Holy Cross, Ardoyne : Part 1 - The Passionists arrive in the village of Ardoyne

Introduction - The history of Holy Cross Parish, Ardoyne is marked by the dedication of the Passionists, not only in helping to shape the life of the community, but in their total immersion in the life blood of the parish. From the first days of their arrival on the “green grassy slopes of Ardoyne”, to the recent events that have marked the story of this community in North Belfast, the Passionists have shared in the struggle and in the dignity of a fiercely proud community.


A look at the past almost 150 years of life in this parish will throw up common themes. The story of Ardoyne has been marked by poverty and deep need; by struggle against oppression and sectarianism, but also by the unconquered spirit of a people who seem to share common traits of an island culture: a deep pride in being different (or if you are from Ardoyne, “special”); a strong sense of community, and a fierce resilience against hardship, be it economical; social or political. The people who hail from this proud parish may be identified as coming from Belfast, but each and every one proclaim that they are from Ardoyne first and foremost.


For a piece of this land so seemingly small in scale, Ardoyne has suffered and endured far beyond what may seem fair to others, but the people of this square mile of hallowed turf have also made a contribution to the life, not only of this country, but to lands across the sea that would leave more prosperous parts of this country in its shadow. People from Ardoyne have made their inimitable mark on in the fields of politics; business; education, sport and faith. Ardoyne people stand alongside their contemporaries with justifiable pride, and for its ability to produce an abundance of “characters”, who all made their own unique contribution to the life of Ardoyne. Some parishoners would say that the Passionists themselves have made their own contribution in abundance to this list of characters!






Ardoyne: The Ancient Townland

While many people view Ardoyne as an area that was built in relatively recent times around the growth of the mills, the name Ardoyne actually goes back to pre-Plantation days and was inhabited by the O’Neill clan. Ardoyne, (Eoin’s Height), would have been one of a number of such “heights” built around Belfast in places such as Whiterock; Poleglass and Carrs Glen; areas on high ground, surrounded by trees for shelter, and from which Belfast Lough could be viewed


The ancient townland of Ardoyne included areas such as Woodvale; Ballysillan; Edenderry; Abbeydale; Glenbryn; Wheatfield; Twaddell; Glenard and Upper Crumlin Road, and it is recorded on maps and title deeds going back as far as the 1500s.


The local historian, Joe Graham, tells us that St Patrick roamed through this townland of Ardoyne, and that he formed “The White Church” in the ancient Parish of Shankill (“the old church”). Secret Masses would have been said during the Penal Days in the many glens that surrounded Ardoyne, from along what was then called “Beann Ruadraighe” (Rory’s Mountain), later Divis Mountain; from the “Priest’s Mountain” at “Ait na Collin”(The little Glen) in the south, to “Aitmacaoidh” (the glen of the McKee’s) in the north above Ligoniel.


The ancient townland of Ardoyne joined “Aitagarran” (The Horse’s Glen), at the place where we now find “Ligoniel” and “Wolf Hill”, where the last wolf in Ireland is said to have been killed.






The Village Of Ardoyne.

In 1815, a young Presbyterian, Michael Andrews, son of the wealthy mill owners the Andrew family, moved his Damask business from Little York Street in Belfast to the countryside overlooking Belfast town from the north. It was here he built a large house for himself and named it “Ardoyne”.


He built his new “Royal Damask Factory” and taking a leaf from the book of the wealthy landowners in Ireland, he then built thirty small houses for his employees, “tied cottages” as the rural lush peasants would have referred to them. He also built a gate lodge for his land overseer, “Ardoyne Cottage”, and before long his business flourished as did the new community. The settlement of houses around his factory soon took on the status of a village, complete with a school house; public house and prayer meeting house.


In 1830, the “Northern Whig”, published the following poem;

“Ardoyne Village”

“Now broadly beams the evening sun
On villas white, and woodlands green;
And happily where the eye may run,
Beneath the bright and blue serene,
Wher art delights and nature charms,
In Eden’s calm and cultured vale,
And plenty smiles, and beauty warms,
The rising village let us hail.


Fair is the village of Ardoyne !
And happy the inmates there,
Where health and labour sweetly join,
To banish poverty and care,
Sweet village, where I’ve often been,
Prosperity and peace be thine;
And hallowed ever be the scene,
Where many an hour of bliss was mine”


Michael Andrews was an exception to the rule when one looks at the track record of many of Belfast’s Linen Barons. He was a popular employer and many acts of kindness have been recorded to his credit. Michael Andrews was the second son of a father who spent much of his later life in an insane institution, and consequently, he was reared by his grandfather, Thomas Andrews, a founder of the famous “Isaac Andrews” grain mill firm in Divis Street.


In marriage Michael was very unfortunate, his first wife died when she was very young, his first two children died in infancy and his fourth wife had the extra responsibility of rearing the children from his previous three marriages. Michael Andrews was a founder of the “Belfast Savings Bank” and President of the “Irish Harp Society”, an organisation which Wolfe Tone hand a hand in forming some years earlier.


Two of Michael Andrews cousins had been interned in the 1798 Rebellion, and his wife and family had been very active during the Great Hunger years in providing aid to the starving poor in the West and South of Ireland. Michael was also a founder of the Belfast Liberal paper, “The Northern Whig”.


At his Ardoyne Village Michael was known to be personally helpful in setting up his workers in their homes, but by the time the Passionists arrived in the area in 1867, he was quite an old and ill man. He died three years later, aged 87, and was buried at Clifton Street cemetery.

“The Belfast Newsletter”, published by political opponents of Andrews, paid a glowing tribute to him to at the time of his death:


“…but while progressing manufacture, and enjoying in no slight degree the reward of well directed enterprise, he did not forget that the people connected with him had other claims on his consideration besides those that are thought to end with the payment of wages, and regular employment. He felt that his duties then extended still further and he consequently took the utmost interest in their moral and social welfare. He loved to see them in clean comfortable dwellings where there was an abundance of light and air as welI as the material requirements of healthy existence.

Michael Andrew found Ardoyne a very small village; he has left it with many of the characteristics and most of the appliances of a town. And maybe that the best monument that could be raised to his memory is to be found in the numerous abodes of contented industry which now rear their heads in the neighbourhood of that factory over which the eyes that are dosed had so long delighted to wonder.”


Those other “abodes of contented industry which now rear their heads in the neighbourhood ” referred to by “The Newsletter” refer to the other mills which sprang up in the area; William Ewarts, 1845; and the “Rosebank” and “Brookfield” mills which both came into the area in 1850.


Then John Beck leased the new Philip Johnson and John Carlisle purpose built “Edenderry Mill” in 1863. Carlisle and Johnson also were involved in the building of Brookfield Street, where they owned 52 houses. William Steen Mitchell who owned the “Brookfield Mill” also owned 64 houses in the newly built Crumlin Street, which at that time had a school house. He also owned 32 houses in Brookfield Row and in Brookfield Street.


The factory continued until 1923, but in 1935 the factory and the village were demolished for the new Glenard housing estate. The former Forum cinema, now the Crumlin Star Social Club sits roughly where Michael Andrews’ “Ardoyne House” once stood.


Ardoyne Village itself contained the Andrews family home and six large cottages. It was situated where the Everton complex now stands. The estate extended the length of the present day Alliance Avenue, and continued across to Flax Street and to the top of Brompton Park. It wasn't long before the area became a strong community that identified closely with the twin spires of Holy Cross and had a fierce sense of belonging.




From Portaferry to Ardoyne

The story of the Passionists in Holy Cross, Ardoyne had its humble beginnings in June 1868, when the Passionists were preaching a mission in Portaferry, Co. Down. The Bishop of Down and Connor, the Most Rev. Dr. Dorrian, invited them to establish a house in Ardoyne. Such was their commitment to this invitation, that by 3rd August of that same year, Fr Raphael, the first Superior, had arrived in Ardoyne along with Fr Alphonsus, then Rector of Mount Argus, and Bro. Luke. The three Passionists arrived by train, and parish records tell us that they slept the first night in the house of Mr Edward McCormick, a manager in the local mills owned by Michael Andrews,

“…who lived in the corner house, near the toll-gate, where the Shankill joins the Crumlin Road.”


Many parishoners will still remember a house that stood on this site until the early 1970s, which was turned into a military outpost before eventually being demolished.


“…this unfortunate foundation.”

Rather than finding a house and church awaiting them in Ardoyne, the first Passionists arrived to discover that they owed a debt of £1000 for a plot of land. The added burden of being under pressure to pay immediately was not eased by a letter from the Provincial stating:

“I can only send you, in two or three weeks time, thirty or forty pounds; the rest you or your future companions must find by begging, preaching, etc.”


While staying with the McCormick family solved the immediate problem of having somewhere to sleep and eat, the Provincial was having little success in borrowing the needed finance for the new parish. His next letter did not sound promising for the future of the Passionists in Ardoyne:

“It is all over. This week you must go to the Bishop at once and tell him of my sad disappointment. If you have no means to meet the circumstances, please come back (to Dublin) at once. We have had enough of this unfortunate foundation. I wish I had never thought of it…”


The new arrivals were not to be defeated. They took immediate action, and Fr Alphonsus left for Dublin where he secured a loan of £500, with the promise of another £500 to come. The future of the Passionists in Ardoyne was looking more secure, and Fr Alphonsus had set a precedent in financial creativity that future generations of Passionists had to live up to!




The First Retreat House

The first Retreat House for the Passionists was in Edenderry Lodge, a two storey building that had been lived in by Dr Harrison Hanna, the local doctor. It was also the place where he held his surgery. Fr Raphael and Bro. Luke moved into it on 8 August 1868, and celebrated the first Mass there on the same day.


While the Retreat Diary notes that they were “glad to get into it,” the Diary also states that “…it was in a fearfully damp state, as was unmistakably shown by a whole tribe of slugs perambulating and leaving their shining marks on the floor.”


Conditions do not seem to have improved very much over the course of the next 13 years that the Passionists lived there. It was declared unsafe to live in by 1877, but it was another 4 years before the Passionist community left to live in a new retreat house.


The First Church

In October 1868, the building of the first church began with the arrival of Father Ignatius Paoli CP, who later went on to become Bishop of Bucharest, in Bulgaria, and was responsible for building the beautiful cathedral in that diocese. The church was opened on 10th January 1869, with High Mass celebrated with Most Rev. Dr. Dorrian, Bishop of Down and Connor.


A Belfast newspaper of 12th January 1869, gave a full account of the dedication ceremony, which included:

‘On Sunday, another of these triumphs which, through the instrumentality of God’s grace, have of late years occurred in the vicinity of Belfast, convenient to the village of Ardoyne, for the Passionist Fathers…were enabled to open a new church at the above named place, under the name of Holy Cross.”


The commitment of the Passionists to education in the parish was underlined by the fact that by 8th December 1869, the first school for girls and boys had been opened, at a cost of £600.


From the earliest days in the parish, the people of Holy Cross have always been deeply committed and loyal to the Passionists. Fr Christopher CP had the dubious distinction of being the first Passionist to die in the parish on 14th October 1871, and a popular newspaper at time, “The Northern Star” testified to the loyalty of the parishioners when it wrote about his death:

“…twenty thousand people gathered round the church…and yielded to loud wailing when they beheld borne along, the coffin that contained all that remained of their departed priest…the funeral procession was over a mile in length…on arriving at the cemetery the coffin was slowly borne on the shoulders of six priests to the grave.”






The Role of the Parishoners


From the early days of Holy Cross, parishoners have been involved in the work of the Passionists in the parish. Parish records write about the warm welcome the first Passionists received. They also record how, after long hours of tough work in the local mills, parishoners would come each night with their saws, hatchets and shovels, and worked until the early hours of the morning removing many of the trees and preparing the ground for the first church.






The Passionists in Ligoniel


The people of Ardoyne and Ligoniel have shared a long and close relationship. This relationship was seen in the very early days of the Passionist presence in Holy Cross. Soon after their arrival in Ardoyne, the Passionists undertook the spiritual care of the suburb of Belfast lying around Holy Cross and Ligoniel, The diocese had previously obtained a piece of ground in 1851, with a lease in perpetuity, and at a rent of £5 per annum. The Society of St. Vincent De Paul had erected a schoolhouse in February 1852, but around 1865, the bishop changed the use of the schoolhouse into a church. A temporary schoolhouse was used for some years, but the Passionists built a new schoolhouse when they arrived. The Passionists cared for the needs of Ligoniel until it was made a parish in its own right in 1896.






The Ongoing Struggle


Fr Pius arrived in Ardoyne as Rector in 1875, and it seems his main priority was the building of a new Retreat House. It was a bad time for trade in Belfast, and securing the services of a contractor was out of the question, so he began to build by direct labour. Bro Osmund oversaw the building work, while Fr Emidius and Bro Edward took responsibility for raising the money.


The speed of the building was totally dependent upon the success of the fund raisers. As the House Diary of the time states: “the number of men and the amount of work done” depended upon the money they brought in.


In 1878, times in Belfast were tough. The mills in Ardoyne were closed down and poverty was growing in the area around the new Retreat House rising from the ground. The Passionists were deeply conscious of the needs of their parishoners, and the House Diary noted that:

“The collectors often came back poorer than they had gone out.”


It was no surprise then that building on the new Retreat House came to a temporary halt due to a lack of funding.






A Voice of Hope


In times of difficulty, a voice of hope is needed. In the case of Holy Cross in 1878, this voice was that of Fr Alphonsus, one of the first Passionists to arrive in Ardoyne, but who by now was Provincial of the Passionists.


He sent Fr Norbert to Ardoyne as new Rector, with the strict instructions to finish the building of the Retreat at all costs. He also took a personal interest in the fund raising, and while on Passionist business in Rome, even managed to interest Pope Leo XIII in the building of Holy Cross Retreat. (No doubt those familiar with the subsequent history of Holy Cross will take little persuasion that Fr Alphonsus has been reincarnated in various Rectors since then!)


On arriving back from Rome, Fr Alphonsus began a massive fund raising campaign, of which the following extract was a central appeal:

“The erection of a suitable Retreat in accordance with the prescriptions of our Constitutions was commenced three years ago; but the works had to be suspended for the want of funds, and the partly erected buildings have been exposed now for two years to the injurious effects of the climate. Not withstanding our own poverty and the deep distress prevailing in the country, the exigency and urgency of the case compels us to proceed without further delay, to complete the portion of the work already commenced.

To encourage the faithful to assist us, His Holiness, understanding the difficulties with which we have to contend, has been graciously pleased to grant and impart the Apostolic Benediction to all who in any way help us to complete our work.”


His appeal was a great success, and work resumed in April 1880. The new Retreat, and the first monastery in Ulster since the Reformation, was opened on 12th June 1881.


Although the new retreat was now open, there still remained a debt of £4,000. Although this was soon cleared off, the top storey was not finally completed for another fifty years. Up until 1931, the top storey was a temporary shell, with dormer windows in the roof. During the pogrom of 1921, a bullet fired from a passing military car, penetrated the outer wall and lodged in the wall of one of the rooms, a lucky escape for the inhabitant! (No doubt he was out of his room in prayer at the time!)






Ongoing Work


Belfast saw heavy rain in the winter of 1890. As a result, the walls of the church appeared to be in a dangerous state. The Retreat Diary records:

“…the whole building had to be supported by beams of wood, outside and in, to sustain the roof if the walls should give any further.”


Despite this, some five years later the church had been completely restored. The Retreat Diary continues:

“…the wooden frames by this time had rotted away and the building was consequently in a very unsafe state, so that the walls had to be taken down and rebuilt piece by piece. The area outside was concreted and stone finished and the whole area from the entrance gate to the sacristy was concreted. New entrance gates were provided. The church being, in a sense, rebuilt, the side walls were covered on the inside with wood and the roof was sheeted. The whole interior was then decorated by Bro. Mark in his best and most elaborate style, so in this respect it may safely be said that Ardoyne Church has no rival in Ireland.”


Some of the paintings by Bro. Mark for the first church are still preserved as a frieze enhancing the present sacristy walls. “The Taking Down From The Cross” in the present church was also painted by him.






Last Days For The First Church


The last Mass was celebrated in Ardoyne’s first church on 11th May, 1902, thirty three years after it was opened. On 18th May, the new church of Holy Cross, Ardoyne was solemnly dedicated and opened by Bishop Henry, followed immediately afterwards by the blessing and opening of the schools in Chief Street by Cardinal Logue. The relevance of death and new life after 33 years will not be lost on a Passionist parish!


In the last 5 years of its life, the original church functioned as a parish hall. On 30th May 1907, however, work began on the taking down of the building, and it seems that nearly every house in the parish ensured that it secured some kind of relic of its passing!