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History Section

Parish Book

St Mary's Greenock - The Story of a Community

This history of St Mary’s Parish (published 2002) gives a lively and entertaining account of the development of a Catholic community in the West of Scotland. The book transports us back in time, conjuring up the sights and sounds - and smells! - of old Greenock, painting a vivid picture of life during the last two centuries.

The copiously illustrated book (164 pages) was written by Frances Mary Dunlop, one of our parishoners, and is being sold in aid of St Mary’s Building Fund. To order a copy by post please email for details.You can read below short extracts of Chapter 4: The Greenock Mission and also A St Mary's Legend to taste some of the flavour!

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"St Mary's Greenock - The Story of a Community"

Extract from CHAPTER FOUR "The Greenock Mission"

Rev. John Davidson arrived in Greenock towards the end of the year 1808, and took up residence in the middle flat of a house in Market Street, near the slaughter-house. Next door to the priest’s lodgings was the jail, with 30 cells for offenders, and five for debtors. No doubt Mr Davidson visited those members of his flock who were his next-door neighbours from time to time! ... We can imagine with what enthusiasm the new Mission Rector took up his task, no doubt eager to get organised by Christmas. He rented the Star Hall in Broad Close, where he celebrated Mass.............

As well as Greenock, the Mission included Port Glasgow, Gourock, and a wide area round about, from Dumbarton down into Ayrshire. Mr Davidson usually had a congregation of about a hundred. The Sunday gatherings in the Star Hall would be very different from the well-dressed, well-fed, sweet-smelling congregation of present-day St Mary’s, for most ... were the poorest of the poor..............

We can imagine what a motley crew our spiritual ancestors were: boatmen, dockers, fishwives, servant lasses (these would consider themselves a cut above the rest), factory workers (including quite young children), street musicians, peddlars, beggars. There would also be a sizeable floating population (literally!) of visiting sailors from foreign parts, fishermen from as far away as the Isle of Barra down to sell their dried cod and ling, possibly some seasonal agricultural workers from Ireland, employed at some of the outlying farms: Bow Farm, Strone Farm, Holmscroft, Drums ............. and all the other varieties of human being that would pass through a busy seaport.............

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"St Mary's Greenock - The Story of a Community"

Extract from: A ST MARY'S LEGEND - I'm not prepared to vouch for the truth of this story, but this is how I heard it!

Jimmy Stinson was for many years the janitor of St Mary’s Patrick Street School. A dedicated worker, once a year he rigged up a cradle to hoist himself up to the top of the building to paint Our Lady’s statue.
He also did odd jobs about the church. One time he decided that the near-life-size crucifix at the back of the church needed some attention – a couple of minor repairs, a lick of paint. It would be more convenient to work in his cubby-hole over at the school, so one dark winter’s night he detached the crucifix from the wall and hoisted it on his shoulder to carry it up to the school.
It happened that just then a drunk man was weaving his way along Houston Street. At the corner he suddenly encountered this figure carrying a cross!
The drunk uttered an exclamation that was quite religious, and fled as fast as his legs would carry him, no doubt to swear off the drink after his “vision”!

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Saint Mary's Catholic Church, 14 Patrick Street, Greenock, PA16 8NA, Scotland. UK