History of St Kessog’s Church

By Alison Dryden, Strathblane Heritage Society and Sir James Gordon (1993).

The Opening in 1893

On Sunday, May 28th, 1893 witnessed the opening of St Kessog’s Catholic Church, which was the culmination of much enterprise in the parish.    The number of Catholics in the parish had increased through many coming to work in the Printworks, as well as the construction of the water tunnels.  It is likely that the navvies, working on the construction of the second tunnel and of whom many would be Catholics, provided the voluntary labour for the completion of the church.

Prior to the opening of St Kessog’s, the Catholics of the area had to hold their services in Mr. Coubrough’s Pavilion, which he first built for the parish behind the Printworks store.  Fr. Foley, the first parish priest, had been resident in the parish, living in Park Terrace, and providing spiritual and pastoral care to the congregation. 

The Stirling Observer of 3rd June 1893 provided the following account of the momentous occasion:

A beautiful chapel was opened on Sunday at Strathblane by His Grace the Archbishop of St Andrew’s and Edinburgh.  The chapel is built on rising ground, which commands a magnificent view of the Blane Valley, both north and south.  Attached to the chapel is a chapel-house for the pastor, the Rev. Father Foley, containing six apartments.

The church is 51 ft by 26 ft and can accommodate some 230 people.  It is oblong in shape and has an altar which is of a beautiful carved oak and the altar rail is of the same material.  These come from Belgium, but all the other woodwork was done by Mr. A. Wright, joiner, Strathblane, while the mason work was by Mr. Simpson, Balfron. 

In the West gable is a handsome circular stained glass window.  In the centre are the Papal Arms , and underneath are the Arms of the Bishop of the diocese, while above and to the  right and left of the Papal Arms are beautifully coloured glass representing the shamrock, thistle and rose, respectively.   The whole of the window is the gift of the family of the Rev. Fr. Foley from Kerry.  The side windows are also of stained glass with the figure of St Kessog, from whom the chapel is named.

The cost of the whole building is about £1,200.  On Sunday, the chapel was crowded, and many were unable to get admission.  The altar was tastefully decorated with cut flowers, while at each side was a tall palm 11 or 12 feet in height, with smaller ones tapering towards the walls.  These were kindly sent from Duntreath Castle.

At 11.30 am, the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh entered the chapel, accompanied by Monsignor McKerral, Campsie; Rev. Fr. Cavin, Rector St Peter’s College, Bearsden; Prof. Ritchie, St Peter’s College; Rev. Fr. McNairney, and Rev. Fr. Foley.  After High Mass had been conducted by the Archbishop the Monsignor McKerral preached from Joel, ii, 29 – “In those days I will pour out my Spirit”.

St Kessog’s Chapel Stained Glass

For a small church, St Kessog’s has been well endowed with stained glass, all of which has been gifted either by parishioners or friends.   The window in the porch was a gift of the family of the Rev. Fr. Foley, first parish priest of St Kessog’s.  It depicts St Kessog after whom the church is named.

Inside the church, the following have made gifts of a window.

  1. John Kelly
  2. Sarah McPhilips
  3. William Galloway – this window shows the Virgin Mary and has the insignia ‘Ave Maria’
  4. Mrs Price
  5. Robert Meenan
  6. William J. McMullen – adorned with a cherub matching the ones in the rose window
  7. Michael McQuade – adorned with a cherub matching the ones in the rose window
  8. William Cummings
  9. John Casey

The rose window now in place is different from the one originally installed.  Unfortunately, the original rose window was damaged during the Second World War, in March 1941, when a land mine exploded nearby at New City Row / Sunnyside.  As a result, the Arms of the Bishop of the Diocese, the shamrock, thistle and rose are no longer depicted.    Instead, the rose window now shows the dove, representing the Holy Spirit, the Papal Arms, the Keys of Heaven and two cherubs.

The statues of the Blessed Virgin were presented by Mr and Mrs Rankin, Bridgeton, Glasgow and the Sacred Heart by John Cunningham of Strathblane.

The Parishioners

The Catholic community of the area predates both the churches at St Kessogs and St Anthony’s.  In 1755, Dr, Alexander Webster had compiled a census in which he estimated that the total number of ‘Romanists’ in Scotland was 16,303.  While it is difficult to see how these figures were correct, they gave a good idea of the diaspora of the Catholic population of Scotland in the middle of the eighteenth century:

Presbytery of     Lanark and Renfrew                        5

                                Stirling and Clackmannan              10

                                Aberdeenshire                                  2,220

                                Banffshire                                           3,150

                                Argyllshire                                           4,329

                                Inverness-shire                                 5,664

Populations vary due to available work to make a living and a home.  In 1811 the population in Strathblane was around 795.  With the population increasing due to available employment in the Printworks and Waterworks this rose to 1671 in the 1891 census but began to decline with the closure of the Printworks and the completion of the second water tunnel and it was around 880 in the 1901 census.  The Catholic population would have mirrored this decline and the Catholic Directory of 1993 listed the estimated 250 parishioners.

The growth of Catholicism in Central Scotland is due, initially, to migration from the Highlands and Islands and, later, the dramatic influx of Irish immigrants.    Two important points should be made about the Irish immigration.  First, for obvious geographical reasons, the main Irish Immigration into Scotland was from the north of Ireland and it is important, therefore, not to regard ‘Irish’ and ‘Catholic’ as one and the same.  Catholics accounted for somewhere between a half and two thirds of the Irish migration to the west of Scotland.  The second point is that the early priests looking after this rapidly expanding flock were not Irish but came from Banffshire and, in particular, the Glenlivet area where the small seminary of the Scalan was responsible for the keeping of indigenous Catholicism alive and indeed, flourishing in Scotland. 

Historical Timeline of Catholic Mission in the Campsie and Lennoxtown Area

1831[1]In the month of January 1831 the late Rev Dr McPherson, then one of the officiating priests in Edinburgh, was sent to Campsie by Dr Paterson, Vicar Apostolic of the E District, to ascertain the number of Catholics in that locality, and consult with the heads of Catholic families there resident as to the possibility of establishing a Mission in their midst.   Dr McPherson said Mass in Torrance on the 23rd January and on the same day baptised three children.  This was the first Mass said in the parish since the Reformation.
On his return to Edinburgh he reported favourably as to the number of the faithful in and around Lennoxtown and urged their claim to have a priest who might give them his whole attention, about which they seemed very anxious.  Again, in March and April of the same year, Dr McPherson repeated his visits to Campsie and always returned to Edinburgh more deeply impressed with the necessity of forming a Mission in that thriving part of the District.  At length Dr Paterson resolved in compliance with the urgent request of the Campsie Catholics to provide them with a priest. 

Within the Octave of the Assumption, 1831 the Rev Paul McLachlan was ordained in Edinburgh by Dr Paterson and arrived in Campsie on 10th September.   Till January, 1833 Mr McLachlan[2] devoted his attention to the new Mission which numbered at the time nearly one thousand souls.  In consequence, however, of the removal of Dr McPherson from Edinburgh to Dundee in December 1832, Mr McLachlan was called to fill his pace in that City by the successor of Dr Paterson, the right Rev Dr Carruthers.  Mr McLachlan left Campsie on in the second week of January, 1833. 
1833Campsie, Stirling.  Scottish Catholic Directory (SCD).  Rev Paul McLachlan.  Public Service at eleven ’o’ clock.  Letters, &c. to be directed to Lennoxtown of Campsie, or to the care of Right  Rev  Dr Scott, Catholic Chapel, Glasgow.
1834The principle part of the Catholics in this Mission are contained in the contiguous villages of Torrance, Lennoxtown, Kylsyth, Mulgavie, Kirkintilloch, the last place being in the Western District.  The Catholics scattered over the rest of Stirlingshire are all under the care of the Pastor of this station.  (SCD)
1846St Paul’s, Lennoxtown, built and later became St Machan’s.  

The opening seems to have been a truly ecumenical event.  The Catholics and Protestants vied with each other in their liberality and, what is more, in friendship.  Indeed, we should not omit to mention two Protestant gentlemen contributed the handsome donation, and in the most handsome manner, of £100, that is £50 each” [3]
1865Attendance once in the month from Lennoxtown.  Mass at half past nine.  Number of Catholics about twelve families.    Balfron,attendance once in the month from Lennoxtown.  Mass at 12 noon.  Catechism at 2 pm. Number of Catholics 150.  (SCD)
1866During this time Strathblane and Balfron were being ministered from Milngavie.  Mass at Strathblane every alternate Sunday at 9 am and in Balfron at 12 noon.   ‘A spot of ground has been purchased at Balfron for a Chapel, the building of which edifice will commence at once.’ (SCD)
1869Strathblane – Attended from Milngavie.  Ground has been secured whereupon to erect a chapel and operations will commence next spring,  the smallest donations for this purpose will be most thankfully received.  A Sunday School average attendance of 30.  (Aside: St Kessog’s was not built until 1893 so either the plan to build a church ran into difficulties or otherwise fell through, or the Catholic Directory made a mistake and the reference should be to Milngavie, where St Joseph’s was in fact opened in 1872). 

Balfron, 1867. Attended from Milngavie, Mass every alternate Sunday at 12 noon.   A Sunday School with average attendance of 45.  Here a neat little Chapel has been erected by the zeal of a member of the Congregation.  The building is about 50 feet in length and 28 in breadth, and 25 feet in height, with open roof.  The windows are of stained glass, showing the crest and arms of different benefactors.  (SCD)
1878 Strathblane – Attended from Milngavie on the fourth Sunday of the month.  Catechism at 9.00 am, Mass at 10.00 am.  Confessions on the eve and morning before Mass.

(Aside: “With the restoration of the Scottish hierarchy in 1878, Milngavie was part of the Glasgow Archdiocese, but as late as 1888 the Rev William Davidson is listed as looking after both Balfron and Strathblane.  On Easter Sunday 1888 ‘the charge of Balfron and Strathblane devolved on this Campsie Mission”).[4]

Balfron, attended on the second Sunday of the month from Milngavie (twelve miles distant).  Mass at 9.00 am, followed by Catechism.  Confessions on the eve or morn before Mass. (SDC)
 1888Strathblane by now had become part of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh although they continued to be served by the priests from Milngavie every second Sunday with Catechism at 9.00 am; Mass at 10.00 am.  Confessions on the eve and morning before Mass. Sunday School was conducted weekly at 3.00 pm. (SDC).
[1] Notes supplied by the Rev. Paul McLachlan of Stirling in 1872 at the request of the Rev John Magini of Lennox town
[2] Until the late 19th Century secular clergy in Scotland, as distinct from Ireland, were addressed as ‘Mr’, ‘Father’ being reserved for regular clergy.  Similar to the Continental practice – ‘Monsieur le Curé
[3] Taken from the brochure produced  for the 140th anniversary of the building of the church.
[4] Guthrie Smith, The Parish of Strathblane, 1886, has two sentences on the Catholic Community, “the Roman Catholics, of whole there are now a good many, have their services at Messrs Coubrough’s pavilion”(p. 226.) and “the members of this communion meet in the Blanefield Pavilion under the pastoral charge of the Rev William Davison of Milngavie” (p. 353 under heading ‘Roman Catholics’.