Fergusson, who was a member of the congregation, has a replica of the building. Meacham’s original ambition as an architect was to build all the main buildings in Belfast, including the church, at a time when there was hardly any space for any other architectural interest in the city, and the old structures were crumbling. “We couldn’t have a great space to display the work. We didn’t have any space.” He and his team were given money in a bid to finish their project, but they had a bigger challenge — not only did they have to build a building that didn’t sit too close to the city’s port, they also had to make a large, three-storey building that would accommodate some 150 people, including children. But their initial plan was for the building to