History of the Parish

Information provided by Margaret MacNicol & Photos by Matt Duffy As published in the

“The Way We Were” A Selection of reminiscence and recollections of Cowal.

The New Statistical Account of Scotland (1844) notes that at this period “there are at present, so far as known, only three Roman Catholic’s resident in the United Parishes of Dunoon and Kilmun, Synod of Argyll”: in the years between then and 1862 the numbers had grown significantly, claimed to be as a direct result of Irish in-comers fleeing from the horrors of the Potato Famine. Relationships between Cowal and Ireland had been built up for decades through trade so it is not surprising that for many of the destitue Irish, Cowal would be the place they would turn to for refuge and work. Also to some extent the numbers increased with the seasonal influx of holiday visitors

Original St Mun’s Church 1928

By 1862 a Roman Catholic Parish had been created and Dunoon was served by a Priest from Greenock on alternate Sundays. Largs was in a similar position to Dunoon and was also served by the same Priest on the other Sundays. A house had been purchased by the Church and was used both as a schoolhouse and a place of worship. The main trustee named on the title deeds was a Bishop John Murdoch who was in charge of the Western District of Scotland at that time: when the Scottish Hierarchy was re-established in 1878, Dunoon was then included in the new Diocese of Argyll and the Isles.

 In the meantime a new church was being built on Alfred Street and it opened in 1869, but it was still only served by a Priest from Greenock. However,  during this year the first resident Priest was appointed to Dunoon – Rev. John Black who remained until 1882. That same year a school had been purchased but could not be opened due to lack of means. The Congregation was quite poor and had to appeal for assistance so that they could clear the debt incurred in the enlargement of the church as the resident Catholics in the area now amounted to 240. The Bishop Of Argyll and the Isles at this time was Bishop Angus MacDonald and he gave the Priest, Rev Herman Van Baer, permission to appeal to those who were “blessed with more abundant means” to contribute.

In 1885, after yet another financial struggle, the Church was enlarged and a school built at a total cost of £600. The average number of children attending the school was 43. After the alterations, the Church was re-opened on teh 20th June 1886 by Bishop of the Argyll and Isles. This Church served the people well over the next forty years but by 1925, with numbers still increasing, the accommodation in the church was inadequate. Coupled with this was the concern of the Scottish Education Department who were not happy with the school buildings due to an overall improvement in standards and expectations. So once again the Clergy and the people were faced with the task of providing yet another larger place of worship and a new school.

The Parish Priest at this time was the Very Rev. William Canon MacDonald and in 1926 the present site was purchased at Cragroy and he took up residence in the house in May of that year. The Old church and school were sold to the Education Authority and changed hands in 1929. While the new church was being built the congregation celebrated mass in Dunoon Pavilion and in the chapel house Cragroy.

As residents and visitors remark, the present church is located in very beautiful surroundings between Dunoon and Kirn, near the seafront, with accommodation for 700 people. It is early Gothic in style and is appropiately built in local whinstone, which gives the building and the congregration “a sense of place and belonging” in which to worship. The ceremony of blessing and opening was performed on 3rd May 1931 and to this present day it is in daily use; the number of parishioners has now reached one-thousand.