Holy Cross, Ardoyne : Part 2 - The Growth of Holy Cross Parish

Ongoing Development


Following the opening of the new church in 1902, the community of Holy Cross did not rest on its laurels, but continued to invest in the development of the church. The present confessionals were erected in 1903, followed by the High Altar in 1904. There were many fundraising initiatives, including a famous Shakespearean actress of the day, Mary Anderson (Madame de Navarro), performing in the Ulster Hall. Included in her performance were the balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet”, and the murder scene from “Macbeth”. Ardoyne could do culture with the best of them!


On Christmas Day 1904, the main steps into the church were in use for the first time, and the ongoing development of Ardoyne was witnessed in 1905 by the extension of the penny stage on the tram from Leopold Street to Ardoyne Corner. The Rector, Fr Hubert, applied to the Tram Company and was able to secure a ~”Stop by Request” at the church gate – a bus stop that is there to this day!

By this time, Holy Cross was already developing a reputation for the quality of the sermons given by the Passionists, so much so that the Tramway Company put on a half-minute service of cars from the city between 6.30 and 7.15p.m.


On 3rd May 1908, the statue of the Sacred Heart was erected to mark the place where the tabernacle of Ardoyne’s first church stood. On 15th August, the procession in honour of Our Lady was attended by so many people, that the church could not hold them. On the spur of the moment, an altar was erected at the Sacred Heart statue, and benediction was celebrated in the open air. Further work around the chapel was completed in 1913, when the statue of St Gabriel was erected in the Grove, and in December, the last of the stained glass windows were placed in the church. The Retreat Diary notes that the windows in the church, apart from the large ones over the organ, were all gifts of Ardoyne parishoners.






Holy Cross during The Great War


The First World War began in August 1914, but no mention is made of it in the Retreat Diary. The diary is more concerned with recording parochial events. Chief among these was the opening of the Parish Hall and school on the Woodvale Road. The speeches of the day are marked by the lack of reference to events in Europe, as those present focused on the issue of Home Rule and the effects of emigration. The main speaker was Mr Joe Devlin, Nationalist MP for West Belfast, who told the gathered audience that “if they wanted young men and young women to stay in Ireland, they must make Ireland an attractive place to live in,” and that the building of Ardoyne Hall was a positive step for the young people of the parish.






Politics, Community Strife and Life in Ardoyne


By the beginning of the 20th century, Ardoyne was beginning to establish its own identity in the midst of a city that was rapidly growing around it. The bold statement made by the twin spires of the church no doubt contributed to this sense of identity.


It would be impossible though, to separate politics and community strife from the development of the life of Holy Cross, Ardoyne. Even during the construction of the first chapel and retreat house, it was recorded that local men had to guard the grounds for fear of sectarian attack. It is a sad indictment on our ability to live together in mutual respect that such actions by local men in guarding the church were again in place during the 1970s.


From the early years of its development, Ardoyne became closely linked with Nationalism / Republicanism. The first social club in the area was the Ardoyne Working Men’s Club, formed in 1878 and still known locally as “the League.” The club got its name from its association with the Belfast Branch of the Land League, an Irish national political organization dedicated to helping poor tenant farmers. Its main aim was to abolish “landlordism” and to make it possible for farmers to own the land they worked on.


Already by 1907, the Kickham’s Gaelic Athletic Club had been formed in the area, named after another prominent Fenian and journalist, Charles J. Kickham. The date of its inaugural meeting coincided with the 25th Anniversary of his death.

As preparation for their entry into the 1908 South Antrim Football league, the club arranged a challenge game against Leitrim Fontennoy's from Castlewellan Co. Down. This club was founded in 1888 and on Christmas Day 1907, Ardoyne traveled by train to Castlewellan to play the match - and won by a point!


In the middle of January 1908 an approach was made to the Rector of Holy Cross Monastery, the Rev. Fr. Hubert Caruth C.P. requesting the use of the recreation room at Holy Cross as a clubroom. Rev. Fr. Hubert wrote to the club secretary granting permission for its use, and wishing the new Club every success. He hoped that they would not just play the National games but would use the rooms to help promote Irish Language and Dancing Classes. He also added that he would gladly give any other help and assistance that the club might find to their advantage. A special sub-committee was set up for the purpose of acquiring a piece of ground from a local landowner. Fr Hubert became Hon President of the club, and was a founding member of the Ardoyne camogie club in 1909.






Links to the Easter Rising


It has well documented and marked that James Connolly lived on the Falls Road, Belfast prior to his participation and subsequent death in the 1916 Rising. What is less commonly known is that another senior figure in the Easter Rising and signatory of the Easter Proclamation, Sean Mac Diarmada, also lived in Belfast, with strong connections to Ardoyne.


Sean MacDiarmada was from County Leitrim, and worked as a gardener and tram conductor at home and in Edinburgh. However, it was in Belfast that he was sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood which started him off on his relatively short but highly significant journey through Irish politics. After failing a teacher’s examination called the King’s Scholarship, the lack of employment saw him moving to Belfast in 1905. He got a job working on the trams in Belfast and may have lived in Hannahstown for a while, but he ended up in Butler Street in Ardoyne and worked in the local the tram depot as a conductor. However, he left after contracting polio from which he never fully recovered. He was also the Belfast delegate to the 1915 Sinn Fein Ard Fhéis. The following year, McDiarmada became a key member of the IRB's Military Council that organised the Easter Rising. Sean MacDiarmada fought in the GPO in 1916 where he was attached to the headquarters staff under James Connolly. It was MacDiarmada who read Padraig Pearse’s letter of surrender to those in the GPO. He was also one of the signatories of the historic Easter Proclamation, and was among the sixteen rebel leaders executed by the British.

In the aftermath, hundreds of republicans from across the country were rounded-up and interned alongside many survivors of the Rising. Ardoyne resident, Micheál O’Carolan was among the 203 Insurgents transferred from Dublin to Stafford Barracks in England. They were held here for a year until they were released in a general amnesty. O'Carolan returned to his native Ardoyne, and helped organise the local IRA Unit and Sinn Féin Cumann, named in MacDiarmáda’s honour. In 1921, O’Carolan was elected as a Councillor to Belfast Corporation for the Republican Party.






Holy Cross becomes Home for Passionist Students


In January 1920, Holy Cross was being used to prepare young boys interested in joining the Passionists for the Matriculation examinations. This was to continue until they moved to separate premises at St Patrick’s Retreat, Wheatfield, in 1923. The civil disturbances in 1921 had an effect on the life of Holy Cross. Present day Ladbrook Drive was at this time used as a firing range by the “B” Specials and in May of this year, the well established Procession in honour of Our Lady was cancelled. The Retreat diary records;

“Owing to the unsettled state of the district the usual processions throughout the month of May have not been held. We cannot fail to notice the ever decreasing congregations at the Sunday Masses and evening Devotions. Many of our best city friends who rarely failed in their appearing here on Sunday, are too timourous (and with good reason) to venture up the Crumlin Road.”


The effects of civil disorder were even more keenly felt by the Passionist community in Holy Cross, when on Easter Monday 1922, a group of postulants (students) take a late evening walk in the gardens of the Retreat House were fired upon from a passing military car. One of the students was severely wounded in the leg. In a further incident, a bullet had pierced a window and ripped through the fifth Station of the Cross,






Wheatfield House


For more than 25 years, Wheatfield House was the first step for young men wishing to join the Passionists. It was situated at the present site of St Gabriel’s College, and was opened on January 8th 1923. There were ten boys in the first intake, but the numbers increased to over 50 at one stage, and along with the deterioration in conditions, a move to Tobar Mhuire, Crossgar was necessary.





Ongoing Civil Strife


In 1926, a General Strike occurred in England. One consequence of this was that coal became very scarce and as coal was needed to run the mills they partly closed and many workers were laid off. This in turn led to the Andrews Estate being broken into by local residents who cut down the trees in the estate to use as firewood. This practice went on for a few years and soon the estate became quite open and bare. Ten years later, part of the estate was bought by the estate agents McKibben and Company, to build a new housing estate.


The new estate was still incomplete when, during the Twelfth celebrations, loyalists attacked Catholic homes in the Little Italy area (York Street, Lancaster Street, around the Docks area) and the Crumlin Road areas. The rioting soon spread across Belfast and hundreds of Catholics fled to the relative safety of Ardoyne and Clonard.


The original Crumlin Star club in Flax Street was used as a dormitory as soon as the refugees arrived in Ardoyne. Eventually, those who had been intimidated from the homes moved into the newly built, or half built, houses that were lying empty in the Glenard area. Approximately 144 displaced families squatted in many of the new houses. The Protestant residents of Glenard, attempted to block off the “Gutthery Gap”, (now known as the “Brompton Gap”), in order to prevent the Catholics from Ardoyne entering Glenard.


After a few years, when the initial tension had subsided, McKibben the builder sent rent men into the Glenard area to move the squatters out. When people got news of the impending arrival of the rent men, they shifted from house to house to avoid them, and hence Glenard became known as “the moving city.” The Bishop of Down and Connor later purchased a great number of these houses and so the families were let stay.


The parish was now laid out in two distinct parts i.e. Glenard and Old Ardoyne. People from old Ardoyne, or "the Pad" as it was known locally, saw themselves as the “real Ardoyne”, and persisted in referring to the new district as Glenard. Glenard people were just as determined to refer to themselves as being from Ardoyne. However, strife of a more serious nature was witnessed in 1937, when the estate gained notoriety during a rent strike that went on for some months. Two of the Rent Strike Committee were ordered to be evicted and this in turn led to the police baton charging the crowds who gathered to prevent this happening. Glenard was fast getting a bad reputation, and in order to minimize the effects, the streets were renamed, as all the previous names were easily identifiable with Glenard.

Street Name Changes

Ardglen Gardens changed to Farrington Gardens.
Glenard Drive changed to Holmdene Gardens.
Glenard Parade changed to Estoril Park.
Ardglen Drive changed to Northwick Drive.
Glenard Gardens changed to Highbury Gardens.
Ardglen Crescent changed to Etna Drive.
Ardglen Park changed to Stratford Gardens.
Glenard Gardens changed to Ladbrook Drive.
Glenard Parade changed to Strathroy Park.
Ardglen Park changed to Velsheda Park.
Ardglen Parade changed to Berwick Road.
Glenard Drive changed to Dunedin Park.
Glenard Park and Ardoyne Avenue changed to Brompton Park.






Holy Cross and the Blitz


Parts of the district were badly damaged in 1941 by German bombs during the Blitz. However, reality never got in the way of a good story, and the painting “Our Lady of Ardoyne” was done at this time. It showed Our Lady’s head and shoulders between the spires of Holy Cross Chapel. At the time of the 1941 Blitz, 1000 people died in Belfast, but local folklore has it that some of those who ran into the streets to escape saw a bomb dropping between the spires of Holy Cross, only for the hand of Our Lady to bat it away to land in the Grove.






Golden Jubilee - 1952


Fr Bonaventure arrived in Holy Cross as Rector in June 1947. The Second World War was over, and preparations could begin for the Golden Jubilee celebrations. A grand cleaning of the church took place in 1947; the altars were repolished and the roofing was overhauled and reslated. In 1950, a completely new floor was laid, and by September 1951, the church had been completely repainted. Microphones made their appearance for the first time in the pulpit, and no effort was spared in celebrating the first 100 years of the Passionist presence in Holy Cross, Ardoyne.


The highlight of these celebrations came with the Jubilee Procession through the streets of Ardoyne on 18th May, 1952. Streets were decorated with flags and buntings, and crowds filled the streets, not just in celebrating 100 years of Passionists presence, but in celebration of the unconquered spirit of the people of Ardoyne, who like the Passionists, always found hope in times of darkness and difficulty.