by Frank McCorry

The Parish of Magheradroll or Ballynahinch, located in the east of the diocese in the heart of County Down, vies with the Parish of Dromore as the most extensive parish in the Dromore Diocese. Magheradroll includes the ancient parish of Annahilt. There are thirty-six townlands in the parish. The parish name probably derives from `Machair Eadar Ghabhal' - the plain between the rivers, viz. the River Lagan and its tributary, the Ravernet River. First mentioned in the Papal taxation of 1291 as `Ardagualla', the lands of Magheradroll were once an integral part of Magennis territory, some of which was shared with their kin, the MacCartans. The ancient cemetery of the parish was in the townland of Magheradroll and it was there that a church was erected in 1607 by the Catholics of the parish under the patronage of the Magennises and MacCartans.

On account of its location close to Seaforde and Loughinisland in Down and Connor, Magheradroll appears somewhat remote to parishes lying to the west of the diocese. The northern part of the parish which adjoins Hillsborough, once a great Magennis stronghold, contains no Catholic church. This means that St. Patrick's, Church Street, Ballynahinch, serves twenty-four northern and central townlands, including the town of Ballynahinch. The southern section of the parish is served by the Church of Christ the King, Drumaness and St. Colman's Church, Dunmore. The pre-Reformation church at Crabtree Hill, Ballynahinch, was taken over by incoming Anglicans at the time of the Plantation. Tradition maintains that some Catholic people used the church for Mass up until the mid-18th. century period.


St. Patrick's Church, Ballynahinch, was completed in 1812. It was rededicated in 1843. The striking stone tower and the Church's transepts were built in the 1860s.

The imposing St. Patrick's Church, on its elevated site in Ballynahinch, replaced a small Mass station in Dromore Street which had served congregations for upwards of thirty years. Lord Moira, a landed nobleman who supported Catholic Emancipation, gave the site of St. Patrick's to the parish, its favoured location characterising the generous disposition of the landlord. The original St. Patrick's was probably begun c.1806-07, and used for Mass in 1808, twenty years before Emancipation. The church was completed in 1812, aided by funds raised by the preaching of a special charity sermon.

The interior of Ballynahinch Church following the re-ordering which came with the Second Vatican Council. Many parishioners will remember the sanctuary as it was before the major renovations of the early 1990s.

During the `Night of the Big Wind,' 6th.-7th. January 1839, the church suffered major damage. The extent of the destruction was such that the re-dedication ceremony was not undertaken by Bishop Michael Blake until September 1843. In common with many other urban Catholic Churches in Ireland, St. Patrick's was re-ordered during the 1860s and again in the 1890s. These were crucial decades when Catholicism flourished once again, as the Church provided leadership, strong moral guidance and internal discipline for growing congregations throughout the land. The re-ordering of St. Patrick's in the 1860s - involved the building of the transepts and the Church ' tower, In the late-1890s, a gallery was erected and a High-Altar and side-altars installed.

Additional renovations were carried out in the 1930s, a decade remembered for a series of significant initiatives undertaken by Canon Edward McGivern. These included the erection of the Church of Christ the King, Drumaness, the opening of Drumaness Primary School, the founding of Assumption Grammar School for Girls, the building of a new parochial hall, and the laying out of a new cemetery. Historians are now taking a fresh look at the 1930s, M regarded as a decade of increased poverty and hardship, yet in Ballynahinch and other northern towns, a period of decided progress, particularly in house-building and associated projects.

During the 1980s and early 90s, St. Patrick's Church and the entire church-related site were transformed. The church was subject to a major scheme of renovation and extension. Alongside the church, a very impressive parish centre was built, new car-parks were laid out, and the cemetery updated. The Church was re-opened on June 6th. 1993, by Bishop Francis Gerard Brooks who stated that the newly renovated church and adjoining buildings were "a symbol of the living community of Christ's followers."


St. Colman's Church, Dunmore, which was originally dedicated in 1840, was raised in height and extensively renovated in 1955. It was rededicated, following further enhancement, in December 1999. The adjoining presbytery is now used as a youth club.

The construction of St. Colman's Church, Dunmore, located in the hills, four miles south of Ballynahinch, was begun in 1831. The church was completed and dedicated in July 1840. Close by is the site of a Penal Mass Station at Guiness. Also nearby is the site of the ancient Church of Templemoyle in which Mass was celebrated prior to the Reformation. In early days, lighting in St. Colman's was provided by means of a windmill located adjacent to the old parochial house. Mass paths led to the Church from different directions. Similar lane or path networks can still be seen in medieval church sites at Derrynoose, in south Armagh, and at Old Aghagallon, in south-west Antrim.

At one time, Dunmore was attached to the hilly parish of Dromara. The tiny village of Dunmore stood near the ancient Church at Templemoyle. The Church site is situated on a rise beside the Forde river which bounds the site on three sides. A fraction of the original walls remains visible, and local people speak of the small circular cemetery which surrounded the church. Two thorn trees mark the spot where the altar would have stood. This also can be seen at the impressive crannog-like medieval church site at La-Loo, in south-west Antrim. Templemoyle, overall, yields many of the features associated with ancient church-sites throughout Ireland.

St. Colman's Church, which had remained more or less in its original state, was almost completely rebuilt in 1955. The walls were raised by almost six feet. A new apse and sanctuary were built. New stained glass windows were installed. At the re-dedication of St. Colman's, in 1956, the Reverend B.J. Mooney, C.C., Clonduff, (later Dean Mooney, P.P. Seagoe), provided a significant historical background to Dunmore. He stated that from time immemorial the townland of Dunmore had been a centre of Catholic worship. This was going back to the days of Templemoyle about which so little was known, not even its proper name. Templemoyle - teampall maol - means the ruined church. Fr. Mooney added that the original barn used in Dunmore for the celebration of Mass was loaned to the congregation by a Mr. Ritchie, a local Protestant farmer, whose name was rightly remembered and honoured by local people.

In 1998, another major project of restoration and refurbishment was carried out on St. Colman's Church. This particular project involved specialist re-rendering of the walls, complete re-roofing of the church, the installation of new flooring, new confessional areas, redecoration of the church, and updating of all externals, viz. entrance porch, entrance gates and car-park. The re-dedication ceremony on Sunday 12th. December 1999, was conducted by Bishop John McAreavey who concelebrated with Archdeacon Liam Boyle, Canon Joseph O'Hagan, Canon Gerard McCrory, Fr. Brian Brown, Fr. J.J. Cunningham and Fr. Francis Lyons. Canon Aidan Hamill was Master of Ceremonies.


The Church of Christ the King is the youngest of Magheradroll's churches. It opened in 1936 and has served, for almost seventy years, the community which originally grew up around Drumaness Mill.

The Church of Christ the King, Drumaness, was dedicated on its feast day by Dr. Mulhern, Bishop of Dromore, on October 25th. 1936. The preacher was Very Reverend Arthur Ryan, D.D., Queen's University, Belfast. The first Mass in the new Church had been celebrated five months earlier on Sunday 28th. June. Four miles distant from Ballynahinch and five miles distant from Dunmore, it is said that a number of Mass-rocks existed in the Drumaness district. There had been a small local Catholic school in the district, and when it fell into a dilapidated state, Canon McGivern decided to erect a new church as well as a new school. The generosity of parishioners towards the new buildings is recorded in a publication of the year 2000, `A History of the Parish of Magheradroll'. The new Church cost approximately �8,000 and the school, �4,000.

The village of Drumaness had evolved as the result of the opening of a spinning mill, in 1850. As the linen industry flourished, so the mill prospered, and Drumaness emerged as a red-brick settlement like so many other villages and town sectors associated with the linen and cotton trades in east Ulster. The mill closed in 1965.


The development and expansion of the parish had implications for the size and enrolment of local schools. St. Patrick's Primary School, Ballynahinch, evolved from National Schools which were conducted as separate boys' and girls' schools from 1864 to 1958. In 1980-81, a major extension to St. Patrick's was accompanied by the introduction of an array of modern facilities. Drumaness Primary School emerged alongside the Church of Christ the King, in 1939, replacing a two-classroom Public Elementary

School which had also been used for celebrating Sunday Mass. In 1969-70, the school premises were considerably updated with new classrooms, the installation of a modern heating system, and new kitchen facilities. Guiness Primary School, founded in 1848, is a small rural school, staffed for the greater part of its existence by two teachers supported, in recent years, by ancillary staff.

St. Colman's High School, Ballynahinch, was officially opened as a modern Intermediate School by Bishop Eugene O'Doherty on September 6th. 1965. A major three-storey extension was begun in 1989, and officially opened by Bishop Francis Gerard Brooks in March 1991. The cost of the original school was �200,000, and the extension, �1.6 million. A new science block was added in 1998.

Assumption Grammar School, Ballynahinch, is recognised throughout the diocese and beyond as a leading girls' grammar school. The Sisters of the

The Sisters of the Assumption established what was to become the Assumption Grammar School (left), in 1933. St. Colman's High School (right), has served Ballynahinch and a wide hinterland since 1965.

Assumption became a newly formed religious congregation in Paris during the 1880s. At the beginning of the 20th. century, a daughter congregation was formed from a group of nuns who were working among orphans and widows in troubled South Africa. By 1911, this congregation was being led by Mother Baptist McKenny, a native of Ballymacan, outside Ballynahinch. In 1932, Mother Baptist formed a community in Ballynahinch, and soon had gathered a group of postulants, some of whom went to work in South Africa. A local convent was established in 1933, and a school opened with twenty boarders in September that year. Under the name of Assumption High School, the school progressed, and under the important Education Act of 1947, it became known as Assumption Grammar School. In 1960, the enrolment was 250. In 1982 it had risen to 695. By 1994, 860 girls were on roll, and in 2000, the enrolment had increased to 910. The importance of the school to Catholic families throughout County Down is reflected in these enrolment figures and also in the excellence achieved through the broad and specialised curriculum available.


Fr. Francis McKenny was parish priest of Dromara and Magheradroll in 1781-88. He resided in Ballymacarn North, south-west of Ballynahinch, where he held a farm from Lord Moira. When he died in 1788, he was interred in the cemetery adjoining the Church of Ireland in Dromara, which was formerly in Catholic hands. His grave is to the right of the cemetery entrance but the memorial which formerly marked his grave is now buried beneath the soil.

Fr. Alexander McCoy was Parish Priest when the present-day site of St. Patrick's Church became parochial property. The Church was begun in the first decade of the 19th. century when financial and socioreligious constraints were formidable. Father McCoy appears to have been the first Parish Priest of Magheradroll as a separate parish.

Father James Moore was ordained in Newry by Dr. Derry, in 1814, and became Parish Priest in 1821. He died five years later in July 1826. His short pastorate was marked by a deep involvement with the people of the parish. This is reflected in the inscription of the memorial within the church porch which refers to Father Moore as the `revered Parish Priest of Ballynahinch, Dunmore and Annahilt'. The inclusion of Annahilt is indicative of the anomalies which arose in parish and diocesan boundaries during the period, 1810-30, when the Catholic Church was re-grouping and re-organising in the wake of centuries of major constraints.

In the seven-year period, 1836-43, two parish priests served Magheradroll Parish, viz. Fr. Peter Polin and Fr. Henry O'Hagan. The former was a native of Dromara Parish, and the latter emanated from the Parish of Clonduff. Fr. O'Hagan's pastorate in Magheradroll lasted only eighteen months. He died on September 19th. 1833, aged around thirty years, and was interred in Leitrim cemetery. He was renowned for his great learning.

Fr. Daniel Sharkey, who served the parish for thirty-one years, is fondly remembered by this stone located in the side-entrance porch of Ballynahinch Church.

Reverend Daniel Sharkey was appointed to Magheradroll in November 1833, at the age of twenty-four years, just one year after his ordination. In the same year, his brother, Fr. John Sharkey was ordained, and later became Parish Priest of Dromore. During Fr. Daniel Sharkey's pastorate, important structural initiatives were undertaken within the parish, including the rebuilding of Ballynahinch Church which had been severely damaged in the 'Night of the Big Wind.' Fr. Sharkey died on January 6th. 1864, aged 54 years. His brother had passed away five years earlier, also a relatively young man.

Reverend Charles O'Hare was appointed Parish Priest immediately after Fr. Sharkey's death, having served for one year as curate. He had also served as President of St. Colman's College, Newry, for one year, 1850-51. During Fr. O'Hare's stay in the parish, the transepts and tower were added to St. Patrick's Church, and the improvements were so major that the edifice was described as 'a new Church.' Fr. O'Hare died in January 1887, and was interred within Ballynahinch Church.

Reverened John McGrath came to Magheradroll in February 1887. As a young student, he had been in charge of St. Colman's College from September 1851 until April 1853. During the period, there were few students at the college. Fr. McGrath was ordained in 1860 by Dr. Leahy, and served as curate in Newry, Annaclone, Upper Drumgooland, and Rostrevor (1865-67). While in Rostrevor, he was also serving as President of St. Colman's College, where he taught for two and a half years. Students who attended the college when Fr. McGrath was President paid tribute in later life to his scholarship and to his ability as a teacher. He died in January 1897, and was interred within St. Patrick's Church.

Reverend John Doyle, a native of Lower Drumgooland, educated in the Irish College, Salamanca, ordained in Newry, June 1874, was appointed Parish Priest of Magheradroll, in February 1897. He remained in Ballynahinch until his death in January 1931. He was Archdeacon of the diocese from July 1923, and supervised the erection of the new high-altar and side-altars in 1897.

Father Edward McGivern, who had been a very valued curate in L�rgan, 1920-24, became Parish Priest in January 1931, and served until his death in December 1938. During his term, he renovated Ballynahinch Church, improved St. Colman's, Dunmore, and organised the building of the Church of Christ the King, Drumaness.

Canon Michael McCrory, a native of Annaclone and educated at the Irish College in Rome, was ordained in Rome in May 1899. He was appointed Parish Priest in December 1938, and served until 1967, when due to ill health, he resigned his parish. He continued to reside in the parish priest's house in Ballynahinch until a few weeks before his death. He passed away in the Alexian Brothers' Home, Warrenpoint, on December 16th. 1969, when aged 93 years. He had assisted at the blessing and formal opening of the new St. Colman's Secondary Intermediate School, Ballynahinch, in September 1965, one of two new schools erected during his term as Parish Priest.

Canon Alexander McMullan was appointed Parish Priest of Magheradroll on October 18th. 1967. He was a native of Legananny, in the Parish of Leitrim, and emanated from a family renowned for their enormous contribution to the Church in the Dromore Diocese and the Missions, throughout the 20th. century. Before coming to Ballynahinch, Canon McMullan was C.C. Warrenpoint for twenty-three years, and P.P. Dromara for nine years. He died suddenly on Monday 7th. August 1975. The year, 1975, was also marked by the deaths of Canon Thomas Pettit, in St. John of God, Newry, Monsignor Michael Carvill, in Los Angeles,

Father Seamus Moore, in Newry, and of Dean Bernard Mooney, in Warrenpoint. In the same year, Dr. Eugene O'Doherty retired as Bishop of Dromore, and an announcement was made that his successor would be Canon Francis Gerard Brooks, President of St. Colman's College, Newry.

Canon Patrick Smyth was appointed Parish Priest in Ballynahinch, in September 1975. He had been C.C. in Shankill Parish, Lurgan, for twenty-seven years, in the period 1948-75, where his dedication to the parish and parishioners is still recalled. In Ballynahinch, Canon Smyth undertook major projects of extension, renovation and innovation. These included the radical adjustment of the interior of St. Patrick's Church with the inclusion of an array of new features, the erection of a new parish centre, and complementary works in the tiered car-park and cemetery. At the re-opening and dedication of the Church in June 1993, Canon Smyth paid special tribute to Fr. Aidan Hamill, his curate, for the tireless efforts in realising the completion of the huge task of major construction. Upon retirement in August 1993, Canon Patrick Smyth became C.C. Ballela. He passed away on June 26th. 1998, and was interred in Mayobridge four days later. At his funeral Mass, Canon Joseph O'Hagan, then in his 87th. year, preached a memorable and moving panegyric, without notes of any kind, in wonderful tribute to his "lifelong friend."

Father Gerard McCrory, from that part of Shankill Parish, Lurgan. which borders on Lough Neagh, was appointed Parish Priest of Magheradroll in 1993, succeeding Canon Smyth. Fr. McCrory was ordained on June 1 1 th. 1966, and appointed C.C. Donaghmore and in the following year, C.C. Rathfriland. In 1972, his duties were increased by his appointment as Instructor in Religion in Secondary Schools. From 1974 onwards, Fr. McCrory's responsibilities were centred in St. Colman's College, Newry, first as Bursar, then as Spiritual Director and, afterwards as Vice-President. During these years Fr. McCrory played a very important part in furthering vocations to the priesthood, a role to which he brought great commitment. In June 1998, he was appointed a Canon within the Diocesan Chapter.



Fr. Aidan Hamill's support for Canon Patrick Smyth's ministry in Magheradroll exemplifies the role of parish curates. Fr. Brian Brown has contributed similarly to the pastorate of Canon Gerard McCrory. Until recently, the work was shared by Fr. J.J. Cunningham. Fr. John F. McCauley (1940-58) and Fr. Liam Boyle (1958-80) contributed considerable longterm support to parishioners during their stay in Ballinahinch. In the 1930s, there was a Fr. J. Lennon, working in Ballynahinch and another Fr. J. Lennon based in Dunmore. Fr. Joe O' Hagan, Fr. Jim Mooney, Fr. Tom McConville and Fr. Conal O'Donnell were curates in Dunmore in the 1950s and 1960s. In more recent times, Fr. Brendan McAteer, Fr. James O'Hanlon, Fr. Frank Lyons and Fr. Patrick Kelly were based in Dunmore.

The sanctuary of St. Patrick's, Ballynahinch, (left), as it is today. It was transformed by major renovations and re-dedicated in June 1993.

Missionary Sisters of the Assumption have resided in Ballynahinch since 1932. Their convent building is to be incorporated into the campus of the expanding Assumption Grammar School. As a result, the Sisters built a new home in 2003-04. This photograph, (below), was taken in August 2003, on the occasion of the blessing of the site for the new convent. Members of the community are pictured with Sr. Loreto O'Reilly (Superior), Canon Gerry McCrory P.P., who performed the ceremony and representatives of the building contractors, Messrs. Savage and Napier. The new convent was opened by Bishop John McAreavey on 1st. June 2004.