St Johns RC Church

Father Davidson (1808-1815) was priest in St Mary's Greenock which people of Port Glasgow would walk to when attending mass.
Rev Michael Ryan who succeeded father Davidson used to visit Port Glasgow weekly . The house to which he came was in Jock Ha's Close in the vicinity of Parkers Court near to Princes street. Before this catholics from the town had to walk to Greenock to attend a service.
Rev W Gordon of St Marys Greenock in 1833 estimated that the catholic population of Port Glasgow was 369, this was in a town whose census population of 1831 was 5,192.
Appointed in January 1846 Rev John Carolan took charge of the catholics of Port Glasgow

With his appointment a rapid development revealed itself Father Carolan who had been ordained in 1842 had already served in St. Minn's, Paisley, St. Margaret's. Airdrie and St. Mary's, Glasgow before coming to Port Glasgow He first resided at 8 Custom House Lane then at 5 Princes Street and 25 Shore Street

The altar stone was removed from Jock Ma's Close to the Old Town Hall in King Street. Shortly after it was transferred to the upper floor of a two-storey building previously used as a sail loft, on the site which would later be occupied by the Co-operative Halls in Falconer Street. This was a church and a school until 1854.

The need for a church was made more urgent as the famine years in Ireland had brought to Scotland great numbers . A site was secured in Shore Street, the main thoroughfare and work commenced. During the erection of the church the eastern wall was blown down, but the men of the parish when their own day's work is done, cleared away the wreckage and the work continued to a successful conclusion in 1854

General conditions at this time were noted by- Dr. Huntley of St Mungos Academy Glasgow in his book. "The Irish In Scotland"
"The Irish in Greenock and Port Glasgow were of the labouring class. Among them were a few small shop-keepers dealing in cloth and second-hand goods and provisions and many itinerant hawkers. The rest as stevedores at the docks, as labourers in the foundries and paper-mill and in the building trade. A considerable number were ships' carpenters and others were engaged by the farmers in the neighbourhood on agricultural improvements. 

Out of 400 persons employed in the sugar factories at least 350 were Irish.  The natives could not endure the conditions of work there only the Irish could stand the heat. With the exception of about 50 Scots, all the 1,200 employees at a hand-loom weaving factory and bleaching establishment at Port Glasgow were "Irish". The work was hard and laborious and these Irish immigrants, most of whom were Catholics, were poorly paid yet gave generously out of their small wages in the cause of religion. The average pay of a labouring man was about ten shillings a week yet each family undertook to contribute one pound to the cost of erecting the new church.

The register of deaths kept by Father Carolan from 1846 to 1855 he notes the causes of death in 215 cases. Consumption, chest complaints, decline and asthma accounted for 63 deaths. An undefined fever probably typhus persistent over the whole period, accounted for 45 more. Two epidemics of cholera, one in 1849 and the other in the very year in which the church was opened (1854) accounted for 12 and 34 deaths respectively. These details are a grim reminder of the unhealthy surroundings in which the poor immigrants fleeing from the danger of famine in their own country were, by reason of their poverty were compelled to live.

 "The History Of Port Glasgow" by Macarthur said this-
"With a population so largely made up of migrants from Ireland there is a very large Roman Catholic section of the community. In 1853 there were 332. By 1931 the number had risen to approximately 8350. In the early part of the last century their religious wants were supplied by a priest from Greenock. It was not until 1846 that one was resident. In January of that year Father John Carolan was appointed. At the time there was an epidemic of cholera, and he proved himself to be brave and self sacrificing."

The following extract is from the Scottish Catholic Directory and details the opening of the new church in 1854

"A beautiful new church erected in this town was solemnly blessed under the invocation of St. John The Baptist, and opened for Divine Service on Sunday, the 22nd of October last by the Right Rev. Dr. Murdoch, who celebrated pontifically assisted by the Rev J McCorry as assistant priest, Th e Rev. G. Small as deacon. The Rev. J. Carolan as sub deacon the Rev. V. Chishom as master of ceremonies. The church was so densely crowded that numbers were obliged to retire from warnt of room. Besides the local congregation many persons were present from Greenock, Glasgow and elsewhere. A considerable number of respectable Protestants also attended. In the evening. his Lordship, after a fervent address, administered the Holy Sacrament of confirmation to 120 children, for whom Mrs. Colonel Hutcheson from Edinburgh, who is a native of Port Glasgow, stood sponsor. The catholics resilient here have much reason to be grateful to this excellent lady for the great interest she has taken in their new church. The altar, tabernacle, chalice and ciborium and all the altar linen and furnishings, together with vestments, all of which are very elegant, were presented by her.

It is considered by judges who saw it before being raised to the height where it now stands, to be a finished piece of art. The altar recess is half a hexagon, with four pillars having very ornamental capitals from which springs a beautifully groined roof in canopy form. The arch of the altar recess is stately gothic and has a very fine effect. On each side of the recess there is a gothic window finished in stained glass. On one side is St. Peter and on the other St. Paul and in the centre, at a considerable height is a large trefoil window with a dove. They are all finished elaborately and do great credit to the establishment of Mr. Kearney, Glasgow.

"The church is of the pointed Gothic with a beautifully arched open roof. The couples rest on neatly finished corbels, and form an arch 45 feet high. The roof is greatly admired and considered to be the most handsome of any of this style yet erected. The walls are buttressed all round, and four buttresses in front graduated with water tables, end in beautiful octagonal spires about 60 feet high, neatly ornamented at the top. It is lighted with eight gothic windows in the side's and three in front. The front doorway is elaborate and expensive the window above it is highly wrought and is upwards of 16 feet high. Above it and under the cross there is a beautiful niche in which is a full length statue of St. John the Baptist in the attitude of preaching done by Nanetti - an Italian artist.

The church is 72 feet long by 43 wide within walls and has a handsome gallery with seating for around 600 persons. The house is commodious and in keeping with the designs of the church. The wing adjoining it with it's Gothic front presents the appearance of a small side chapel. It commands a view for miles of the most beautiful scenery of the Clyde with Ben Lomond rising in the distance. The church and house are in range fronting the principal street and situated in the most eligible part of the town on a large square piece of ground purchased by the Rev John Carolan. They are railed in from the street by about 20 feet by an ornamental railing of seven feet high with gate opposite the door of the church and house and the range of railing proportionately intersected by very handsome stone polished piers on which the gates hang. All the arches of doors, windows and niche in front spring from highly sculptured heads of Angles and Saints to produce a very pleasing religious effect. On each end of the church there is a very handsome cross.

St John's Prize Band

Almost as old as the church is the St John's prize band which was established in 1863 and was still in successful operation over 100 years later.

Most catholic families in the town have had some member or another in the band and many families have had a connection with it for many years. In its early years the band confined itself to taking part in demonstrations and outings but in the early 1900's the committee in charge determined to try the bands skill in contests under bandmasters Mr Maher and Mr Wm Kane success was most gratifying.

A grand bazaar was held in Port Glasgow Town Hall in April 1910 to pay off the liabilities and to equip more efficiently the band. Among the trophies gained in those early days were: The Challenge Shield - 1908: The Championship Cup - 1908: The Verdi Cup - 1910-11: Isles Cup - 1910-11: The Championship Cup - 1910: British Empire Championship - 1920: West of Scotland Championship - 1922: Championship of Scotland - 1922 -23:

No public celebration especially but not limited to Irish and Catholic was complete without the presence and help of St John's Band and many have thrilled to the strains of the band concerts and parades.

Non catholic Port Glasgow also appreciated the band and its public performances in the town and utilised its services on many occasions

After the Second World War the band took a new lease of life under the conductorship of Mr Robert M Smith who led them to gain the Scottish Championship in 1945 and the Daily Herald cup in 1946. This latter success entitled the band to compete in the whole of the UK

Back row: A McIntyre (Jun), W Clydesdale(Jun), M McGeown, W Tolan (Treas), F Peake, H Mulholland (Secy)
Middle Row: A Reilly,J Farr, D Carey, J MaCahill (vice Pres), T Cushnahan, D Curran, W Clydesdale (sen),
J Hendry
Front Row: R Boyle, J McNellis (asst secy), R.M. Smith (bandmaster), D Doyle (band serg),J O'Neil, A McIntyre (president)

Division 210 Ancient Order of Hibernians

Port Glasgow has long been a strong hold of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. At one time there was as many as four divisions in the district and the present division No: 210 was in June 1934 a new suite of rooms and hall specially built for the purpose was opened on a site on the Clune Brae by provincial President Currie- Patrick Murry being local president and inspiration of the work.
It received the blessing of Father Towie and parochial needs have always had the first claim on it.

When the drift of house building took place to the east - Woodhall and Kelburn, use was made of the hall for Sunday mass to relieve St John's and make it easier for those in the east to hear mass. It thus helped the formation of the new parish of the Holy Family and later by the labour and goods Hibernians assisted in it's development.

Knights Of St Columba No: 350 Council

The local council of the Knights of St Columba was erected on Sunday 29th January 1945 in the local AOH Halls.
There were already a number of Knights in Port Glasgow attached to the Greenock Circle but war-time conditions had made it inconvenient to keep fully in touch with their Circle there. It was therefore felt that a circle should be opened in St John's parish. Permission was finally granted by the Board of Directors with the full approval of the late Father Keane and the circle was opened.

On the suggestion of Father Keane it received the name of St Elizabeth the mother of St John the Baptist. The council in it's own quiet way has done much good work among the catholic community particularly to those who have joined it's ranks. It has organised retreats, corporate communions and of course of lectures. It has also detonated prizes to encourage school children in their education.

This page last modified on Sunday, March 27, 2011

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