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Roman Catholicism – Kilsyth (all spellings, glitches etc. are same in copy) (updated copy Sept. 2, 2010)
(NOTE 2017 – the page where the following was copied is no longer on the net. Several pieces appear quoted in other histories that can be found by copying a phrase and pasting it in your browser search space between quotation marks.)
The name Croy, in Gaelic, is Cruaidh (pronounced Croo-ay), meaning `rocky' or `barren'. Local people know that Croy Hill is indeed a rocky place and this perhaps explains why Croy is so seldom mentioned in ancient history, whether secular or ecclesiastical.
The earliest signs of human settlement in the area date from the first millennium B.C. Archaeological excavations at the site of the Roman fort on the Antonine Wall on Croy Hill in 1975 uncovered traces of a late Iron Age or early Bronze Age palisade, which had doubtlessly protected a primitive community. The same excavations provided ample evidence of a considerably later community dating from around 140 A.D., that of the garrison of Roman auxiliary soldiers and their families. The excavations revealed indications of farming, pottery making, charcoal-burning ovens and of cremation rituals. Previous investigation had already yielded up a pagan altar of Roman origin, the earliest evidence of any form of religious practice at Croy.
As far as is known, Christianity did not arrive in the Croy district until the spread of the evangelising influence of early saints like St. Ninian, (4th century A.D.), St. Blane (5th century A.D.), St. Mungo, St. Columba and St. Machan (6th century A.D.). St. Machan, being a local saint, is of intrinsic interest. According to tradition he was Scottish, educated in Ireland and was created a bishop while on a visit to Rome. His influence appears to have reached well beyond Campsie, to Lanarkshire, Perthshire and West Lothian. It is thought that he was buried under the altar of his ancient and long-ruined church in Campsie Glen. In 1458, about nine hundred years after his death, he was still well enough remembered for Partick Leche, Chancellor of St. Mungo's Cathedral in Glasgow to erect an altar dedicated to him. It is situated on the north side of the nave, at the third pillar from the roodscreen. Surely the Croy area must have known St. Machan when his name was carried to places much further away.
Several place-names near Croy suggest that Christianity had a foothold in medieval and even earlier periods. Kilsyth reputedly had an early church on the Ebroch Bum near Barrwood Quarry. The name Craigannet in the northern part of Kilsyth parish implies that an ancient chapel once stood there. Similarly, Annathill to the south of Croy most probably once maintained an early chapel, since the word annat (Gaelic form annaid) means a saint's church or a church containing relics of a saint. Likewise, where the letters kil appear in a name, there is a likelihood of an ancient link to a church or monastic cell. It can be argued that local names like Kilmuir (usually spelled Cuilmuir locally) Kilsyth, Kildrum, Kilbowie and Auchenkilns (a corrupted form of the Gaelic words auchen cille, meaning `the field of the [monastic] cell' ), are so linked. Near to Auchenkilns Roundabout is situated the area of Chapelton ('the place of the chapel') well known to Condorrat villagers. It is also interesting to note that old maps show a road running from Chapelton to Seafar and that the Bishop of Glasgow had a summer residence in Seafar close to where Our Lady's High School now stands.
The Croy locality is known to have belonged to the deanery of Lennox in ancient times. More than seventy years ago Father John Charleson, (missionary rector of Holy Cross, Croy 1907-1929 and an enthusiastic antiquarian), held the view that the proprietorship of `the lands of Croy' could be traced back to a grandson of Alwyn, second earl of Lennox in the 13th century. It may even have been that earl who gifted the first Campsie Glen church to Glasgow Cathedral. What is more historically certain is that about that time the Comyn family held sway over this eastern part of the former Dunbartonshire (then a part of Stirlingshire). Comyn had the great misfortune to be killed by his famous rival, Robert the Bruce, in Dumfries High Church. He was aided and abetted in the slaying by one, Sir Malcolm Fleming, who was later to become the Earl of Wigton. As a reward for their adherence to Bruce's cause, the Flemings were granted the Comyn barony of Kirkintilloch, which included Cumbernauld and surrounding territory. It is worth mentioning that there exists a record of a Fleming living in Croy in the 17th century.
The Kirkintilloch church, which served the Comyns and then the Flemings, was almost certainly St. Ninian's Church. The first church of that name in Kirkintilloch had been built about 1140. There was also a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. At the eastern end of the barony, in Cumbernauld, the church which served the owners of Cumbernauld Castle and their tenants was known as a chapel-of-ease closely associated with the Church of St. Ninian in Kirkintilloch. A chapel-of-ease existed at a distance from its mother-church, for the convenience of remote parishioners. Indeed, parts of the existing stonework of that church, now known as Cumbernauld Old Parish Church, belong to the time of the Comyn baronetcy.
Between the 12th and 15th centuries, the Church in Scotland was thriving. Then, there were thirteen dioceses compared with eight at present and Mass was celebrated in every corner of the Scottish kingdom. In Glasgow, hierarchical continuity is traceable from 1115 to the present day, with very few years excepted. It is a measure of the bitterness of anti-Catholic feeling accompanying the Scottish Reformation that, within a single generation, Scotland changed from being a Catholic country to being one where mass was forbidden under pain of death. In the seventy years between 1546 and 1615, a Cardinal, an Archbishop and three priests were hanged for their faith in Scotland. Papal authority was abolished by law and Parliament decreed that all monasteries and abbeys should be destroyed. By 1611 only four heroic priests were to be found in the whole country. In 1696 all existing Scottish Catholics were ordered to leave Scotland.
During this period of oppression, the Church in Scotland came under the charge of the Congregation de Propaganda Fide which, in due course, attempted to keep the administration of the Church alive by making Scotland into a prefecture administered by a Prefect Apostolic. This form of control lasted from 1653 to 1694 when Thomas Nicolson, a converted Professor of Glasgow University, became the first Vicar Apostolic. A new period of oppression seized the Church in Scotland about this time. It lasted, with varying degrees of intensity, until the relief Bill for Catholics of 1793. The Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, hard fought for by that great Irish politician, Daniel O'Connell, followed this. Meantime, in Glasgow, a series of priests cared for the pastoral needs of a small and subdued Catholic flock – courageous men like Alexander McDonald, John Farquharson and Andrew Scott. It was Scott who took upon himself the task of building the chapel that grew to become St. Andrews Cathedral, Clyde Street, in 1816. Times were becoming more tolerant of our faith and two years before the Catholic Emancipation Act, in 1827, Scotland was divided up into three vicariates – the Northern, the Eastern and the Western. Three Vicars Apostolic were appointed to administer the three large districts.
The first Vicar Apostolic for the new Westc District was Bishop Ranald MacDonald. Andre Scott was appointed his coadjutor to assist the c bishop with his task. In 1828 Andrew Scott v< also consecrated bishop. Four years later, in 18: he succeeded Bishop MacDonald as Vic Apostolic of the Western District.
Before this ev( came another seemingly insignificant one whi was to prove a momentous catalyst for the grog of the faith in our area.
On 30' November 1830, a group of twel devout Catholic men gathered in Torrance, nE Lennoxtown, to draft a letter to Bishop Scott his capacity as coadjutor and to Bishop Paters of the Eastern district. The letter was a plainti plea begging both their Lordships to find a pri, for their community 'as thair are a great numl of Roman Catholicks here.' The nearest place worship to them was then in Glasgow. They wf aware that, although they lived close to Glasgc they actually came under the jurisdiction of 1 Eastern District.
The appeal was successful, for 1831 saw 1 birth of St. Paul's Mission in Lennoxtow although the actual church building was or completed fifteen years later in 1846.
A further thirty-five years were to elapse bef( the third missionary rector, Rev. John Magini, 1881 successfully requested of the th Archbishop Strain of Edinburgh and St. Andre\ permission to change the name to St. Machan's honour of the ancient local Scottish saint.
Before 1846 there were very few Catholics our area. The 1845 Statistical account for Scotla records that in the whole extent of Cumbernai Parish there were only seven hundred families total. It went on to state that 'there are 5 or Irish families, supposed to be of the Roman Catholic faith'.
Besides marking the completion of St. Pat Church in Lennoxtown, the year 1846 was to pn important for another historic reason. That y saw the start of the great Irish Potato Famine. T catastrophe was to be the cause of one and a 1^ million Irish men, women and children leav their native land in the decade between 1846 1856. Many thousands of them settled in Scotland bringing with them their strong devotion to Church. These immigrants found employmen ironstone and
coal mining, in limestone worki in iron and steel production, railway building dockside labour. In the next few decades, because the area was rich in coal, many of them settled in Kilsyth, Croy, Smithston, Auchinstarry, Drumglass, Craiglinn, Twechar, Condorrat and Cumbernauld.
Between 1831 and 1862, the Catholic Mission of St. Paul's at Lennoxtown had to serve the needs as best as it could of the whole area to the north and east of Campsie. In 1862 Rev. John Gillon from Lennoxtown began a new church mission in Arnot's Hall, Charles Street, Kilsyth to satisfy the spiritual needs of the fast-growing Catholic population in that area.
The number of Catholics in Kilsyth grew rapidly even before numbers were augmented by the building, from the 1860's onwards, of miners' rows at Croy, Smithston, Drumglass, Auchinstarry, Twechar and elsewhere by the Baird Company of Gartsherrie. In 1832 there were about five Catholic families in the Kilsyth area. Between 1849 and 1863 the number had grown from one hundred to six hundred. Remarkably, by 1866, this number had trebled to eighteen hundred due to the availability of employment and housing both in Kilsyth and places south of the Kelvin. The development of a Catholic community in Kilsyth and environs was enhanced by the arrival of Kilsyth's first priest, Father John Galvin, on 5th January 1865. It is not beyond our imagination to picture worthy miners and their families trekking from the outlying villages and rows lying south of the River Kelvin, to attend the 11.30 am. Mass in Charles Street, and, from St. Patrick's Day on 17th March 1866, in the brand new St. Patrick's Church in Lower Craigends.
Although Croy and Kilsyth belonged to different archdioceses, prior to the founding of Holy Cross Parish, the Catholics living across the county border from Kilsyth relied totally for their pastoral and educational care on the Church and school of St. Patrick's in Kilsyth. Writing in 1927, Father (later Canon) Octavius Claeys, the Belgian born first curate of Holy Cross Croy (1903 – 1906), remarked 'who that had a grey hair in his head did not remember the two fathers Murphy and the genial Canon Turner?'
John Canon Murphy had been priest in charge of St. Patrick's from 1873 until 1889 and Michael Canon Turner from 1890 until 1903: (the second Father Murphy was a Kilsyth curate some years later). Many children in those early years owe their education to those two canons. Canon Murphy was responsible for the construction of the first St. Patrick's School building in 1874. Ten yearsearlier, before Kilsyth even had its own priest, catechism classes were being held and the number of children attending those classes grew from sixty to one hundred with the arrival, in January 1865, of Father John Galvin, the first Kilsyth priest. Certainly, by the 1880's at least, children from Smithston and Auchinstarry were attending St. Patrick's School, which by then was offering a full elementary curriculum. Clearly, the spiritual and educational development of many of our ancestors was nurtured in the Parish of St. Patrick in Kilsyth.
Canon Turner was devoted, not only to the Catholic people of Kilsyth, but very much to those in more distant places. On, foot he visited places as far away as Croy, Twechar, Cumbernauld, Condorrat and Smithston. In his clerical diary for the years 1890-91, he wrote of a sick call at Croy Row, visiting three Catholic families at Turneyhill, near Twechar, calling on a couple in a `mixed marriage' at Cumbernauld, visiting a partially paralysed man in Condorrat and looking in, on one visitation, on half of the homes at Smithston Row, which he called `Little Ireland'. Of Croy he wrote 'Croy was my pet lamb for the lengthened period of twelve years'. What a dedicated and devoted priest he was.
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