by Michael Keenan


Burren Church was originally opened in 1833. It preceded the present churches in Mayobridge and Warrenpoint and was, for several years, the Parish Church of Clonallon.

The present church in Burren was erected by Rev. Peter Murphy, Administrator of the Parish of Clonallon, during the years I829 to 1833. The dedication ceremony was performed by Bishop Michael Blake. A notable feature of this project was the grant by the Hall Family (who were not Catholic) of an acre of ground to accommodate the church and burial ground. A donation of �50 towards expenses was also made. It was on this occasion that the Administrator wrote to the Newry Examiner, on I7th. November I830, publicly acknowledging the gift and thanking the Hall Family. In this same letter it was revealed that Mass was already being said at Burren in the open air. Various alterations and decorations were made to the church from time to time, the most extensive taking place in 1939-40, while Rev. Daniel McAlister was Administrator of Clonallon.


The 13th. November 1983 was a very special day for Burren as the people of the district gathered to celebrate the 150th. Anniversary of the dedication of St. Mary's Church. However, the smell of incense had barely left St. Mary's before many of this same congregation returned some nine weeks later for an even bigger and more significant celebration - certainly one with exciting long-term ramifications!


Yes, the 25th. January 1984 saw a new beginning as St. Mary's Parish, Clonallon came into being.

The Diocesan records state: "The new parish erected in the district of Burren is to be known as St. Mary's Clonallon, consisting of the townland of Aghavilla, Aughnamoira, Ballydesland, Ballyrussel, Burren, Carrickmacstay, Clontifleece, Corrags, Donaghaguy, Lurgancanty, Milltown and the part of Tamnaharry which lies south of a line joining the point where the townlands of Tamnaharry, Aughnagon and Milltown meet to the point known as Carnane on Slieve Carnane on the border of Tamnaharry and Clontifleece townlands."

Simultaneously, the parish of St. Patrick's Clonallon, in the district of Mayobridge, was also erected. However, this tripartite division of the former parish of Clonallon was not as yet complete. The status quo with regard to financial arrangements was to be maintained to allow for a `settling-down' period of five years. During this period, projects were to be nominated, agreed and financed from what was known as `the common fund.'


With these logistical arrangements in place, Fr. James Woods, who had been curate in Burren since 18th. November, 1977, was inducted as St. Mary's first parish priest on the 26th. January, I984. Under his leadership, the final project agreed under `the common fund' was the construction of a much-needed parochial house. It would replace the original two-storey building, erected in 1926 under the direction of Rev. Daniel McAlister, Adm.

As time passed, the fledgling parish grew numerically and it matched that with a growing confidence. The infrastructure of the parish was critically examined and a badly-needed car park (on the site of the original Parochial House and orchard) was provided. The graveyard was, in due course, almost doubled in size, a new church organ was installed, the church lighting and sound systems were refurbished and the church bell was electrified.

Shortly before his retirement, Fr. Woods took the bold step of setting up a pastoral committee as part of a parish council. The Pastoral Committee assumed responsibility for innovative liturgies, while the Finance Committee had a watching brief on structural, fabric and fiscal matters.

The 20th. June 1988 and I998 were very special days for Very Rev. Fr. Woods as he joined with family, friends and parishioners to celebrate the Ruby and Golden Jubilees of his priestly ordination.

However, three years after celebrating his Golden Jubilee, Fr. Woods tendered his resignation as parish priest to Bishop McAreavey and thus his pastorate of over 23 years in Burren came to a close. At a function to mark his retirement, his tangible achievements were recounted. More importantly, however, the occasion provided an opportunity for his grateful parishioners to express their gratitude for the many unheralded moments when he had offered solace and comfort in the midst of family illness, trauma and tragedy.

Father Woods passed away on May 7th. 2003 in Drumboniff, Cabra. The parishioners of Burren demonstrated the high esteem in which they held their former parish priest, by their attendance at the removal of his remains, the Funeral Mass in St. Mary's Church, Burren, and the interment afterwards in the adjoining cemetery.


Despite Fr. Woods' achievements, his successor, Fr. Charles Byrne, found pressing problems on his arrival in September 2001 and got to work without delay. At his first meeting with the Finance Committee the condition of the church was discussed. Within a month, a firm of architects had been appointed and plans for a major refurbishment were discussed and eventually approved by the Parish Council. Remarkably then, only two years after Fr. Byrne's arrival, with the loan negotiated and a contract for over �700,000 signed, St. Mary's closed its doors to its parishioners on September 1st. 2003 to await a total renovation. In the interim, Carrick Primary School became the venue for weekend Masses, while weekday Mass was celebrated in the Parochial House. Despite certain reservations beforehand, it could be observed in retrospect that deprivation and inconvenience can sometimes have a fortifying influence on the faithful.

A major renovation project culminated in the rededication of St. Mary's Church, by Bishop McAreavey, in May 2004. The refurbished sanctuary is shown here.

Be that true or not, exhilaration and a sense of parish pride were very much in evidence on Sunday May 9th. 2004 when His Lordship Dr. John McAreavey, blessed and rededicated the beautifully restored St. Mary's.

And so, twenty years after the formation of the parish, Burren has cleverly retained, restored and, at the same time, tastefully modernised a house of God appropriate for the third millennium.

In the last twenty years the parish population has almost trebled, now comprising approximately six-hundred families. This places Burren as the fastest growing parish in the Dromore Diocese and this demographic trend seems set to continue. Consequently, the pastoral challenge to Fr. Byrne and his parish is to ensure that these new families are welcomed and absorbed into the Christian family that is Burren Parish.


Clontifleece Primary School

When the parish of St. Mary's was erected, Clontifleece Primary School was in its one hundred and forty-fifth year, having been established by Narcissus Batt Esq. in I839 as Clontifleece National School. In 1984, the school was in sound health, numerically, with 84 pupils enrolled. However, due to several factors, ten years later the enrolled numbers had plummeted below the Department of Education's viability threshold. A notice of intention to close was, consequently, issued to the Board of Governors in November 1994.

The Board of Governors discussed the notice and decided to disclose its contents to the parents. An open meeting of parents was urgently convened and Mr. Eddie McGrady M.P. was subsequently consulted. On his advice, a parents committee was formed and representatives of this committee accompanied Mr. McGrady to a meeting with Mr. Michael Ancram, the then Minister of Education.

As a result, the decision to close was rescinded in June 1995 and a new era dawned for Clontifleece School. Happily, today, Clontifleece's viability is secure with 64 pupils currently enrolled and there has been more good news for the school recently. In April 2003 the Department of Education approved a two-classroom extension, to replace two existing mobiles, and some other minor improvements to the school. This work is currently in progress.

Clontifleece School began in 1839. It continues to serve its rural hinterland and is currently undergoing a significant extension.

Carrick Primary School

If Clontifleece Primary School experienced difficulties (albeit temporary) in enrolment, the same could certainly not be said of Carrick School. When Burren became a parish, there were approximately 175 pupils and six teachers in Carrick. Today, reflecting the phenomenal growth in the population of its catchment area, there are 330 pupils and fourteen teachers. However, half the school population are housed in mobile classrooms. Due to accommodation pressures, the library, over the past few years, had taken on many roles. Happily, it is now restored to its true function and was dedicated, on the 16th. April 2003, to the memory of former principal Mr. Patsy McArdle.

Ironically, just as the renovation of the chapel was being completed and feverish preparations were being made for the reopening, good news arrived from the Department of Education. On Tuesday 27th. April 2004, Barry Gardiner, Minister for Education, announced the capital building programme of �222 million for schools in Northern Ireland. Carrick Primary School, Burren, will receive �3.4 million for a new school on an adjacent site. The good news is a result of the Board of Governors' application to DENI a number of years ago. Due to the growing enrolment in the school, DENI acknowledged the request by carrying out a feasibility study. The study endorsed the need for a new school and a project manager was appointed to assist the governors in selecting a design team. `Isherwood and Ellis' were selected and they drew up a number of options for DENI to consider. A new school, on an adjacent site, was the preferred option and this was approved by DENI. The governors, staff and pupils of Carrick Primary School look forward to opening the doors to their new school in the not-too-distant future!

At the centre of Burren is Carrick Primary School. The school, which opened in 1939, is looking forward to a complete new building.


This brief history of the Burren Parish began with the Mass of Thanksgiving to mark the 150th anniversary of the dedication of St. Mary's Church. It is appropriate then to conclude with a reference to a darker chapter in the faith formation of the area now known as Burren Parish.

It was a chapter that entailed poverty, privation and persecution. Yet it was one that evoked resistance, resolution and resilience among a threatened people -a people to whom the church of today owes an inestimable debt. Relics of that historic epoch provide us with, not only a place of pilgrimage in Burren, but also a treasured artefact used during the Mass of Celebration to mark the 150th. Anniversary, in November 1983.

In 1641 the church at Clonallon was destroyed. The view subsequently, from Irwin's Ring (Plantation Hill) was a horrific vista of destruction, as the surrounding lands were "put to the torch." The physical pressure on the local inhabitants inevitably took its toll - but there was insidious pressure too!

With Clonallon Church rebuilt in the early 1700s, those who accepted the Reformation doctrines worshipped under its roof. Those who resolutely refused had to withstand the snow, hail, wind and rain to attend Mass at the local Mass Stations at Bullock Hill and Lisnahoney.

The Mass Station at Lisnahoney still survives and pilgrimages to Mass there have been organised, in recent years, to mark special occasions. It is situated on Thomas Treanor's land, close to the entrance to Tamnaharry House. Not only does the station survive but so, too, does a chalice used in those Masses of almost 300 years ago. This seventeenth century pewter chalice known as `The Lisnahoney Chalice', is an historic relic and is preserved in the Bishop's House, Newry. It was brought to Burren for the Mass to mark the 150th Anniversary of the dedication of St. Mary's Church.


The people of Burren gathered in large numbers for this Mass at Lisnahoney on 5th. October 1980. The celebration was led by (L. to R.), Archdeacon Hugh Esler, Fr. Frank Treanor and Fr. Bernard Treanor.

In the year 1927, Tamnaharry Park became a convent when the (Irish) Dominican Sisters of South Africa purchased the property from a Mrs. Bradley. The new Convent Chapel of Our Lady of the Assumption was dedicated, and its High Altar consecrated, by Bishop Mulhern on 24th. May, 1939. Very Rev. Dr. P. Clery O.P., Dublin, preached the dedication sermon. By 1945, the Sisters had acquired a new novitiate in Co. Kildare and, in that year, they were succeeded in Tamnaharry by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition. This congregation of nuns was founded in

France, by Saint Emilie de Vislar, about the middle of the 19th. Century. The Sisters had several houses in England, where they specialized in nursing and in the care of the aged. They were also to be found at their work of nursing and teaching on all five continents - in Australia, America, Asia (in Burma, Syria and Palestine), Africa, and in France (where their Motherhouse was situated in Marseilles). At Tamnaharry, postulants were received and spent some time before going to the Novitiate in Liverpool. The aged were also a special care of the Sisters, and many an elderly lady found a real "home from home" at Tamnaharry. The house remained in religious hands until 1969, when the Morton Family of Banbridge bought it. In October, 1980, Tamnaharry was sold on to Mr. J. O'Neill, a haulage contractor. To-day, the magnificent old house and grounds belong to the Downey Family, owners of several restaurants and club businesses in Newry.

These children had gathered for the May Procession at Tamnaharry Convent in 1954. Present, that day, were these Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition. Members of their Order resided at Tamnaharry from 1945 until 1969.


Fr. John Carr resided at Tamnaharry Park during the years 1925-27. He ministered in the Burren area. The need for a presbytery for Burren was being pursued by Clonallon Parish at this time.

The foundation stone of the old presbytery at Burren was laid by Dr. Mulhern on February 23rd., 1926.

The Rev. Henry Doran was the first curate resident in this presbytery, from  1927 until 1932. He was succeeded by:

Rev. Joseph Byrne 1932 - 1941
Rev. Patrick Francis Boyd 1941 - 1951
Rev. Daniel Joseph Fegan 1951 - 1955
Rev, John J. Brannigan 1955 - 1959
Rev. Thomas Mooney 1959 - 1963
Rev. Hugh Connolly 1964 - 1968
Rev. Arthur Byrne 1968 - 1975
Rev. James Woods 1977 - 1984

The old presbytery was replaced, during the pastorate of Fr. Woods, in 1990-91.