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St Mary's Church, Belfast

St. Marys's Church, Belfast (Irish: Naoimh Eaglais Mhuire) is a Roman Catholic church located in Chapel Lane/Smithfield area of Belfast, Northern Ireland. It is mother church for the city and a mensal parish and was opened on this site in 1784. At the time, it was the only Roman Catholic church in the city after the repeal of the Penal Laws in the late-18th century. The church features a grotto dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes.[1]

St. Mary's Church
Saint Mary's Church, Belfast (Chapel Lane)
St. Mary's Church is located in Northern Ireland
St. Mary's Church
St. Mary's Church
Location within Northern Ireland
Coordinates: 54°35′59″N 5°55′59″W / 54.599715°N 5.933020°W / 54.599715; -5.933020
LocationBelfast, County Antrim
CountryNorthern Ireland
DenominationRoman Catholic
WebsiteSt Mary's Church
Architect(s)John O'Neill
Architectural typeRomanesque architecture
Years built1782-1784
DioceseDown and Connor
Bishop(s)Noel Treanor
Priest in chargeVery Rev. Timothy Bartlett ADM


In the census of 1782, there were only 365 Catholics recorded living in Belfast. Following a collection from the local Church of Ireland and Presbyterian congregations, funds were donated to the building of St. Mary's Church.[2]

The first Mass was celebrated on 30 May 1784 - a Sunday - by Father Hugh O’Donnell, the first Parish Priest of Belfast. In the opening ceremony, a company of the Irish Volunteers lined the chapel yard and escorted Father O'Donnell into the building.[3]

In 1813, the church's pulpit was donated by the Anglican Vicar of Belfast, Canon Turner, continuing the positive relationship between the Roman Catholic church and the local Protestant congregations. Later, in 1815, St. Patrick's Church was built to accommodate the growing Catholic population of the city.

As Belfast's Catholic population grew after the famine, the church was deemed too small and thus architect John O'Neill was contracted to design a church big enough for the burgeoning congregation. Although none of the original church can be seen, in 1868 the church was enlarged and renovated into a new Romanesque style building.[4][5]

In the Marian Year of 1954 a Grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes was established under the auspices of the then Administrator, Fr Bernard MacLaverty - an uncle of the Belfast novelist of the same name. The grotto was created in the gardens surrounding the church by the Belfast architect Padraic Gregory.

To mark the bicentenary the sanctuary was renovated in 1983 with work by artist Roy Carroll, a favourite of Cahal Daly, much of this timber furniture was later removed after Daly's departure from the Diocese of Down and Connor.

In May–August 2017, the church underwent a substantial renovation work to repair the roof and walls, and to repave the grotto area.[1]

Present DayEdit

For almost forty years the church was served by clergy from the Mill Hill Fathers, the last of whom left in 2019.[6] The current Administrator is Fr. Timothy Bartlett [6] assisted by a range of retired clergy.

The church holds two masses a day from Sunday - Monday, and three a day on Friday and Saturday. The 6pm Mass on both Friday and Saturday are held in the Irish language.[7]


  1. ^ a b "St Mary's Catholic Church in Belfast to close for three weeks in summer for renovation work". The Irish News. 25 April 2017. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  2. ^ "St Mary's Church | History". Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  3. ^ Patton, Marcus (1993). Central Belfast: An Historical Gazetteer. Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society. p. 59. ISBN 978-0900457456.
  4. ^ "History - Folktown". Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  5. ^ "Home | Buildings | nidirect". Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ "Parish Details". Diocese of Down and Connor. 30 January 2017. Retrieved 1 July 2019.