Bowling Green Road, Castletown, Isle of Man
This modest building is the oldest Catholic church on the Isle of Man. In spite of many changes and renovations over the years, it still retains much of its original character. Of special interest internally are the gallery, with its timber columns, balustrading and pews, and the two Harry Clarke stained glass windows.
St Mary’s is the oldest post-Reformation Roman Catholic church on the island. It was erected in 1826 by Father Mather Gahan SJ, the resident priest at St Bridget’s, Douglas, who came to the island from the Jesuit College at Glongowers Wood in Ireland. He raised the funds for the building on visits to Ireland, the major part being donated by Lady Huntingfield.
The northwest gable blew down in 1829 during a gale whilst the building was still under construction. In 1871 the roof was repaired, and in 1889-90 it was completely re-roofed. At the same time a flat roofed narthex was added and internal renovations were carried out. By 1904 exposure to the weather had caused further problems, and with financial assistance from the Liverpool diocese, the external walls were rendered and marked off with an ashlar pattern.
The church enjoyed the patronage of Daniel Flynn, the first Catholic mayor of Castletown, in the 1920s, who donated the carved stations in 1923, and the two stained glass windows by Harry Clarke of Dublin in 1924 (he had already given the oak altar table in 1906 in memory of his parents). When he died, he left a property in Victoria Road, Castletown for use as a presbytery, but this was sold and the proceeds used to build a new house within the grounds of the church to the design of J.W. Corrin.
Alterations were carried out in 1966-67 by S.F. O’Hanlon, including rendering the walls with cement and spar chippings, and installing central heating. In 1975-76 the interior was re-ordered. The roof structure and coverings were completely replaced in 1981-82, and damaged plaster was renewed. In 1992, further works were carried out by Peter Pozzoni, when the lean-to roof was added to the narthex and the sanctuary was re-ordered.
St Mary’s is a simple building, typical of Irish chapels of the early 19th century, with a rectangular plan and Y-traceried lancet windows. It has been suggested that the architect was T. Brine, who designed Lorne House in Castletown, but it is more likely that it was built by local masons without the involvement of an architect.
The walls are built of local stone, coated with a spar dash render, and the roof is tiled. The entrance is via a small narthex addition, leading into the rectangular worship area which has a west gallery supported on shafted timber columns. Three lancet windows to each side wall and two at gallery level light the interior, two of which were fitted with good Arts and Crafts stained glass in 1924 by Harry Clarke of Dublin. The flat ceiling was replaced in 1981, but the deep cornice with trefoils and shamrocks survives.
When the church was re-ordered in the 1980s and 90s, the Puginesque reredos and altar rails were removed, but the oak altar table survives. The pews were introduced in the mid 20th century, but those in the gallery are original. Behind the sanctuary is a collection of small rooms on three levels, including a sacristy, library, first floor toilet and kitchen. Originally these were used as a caretaker’s flat.
Architect: Not established, but said to be T. Brine
Original Date: 1826
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed