St Kessog's Roman Catholic Church

St. Kessog's Church
By kind permission of the painter, Dr H P Cooper Harrison

The 28th May 1893 witnessed the opening of St Kessog's Roman Catholic Church, which was the culmination of much enterprise in the parish.

The number of Roman 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, many of whom would be Catholics, provided the voluntary labour for the completion of the Church.

Prior to the completion of St Kessog's, the Roman Catholics had to hold their services in Messrs Coubroughs' Pavilion, which he built for the benefit of the parish behind the printworks store. Father Foley, the first priest, had been resident in the parish, living in Park Terrace, and providing pastoral care to the congregation.

The Stirling Observer of the 3rd June 1893 provided the following account of the momentous occasion.
His Grace opened a beautiful chapel on Sunday at Strathblane the Archbishop of St Andrews 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 51ft by 26ft and can accommodate some 230 people. It is oblong in shape, and has an altar, which is of beautiful carved oak and the altar rail is of the same material. These come from Belgium, but Mr A Wright, joiner, Strathblane, did all the other woodwork 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 this window is the gift of the family of the Rev Father Foley from Kerry. The side windows are also of stained glass, and given by several friends. In the porch is a fine 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 Father Cavin, rector, St Peter's College, Bearsden; Professor Ritchie, St Peter's College; Rev Father McNairney, and Rev Father Foley. After the Archbishop had conducted High Mass, the Rev. Monsignor McKerral preached from Joel ii,29 - "In those days I will pour out my Spirit."

Stained glass in St. Kessog's

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 is the gift of the family of the Rev. Father Foley, first priest of St Kessog's. It depicts St Kessog after whom the church is named.
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. This window is adorned with a Cherub matching the ones in the Rose Window.
7. Michael McQuade. This window is also adorned with a Cherub matching the ones in the Rose Window.
8. William Cummins
9. John Casey

The rose window now in place is different from that originally installed.
Unfortunately the original Rose window was damaged during the Second World War in March 1941 when a landmine 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, and the Keys of Heaven and two cherubs.

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

St. Kessog

St Kessog was reputed to be of foman army descent, his father being in the roman army as he was himself. He was known as the soldier saint as he went about with a sword tied to his waist. He frequented the Lennox area from the Firth of Clyde inland to Callander, Stirling and Glasgow. There are even references to him having a session with "Brude" the Pictish king at Inverness, and the ferry to the Black Isle was called St Kessog's ferry. A church at Callander was called St Kessog's. There is a well at the Honey Home between Balfron and Fintry called St Kessog's Well where he baptised his converts. Local legend supposes that he was found dead at this well where he had gone to quench his thirst and rest after walking some considerable distance. The Loch Lomond area is certainly the district that he most frequented and there are many monuments in his memory. In Luss Church there is an effigy of St Kessog and his cell was near the top of Luss Glen. In the parish, St Kessog's well forms the division between Leddriegreen and Ballewan estates. The well is located in the private grounds belonging to Kessogbank between St Kessog's and the Blane Valley Inn.

St Kessog
The Oxford Dictionary of Saints has the following entry:
Kessog (Mackessog) (6th century) Bishop. Born at Cashel of the royal family of Munster, Kessog went to Scotland, became a monk and eventually a bishop in the area around Loch Lomond. Luss was the principal centre of his cult. His traditional residence was the Monk's Island in the Loch. Kessog is said to have been murdered by assassins at Bandry, where a heap of stones, known as St Kessog's Cairn once stood. Part of this was removed during road making in the 18th century and a stone statue of Kessog was found inside it. Several churches in different parts of Scotland are dedicated to him. Feast: 10th March.

Footprints of the Ancient Scottish Church has this note:
An ancient fair at Auchterarder in Perthshire (1200) recalled the feast of this saint once kept in Scotland (10th March). He was an Irish Bishop and is said to have suffered martyrdom in Dunbartonshire (AD560) There were other fairs in his honour at Comrie and Callander, both in Perthshire, and on the island of Cumbrae.

The Priests

Prior to the establishment of St Kessog's Church in 1893 the pastoral care of the Catholic families in the parish were attended to by the priest in the Campsie Parish. The Scottish Catholic Directory in 1865 lists Strathblane as being attended once in the month from Lennoxtown. Mass at half past nine. Number of Catholics, about twelve families. In 1869 the Scottish Catholic Directory recorded Strathblane as being attended from Milngavie and this appeared to be the case until the end of the 1880's. St Kessog's first priest was a Rev. John Foley who had been living in the Parish ministering to his members since 1891. He continued as parish priest until 1899. With the closure of the printworks in 1898 and the completion of the second water tunnel it is likely that with the dramatic drop in population from 1,671 in 1891 to 880 in 1901 many of the members of St Kessog's moved to find work in other printworks. For a short time, 1911-12, the parish was served from Balfron then it reverted to being served from Lennoxtown until 1951. From 1952 the parish has had a succession of priests.

1951-52 Peter Donati
1952-64 Michael J Devane
1964-70 Richard Somers
1970-72 James P Falconer
1972-85 Michael Bell
1985-99 William Forrester SJ
1999- Albert Gardner

However it was not until 1964 that St Kessog's became a parish separate from St Machan's in Lennoxtown.

For further information on St Kessog's Church see the brochure produced for its centenary - copy in Library.

©Alison Dryden, Strathblane Heritage Society 2003