The lands around Airdrie had been given, by Malcolm IV to the Cistertian Order of monks in 1160 and as well as attending to the spiritual life of the area, the monks developed the woollen industry and began mining coal. The Reformation in the 16th Century swept away most of these developments, as well as the monks and their faith, leaving nothing but the name of the area — the Monklands — as a reminder of their presence. For the next two and a half centuries there was little evidence of Catholicism anywhere in Scotland, and it has been estimated that the total number was only a few thousand in the whole country: in view of the Penal Laws that made it a criminal offence to be a Catholic, it is understandable if most were reluctant to make their religion public. The Old Statistical Account of Scotland (1791- 99) states that there were only two known Catholics in the whole of Lanarkshire. Within a short time, however, the industries that the monks had started some six centuries earlier, changed the entire situation.
During the latter part of the 18th Century, Scotland underwent dramatic economic changes that transformed society, and these influences were particularly strong in Lanarkshire. Agriculture was improved by means of new methods and the use of machinery, textile making expanded rapidly, and there was a boom in iron-making, all of which needed vast quantities of coal. The exploitation of the rich resources around Airdrie created a demand for workers that could not be met by the local population. Employment opportunities attracted the poor in Ireland, and a number of changes that took place at the turn of the century encouraged Catholics to come to Scotland. In 1793, the Penal Laws were ended, removing the threat of religious persecution, and by 1820 a cheap, cross-channel steamboat service began, that made the journey easier. By 1800, there were twelve Catholic Churches in Scotland, and around forty priests. With the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829, more Irish were encouraged to seek their fortune in Scotland, and many, landing in Glasgow, found that the South-West, and Lanarkshire in particular, offered work that promised a steady, if low, income with which to keep their families.
Unskilled workers tended to settle where suitable work was to be found, and the opportunities for farm labourers, those prepared to go down the coalmines, or to do the humblest jobs in iron-works, were greatest in Lanarkshire. With them they brought their Faith, and the need to provide for the spiritual well-being of the new workforce soon became obvious. By 1835, the Airdrie area had a Catholic population of around 800, but there was no church and most made the long walk to Glasgow on Sundays to hear Mass in St. Andrew’s Church. Once a month, a priest from Glasgow celebrated Mass in Airdrie, where a room was hired by means of regular subscriptions taken up at Gartsherrie and Calder Ironworks and by gangers in charge of sections building the Airdrie-Kirkintilloch Railway. During this time, Mass was celebrated in a number of different locations — Mason’s Lodge in High Street, rooms in Bell Street, and lastly in rooms in Market Street, then known as Bridewell Lane. It was in this last hall that Mr Delargy opened the first Catholic school in the district.
in 1833, the decision was taken to raise funds to build a church in Airdrie. This decision was not welcomed by militant Protestants and in 1835 a mob of men from the newly formed Orange Lodge in the town, inspired by a visit to Scotland by Col. William Blennerhasset Fairman, attacked the chapel in Market Street and smashed the windows. Retaliation by 100 Ribbonmen from Glasgow was averted by Bishop Murdoch, who not only denounced the marchers from the pulpit in St. Andrew’s, but also informed Sheriff Allison who stopped them reaching Airdrie. Later in the same year, the homes of two Catholics, Robert Canning and Peter Polland, were ransacked after the Orange Walk, and it took the arrival of Sheriff Muir and a bdy of cavalry from Glasgow to restore order. For some years after, there was a distrust of Catholics, who were suspected of sympathising with the Ribbonmen and republican ideas. This tension was encouraged by a series of lectures in the town, organised by the Glasgow Reformation Society in 1836 and 1838, under the title, “The Evils of Popery”. As a result, there was a number of alarms in the town as rumours spread that Catholics were planning to attack Protestants. It was some considerable time before Scots came to accept that the Irish immigrants were neither radicals nor republicans: indeed, they were very reluctant to take an active part in trade union or political affairs.
Sufficient funds had been collected by 1836 to allow building to start on the site that had been acquired in Halicraig Street. The church was built by a Mr. Paterson, whose descendants operated the building firm of Paterson Brothers, and was built in a similar style to that of most of the Protestant churches of the period: the steeple was not part of the original design and was added later. For the three years that work continued on the church, Catholic men patrolled the site at night to prevent any damage being done. One man found that, while he was guarding the church, his home was attacked, but fortunately no harm came to his family, and the Sweeneys moved soon after.
St. Margaret’s was opened on Christmas Day 1839, and the first child to be Baptised was James, son of Brian Phillips and Mary Germ, on that day. The next Baptism took place on 3rd February 1840, of William, son of William Gallagher and Margaret Porter. At this time, St. Margaret’s was served from St. Andrew’s, Glasgow, with Father William Stewart coming to Airdrie to say Mass until the church was given its own priest, Father Daniel Gallagher, in 1840.
In the first eight years after the church was opened, St. Margaret’s had as many as six different priests in charge before settling down to a period of stability under Father McNab.
The Early Priests
Airdrie’s first priest-in-charge, Father Daniel Gallagher, was typical of the people he was to serve. Born in Derry in 1811 and educated at St. Columba’s College, he came to Scotland in 1825 to join his parents who had already settled there. Bishop Scott of the Western Province hired him to teach in the immigrant schools that offered a basic education to the children of the poor labourers. He was asked by a young Blantyre mill worker to give tuition in Latin so that the young man could gain entry to Anderson College to study for the Presbyterian ministry, and he readily agreed. Thus began the remarkable friendship between the founding priest of the first Catholic church in Airdrie and Scotland’s most famous missionary — David Livingstone. When Abbe Paul Macpherson was sent to Rome to save the Scots College from closure in 1834, Bishop Scott insisted that Mr Gallagher accompany him. Three years later the young Derryman was ordained. For two years after his return to Glasgow, Father Gallagher served in St. Andrew’s, before being given responsibility for founding the Mission at Airdrie — St Margaret’s. He found that his parishioners were very poor and employed in the lowest paid jobs: 54% were labourers and 31% worked in coalmines. His Mission covered most of Lanarkshire and his flock was widely scattered, requiring him to travel great distances on foot. He had to make frequent journeys to bring the Sacraments to the injured and dying, as accidents were a common feature of life at the time. Dr. Mulvey, in his brief historical notes, compiled in 1923, noted that Father Gallagher had covered an area that required 20 priests in 1900. Not surprisingly, his health broke and he was obliged to leave Airdrie in 1841. Despite his poor health, and periods at Rome and Ratisbon for convalescence, Father Gallagher founded a further two parishes, St. Joseph’s, Glasgow, and St. Peter’s, Partick, before his death in 1884.
During Father Gallagher’s time at Airdrie, St. Margaret’s had grown considerably, there being a population of 2,093 in the town, and a further 2,907 in the surrounding area. Not all of the increase was due to immigrants settling in the labour-hungry county, but there seems to have been a very high birth-rate among the Irish who were already there: there were 216 Baptisms in 1840 and 312 in 1841. The needs of the young were of importance to Father Gallagher and, appropriately for a man who had once been a teacher, he decided to make provision for their education. The rooms in Market Street, where Mass had previously been said on Sundays, was retained and converted into a proper school, with Mr. Delargy in charge at first, and later Mr. McAuley. Just before leaving the town, Father Gallagher received special recognition by being summoned to give evidence to the Royal Commission on Mining — although the Report refers to him as “Father Callaghan, the Catholic priest at Airdrie”. His evidence gives a clear picture of the appalling conditions in both the mines and the houses in which his parishioners brought up their children: it gives also a picture of a very observant and socially-conscious man who understood and sympathised with the people he served. Through this Report, he contributed to the legislation that later removed the worst of the social and health hazards that faced the working poor.
In the eighteen months following Father Gallagher’s departure, three priests took charge of St. Margaret’s — Father Scott, Father John O’Ryan and Father Gerald T. O’Byrne — it is possible that they were in fact sent out from Glasgow to look after the needs of the parish until a successor was appointed. Father John McDermott was appointed as the first assistant priest in 1842, and served for one year before moving on.
Father Alexander Smith arrived to take charge of the Mission in September 1842. He found that the Catholic population was growing rapidly and decided that new missions should be established to enable all to hear Mass locally, and chapels were founded at Langloan, Coatbridge and “Davy’s Dyke” (between Newmains and Shotts). So successful was this move, that by 1845 Coatbridge was established as an independent mission, dedicated to the Patron Saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, and Father William Walsh was placed in charge there. In spite of the new parishes, St. Margaret’s still was overcrowded and Father Smith had a gallery built at a cost of £150 to cope with the numbers coming to Mass. By 1845, the number of Catholics in Lanarkshire had risen to around 5,000. The old school having become overcrowded, Father Smith bought a plot of land at Rawyards, for £60, and built a new school. He gave encouragement to the schoolmaster, James McAuley to provide the best education that was possible in the circumstances, and was not let down; Mr McAuley made use of the Protestant translation of the Bible to instruct his pupils so that they would not be unfamiliar with the version used by their fellow townsfolk; in addition to that the Three R’s, he provided classes in navigation and surveying.
Father Smith was aware of the dangers of drunkenness, and was concerned that the saloons might lead men away from the Faith. He set up the CYMS in St. Margaret’s to provide an opportunity for young men to socialise away from the bars.
News of the potato famine in Ireland greatly moved the people of St. Margaret’s and, when their priest organised a special collection for relief work, they raised the sum of £28 5s 8d — a considerable amount for families who were themselves very poor. The Great Famine, however, had another effect, it encouraged more people to leave Ireland. Many came to Scotland, most hoping to later take ship to America, but finding their way to the areas where work was to be found. Airdrie attracted some of this new wave of immigrants and the population of St. Margaret’s increased still further. In 1847, the parish had 386 Baptisms, and the place of origin of the parents, as recorded in the parish register, is invariably Ireland. Father Smith was, however, not destined to stay long in Airdrie. His efforts had been noticed by his superiors, and on 3rd October, he was appointed Co-Adjutor of the Western District with the title, Bishop of Parium. In November, the priest-in-charge of the Mission at Airdrie left to take charge of what was to later become the Archdiocese of Glasgow.
From November 1847 to April 1848, Father John Gray was in charge of St. Margaret’s, with the newly arrived Father Jeremiah Buckley as his assistant. Father Gray left for the United States to raise money for the Western District and after some time there, returned to Glasgow and in 1865 became Bishop of Ipsus and CoAdjutor of the Western District in succession to Bishop Smith. Father Buckley had scarcely arrived in Airdrie when there was an outbreak of cholera in the town and his first weeks were spent in ministering to the sick and the dying. His devotion was not easily forgotten, and when he left Airdrie in 1852, he was presented with a watch and a purse of sovereigns by the grateful parishioners.
Father Duncan McNab
Father McNab arrived in Airdrie in 1848, and for the next nineteen years was the priest-in- charge of St. Margaret’s. Described as a “somewhat dour Highlander”, he seems to have made little effort to ingratiate himself with his congregation, although it is admitted that he worked with enormous energy on their behalf. Cholera was raging in the town when he came, and with Father Buckley, much of his time was taken up with doing the rounds of the homes of the victims. Jeremiah Buckley was the only curate of the ten who served the parish in those nineteen years to stay for any length of time. He was noted for his appeals for funds to allow the purchase of a bell to be placed in the steeple which was added to the church by Father McNab, who acknowledged his efforts by referring to the bell, which was specially cast in Dublin, as “Buckley’s Bell”. The “Airdrie Advertiser” reported, however, that the bell had to be modified as its ringing broke the glass in the windows of “the douse weavers of the Ha’craig”. Father McNab wanted to build a Catholic cemetery beside the church, and for this purpose, bought a plot of land at Flowerhill. Local residents objected, however, and took him to court. After a long and expensive lawsuit he was forced to abandon his scheme. A convert, Lt. Col. Gerard, came to his aid and leased a large plot of land on his Rochsoles estate to Father McNab for use as a cemetery: at a rent of 10 shillings a year. It was typical of the Church in Scotland at that time that the support of wealthy converts was needed for finance and to gain respectability, and Airdrie was fortunate to have the Gerard family, whose fortune had been made in the West Indies and who were happy to use some of their wealth to provide for their fellow-Catholics. The town was, on the other hand, unique in having the only Catholic cemetery between Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Father McNab was not only the sort of man to waste valuable resources, and he had a tenement of eight houses with garrets erected on the site at Flowerhill to provide accommodation for the poor of the parish, the rents going to the church funds. He also built a school to take 290 girls, and so successful was this that an extra classroom had to be added in 1857 to give places for a further 60 pupils. There was a steady influx of Irish into the area, and the number of Baptisms in the 1850s was over 300 a year, and did not fall below this figure until 1859, when it dropped to 230. In 1856, he purchased half-an-acre of land from the Lauchope estate at Chapelhall, where he had a chapel, presbytery and school built to provide for the many Catholics in the area. The mission was served from St. Margaret’s, by Father McNab and his curates, until 1859, when it became the independent Mission of St. Aloysius with Father James Mime in charge.
Coal had caused the area round the town to grow, but it was to create many problems for St. Margaret’s. During the 1850’s, a local coalmine encroached onto the church lands and the underground workings resulted in damage to the church building. Father McNab took the Summerlee Coal Company to court seeking compensation for this damage. The case dragged on for many years, and it was almost a decade before the company was finally ordered to pay damages. By this time, however, the cost of the litigation was so great that 75% of the award went to meet the legal fees, Father McNab being content that he had safeguarded the fabric of his church. The interior of the church was largely the work of Father McNab who not only repaired the damage due to the mine workings, but added to the furnishings himself. He had a large workshop behind the church where he stored local wood to season before he used it for his hobby of joinery. It is claimed that he built the confessionals in the church, and it was recently estimated that the present ones date from the 1860s, i.e. about the time that this rather austere priest was at St. Margaret’s. Although he was assisted by a succession of priests, Duncan McNab was obliged to undertake most of the duties himself as none stayed for any length of time as they were needed to serve elsewhere. He seems to have had little regard for his own safety, and there is a record of him being summoned to Rawyards to bring the Sacraments to a dying man, only to discover that the call was a trick. He took a different route back to Halicraig Street and saw a group of men who had been lying in wait for him. Religious bitterness had not disappeared and the church and its priest were targets for the anger of militants, especially after the 12th of July celebrations. This redoubtable character refused to let threats deter him, and is referred to in the press as “the hard priest at Airdrie”. He dealt with repeated rumours that the Orangemen were preparing to attack his church and raze it to the ground, by letting it be known that he kept gunpowder in the house and would blow the church up rather than have it desecrated. It appears that this was no idle threat either, as Father Van Stiphout records that he found a small keg of gunpowder in a press in the house when he came there in 1893. Despite his hard work, Father McNab was not liked by his flock. He was very stern and frowned upon anything he regarded as frivolous. It is claimed that he disapproved of dancing, and that on the only occasion that he gave permission for a dance to be held in the hall, he not only sat up on the platform glaring at the dancers, but also insisted that men and women danced on opposite sides of a rope he had that ran the length of the hail. Matters came to a head after he published a pamphlet to prove that St. Patrick was born in Scotland, and followed this with a lecture at Bathgate that was seen as being anti-Irish. Certainly rivalry between Scots and Irish Catholics was common at the time, among the clergy as well as the laity, and Father McNab was undoubtedly one of its victims.
In August 1867, Father Duncan McNab left Airdrie and went to Australia to engage in missionary work. For another 46 years, he toiled for his new flock and won the admiration of all. In 1916, Senator Hugh De Largy, a nephew of the first schoolmaster in Airdrie, visited Canon Van Stiphout, and sang the praises of this Highland priest who had done so much to establish the Faith in Australia. The Archdiocese of Glasgow received a request for information about him in 1964, to be added to a history of the Catholic Church in Australia. For a few months in 1867, Father Thomas Donneily, the last curate to serve with Father McNab, took charge of the parish until a successor was appointed. When the new priest arrived, Father Donnelly set out for the West Indies to take up his appointment as Chaplain on the Gerard Estates.
If the work of the. first thirty years was the creation of the parish, the next half century saw the efforts of the past being brought to fruition. St. Margaret’s greatest need after 1867, was a period of stability in order to organise the parish, and it is most fortunate that in that time there were only two priests in charge, Canon McIntosh (1867-1893) and Canon Van Stiphout (1893-1926), both of whom won the respect of non-Catholics.
Canon James Mcliitosh
When Father James McIntosh arrived in Airdrie, he could not have foreseen that during his period at St. Margaret’s, he would witness the birth of a new age for the Catholic Church in Scotland. The Catholic population of New Monklands had risen to just over 6,000, some 4,000 of whom were in his charge. It is not surprising that he devoted much of his time to setting up missions in the outlying parts of his parish to bring the Mass more easily to his people. From 1873, Mass was said monthly at Meadowfield, near Longriggend. Work was started on a church in 1879, and two years later Father John Linster was able to take over the independent parish of St. Mary’s. Another cholera epidemic swept through central Scotland in the 1870s, bringing sickness and death to many, particularly the poor, who lived in the conditions which encouraged the plague. With his curates, Fathers Charles Brown, John McLay and Thomas Frawley, he devoted long hours to the afflicted. This involved extensive travelling throughout the vast parish, carrying the Sacraments to the dying and bringing comfort to the families of the afflicted. Like clergymen of all denominations, the needs of the poor were given first priority. This is best exemplified by Father Frawley, who moved from St. Margaret’s to Blantyre in 1877 and was immediately faced with th,e horror of the explosion at the local colliery, and was given priase by all for his efforts during the disaster.
Father Charles Reid Brown had the distinction of being the first local boy to return as a priest to the town. Little is known about his early days, except that he went to Belgium to study for the priesthood and received Minor Orders on the same day as Hubert Van Siphout, later to be priest-in-charge of St. Margaret’s. It seems likely, however, that Father McNab was the priest who influenced the young man and who encouraged his vocation. The newly ordained Father Brown was appointed to St. Margaret’s in 1873 and served there for three years before moving to St. Augustine’s, Coatbridge, and later St. Peter’s, Partick. One of his first actions on arriving in Airdrie as priest-in-charge, saw Father McIntosh invite the Passionists to spend three weeks in the town to supervise a parish retreat. During the three weeks, ffiere were 3,500 Holy Communions and 540 Confirmations, which Father McIntosh saw as a spiritual revolution that would strengthen the Faith of his flock and emphasise the values that were of greatest importance. He also hoped that it would woo Irishmen, especially the young, away from the Ribbonmen, whose militancy and nationalism were a source of concern to most Catholics, and an obstacle to the acceptance of the Church by non-Catholics.
The passing of the Education Act of 1872, made elementary education available for all, and gave new impetus to Father McIntosh’s keen concern that adequate schooling be provided for all. The size of the school in Airdrie was increased so that 500 boys and 350 girls could be accommodated, with Mr. Bannon, who had succeeded James McAuley and Mr. McCarthy, as headteacher. A concert and dance were organised to raise funds to have a school built at Darngav’il and John Sweeney from Aitchison Street, Airdrie, was appointed head of this establishment when it opened in
The Baptismal Records of the parish show a significant change that occurred during Father McIntosh’s time in the parish. The place of birth of the parents of the children being Baptised is recorded and almost every entry before about 1875 gives the name of an Irish town or village (entries cover most parts of Ireland, with Ulster, in particular Donegal, being the most common). After this date, however, the parents are seen to be local, and the entries list areas around the town itself, indicating that the children of the immigrant community were now marrying and starting their own families, and were identifying with their adopted home. Another aspect of the Records is the falling numbers of children being Baptised, a reflection of the falling birth rate of the middle of the century, and a slowing down of the rate of immigration: numbers Were at a peak in the 1850’s, with 1852 showing the highest total of 407 Baptisms, whereas, around half that number is common by 1870. One other aspect is that there were few conversions, only 2 or 4 a year, except in the earliest days when as many as 16 were noted in 1846: again, the Catholic influence in the town was predominantly Irish.
Pope Leo XIII issued the Bull “Ex supremo Apostolatus Apice” in 1878 and restored the Hierarchy in Scotland. In the reorganisation which followed, St. Margaret’s became part of the Archdiocese of Glasgow. The Archbishop was an Englishman, chosen by Rome to avoid causing friction between Irish and Scots in the country, and hopefully to reconcile the two communities. Archbishop Eyre sought out local men with the knowledge of particular Scottish situations that he lacked and with the ability to help him run the diocese effectively. It was not surprising that he turned to Airdrie and in 1886, created Father McIntosh a Canon of the Cathedral Chapter. Two years later, the Canon was appointed Missionary Rector of Airdrie, with the task of supervising the work of the churches in his area. During his visitations of the homes of his poor parishioners, the Canon had become aware of two great evils, poverty and drunkenness. He realised that the two were connected and chose to attack them on two fronts. He established the St. Vincent De Paul Society in an effort to give help to those in greatest need of financial assistance. The League of the Cross Temperance movement was introduced to provide recreational facilities that would attract the young men away from the public houses. Rooms were also hired at Whiteriggs and Darngavil and equipped with reading rooms and recreational areas: on Sundays, the same rooms were used as Sunday schools for the children. Booksellers provided Catholic books and newspapers that were available through the Church to give the people information about the Church throughout the country: lectures were organised and great names like Thomas Bradley, founder of “The Lamp” and a leading Temperance advocate, spoke in Airdrie.
The churches in the last quarter of the 19th Century took on a community role that attracted favourable comment from nonCatholics. Organisations looked after orphans, the deaf and the blind, and delinquents. The churches provided a location for friendly societies to serve the needs of the Catholic community, who had in the past been excluded from many such socieLies. Outings were organised and sporting and social events arranged by the parishioners, who were able to gain organising skills and to achieve a status within the Catholic community that would enable them to take a more active part in the life of the wider community. Canon McIntosh played the leading role in making these opportunities available to the people of St. Margaret’s. By 1892, the church building was in need of repair, and the Canon arranged for improvements to be made. The interior of the church was repainted and a new alabaster high altar was installed. At the same time, work commenced on enlarging and improving the cemetery at Rochsoles, where a further plot of land had been acquired. Encouragement was given by the Canon to, Father John Linster to establish a mission at Meikle Drumgray, near Greengairs, and in 1892, a church was opened there. In the last year of his life, Canon McIntosh, the energetic advocate of education, was pleased to see a school opened at Meikle Drumgray. On 13th October 1893, Canon McIntosh died and was greatly mourned by his flock. Bishop Maguire recorded that the Canon had taken quite literally his Master’s injunction to “feed my lambs, feed my sheep” and recalls the many stories of the quiet help he gave in times of temporal, as well as spiritual need. The Canon was the first priest to die in St. Margaret’s, and his death touched non-Catholics as well as his parishioners. They had come to admire the humanity of the man and to respect the spirituality of the priest, and so they turned out to line the route and accompany the cortege to Rochsoles. In 1895, at the unveiling of a memorial tablet at the Canon’s sepulchure (this tablet is now in the church), Bishop Maguire held him up as a model for all priests, and stressed how he had fostered reconciliation with other faiths and so gained the acceptance and respect of Airdrieonians.
Canon Hubert Van Stiphout
Listening to the Bishop’s praise of the late Canon was the new priest-in-charge of St. Margaret’s, Father Hubert Van Stiphout, and he must have considered it a daunting prospect to follow in the footsteps of such a great priest. Born at Veghal in North Brabent, Hubert Van Stiphout studied for the priesthood at Mechlin, and during that time he met Charles Reid Brown who came from Airdrie, and was later to be the first local boy to return as a priest to St. Margaret’s. Along with several other Dutch priests, he volunteered to serve as a missionary in Scotland — as the country was still regarded in 1874. Father Van Stiphout’s first appointment was to Coatbridge where he spent 5 years under Canon O’Keeffe at St. Patrick’s before being asked to found St. Aloysius’ at Chapelhall. After 14 years at Chapeihall, he was sent to the mother-church in Airdrie as priest-in-charge, arriving in November 1893. A quiet, retiring person, he positively shunned publicity, yet quickly won the affection of his parishioners, who noted his piety and concern for their temporal welfare. His love of children was such that in his 33 years in the town, he was seldom seen without a crowd of youngsters following him. Yet he was not soft and easy-going and his people observed that when he said “no” he meant it and was unlikely to change his mind. Within a year of his appointment. Lanarkshire suffered the great colliery strike, which brought real hardship to many of his parishioners, whose livelihoods depended on the mining industry. For the 14 weeks that the strike lasted in 1894, “Father Van”, as he was called, used his own money to provide bread for the children in the school whose fathers were not working; it is estimated that the cost of the food was around £30.
In January 1895, he was appointed Missionary Rector and had responsibility for the other churches in the town. But the work he enjoyed most was giving simple instructions in the Faith at Sunday Masses, using the Penny Catechism and explaining it to his flock. He encouraged the youth to seize the opportunities offered by increased school provision and the opening of the Universities to Catholics. To bring the Mass closer to the people, he built more churches, and with them, the schools that he saw as providing a means for Catholics to improve their prospects and enable them to play a more active part in society, e.g. the mission at Meikle Drumgray, and while building was in progress, the priest-in-charge Father McEachan was a guest at St. Margaret’s. A further chapel-school was established between Whiterigg and Plains, before being replaced by St. David’s at Plains. In all some 1,900 souls passed from the care of St. Margaret’s to these new parishes, but still some 4,000 remained. The girls’ school at Airdrie was improved in 1896 and Mary Macginn replaced Miss Walsh, who had retired. A new boys and infant school, under the patronage of St. Margaret was opened in 1897, with a statue of the school’s patron, sculpted and painted by Miss Anisa McGeechan, was placed in a niche in the front of the building. In the same year, Mr. Bannon was elected to the Town Council in Coatbridge and had to give up his post as head of the school; he was replaced by Patrick Lavelle and a year later, on the latter’s death, John James McGovern took charge. In 1918, he studied carefully the proposals for handing the schools over to local authorities, before giving his approval. Meticulous in every detail of his duties, from preparing for Mass to doing the parish accounts, Father Van Stiphout has left a very detailed record of the times. He recorded the expenses involved in extending the chapel-house and in maintaining and improving the houses in Priest’s Loan between 1895 and 1897. Yet, home visitation was a major responsibility that he undertook willingly, making sure that he visited each family regularly. During these visits, he used to be given the Quarterly Collection, and on one occasion returned the two half-crowns he was handed as the offering as a gift to the new-born girl in the family. His unfailing attention to the needs of the parish won the admiration of even non-Catholics.
Retreats were organised and missions preached in the parish by a number of Orders, Vincentians, Franciscans and Redemptorists to focus the attention of the people on the importance of the spiritual life of the community. Despite the poverty of most of his flock, Father Van Stiphout raised several collections — some for the Children’s Home at Langbank and others to aid the poor in Belfast, to emphasise the importance of giving. Without doubt, the two events that troubled the gentle priest most were the Great War and the stream of emigrants leaving ther town. From 1914 to 1918, the ball at St. Margaret’s was used by women as a centre where they made socks and scarves and packed parcels to send to the troops in the trenches. As casualties increased, Father Van made more and more calls to bring comfort to the bereaved and to give encouragement to the wounded who had returned home. He persuaded morewomen to help those working in the hall, and reminded them of the comfort their gifts brought to the soldiers. There is no record of his thoughts during those terrible years, but in his diary, he carefully listed the name, rank, unit, home address and date of death of each of the 57 members of his parish who gave their lives in the conflict. It is not difficult to imagine him kneeling in prayerful thanksgiving before the high altar in St. Margaret’s when the Armistice was signed on 11th November 1918.
The last years of the 19th Century saw an exodus of young families from Scotland, and Airdrie was no exception. Hundreds left to seek a new life in Canada, the United States, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, just as their grandparents and great-grandparents had done when they left Ireland. They took with them, not only their skills and knowledge that would serve them in their new homes, but also the Faith and values they had learned from their church and with which they would help establish the Church in the new lands where they settled. The influence of this quiet Dutchman was to spread well beyond Lanarkshire, where he spent his entire ministry.
But there were also moments of happiness that lightened the bleakness of the age. In 1914, before the War, King George V and Queen Mary made a visit to the town to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Airdrie’s Burgh status, and priests and people joined in celebrating this historic event. Later, in December 1917, Father Van Stiphout was raised to the dignity of Canon and was presented with a richly jewelled chalice by his fellow priests. His parishioners rejoiced in the honour conferred upon him, but continued to call him “Father Van” — indeed. some of the present parishioners who remember him still use the same title. Seven years later, he was overwhelmed by being presented with an illuminated scroll conferring the special blessing of Pope Pius XI, on the occasion of his Golden Jubilee.
For twenty-eight years, Canon Van Stiphout had the aid of Father Edward Doody as his curate, and although almost totally opposite in many ways, they complemented each other. Father Doody was a big, burly man with bushy eyebrows and terrified youngsters. until they discovered that he was not as ferocious as he appeared, and then they had a friend who enjoyed their company and whose company they enjoyed. It was the big Kilkennyman’s custom to tour the streets of Sunday mornings, carrying a big stick which he used to encourage the men to go to Mass. Like his parish priest, he was concerned that drink was making men careless of their religious duties and was causing harm to their families, and was a strong supporter of the Temperance Movement. However, he seems to have had his own methods of dealing with drunks. It is reputed that on more than one occasion, he used his stick to “persuade” a man with a weakness for alcohol, to sign the Pledge. With his parish priest, he believed that the church should also offer the people an alternative to the saloons and bars, and they organised social evenings in the hail. Both priests made a point of attending these functions; the shy Father Van sitting quietly chatting with his parishioners, while the more flambouyant Father Doody entertained them with his favourite song — The Old Orange Flute”. Together, they represented St. Margaret’s parish to the people of the town and each was admired by all. Father Doody died in 1924 and his funeral was marked by the closure of every shop, except one, in the town, as Airdrieonians paid their last respects to one of the town’s great characters. In his last years, the Canon became very frail and was assisted by a stream of young priests who stayed only a year or two These curates are remembered partly for their youth, and partly because they used motor-bikes — youngsters being able to earn a few coppers by cleaning their machines. But Canon Van Stiphout was not so frail as to neglect his duties, and when the Archbishop proposed taking over all the Catholic cemeteries he encountered opposition from Airdrie. Canon Van Stiphout emphasised that Rochsoles had been given to the people of the parish, not to the priests-in-charge and that subsequent additions by Sir Montague Gerard in 1903, fell into the same category. By 1916, the Gerard Estate had passed to Father John Gerard SJ. and Rochsoles House was used for retreats until Craighead House was opened. Shortly afterwards, the solicitors dealing with the estate of the late General Gerard, made arrangements with the Archdiocese for the transfer of St. Joseph’s Cemetery. During the 52 years of his priesthood in Scotland, Canon Van Stiphout had witnessed the most rapid period of growth in the Catholic Church in the country. and Lanarkshire reflected this development. In 1874. Scotland was an area for missionary activity, with the Western District having 128 priests. 111 chapels, stations or churches to serve a Catholic population of around 80,000. By 1924. the hierarchy had been restored and the same area had 403 priests, 233 churches and about 477.000 parishioners. St. Margaret’s had given birth to a number of new parishes and still had around 4,000 parishioners, and some 20 young men from the parish had entered the priesthood. while eight girls had become nuns. Most significantly, the Church was making a more public declaration of its Faith than would have been considered possible half a century earlier. Carfin was on its way to becoming a major shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes. attracting pilgrims whose needs were met by the railway companies and whose devotion was reported with respect in the press.
Canon Van Stiphout was called to his reward in 1926. after 52 years of unobtrusive labour in the interest of his adopted people. He last said Mass on Ash Wednesday and was unable to undertake any duties thereafter. Dean Muller from St. Patrick’s administered the Last Sacraments on the morning of 9th August and the Canon spent the afternoon bringing the parish records up to date. When he had finished, he called Father Thomas Kelly, who with the recently appointed Father Bartholome Atkinson was looking after the parish, to ask the time, and being told it was 4:20pm. replied. “Thank you. That will do I am tired.” At 515pm. he died.
For a man whose life had been so private, Airdrie put on a very public funeral. After Requiem Mass on 12th August, the cortege that set out for Rochsoles contained Monsignor Ritchie VG, the Canons of the Cathedral Chapter. priests from every parish in Lanarkshire and representatives of all the church organisations, together with most of the parishioners, especially schoolchildren. But non-Catholics and non-Church bodies were also represented — Sheriff Knox, Provost Armour, Dean of Guild Cowie, Baillies, Parish Councillors, the Inspector of the Poor and the Secretary of the Airdrie Savings Bank, stood alongside John Breen a parishioner and the Irish National Foresters representatives, to pay their last respects. As the mile-long procession moved through the town to the sound of the passing bell, shopkeepers lowered their blinds aml closed their doors as a mark of respect for the Dutch priest that Airdrie had taken to its heart. At St. Joseph’s Cemetery, the Canon was laid to rest alongside his great friend and companion, Father Edward Doody.
A New Century
The quarter of a century that followed the death of Canon Van Stiphout saw dramatic changes that affected the life of the parish. The Depression of the Thirties was followed by the devastating Second World War and this created a need for post-war rebuilding that moved people away from the old centres of population. The response of the Church to these changes led to the creation of new diocese and Lanarkshire came under the Diocese of Motherwell. St. Margaret’s had two parish priests that guided the people through these changes.
St. Margaret’s new parish priest, Father Stephen Thornton, DSO, MC, was a complete contrast to his predecessor. Born in Glasgow, he had served in a number of parishes in the West of Scotland before he had volunteered as a military chaplain on the outbreak of War in 1914. He saw service in France and Egypt, and his conspicuous bravery in ministering to the wounded under fire was recognised by the award of the Distinguished Service Order, “for devoted attention to wounded under shell fire”. Quite exceptionally, he once took command of a unit when all the officers and senior NCOs had been killed and had taken a number of German prisoners. The Chaplains’ Department was furious at this action and reprimanded him, even threatening a Court Martial, buton the recommendation of the military, the King awarded him the Military Cross. It was known that he had been wounded in the War and that he suffered from shell-shock, and it was believed that he had a silver plate in his head. This may have accounted for his somewhat unpredictable behaviour, including putting the belongings of one of his curates, Father Rooney, into the hail while the priest was out, as he had suddenly decided to rearrange the accommodation. A rigid disciplinarian, some parishioners believed that he still thought he was a Captain in the army, he was not slow to voice his opinion on many matters. He totally opposed mixed marriages and outspokenly condemned them, and was known to ridicule Christian names that he disapproved of, e.g. hearing of a boy who had been named “Clyde”, he remarked that he wondered at anyone naming a child after “a stinking river”. It was his custom to lock the church doors at the start of Mass and not open them until the priest had left the altar, so as to prevent people arriving late for Mass, or leaving early. Like many people in this country, he had a fear and distrust of socialism, which he suspected was but a step removed from Communism, and he threatened to refuse the Sacraments to those who joined the Independent Labour Party. going so far as to name known members from the pulpit.
Yet, in contrast, he was loved by the children. He not only visited the school regularly. but insisted on leading the children in singing hymns at Mass. Waving his arms like an orchestral conductor, and jumping up and down in time to the singing, he was completely at one with his young parishioners, who, perhaps. better saw past the. strict front that their priest offered to the world, than the adults. He was the chief organiser of the yearly holiday at Langhank for the poor children, and raised collections in the church for funds for this event. Dean Thornton’s time at Airdrie coincided with the “hungry thirties” when the town was badly affected by the depression. which hit hardest those areas dependent upon the heav industries of coal, iron and steel. Despite his vocal opposition to socialist ideas, he was acutely concerned about the welfare of his people, especially the children. Parishioners recall that on one visit to the school, he was shocked to discover boys with bare feet, and he went straight into the town and bought several pairs of shoes which he gave to them. What was not forgotten by many was his raising a collection in early 1928 to help the families of those miners who were still suffering from the General Strike eighteen months earlier. The church hall was fitted out to provide recreational facilities for the unemployed: billiards, solo, carpet bowls and a selection of newspapers was always available. Each day a large pot of soup was provided by the Dean so that the men could be guaranteed one decent meal. In addition, he organised a dance every Thursday, at a cost of 4d, and regular whist drives on Sundays. He founded a debating society that quickly became well-known and was invited to visit other parishes; this not only gave the unemployed something to do with their time, but it gave many young men the opportunity of learning the art of public speaking and encouraged them to take an interest in current affairs, including politics.
The smaller hall was used to provide committee rooms and here the Knights of St. Columba held their meetings until 1930. Until the ball was demolished, the Hibernian Insurance members met there to collect payments and give out payments. Rival attractions were offered by the Albion Hall after 1930, which had a boxing booth as well as games facilities. It became the centre for both the Foresters and the Hibernians, but due to its republican connections, was shunned by most of the clergy, particularly Dean Thornton. It was Father Thornton who brought about the most dramatic changes in the church itself and in its surroundings. The old mine workings under the building, that had given Father McNab problems almost a century before, had begun to weaken the structure and required urgent attention. In an effort to reduce the strain on the retaining walls caused by subsidence, the side galleries were removed. The church was redecorated and a frieze put round the walls where the gallery had been, and the frieze was decorated with shields. It is from this time that the two shields above the altar date. Father Thornton placing the Royal Emblem of Scotland on the left (Gospel) side of the altar, and the arms of St. Margaret on the right (Epistle) side. (See Appendix II.) At about the same time, the ceiling was lowered to its present level. Miss Mulvey and Miss McGeechan painted the pictures that decorated the panels on the High Altar: the central picture shows two angels bowing toward the tabernacle, and the outer panels depict St. Andrew and St. Margaret. These last two are laid over older paintings of St. Patrick and St. Andrew.
In spite of his predecessors attempts to improve the houses in St. Margaret’s Place and Priest’s Loan, the buildings had become unsafe and were demolished. Several of the families who had lived there were forced to move. John Paul, the church’s gravedigger and rent- collector had stayed in Priest’s Loan and been famous for always giving back one penny for prompt payment of rents, was one of those who moved. Martin Malloy, the school janitor and organiser of the yearly picnic to Rochsoles, had a house provided beside the school. Many of the families moved to Coatbridge or new houses in Bore Road: but the Traynors sent their son Edward to school in St. Margaret’s, along walk, rather than change school.
In 1932, Dean Thornton arranged to have the Angelus rung for the first time, and employed a Mr. McCulloch as the bell-ringer. This caused annoyance to some of the townspeople who were still suspicious of Catholicism. Religious intolerance was dealt a serious blow when the Grand Master of the local Orange Lodge publicly thanked Father Thornton and the people of St. Margaret’s for praying for his wife when she had been very ill. Over the next decade, religious hostility was to die away. Five priests served in St. Margaret’s during Dean Thornton’s time, Fathers Edward Bradley, Jeremiah O’Sullivan and John Rooney had left by 1937, while Fathers John Wilson and James Fitzgibbon followed their parish priest’s example and became military chaplains. Both saw action in World War II, and Father Fitzgibbon is acknowledged to have administered more Last Sacraments on the beaches at Dunkirk than he had done in the previous twelve years of his priesthood. Father Wilson, it is claimed was among those troops who first entered Belsen Concentration Camp and saw the full horror of the Holocaust.
After ten years working for the people of St. Margaret’s, Dean Thornton died in 1937, and was spared having to live through another World War. His funeral was attended by the entire parish, local dignatories and representatives of the armed forces. Local shops closed and as one observer put it, “The town was black.” The Dean’s medals were entrusted to Father Sheridan, a young priest who had been friendly with the Thornton family, and who was later to become parish priest in St. Margaret’s. Father Sheridan delivered the medals to Rome. For almost a year, Father Daniel McGlinchey, who had been appointed a curate in the parish in 1933, took over running St. Margaret’s until a successor to the Dean could be appointed. Father McGlinchey remained at St. Margaret’s for another eleven years.
Father James McKenna was born in Monaghan and educated at Maynooth College before serving in a number of parishes in Glasgow and Lanarkshire prior to being appointed to St. Margaret’s in 1938. For first part of his time in the parish, he devoted himself to the needs of his flock during the dark days of the struggle against Hitler’s Reich. For the second time in a generation, young men left the town to serve in the forces, and some did not return. Father McKenna made it a point to visit the families of the servicemen, encouraging them to pray for an end to the war: in particular he was mindful of those who lost loved ones in the conflict. Like most of his predecessors, Father McKenna was chiefly interested in the young, and was quick to show his parishioners that the 1944 Education Act gave opportunities that would enable the young to make a better life for themselves. The Archbishop was anxious that the religious life of the Catholic schools should not be neglected and appointed a number of religious examiners. Father McKenna regarded his appointment as one of the examiners as a pleasure rather than as a duty, as it gave him greater opportunity to visit the young. Even when he was made Missionary Rector, he saw his work with children and their welfare as being his prime task. He was greatly assisted in his work by the enthusiasm and special skills of his curates. Father McGlinchey set up a choir and a Study Guild, this latter being open to the young men who had returned from the War and was a means of involving them in the discussion of current affairs. Father John Cosgrove. who succeeded Father McGlinchey, developed the guild further and encouraged an interest in politics. Small groups accompanied Father Cosgrove to meetings and took an active part in debates, both in Airdrie and as far as Govan in Glasgow. It was the priest’s hope that some of the members of the Guild would take up a career in politics, and of the founder members, one, John Donnelly became a Burgh Councillor and later Provost of the town, and still serves as a Regional Councillor. Another member, Thomas Monaghan joined the Dominican Order, while the two other original participants, James Scally and Joseph McGlone were noted debaters. Father Peter Murphy, on the other hand, was deeply involved in work with the youth of the parish and encouraged them to take an active part in church life. Among them, they helped bring up a generation of Catholics who were more committed and concerned about society and the Church and prepared to play an active part in parish life and in the community at large.
The late ‘40s was a period of reconstruction after the War and Airdrie was to be changed as a result. The emergence of the Welfare State helped remove the worst of the social evils that had preoccupied previous parish priests — poverty, bad housing, illness and deprivation. In spite of post-war shortages, Airdrie, like every other British town saw the start of an enormous house-building programme that pulled down the 19th Century tenements and created new housing estates on the outskirts of the town. As the people moved into the new areas, so the Church followed and there was a period of church construction that was more rapid than anything that had gone before. 1948 saw the creation of the Diocese of Motherwell out of, what a century before had been, St. Margaret’s Parish. This recognition of the success of the Church in Lanarkshire was welcomed with pride by the people of Airdrie who realised that the success was due in large measure to the labour of the devoted priests who had set out from the town to establish missions and churches throughout the county. There was, however, a little surprise and disappointment that St. Margaret’s was not chosen as the Cathedral Church, as it had been common for this dignity to be given to the mother-church of the diocese. However, the first Bishop of Motherwell, Edward Douglas, on his arrival from St. Anthony’s, Govan, sought out a number of men to assist him in the task of establishing the new see, and turned to Canon McKenna for help, and appointed him Consultor — publicly marking his respect for the priest and for his parish. The early years of the new diocese was devoted to the creation of new parishes in the housing schemes to which many of the town’s Catholic population was moving, e.g. St. Andrew’s which opened in 1950.
In his twelve years in Airdrie, Canon McKenna witnessed a remarkable transformation in the town. The years of war had brought fear and terror, but it had finally killed the last traces of religious bitterness, except for a tiny minority of hardliners, whose views were repudiated by persons of all faiths. His parishioners had become completely integrated into the community, their “Irishness” a thing of the past, and willing to play a leading role in public affairs. Many long- established families were lost to St. Margaret’s as they moved into the new parishes serving the modern housing estates that were built in the late 1940’s. There remained, however, still around 4,000 in his care. Thanks to his efforts, educational opportunities were available and the Catholic ethos of the schools not in any way dimmed.
Canon McKenna’s death in 1950 was marked by public mourning not only in St. Margaret’s but in the neighbouring parishes which had come to know and respect a great friend and leader. At his death he had assured the future of the parish and sown the seed for future development.
The Age of Change
The last thirty-five years have seen the Church throughout the world undergo fundamental changes as a result of the Second Vatican Council which met between 1963 and 1966. In what was a testingtime for Catholics in general. St. Margaret’s had three parish priests: Canon McCann, during whose tenure the Council met, Canon Sheridan, whose period in Airdrie coincided with the initial implementation of the decisions of the Council, and Canon Duddy, upon whom fell the burden of bringing the parish into compliance with the new regulations.
It was appropriate that a Lanarkshire man shuld be in charge of the mother-church of the Diocese as the last stages in the expansion programme were completed. Father Thomas McCann was born in Hamilton and had served in a number of Lanarkshire parishes before being sent to Airdrie in 1950. He brought to his task an easy, out-going manner that made people feel at home in his company. He encouraged social evenings in the church hall, which he made a point of attending, and frequently contributed to the entertainment with his good singing voice, although he put up a show of reluctance when asked for a song. He had a passion for football and was a frequent spectator at reserve games, often in near empty grounds. He was well-known for his hospitality, and St. Margaret’s was a frequent venue for priests to have a get-together after Saturday football matches. His qualities of tolerance, patience and understanding were important as he saw more and more of his flock departing to the new parishes that were by then eroding the boundaries of St. Margaret’s. While he might have wondered if two parishes as close to his church were desirable, he gave his ready cooperation and financial assistance to the newest additions to the “family” of St. Margaret’s—St. Edward’s, opened in 1960, and St. Serf’s the following year.
Like those who had gone before him, Canon McCann as he became shortly after his arrival, was concerned with education and stressed the important part played by the Catholic schools in bringing up the next generation. While he was in the parish, St. Margaret’s School was upgraded to become a junior secondary, and he worked with the new head, Denis Harvey, who had taken over from Edward McNamara, and who was to supervise the new establishment. Pupils at St. Margaret’s were able to pursue courses up to the third or fourth year, but those pupils who wanted an education up to Higher standard were obliged to travel to Coatbridge to attend a senior secondary school. The Canon established a good relationship with the Headmaster of St. Patrick’s Senior Secondary, Mr. James Breen (son of the aforementioned John Breen). The two men became redoubtable defenders of the right of Catholics to have their own schools, in the face of strong criticism of what was referred to as “segregated schools”. James Breen went even further, and challenged the local banks when they did not notify him of vacancies, and as a result, a career in banking was opened to Catholics.
Canon McCann was ably assisted by a number of priests (see Appendix I), who contributed to the welfare of the parish in many ways. Father Charles McKinley (195 1-54) was, like the Canon, fond of music and organised concert parties that are remembered as occasions of great hilarity. To Fathers Kevin Rogers and Timothy Brosnan fell the task of trying to keep the parishioners informed of the decisions being reached in Rome. Very often working with only the barest details of the conclusions of the Council, both priests explained what changes were being planned and of the reasons for them. Father Brosnan states it was difficult as the clergy was usually “one page ahead” of the laity. Nevertheless, when it was decided to say the first Mass in the new rite, St. Margaret’s was chosen and priests from the Deanery gathered to hear Bishop Thomson serve the first English Mass in the Diocese.
The Canon was something of a traditionalist and was concerned that the changes would sweep away all that the ancestors of his parishioners had fought so hard to establish over the previous one hundred and twenty years. However, the changes were not in effect during his time there, and the good people of St. Margaret’s attended the Tridentine Mass, at which the Canon and his altar-server, Paddy McAvoy, gave a public performance that is still talked about today.
Although a victim of sciatica in his later years, Canon McCann fought to prevent the pain and crippling interfering with his duties. Despite his physical problems, he not only said Mass daily, but also made his routine house calls and took the Sacraments to the sick and dying. He was to be seen regularly driving his car about on his “rounds” — even through he had to use a walking-stick to operate the accelerator. However, his health could not sustain his efforts, and he was obliged to retire from active parish work in 1966. He spent six years in retirement before he was called to his reward in 1972. Again, the people of St. Margaret’s turned out to mourn the passing of a friend, and to attend what was one of the last Requiem Masses in Latin for a priest of the parish.
In 1966, St. Margaret’s received its first English-born parish priest. Father John Sheridan, DD, PhD, MA, had been born In Manchester and educated at Eccles School, where he developed the interest in technical subjects that has stayed with him throughout his life, and which he saw as an ideal preparation for the study of philosophy. His family moved to Uddingston and became friendly with the Thorntons, and the young Father Sheridan was a frequent visitor to St. Margaret’s. When Father Thornton was there; indeed, it was he who was entrusted with the mission to Rome to
give the Dean’s iedals to the Scots College. Father Sheridan spent some time on the staff of B lairs College and at the University of Alberta, as well as in a number of parishes in Lanark. He has the distinction of being the only parish priest to have served as a curate in St. Margaret’s before becoming parish priest, he was there in 1949-50, when Canon McKenna was in charge. His arrival coincided with the opening of St. Edward’s and St. Serf’s parishes, which marked the end of the period of rapid expansion of church building that had been a feature of the previous decade. With the loss of people to these two new churches, the Catholic population of the parish fell to around 2500. The main task facing Canon Sheridan, as he became, was to deal with structural alterations to the church. The timbers supporting the bell had rotted and they were replaced to ensure the safety of the belitower. However, his biggest task was in preparing the building for the changes that resulted from Vatican II. St. Margaret’s was an old edifice of a style similar to Presbyterian churches, and substantial changes were required to make it fit for the new liturgy. Like his immediate predecessor, the Canon was a traditionalist, and wished to ensure that the character of St. Margaret’s was not lost in the restructuring, and sought modification of the plans where he saw a threat. As a result, the final decisions were the product of compromises on all sides.
The ageold problem of the stability of the foundations emerged once more to complicate the renovation work. It was discovered that the weight of the new altar that was to be placed in front of the old one, was too great for the foundations. Consequently, the floor was excavated and a concrete pillar set into the ground to take the weight of the new structure, during which time St. Margaret’s was more like a building site than a church. There is no evidence of recent subsidence in the church, but the Canon recalls that a hole appeared in the school playground in the 70’s and it was found to be the opening of another forgotten mineshaft. Canon Sheridan’s concentration on avoiding large-scale changes took up a great part of his time. Due to his opposition, plans to move the tabernacle to the side of the alter and “stick it up on a pole” were abandoned, as was the intention to remove the old High Altar, which was retained as a background feature. Designs to remove the paintings on the wall at the altar, met with resolute resistance as Canon Sheridan would not permit the destruction of the work of past parishioners. It was agreed that the central painting be covered over, but the Pictures of St. Andrew and St. Margaret, that had been painted at the time of Father Thornton, were retained and have been cleaned up for the 150th Anniversary. With the Canon thus occupied, it fell to his curates to inform the parishioners of the new liturgical changes and to introduce the first phase of these. Fathers Timothy Brosnan (1960-71), Gerald McColgan (1971-72) and Jeremiah O’Riordan (1972-77) led the transition from the Latin Mass to the “mixed” Mass, where both Latin and English were used. They were required to encourage the people to adopt the new rite of Communion in the hand, and, perhaps the most difficult, the Sign of Peace. Their initial instruction enabled the liturgical changes to be introduced without significant opposition. While this was a priority, the normal round of duties was not neglected, and the various church confraternities and youth organisations met and played an active role in the life of the parish.
The Canon was deeply concerned about the educational provision in the town and was delighted when it was decided to appoint Chaplains in the Catholic schools. Father William Dunnachie, a curate at St. David’s was appointed the first chaplain to St. Margaret’s J S School, and took responsibility for the Catholic life of the young people there. One of the problems facing the schools was that there was no longer a recognised R E syllabus, and like most chaplains, Father Dunnachie was preoccupied in supplying this need. The task was complicated when the school was redesignated a six-year comprehensive in 1973, and the needs of another age-group had to be taken into account. For another four years, the chaplain worked with the new Rector of St. Margaret’s High, Derek Fowles, before moving to the Motherwell R E Centre, where his practical experience was put to use in drawing up a Religious Education syllabus for the Diocese, and elsewhere. His replacement was Father Frank H.alavage from St. Margaret’s who still serves in the school. The modern school represents the culmination of the work begun one and a half centuries ago, in Market Street by Mr. Delargy.
After eleven years of activity during the most dramatic and hectic period in the history of the Church in Scotland, Canon Sheridan decided to retire in 1977. He moved into the family home in Glasgow, and still says Mass regularly in the Convent of Our Lady of the Missions. He is more anxious to talk about the work of the nuns at the handicapped centre there than about his work and life. His retirement has brought him a new lease of life and an opportunity to meet with and speak to the less fortunate members of society, those for whom he has deep compassion.
It fell to Father William Duddy STL. who came to St. Margaret’s in 1978, to bring to function the recommendations of the Second Vatican Council. Born in Carluke, Father Duddy had spent his entire priesthood in Lanarkshire, the last 20 years in St. Patrick’s, Coatbridge though his name suggests that his ancestors came from Ireland, which would make him a typical representative of the people he was to serve. Shortly after his appointment, he was created a Canon, the sixth parish priest at Airdrie to be so honoured. The last phase of implementing the new liturgy and the final alterations in the church were supervised by the Canon. It is to his credit that his attention to detail and patient explanation, with the enthusiastic support of his curates, Fathers Sean Mannion (1977-78),. Thomas Trench (1978) and particularly Frank Halavage (1978-1985) that his parishioners accepted them so completely. Even those who had been brought up with the Tridentine Mass confirm that the new liturgy is more acceptable and that they like it. In spite of his failing eyesight and being less able to get about than he would have wished, Canon Duddy took an active interest in the life of the parish, and visited both schools and homes where he could. Regionalisation influenced not only the political life of Airdrie, but also removed control of the schools to the Regional Headquarters in Glasgow. However, the Canon was able to monitor progress in his school, through the new chaplain, who was one of his curates. Father Frank Halavage is descended from a Lithuanian family who came to Scotland early this century, and he brings yet another strand to the multi-nationality of the clergy who have served in the town, emphasising the true meaning of the word “catholic”
The highlight of the career of the Canon, as for most Catholics, was the visit to Scotland of Pope John Paul II in 1982. With his priests and parishioners, the Canon prepared for this great event, from organising meetings of the volunteer stewards to raising the funds to pay for the visit. A Papal Visit Committee was set up to help in the planning, and this group formed the nucleus of the present Parish Council. A significant change in the role of the laity was precipitated by the Pope’s arrival. It was agreed that each parish should appoint a number of lay-people to distribute Holy Communion, and four such Extra-Ordinary Ministers were installed at St. Margaret’s: Mrs. Christine Boyle, Robert Grant, William Liston and Alex Thomson. At the Mass at Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, on 1st June 1982, the descendents of the Irish immigrants of a century and a half earlier, lined the route the Pope was to take, distributed Communion to quarter of a million people and joined their spiritual leader in the Mass. Parishioners from St. Margaret’s also supervised one of the
enclosures where people from all parts of the country gathered for the Mass, and they joined with them in singing “Will ye no come back again” as the Papal helicopter rose over the crowd at the end of a memorable day. In 1984, Canon Duddy decided that the forthcoming one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Church of St. Margaret should be an occasion for special celebration, and set in motion plans for the event. The Parish Council undertook to organise the event, and set about discovering what was known about the developments of the parish since 1836. As a result of their efforts, this present account has been compiled. In 1985, Canon Duddy felt that his failing health was such as to hinder him in carrying out his duties fully, and he advised Bishop Devine of his wish to retire. The Bishop agreed, and Canon Duddy moved to St. Monica’s, Coatbridge, where he resided until his untimely death there on October 8th, 1986.
One Hundred & Fifty Years On
It is, perhaps, more than a coincidence that the priest in charge of St. Margaret’s on the 150th Anniversary is an Irishman. Father Martin O’Keeffe was born in Cork, but has served in the Lanarkshire area most of his priestly life. His last parish was St. Vincent’s, East Kilbride, one of the newest areas that once formed part of the parish of St. Margaret. Upon him falls the double task of celebrating the work of his predecessors, and of following the path that they have shown.
Father O’Keeffe has a population of some 2,200 to look after, slightly less than that in the care of the first priest, Father Gallagher, and living in a more residential area. Yet, many of the problems facing the new parish priest are similar to those of a century and a half ago. The depression of the 80s that has closed down many of the heavy industries upon which the locality depended, has produced massive unemployment. To the age-old problem of the abuse of alcohol, has been added the menace of drug addition as people try to escape from hardship and uncertainty. At the same time, St. Margaret’s has once more become a one priest parish, and the burden falls on Father O’Keeffe.
Yet, the story is not unfamiliar to St. Margaret’s, and with the same spirit of Faith that was shown by the immigrants of 150 years ago, there is every hope that the present generation can look forward to a better future. Unlike those first parishioners, the modern Airdrieonian has a number of advantages. The Church is well-established with a tradition of helping where help is required, and with an organisation behind the priest to help him in his task. The experience of the Parish Council, and long serving parishioners, like John Kelly who has been active in church affairs for over sixty years, St. Margaret’s is well-equipped in 1986 to face the future with hope and trust.