St Kessog’s Roman Catholic Church

Illustrated Essays

Watercolour painting of St Kessog’s RC Church by Dr HP Cooper Harrison

The opening of St Kessog’s Roman Catholic Church in Blanefield on 28 May 1893 was the culmination of much enterprise in the parish.

The number of Roman Catholics had increased through many coming to work in the printworks as well as the construction of the water tunnels. The navvies working on the construction of the second tunnel in the 1890s, many of whom were Irish Catholics, provided much of the voluntary labour for the completion of the church.

St Kessog’s Church and Chapel House

Prior to the completion of St Kessog’s, Roman Catholics held their services in the Pavilion, the public hall that Anthony Park Coubrough built for the benefit of the parish, behind what is now the Indian take-away on Glasgow Road. Irish-born Father John Foley, the first priest, was already resident in the parish, living in Park Terrace, and providing pastoral care to the congregation. The Stirling Observer recorded the opening of the church.

The opening of St Kessog’s Church

A beautiful chapel was opened on Sunday at Strathblane by His Grace 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 26 ft 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 all the other wood work 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 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 High Mass had been conducted by the Archbishop, the Rev. Monsignor McKerral preached from Joel ii, 29 – ‘In those days I will pour out my Spirit’.

Stirling Observer, 3 June 1893

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 depicts St Kessog and was donated in memory of Father Foley.

Stained glass window depicting St Kessog, donated in memory of Father John Foley

The rose window now in place is different from the one originally installed, which was damaged during the Second World War in March 1941 when a landmine exploded at nearby Sunnyside. The arms of the bishop, the shamrock, thistle and rose no longer feature. Instead the window now shows a dove, representing the Holy Spirit, the papal arms, the keys of heaven and two cherubs.

The Rose Window

Who was St Kessog?

Also known as St Kessoc or MacKessog, there are two theories about his origins. He may have been born in Ireland into the Royal family of Munster before coming to Scotland. Others have claimed his father was an officer in the Roman army. He is remembered as a soldier saint, often depicted wearing a sword at his waist.

St Kessog was mainly active in west and central Scotland, having established a monastery on the island of Inchtavannach (Monk’s Isle) on the western side of Loch Lomond.   He frequented the Lennox area from the Firth of Clyde inland to Callander, Stirling and Glasgow.  There are references to him having a meeting with Brude, the Pictish King at Inverness. He was widely venerated in medieval times and the troops under Robert the Bruce used “Blessed Kessog” as a battle cry.  He was considered the patron saint of Scotland until St Andrew was adopted in the 14th century. The Kessock Bridge (1982) and the Kessog Oil field (2000) are named after him.

St Kessog’s Wells

St Kessog’s Well (now capped) is located in the garden of Kessogbank, the house adjacent to St Kessog’s Church in Blanefield. A stone plaque marks the place on the main road where its waters enter the drainage system. There used to be a pump at this spot.  This well marked the boundary between Leddriegreen and Ballewan estates. “Sanct Makkessokis well” is mentioned in a Court of Session decree of 1570. There may once have been a chapel associated with the well in medieval times.

Stone plaque on Glasgow Road marking where the waters of St Kessog’s Well enter the drainage system

There is another St Kessog’s Well at Honeyholm, a croft between Balfron and Fintry where the saint is said to have baptised his converts.  Some say he was found dead at this well, where he had gone to quench his thirst and rest after walking some considerable distance.  Others recorded that he was attacked and killed in 520AD at Bandry, on the western shore of Loch Lomond overlooking the island of Inchtavannach, and that the place was marked by St Kessog’s Cairn. (As the Romans left Britain around 410AD, this must assume the version of the story that has him coming from Ireland.)

The 20th century

The Rev. John Foley continued as parish priest until 1899 when he moved his ministry to Dunbar in East Lothian. The closure of the printworks in 1898 and the completion of the second water tunnel resulted in a dramatic drop in population – from 1,671 in 1891 to 880 in 1901 – and St Kessog’s must have lost much of its congregation. From 1899 till 1951 the church was served from Lennoxtown, apart from a short period in 1911/12 when it was served from Balfron. It was not until 1964 that St Kessog’s became a parish separate from St Machan’s in Lennoxtown.

Interior of St Kessog’s Church
The interior of St Kessog’s Church

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