The Story of St Anthony’s Church, Balfron 1867 – 2017

Contents :

Foreword by Rev. W Hattie SX (Priest in Charge)
Foundation of a Catholic Place of Worship
Life in Balfron in the 1800s
St Anthony’s Parish in living memory
Looking Forward.


  1. List of Priests serving St Anthony’s
  2. Named persons who assisted in erecting the chapel
  3. Bibliography
  4. Schedule of events planned for our anniversary year.


We, the authors have received tremendous support from a number of sources and individuals in the preparation of this little booklet. We record our appreciation in chronological order.

Mr David Kerr, Director of Communications, Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, for his assistance and hospitality while researching the Scottish Catholic Directories for Scotland, 1855 to 2016.

Donna McGuire, Archivist, Scottish Catholic Archive, Edinburgh, for her help in accessing and reviewing the catalogue of letters relating to the establishment of St Anthony’s.

The Balfron Heritage Group for information and support.

Fr. Kyran Murphy, St Patrick’s Missionary Society, Stirling, for generously providing information relating to the presence of the Kiltegan Fathers period in Buchlyvie.

Fr. Hattie, Priest in Charge, for his general support and writing the Foreword to this booklet.

We are grateful also to the numerous parishioners who provided gems and snippets of information and photographs to help make this booklet.

Authors Terry Delany and Caroline Smith hope you enjoy reading this booklet.


It is recorded in Holy Writ that Jesus chided His disciples for their lack of faith and added that if it were the size of a mustard seed they could tell the mountains to be uprooted and planted in the sea and they would obey. On the 150th Anniversary of the foundation of St Anthony’s Church Balfron, it is both an honour and a joy, to introduce this short history which maps a remarkable journey and faith history of this small country Parish. Come with us as we begin our journey and meet a unique woman whose faith, determination, and unbending energy are the foundation upon which this Community was built. Our story is also an account of the generosity of many people who contributed towards the realization of this project, their efforts and their faith. In a time of great industrial progress and innovation we encounter those stalwarts and humble men of the Irish diaspora whose hands and sweat built much of our country’s infrastructure, much of which still survives as a testimony to their skills and faith. St Anthony’s has also been, since its inception, a beacon for ecumenism and collaboration among the different faith traditions of the area, and our introduction would be incomplete without an acknowledgement of their contribution.

Finally, I would like to highlight those unsung heroes without whose efforts this booklet and this inspirational event would not have been possible, the faith Community which is St Anthony’s today, and those brothers and sisters who go the extra mile in their efforts and time dedicated.

Fr.William Hattie SX


The Parish Working Group, set up to plan the events for the celebration of the 150th anniversary of St Anthony’s parish, thought it appropriate that a commemorative booklet be produced. Caroline Smith and Terry Delany were charged with this task. After lengthy research, the story surrounding the foundation of the church began to emerge and the interesting details are relayed in this booklet. St Anthony’s could never be described as an edifice built to emphasise the glory and majesty of the Lord, but rather it is simply an honest and modest rural Chapel, sitting comfortably in its environment. Of course, a parish church is much much more than the bricks and mortar, or indeed of the stone and mortar as in our case. The story of the lives of the parishioners and the local community is equally important. Consequently, we have tried to portray not only what life was like for the Balfron community in the mid eighteen hundreds but also an indication of some of the spiritual and social benefits enjoyed by parishioners in more recent years.

St. Anthony’s. April 2009 prior to the refurbishment.. .

The Catholic Church in Scotland and The Foundation of a Catholic place of worship in Balfron

After The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, which removed the most substantial restrictions on Roman Catholicism in the United Kingdom, the Catholic Church was beginning to be, if not accepted, at least acknowledged as being present. The restoration of the Catholic Hierarchy was confirmed in 1878. Consequently, dozens of church buildings were erected in “Mission Stations” all over Scotland. It was only proper that Balfron should be involved in this regeneration of the Catholic Church.

Balfron as a “Mission Station”

Significantly, Balfron is recorded as a Mission Station in the Scottish Catholic Directories (SCD) as far back as the early 1850s. From a Catholic perspective, this suggests that even then Balfron was viewed as an important centre for the whole of west rural Stirlingshire. The Scottish Catholic Directory for 1855/56, under the heading “Balfron” shows a Catholic population of 150, with Mass provided monthly with Father John Gillon from Lennoxtown officiating. Similarly, in the directory for 1866, the Catholic population was 150, and then Mass was said every other Sunday by Father Archibald Hog from Milngavie. It was also recorded that 45 children attended the Sunday School and that “…a piece of ground has been acquired for a chapel.” The exact location where Mass was celebrated is unclear, possibly one of the cottages in Balfron, though in a letter to Bishop Strain, dated 22nd May 1867, it is stated that a “cellar” was being taken (rented) for this purpose (ED3/168/20). The SCD of 1862 shows a Catholic population of 200, its peak to date.

It is therefore very clear that there was a dire need for a Catholic place of worship in Balfron. One might say Balfron was crying out for one. The impatience of the poorer people is referred to in correspondence between Mrs Cooper and Archbishop Strain in Edinburgh. It was through their joint determination and hard work that St. Anthony’s was built in Balfron. (ED3/169/11 12).

Today, St. Anthony’s is referred to generally as a “Church”, however it appears that the term “Chapel” was the common term of reference during the 1860s and 70s and is probably, even today, a more precise term. Therefore the term “Chapel” will be used here.

Mrs Mary Jane (Butler) Cooper, of Ballindalloch, Balfron, (1829 -1889). 

(Photograph Courtesy of Mrs June Nixon)

Mary Jane Butler was born in Dublin in 1829, the daughter of Catherine (Byrne) Butler and Mr. Gerald Butler, Merchant. An Irish Catholic family of some means, but not excessively wealthy. Mary Jane lived in Dublin in the mid 1840s where she met Mr. Henry Ritchie Cooper of Ballindalloch Balfron, son of a wealthy, landed, property owning, and Protestant, Scottish Family. After some “debate”, they married in Church in Dublin on 15th October, 1846. Mary Jane was 18 years old. Whilst the initial marriage contract may have faced some difficulties, not entirely due to the religious differences, Mary Jane proceeded to have what appears to have been a happy marriage at Ballindalloch. She gave birth

to eight children, the first, Esther Mary Catherine born on 7th September 1847, and the last, Esther Ritchie born on 31st March, 1865, only five months before her first letter to Bishop Strain dated 26th August 1865 regarding her proposals for a piece of ground and a chapel at Balfron (ED3/168/1)

Early Stages

Between August 1865 and May 1867, some twenty-two months, Mrs Cooper wrote eighteen letters to Bishop Strain. In this, perhaps, her determination and energy and sheer strength of will are demonstrated.

Mrs. Cooper encountered many hurdles, ranging from friendly rivalry, to some local hostility. An example of the former was from Father Martin at Milngavie. In August 1865 (ED3/167/2), Father Martin advised the Bishop that the people have subscribed about £20 for a horse to enable him to undertake sick calls, etc., more conveniently. However, he also identified to the Bishop a piece of ground in Balfron which he considered more suitable than the ground suggested by Mrs Cooper. In his letter to the Bishop dated 12th February, 1866, as the building work is about to start, he says of his choice of ground, “I think it would have been better but Mrs. Cooper must have her way”. (ED3/167/6).

She also appeared to face some hostility from some in the Balfron community to do with a mutual wall on the proposed site of the chapel which was owned by a prominent protestant, (ED3/168/1,2,9). It would appear that Mrs Cooper chose to overcome this difficulty in a non-confrontational fashion by switching to a different site, (ED3/168/4). However, despite these minor obstacles, and especially as her project progressed, Mrs. Cooper received wholehearted support from many of the non-catholic members of the community.

Planning and Construction:
Mrs. Cooper as Negotiator and Financial Controller

At a time when society expected ladies of rank to be decorative and to spend time developing accomplishments such as painting, embroidery and playing the piano, Mrs Cooper was negotiating contracts for materials and work by trades people to achieve the best possible deal. She always sought Bishop Strain’s approval before proceeding, hence the number of her letters to him.

Mrs. Cooper also acted as “Fund Raiser”, and “Financial Controller”, as well as providing the driving force behind the project. She, of course, sought funds from the local Catholic community, and the Catholic community in Glasgow where she stayed during the winter months, significantly, she also received donations in money and in kind from local non-catholics.

In one of her letters to the Bishop, dated 9th October, 1865 (ED3/168/7), she informs his Lordship that she approached Mr. Orr Ewing of Ballikinrain, (a quarry owner, and a prominent protestant member of the community) for some sand and stone for the chapel. As well as agreeing a generous deal for the materials, he also gave a donation of £10. Relaying this to the Bishop, she ends with “I went in search of sand and got gold”.

By October 1865, Mrs. Cooper had sought approval from the Bishop for appointing a Solicitor, Mr. Stoat of Glasgow, to draw up the Title Deed in his Lordship’s name, and that of two clergymen, Father Martin, and Father Gillon. (ED3/168/1). This was followed by negotiations with Mr. Jeffrey, who along with his three brothers held rights to collect the Feu Duty payable for the land the chapel is built upon.(ED3/168/3) She also approached Mr. David Thomson, an architect in Glasgow, from whom she received very favourable terms for drawing up the plans of the chapel. Furthermore, she seemed to have had her husband’s support. He was helpful in assisting with cost calculations and he suggested to her that tradesmen would perform better if they heard that he was involved (ED3/168/5 & 6). Bishop Strain was informed by letter every step along the way.

By November, 1865, the sand and stone had arrived on site, but the weather was ‘too frosty’ for building work to begin. However, in a letter dated 2nd November from Bishop Strain to Mrs. Cooper, he urges her to get the work started as soon as possible, and offers a loan of £50, or £60 if required. (ED3/168/12)

Early photograph of St Anthony’s east elevation. Note, no evidence of the spire.
Courtesy of Jim Thomson
Early photograph of St Anthony’s east elevation. Note, no evidence of the spire.

Nearing Completion

In January 1867 we are told that the chapel is “roofed and slated”, but there are problems with the masons. (ED3/168/15 *). Mrs. Cooper in her letters to the Bishop between January and September 1866 refers to various delays in the building work and thanks his Lordship for his contribution / loan of £50 for building work (ED3/168/18) . She also states that “I have been extremely unwell”, and refers to unspecified personal concerns. Notwithstanding all this, over the following months, she keeps abreast of the costs and control of the budget. In May 1867, Mrs Cooper advises the Bishop that she has been unwell with Bronchitis, apologising for not writing sooner. She advises him that it is good that Father Hog has “…taken the cellar for another year… as I cannot possibly have things finished before the end of the season.”(ED3/168/20) In the absence of a recorded date of opening, or indeed the first Mass in the chapel, we can only presume it would have been some time in the autumn of 1867



It is regrettable that despite our lengthy and extensive search we have been unable to confirm the actual date of the first Mass celebrated in St Anthony’s. The Catholic Directories confirm the year of opening as 1867 and that Mass was said every other Sunday. The Catholic population at that time was 150, with 45 children attending Sunday School. The Directory also confirms that Father Archibald FX Hog, based at Lennoxtown, was the priest in charge.

Dunmore Street looking east c1890. Note the spire on St Anthony’s. Courtesy Balfron Heritage Group

The religious divide, Balfron 1860s

There appears to be a mixed picture of inter-faith relationships in Balfron at this time. On one hand, based on information contained in Mrs. Cooper’s letters, (ED3/168) together with reports in both the Stirling Observer, (SO1866), and the Glasgow Herald (GH1867), the concept of building a Catholic chapel in Balfron resulted in bitter anti-Catholic outpourings. Notwithstanding this, as previously noted, as well as the offerings from Catholic sources, Mrs. Cooper received considerable support in the building of her chapel, both in monetary terms and in kind, by offers of reduced or free services from members of other denominations within the community.

Concluding the story of Mary Jane Cooper

Whilst we have no recorded evidence we can only hope that Mrs Cooper enjoyed and received great spiritual satisfaction from attending Mass and other services at the neat and humble little chapel she did so much to establish. After the death of her husband, Henry Ritchie in 1882, her eldest son inherited Ballindalloch and she moved into Orchardlands House in Balfron where she resided until her death on 9 January 1889. She was laid to rest beside her husband in the Cooper Family Mausoleum in the Glasgow Necropolis. Their youngest son, Gerald James, died in 1897 and he too was laid to rest in the family mausoleum. May they rest in peace.

Considering all we now know of Mrs Cooper, we must agree with Father Martin’s comment, to Bishop Strain, way back in 1865 when he realised he had been out-flanked in the laying of a foundation for a chapel in Balfron, he remarked “Mrs Cooper must have her way.” I guess he must have had spiritual guidance in penning that phrase.

In St. Anthony’s Chapel, Mrs. Cooper’s memorial stained glass window is inscribed “In Sacred Memory of Mrs H R Cooper The Benefactress who got this church erected in the year 1867.”

Life in Balfron in the 1800s

We would like to bring to you, not only the story of how St. Anthony’s came to be established as the focus for Catholic worship for Balfron and for the villages around, but also something of what life was like for the parishioners who first walked through the door late in 1867.

Britain, which in the nineteenth century included the whole of Ireland, was in the midst of the great industrial revolution, which had helped make the British Empire a major world power, with Glasgow being referred to as the Second City of the Empire.

Buchanan Street looking north, early 1900s. Courtesy of Hugh Mc Arthur and Balfron Heritage
Buchanan Street looking north, early 1900s. Courtesy of Hugh Mc Arthur and Balfron Heritage

As a result of the 1845 -1851 Famine in Ireland, on top of preexisting and widespread poverty and deprivation, a massive migration took place from there to the USA and to mainland Britain, affecting the social, religious and cultural balance of the host societies. During this period, on mainland Britain, major infrastructure works were commissioned providing employment for many.

Livelihoods in Balfron

In1896 J. Guthrie Smith, writing about a time a hundred years earlier said, “…a great change took place in the parish. Hitherto the Clachan of Balfron had been a quiet rural spot with a few houses only near the church…” “In 1789, however, Mr Dunmore of Ballindalloch… …introduced the weaving of cotton into the parish. A new village was built consisting in a few years of 105 new houses with 430 rooms in which were fire places, and the population of the parish rose from some 800 persons to 1381 in 1792, and the following year, when printing or bleaching were started, to 1581 souls, of whom the village contained 1181.”

He continues “…now the relief church and the Burghers established congregations in the new village, for the artisans imported were largely dissenters and Roman Catholics…” (3)

Mr. Dunmore had built a cotton spinning mill, and his ‘artisans’ were imported to weave, on handlooms at home, the cotton spun in the mill.

Ballindalloch Mill. Painting by Susan Robson. Commissioned by Jim Thomson

By 1798, the mill had changed hands and was owned by Kirkman Finlay. By 1844 it was operated by James and Mathew Finlay and was described by them as “… driven by a water wheel 28 feet diameter, calculated to be equal to 35 horse power, with a steam engine to assist in dry seasons of 16 horse power, the supply of water being obtained from the river Endrick and from a reservoir covering 30 imperial acres…” (4)

The land belonging to the company included land across the river which was used as a print field. There was also a school built with a house for the master and financed by the proprietor, where the children could go for an hour and a half after a day’s work in the mill.

In the mid 1850s, in response to Glasgow’s need for fresh water, three thousand workmen, under the direction of the eminent engineer John F Bateman, built a pipeline 26 miles long, from Loch Katrine to Milngavie, where they built two man-made reservoirs. The pipeline passed, as previously described, just a few miles from Balfron. The dam at Milngavie was constructed in 1856 and the whole works completed in 1859. In living memory in Milngavie this was locally referred to as “Paddy’s Dam” or “Mick’s Dam”, which points to the significant number of Irish labourers employed on this marvel of civil engineering. “The works really were a marvel. In order for the water to travel, they had to make sure the pipe dropped ten inches for every mile of its length, and if there was a hill in the way they went straight through it and out the other side. Thirteen miles of the pipe went through hillside.” (5)

A significant number of these workmen stayed in Balfron, and as so many were Catholic men, some of whom brought families with them, the need for a Church increased considerably. Before St. Anthony’s was built, Catholics met in a weaver’s house. (in one source, as previously described, it is called a cellar).

In 1841 the cotton mill in Balfron was said to have “Two hundred and fifty-eight hands or thereby, and these chiefly females…” “It is understood to be the first cotton work in Scotland at least in which female spinners were exclusively employed.” (6)

About wages the same source reports that -“The company pay weekly, and generally on a Thursday, the wages due to their workers. These vary for spinners, from 10s to 13s per week: and for piecers from 2s to 4s. according to the work done. These wages are apparently low, and are certainly much lower than are paid for the same quantity of work done in Glasgow, where a spinner is paid from 23s to 30s per week. Perhaps the difference is not easily accounted for. Provisions of all sorts are much the same here as in town; dress much the same. The hours for working are just as long. The only thing which certainly is lower, is house rent; but we are far from being sure that this will make up for the difference in wages.” (6)

In the village there was given to be “between 300 and 400 looms.” What they produced were “…light jackets and lawns…” and “…fancy dresses and shawl patterns of all sorts.”

The workers in Balfron are described in some detail in the Statistical report for that year-The Reverend Niven writes “Our hand-loom weavers are, like the others throughout the kingdom, a sadly depressed class of artisans. There may be no doubt amongst them, here as elsewhere, the idle and the worthless: but, taking them as a body, they are an industrious hardworking class. They toil at what is termed long hours, and long enough these are, being from 6 a.m. or even earlier, to 8 p.m., and even later: and yet they are only able to earn a miserable pittance; the average of their wages, after deducting expense of carriage, light, shop rent, and agency, not being 6s a week.” It goes on to comment, “As to the poor hand-loom weaver giving an education to his children, even in the most common way, the thing is impossible, thankful is he if he can provide for their daily food and give them clothing.”(6)

In a description of the weavers the report continues -“It must be confessed that killing game without a license is very prevalent. The general habits of the population may be stated to be cleanly. It is quite impossible to view a weaving population, such as ours, notwithstanding all their disadvantages, and not be struck with their intelligence. The knowledge which they exhibit, and their acquaintance with certain subjects is indeed astonishing.”(6)

There were four schools in Balfron. The report considers that “The people in general, are perfectly alive to the benefits of education, and all are anxious that their children be taught; but, with every anxiety, the parents, in too many cases cannot indulge it, from being unable, in the first place, to pay the usual school wages, which are from 2s. 6d. to 3s. 6d. per quarter, and provide clothes, in which their children might appear decently and comfortably; in the second place… …from being obliged to send their children to be draw-boys or mill-boys, or even weavers, at an age when they should be more properly employed at school. “(6)

In the Poor Law Inquiry, 1844, Reverend Niven again reporting, states that the “Population in Balfron is probably one of the poorest in Scotland.” Describing this poverty he says that “In Balfron a widow with five children of whom two at least can earn nothing, is allowed 3s. a week.” And that “…people of seventy or eighty years of age have been rejected by board because they have children employed, whose wages are hardly sufficient to maintain themselves, and ought not to be taken into consideration.”(7)

He also describes how there is a “…great consumption of whisky.”(7) There were a number of public houses on Buchanan Street, and also many illicit stills.

The plight of the poor who became sick away from their home village or town was a sorry one. He describes how “…cases of persons who were brought to our parish were not in a fit state to be removed. For example… a case of a woman being brought in a cart to us either from Kippen or Fintry, who was in a kind of low fever. It appeared… that she ought never to have been removed from her bed.”

By the time the chapel was built in 1867, it would appear the cotton mills were failing. As Balfron was so dependent upon the mill at Ballindalloch, the increase in poverty must have been accelerating sharply.

Balfron Station, second last passenger train to visit here. 3rd May 1951

Balfron turned to hospitality as a replacement occupation. Orphaned children were ’boarded out’ in Balfron as were patients from hospitals and asylums. Later the railways brought tourists and this industry supported the village for many years.

The railway was developing into an efficient transport system. In fact effectively more efficient then than today. In Mrs Cooper’s letter to Bishop Strain dated 4th October 1865 (ED3/168/4) she suggests he could catch the 7.30pm train from Balfron Station arriving in Edinburgh at 9.00pm. One would struggle to complete that journey today in one and a half hours!

Coping with Poverty

From all this it appears that for the majority of St. Anthony’s first congregation, day to day living involved serious struggle. These were hardworking, but dramatically underpaid people, for whom life seems to have been full of difficulty and whose livelihoods were to say the least, uncertain. Hardly surprising if they poached game, or had a wee dram from an illicit source. How important their faith was to them we can only guess. For those still employed, and for those, “on the parish”, we might imagine that however relentless their work, however deprived they were of material advantages, however hungry, their faith connected them constantly and positively with the hope and joy inherent in it; and once St. Anthony’s was built and functioning, there was a focus for this, for them and for all the villages around.

St Anthony’s Parish in Living Memory

We shall now turn our attention to the social aspects of the St Anthony’s community in recent times. Being a small rural community in west Stirlingshire it is not surprising to note that there was very little information recorded about parish events throughout the first half of the 20th century. Consequently, it is perhaps important that what is known from living memory is outlined here and it was also recorded by Jim and Pat Thomson (2) to mark the refurbishment of the church in 2009.

The Time Capsule

We know from a “time capsule” concealed in the previous marble altar, and uncovered during the refurbishment works in 2009, that a “new” altar was built in 1958. The note in the capsule read:

“On the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Blessed Lady 1958 in the first year of the reign of His Holiness Pope John XXIII, this altar was erected through the generosity of Mr and Mrs Black, Old Manse, Balfron, in the memory of Lady Pereira the mother of Mrs Black..

Michael J Devane – Priest in charge of Blanefield and Balfron. December 1958. Laus Deo Semper.”

Another note read.  Altar built by Donald Berrie, Wyllie White, Marble Masons, Balfron

However, in 1977 to comply with the liturgical changes brought about by Vatican II the altar was moved away from the wall as the Priest now said Mass in English (the vernacular), facing the congregation. Again the time capsule included two further notes.

“Removed & replaced in present locus by Toffolo Jackson & Co Glasgow on 28th October 1977.

Rev. Michael Bell Priest in charge Blanefield & Balfron. October 1977.
James MacMillan, Joseph Connor, Michael Gallagher, Marble Masons & helpers”

The effects of moving a brick and marble altar was that cracks appeared later and was one reason for replacing it in 2009. The notes contained in the time capsule were returned and concealed in the new Altar. Notes on the 2009 refurbishment / re-ordering together with a copy on the “Short History of St Anthony’s Church” were also added.

Some important events around St Anthony’s

First Communion Party 9 June 1985
Fr Bell and Fr Hurley with Lucy, Yvonne, Joanna and Kathleen.
First Communion Party 9 June 1985
Fr Bell and Fr Hurley with Lucy, Yvonne, Joanna and Kathleen.

A college for “Late Vocations” was established in Auchentroig House, Buchlyvie by St Patrick’s Missionary Society. The first students arrived on 8 September 1965.

St Patrick’s Missionary Society, Auchentroig, Buchlyvie

The students were prepared for entrance to major seminaries. A total of 71 “Buchlyvie Students” went on to become ordained priests and served communities far and wide from Edinburgh to Nigeria.

BBQ Auchentroig 1999

At Auchentroig House the magnificent facilities offered by the college chapel, the numerous public rooms and the extensive grounds provided the local Catholic community, mostly from Balfron, with a very appealing Mass Centre. Through the ‘90s and early years of 2000 about 24 adults and 42 children attended Mass and catechetic classes at St Patrick’s in Buchlyvie every Sunday. However, when Auchentroig closed in 2005 they returned and boosted the congregation at St Anthony’s. As a consequence the project of reordering and refurbishment of the building, to make it more welcoming to the next generation, was set in motion and completed in 2009.

Ecumenical Sprit

As previously stated it appears there was, even back in the mid 1860s, an element of ecumenism in the Balfron community. One hundred years later the evidence of this had increased a great deal. For example in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s St Anthony’s jointly with St Kessog’s hosted an annual Whist Drive. These were very well attended by many from several local villages, both Catholic and non-Catholic, possibly in equal numbers. Likewise the joint annual Jumble Sale held in Blanefield and the St Patrick’s Garden Party and Fete in Buchlyvie, were social events in the local calendar enjoyed by all and sundry.

In 2003 the village of Balfron celebrated the 700th anniversary of the signing of the Inchaffray Charter, recognizing 700 years of village life and also that a Christian community had been present over that period. Appropriately, Archbishop Keith O’Brien of St Andrews and Edinburgh was invited to celebrate Mass in St Anthony’s in the morning and to take part in an ecumenical service in Balfron High School in the afternoon and by coincidence on that same day the Archbishop was raised to the College of Cardinals. (See photograph inside back cover.)

Continuing on this ecumenical theme, we are pleased to record that for many years now the Balfron Episcopalian community uses St Anthony’s for their Sunday Eucharist Service on the 3rd Sunday of each month. The Strathendrick Singers normally have weekly rehearsals in Balfron Church but due to a fire in December 2015 they were pleased and grateful for the use of St Anthony’s for a few weeks while repairs were undertaken

Social Events

The catchment area for St Anthony’s church includes numerous villages; Drymen, Buchlyvie, Fintry, Kippen, Croftamie, Arnprior, Killearn. In June 1985 St Anthony’s and St Kessog’s arranged a trip to Inchcailloch Island ( The Nun’s isle ) on Loch Lomond. Father Bell celebrated Mass at the site of the old chapel of St Kentigerna. After Mass we had the island to ourselves on a beautiful summers day to enjoy a Bar-B-Que on the beach and sports day for the children. Based on memory alone it is estimated that around 60 to 80 parishioners enjoyed a memorable day.

In 2004 the parishioners of St Anthony’s were honoured to be able to pray before the relics of St Anthony himself. It is understood that St Anthony’s was the smallest venue and only one of the few in Scotland to have this opportunity.

In 2009 after two years of discussion and deliberation the task of re-ordering and refurbishment of St Anthony’s church was completed. The re-ordering was deemed important to enhance the We now have asecond tabernacle in the sacristy to which the Blessed Sacrament can formally be withdrawn at the end of Mass, thus allowing the space to be used by the congregation to socialise with tea and coffee before heading home. This is particularly important as the parishioners travel from numerous villages around the area and perhaps only have the opportunity to meet up on Sundays. The side room is ideal for catechetic classes and for the children’s liturgy. Seating capacity has been maintained by installing the balcony level. All this was at a cost but thanks to the fantastic support and generosity of the parishioners all bills were paid and there is no debt to the parish.

In 2012 the parish applied for and obtained a Lottery grant to create an orchard garden in the spare ground behind the church.

This is now established and bearing fruit, both literally and metaphorically. The fruit has been distributed around the community and the orchard garden has been used for parish Bar-B-Ques after Mass when we are blessed with sunny summer days.

This year, 2017, St. Anthony’s congregation celebrates the 150th anniversary of the establishment of our neat little chapel. In the appendix you will find a schedule of the events planned to celebrate and honour the creation and development of our parish throughout the 150 years.

St Anthony’s Balfron Appeal for a Meal.

To mark our anniversary year the parishioners decided it would be appropriate if we could offer some practical support to children in the developing world who are less fortunate than ourselves here in West Stirlingshire. Consequently, in conjunction with The Mary’s Meals organisation we have launched the “St Anthony’s Balfron Appeal for a Meal”. We are committed to raising £3,233.00 to feed 265 children for a whole year at VOA 1 Academy school in Liberia. For a parish of our size this is a significant amount of money, therefore donations from outwith our parish are warmly received.

Looking Forward

We have seen how St Anthony’s Church came into being mainly due to the perseverance and dedication of one woman, Mrs Mary Jane Cooper, encouraged by other Catholics in the area and the support of Bishop Strain in Edinburgh. We have also shown that there was a significant degree of ecumenical spirit present in Balfron dating back to the time of its formation to the present day. St Anthony’s Balfron never has had the advantage of having a priest in residence, as can be seen in the appendix. Perhaps this is the reason that the parish community displays a great zeal for “self sufficiency” in that the temporal and secular needs of the parish community are catered for by the parishioners themselves. We are extremely grateful for the spiritual and pastoral support provided by all the priests listed in the appendix, who carried out their sacramental duties through all these years.

Balfron today is the “hub” village for this area of West Stirlingshire, containing as it does essential services; fire station, manned police station, public library, ambulance station, registrars office, Bank, Post Office, shops, High School etc. Balfron serves the needs of a wide area, and has done so historically. The writers of this booklet feel that it is important that the Catholic Church should continue to be part of that provision, retaining its physical presence in Balfron into the future.


Reverend Fathers who served St Anthony’sResidencePeriod
John GillonLennoxtown1855/56
Andrew Boland & John GillonMilngavie1859 – 1862
William FarrelLennoxtown1863 – 1865
J MartinMilngavie1865 -1866
Archibald FX HogMilngavie1866 – 1876
James BirdMilngavie1877 – 1880
W DavidsonMilngavie1881 – 1888
John Honorius Magini & Peter McDanielLennoxtown1888 – 1890
J FoleyBlanefield1891 – 1899
Joseph Canon Hannon & John Joyce & D ConwayLennoxtown1899 -1909
Michael Canon Turner & James TonerLennoxtown1910
Peter BurnsBalfron /Blanefield1912
Peter Mc Daniel & J Toner & Anthony O’DohertyLennoxtown1013-1916
D Robertson & D. Ramsay & D Kelly & M J HessionLennoxtown1917 -1924
William Mellon & J. WardLennoxtown1925 – 1926
James Maguire & J. McManusLennoxtown1926 – 1930
James Mulheron & G. Dorian & J GafneyLennoxtown1936 – 1942
M Whellan & M O’Meara & E GilchristLennoxtownn1932 – 1935
D O’Connell & T Watt & P DonatiLennoxtown1943 – 1949
Wm, Canon McCabe & R GemmellLennoxtown1950 – 1952
Michael DevaneBlanefield1953 – 1964
Richard SomersBlanefield1965 – 1970
James P FalconerBlanefield1971 -1972
Michael BellBlanefield1972 – 1989
Fr HurleyBlanefield1984 -1985
William Forrester SJBlanefield1990 – 1999
Len Forrestal SPSBuchlyvie & Balfron2000 -2006
Please pray for the repose of the souls of all the above priests who graciously and fervently served our community. May they rest in peace.
Seamus Reihill SPSBuchlyvie2000 -2002
Kenneth Owens & Charles CarrStirling2007 -2008
Liam Hattie SXBlanefield2008-Present
Please remember in your prayers the above priests who have served our parish with devotion and reverence in these recent years. Please also remember to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life


Named participants in the building of St Anthony’s

The following is the list of people named in the letters from Mrs Cooper who helped in some way or other with the construction of the Chapel. As stated earlier, often she received goods and services at reduced rates from Non-Catholics and Catholics alike. Confirming that, at least in some, a truly Christian spirit was present in Balfron across the religious divide. The present parishioners are grateful for their contribution. The names are recorded here in alphabetical order.

Mr GeddesStained Glass
Mr Hope-ScottDonation
Mr William JeffreyBalfron, Feu Holder
Mr McCulloghWindows / Frames
Mr John McLeanMasons
Mr MulgrewBuilder
Mr Orr EwingStone, Sand and Donation
Mrs Smithof Sligo, Donation
Mr T StoatGlasgow, Solicitor
Mr David ThomsonGlasgow, Architect

It is appropriate that we record here that a number of the original parishioners donated to the costs of the building work as well as lending moral support to the project. Mrs Cooper once related their impatience to have the work completed.


SCA Scottish Catholic Archive, Edinburgh. ED3/167 and ED3/168 SCA Catalogue Reference

*(Note: The SCA catalogue index records letters ED3/168/15 and 16 as dated 17 and 19 January 1866. However based on the stated accounts of the building progress one would assume that this is in error and should be read as 1867)

SCD Catholic Directory for Scotland Annual Publication (reviewed publications from 1855 to 2015)

SO -Stirling Observer Newspaper Archive. GH -Glasgow Herald Newspaper Archive Newspaper Transcripts © The British Library Board. All rights reserve. With thanks to the British Newspaper

  1. The Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, Edited by Francis H Groome.
  2. A Short History of St. Anthony’s Church Balfron, by Pat and Jim Thomson.
  3. Strathendrick and its Inhabitants from Early Times, by J. Guthrie Smith.
  4. The Ballindalloch Note Issues of 1830, by Peter Symes.
  5. The History of Glasgow Water, by George Wyllie.
  6. New Statistical Account for Balfron, Stirlingshire. (1841)(7)Her Majesty’s Commissioners for Inquiring into the Administration of the Poor Laws in Scotland 1844.