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Historic Building Details

HB Ref No:

Extent of Listing:

Date of Construction:
1860 - 1879

Address :
St Mary's Roman Catholic Church Chapel Lane Belfast Co Antrim BT1 1HH

Town Parks

Survey 2:

Date of Listing:
26/06/1979 00:00:00

Date of De-listing:

Current Use:

Former Use

Conservation Area:

Industrial Archaeology:





OS Map No:

IG Ref:
J3364 7435

Owner Category

Church - RC

Exterior Description And Setting

Free-standing double-height rendered Catholic church with symmetrical red brick Romanesque-style gabled front, dated 1868 to the designs of John O’Neill, incorporating an earlier church built c.1783 with apse and sacristy added to the rear c.1940 to the designs of Padraig Gregory. Rectangular on plan facing east onto Chapel Lane with a landscaped garden and grotto to the north dated 1954. Pitched natural slate roof with roll-moulded black clay ridge tiles, metal ventilation cowls and set behind slightly raised gables to either end having moulded sandstone coping surmounted by a cross finial. Semi-conical natural slate roof to apse with lead ridge and replacement metal rainwater goods. Ogee-moulded cast-iron guttering on iron drive-through brackets and metal downpipes. Two squat square-plan towers to the front rise above the roof line having pyramidal slate roofs with lead ridges and ogee-moulded cast-iron guttering to corbelled red brick eaves. Red brick walls to the entrance front laid in Flemish bond with flush double-baked brick courses and a red brick plinth course with moulded masonry trim. Painted ruled-and-lined rendered walls and projecting rendered plinth course to the nave and apse abutted by stepped rendered buttresses with a robust sandstone string course spanning the space between. Round-headed window openings with chamfered surrounds, flush chamfered sills and leaded stained glazing with storm glazing. Gabled red brick east front elevation flanked by a pair of square-plan triple-height towers and an oversized rose window over a squat round-headed bipartite decorative entrance. The towers have a full-height recessed panel, corbelled below the eaves with a round-headed lancet window to the lower and middle stages with flush sandstone sills and bull-nosed reveals. Above the ground floor level, spanning the entire elevation is a decorative sandstone stiff-leaf course. The gable contains a round-headed niche supported on slender colonettes and containing a figurative statue of St. Mary. Large rose window to the gable formed in stepped chamfered red and black brick with radiating colonettes, leaded stained glazing and outer storm glazing. Painted sandstone doorcase comprises a pair of round-headed door openings with vertically-sheeted timber doors and bowtel arches rising from squat green marble columns with elaborate stiff-leaf capitals surmounted by an oval niche housing a statue of St. Mary and flanking seraphims to the spandrels. The entire entrance is framed by a further bowtel arch with chevron moulding and outer hood moulding also rising from a pair of green marble columns. Over the doorcase is a date stone in the form of a Potent cross stating; ‘FIDEM / SERVAVI / 1783 / 1868 / 1941’. South nave elevation is ten windows wide. Rear gable abutted by double-height apse and flat-roofed single-storey extensions housing vestry and utilities. North nave elevation is ten windows wide with a shallow projecting side entrance porch to the eastern end having a round-headed door opening with double-leaf sheeted timber door. North nave fronts onto landscaped area. Setting Fronting onto Chapel Lane with an enclosed garden to the north nave laid out as the
setting to the Lourdes Grotto at its west end (dated 1954) and enclosed to the street by cast-iron railings on red brick and stone plinth wall with matching iron gates. Roof: Natural slate RWG: Cast-iron Walling: brick/render Windows: stained glass


O'Neil, John

Historical Information

St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, originally a late-18th century chapel dating from 1783, was effectively rebuilt in 1868 resulting in the current building possessing a redbrick facade. The first edition of the Ordnance Survey map for Belfast (1832-33) depicted the original church as a rectangular-shaped building that was pushed back from the street line; in 1819 the Belfast Street Directory recorded that St. Mary’s Chapel was the first Roman Catholic place of worship to be constructed in Belfast after the repeal of the Penal Laws in the late-18th century. The directory notes that the original chapel was constructed in 1783 and cost £1,200; the first Pastor was the Rev. Hugh O’Donnell (Belfast Street Directory – 1819). The Townland Valuations of c. 1830 valued the chapel at £34, whilst Lewis’ contemporary Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) noted that Belfast was the seat of the Roman Catholic see of Down and Connor and that St. Mary’s was one of only two ‘spacious chapels’ in the city at the time (the other being the original St. Patrick’s Church on Donegall Street – HB26/50/077). St. Mary’s Chapel was continued to be utilised until the mid-19th century and under Griffith’s Valuation (1860) the value of the chapel, and its associated sexton’s house, had been greatly increased to £120. The Irish Builder records that in 1868 John O’Neill was contracted to carry out improvements to the existing chapel; O’Neill (1828-1883) was a Belfast-based architect who was originally a Presbyterian but converted to Catholicism in 1828. In 1862 O’Neill supervised the completion of St. Peter’s Cathedral in West Belfast; throughout his career O’Neill carried out a number of contracts for the Catholic Church including schoolhouses, convents, Presbytery’s and church buildings. Although originally contracted to improve the pre-existing church, O’Neill’s Romanesque design required the effective rebuilding of the late-18th century chapel. The completed church was brought forward to the street line and as a result the sexton’s house was demolished at that time; the builder contracted to carry out O’Neill’s design was John Connor & Sons of York Street whilst the altar was made by Thomas Earp of London. St. Mary’s Church, now a Romanesque house of worship possessing a redbrick facade and twin towers (originally the southern tower reached a height of 90ft, however this was reduced in height in 1941) (Irish Builder, p. 182; Dictionary of Irish Architects). St. Mary’s Church was decreased in value to £190 under the Belfast Revaluation (1900); in 1924 the trustees of the church erected a church hall valued at £41. There was no alteration to the value of either building until the First General Revaluation of property in Northern Ireland which increased the value of the church to £285 and its hall to £60. In the years prior and during the Second World War a number of alterations were carried out to the church building; in 1936 general improvement work was undertaken to restore the almost-70 year old structure, and in 1940-41, the 90ft tower was removed whilst a new staircase, apse, confessionals and sacristy were installed by Patrick (Padraig) Bernard Gregory (1886-1967) whom the Dictionary of Irish Architects describes as ‘a committed Catholic, he designed many Catholic churches throughout Northern Ireland’ (Irish Builder, 1936, p. 993; 1940, p. 82). A further addition was carried out in 1954 when the adjoining Lourdes Grotto and campanile were installed in 1954 (also by Gregory). No valuation of the church was carried out for over two decades due to the disruption caused by the war; however under the Second Revaluation (1956-72) the joint value of the church, and its hall, were increased to £1,208. Prior to the construction of St. Mary’s, the first Roman Catholic chapel in the city, the Catholic population of Belfast met on the outskirts of the town at Friar’s Bush and later at Squeeze-gut Entry off Castle Street. The official opening of the chapel took place on 30th May 1784 when the Irish Volunteers (1st Belfast Company) lined the chapel yard and escorted the parish priest, Hugh O’Donnell, to the first mass in the new building; in raising the funds for the new edifice, many contributions came from the protestant citizens of Belfast (Patton, p. 59). St. Mary’s Church has been described as ‘the mother church of Roman Catholicism in Belfast,’ however Larmour states that nothing of the original 1783 chapel is now visible under the alterations of 1868 and 1936-41. The original chapel was described by the Rev. Rogers as possessing a three-bay pedimented facade with projecting single-bay wings on each side of the entrance; the chapel was opened on 30th May 1784 (Rogers, pp 22-23). Brett states that despite the reconstruction of the mid-19th century, St. Mary’s ‘borrows a respectable antiquity from its predecessor,’ however he criticised the current building as ‘a simple barn-like church with a pitch-pine hammer-beam roof ... of little distinction.’ Brett also disliked the adjoining Grotto and Campanile of 1954 which he described as ‘dreary and waste the opportunities of an unusual site whose garden court opened up considerable opportunities’ (Brett, p. 41). The three-stage belfry tower, which had been erected at the south side of the church facade in 1868-69, was removed in 1941 as part of the work undertaken by Patrick Gregory; Patton states that the belfry was removed due to safety concerns and was replaced by a tower identical to that on the northern side of the entrance (Patton, p. 59). St. Mary’s Church was listed in 1979 and since that time has continued to be utilised as a place of worship located in the centre of the city, an important site in the history of Catholic Belfast. References Primary Sources 1. PRONI OS/6/1/61/1 – First Edition Ordnance Survey Map 1832-33 2. PRONI OS/6/1/61/2 – Second Edition Ordnance Survey Map 1858 3. PRONI OS/6/1/61/3 – Third Edition Ordnance Survey Map 1901-02 4. PRONI OS/6/1/61/4 – Fourth Edition Ordnance Survey Map 1931 5. PRONI OS/6/1/61/5 – Fifth Edition Ordnance Survey Map 1938 6. PRONI VAL/2/B/7/5B – Griffith’s Valuation 1860 7. PRONI VAL/12/B/43/E/1-24 – Annual Revisions 1862-1930 8. PRONI VAL/7/B/12/2 – Belfast Revaluation 1900 9. PRONI VAL/3/B/3/18 – First General Revaluation of Northern Ireland 1935 10. PRONI VAL/4/B/7/37 – Second General Revaluation of Northern Ireland 1956-72 11. Belfast Street Directories (1819-1943) 12. Irish Builder, Vol. 11 (1 Jan 1869); Vol. 78 (31 Oct 1936); Vol. 82 (31 Aug 1940) 13. First Survey Record – HB26/50/109 (1976) 14. First Survey Image – HB26/50/109 (1976) Secondary Sources 1. Brett, C. E. B., ‘Buildings of Belfast: 1700-1914’ Belfast: Friar’s Bush Press, 1985. 2. Larmour, P., ‘Belfast: An illustrated architectural guide’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1987. 3. Patton, M., ‘Central Belfast: An historical gazetteer’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1993. 4. Rogers, P., ‘The story of old St. Mary’s’ Belfast: Harpers Ltd, 1955. Online Resources 1. Dictionary of Irish Architects -

Criteria for Listing

Architectural Interest

A. Style B. Proportion C. Ornamentation D. Plan Form H+. Alterations enhancing the building I. Quality and survival of Interior

Historic Interest

X. Local Interest Y. Social, Cultural or Economic Importance V. Authorship


Free-standing double-height rendered Catholic church with symmetrical red brick Romanesque-style gabled front, dated 1868 to the designs of John O’Neill, incorporating an earlier church built c.1783 with apse and sacristy added to the rear c.1940 to the designs of Padraig Gregory. The eighteenth-century church is of significance as the first Catholic church in Belfast made possible by generous support from the Protestant community. While the present front elevation dates from the late nineteenth-century, the earlier structure was incorporated into the existing church, although its character is now Victorian. Much historic fabric and detailing survive, representing the changing aspirations of the congregation. This church is a good example of the type and unusual in the City centre.

General Comments

Date of Survey

28 November 2012