Church of The Immaculate Heart of Mary

Weekday Masses:
Monday-Friday: 9.30am
Saturday Morning: 10am
Saturday Vigil: 6 pm
Sunday: 9am, 10.30am & 12 noon
Holy Days Vigil 7pm & 9:30am
Ash Wednesday 9.30am & 7pm

about Church of The Immaculate Heart of Mary

Parish History

Many Parishes in Ireland claim to have been founded by St. Patrick and Drumbo is no exception. The only trace of that Church which became extinct about 1600 is the stump of a round tower in the Presbyterian churchyard in Drumbo village. But that ancient monastic settlement has given us at least one saint, the Abbott Mochumma, commemorated in the stain glass window behind and to the right of the altar in our present Church.

For three centuries no Mass was celebrated in this area of north Down. But with the construction of the Knockbracken reservoir about 1900 there was an influx of Catholic workers. A large wooden building served as a school for the workers’ children during the day and Mass was celebrated on a Sunday. It was known as “The Dam School”. Purdysburn Hospital opened about this time and Mass was celebrated by priests from the Lisburn parish. The first official record of the hospital Mass is given as Sunday, 24th June 1900 when the celebrant was Father A.J. Neeson.

1940 saw the requistioning of the workshops of P.J. Walls by the British War Office, the site extended and used as an army camp – The British replaced by the Americans, the Americans in turn by the Gibraltarians – and during this time the local Catholic residents being allowed into the army camp for the celebration of Sunday Mass.

Then came the decision of the late Bishop Mageean to re-establish the Parish of Drumbo after a lapse of 350 years- a decision prompted by the gift of an acre of land by the late Patrick Mallon of the Ivanhoe (then the ‘Halfway House’) as a site for a Church. Father Daniel McFerran, a native of Dunloy, was appointed its first Parish Priest. What a daunting task he faced! – no Church, no school, no house, no hope of a building license, no building materials and no money!

The story of how he traveled from Parish to Parish throughout the Diocese of Down and Connor begging for funds is well known and so successful was he that on 22nd May 1945 Bishop Mageean blessed and laid the foundation stone of the new Church. On that occasion an altar boy assisted him by the name of Patrick Walsh- now Bishop Walsh. On 30th June 1946 the new Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was dedicated and solemly blessed by Bishop Mageean. The guest preacher was Rev. C.B. Daly M.A. D.D. – now Cardinal Daly.

But the strenous task undertaken by Fr. McFerran told on his health and in 1949 the Bishop sent him a helper, a newly ordained Priest – Fr. McCorry. Fr. McFerran’s health continued to deteriorate and he died on 21st January 1951 at the early age of 46 and was buried in the Church grounds.

On the 16th April 1951 Fr. John McPhillips was appointed the new P.P. of a Parish that boasted 50 families – 184 parishioners.Who can forget him? Immaculately dressed, highly articulate, scholarly, aloof, meticulous in everything he did! A Priest not always appreciated – one who did not suffer fools gladly! For the next 18 years he guided – some would say dominated- Drumbo through a very difficult period. St. Joseph’s school opened in 1955 with an enrolment of 47 pupils. To finance it, he held a succession of ballots in 1954,’55,’56. Tickets went out to every corner of Ireland and beyond. He used slogans like ‘The only Parish in Ireland without a school!’ ‘ No Catholic school in 70sq. miles of North Down!’ And it paid handsome dividends. He claimed the distinction of being the first clergyman in Ireland to be prosecuted for his efforts to provided a school for his Parish. “I shall not easily forget the day that I sat in Newtownbreda Petty Sessions between two thieves knowing that I ran a good chance of leaving the court declared under the existing law to be a public rogue and a vagabond”.

In December 1960 the Parish briefly caught the limelight. The Dialogue Mass on Sunday 4th December had the honour of being the first Mass ever televised in Ireland.

On Easter Monday, 27th March 1967, Fr. Patrick McGivern S.M.A., whose mother and family live at Newtown Park in the Parish, celebrated his first Mass.

When Fr. McPhillips left Drumbo in 1969 he had added four new classrooms together with an Assembly hall and kitchen to the expanding St. Joseph’s; he had planned the cemetery, he had played a prominent part in establishing St. Augustine’s in the Ravenhill Road and he had introduced ‘planned giving’- leaving the Parish in a healthy financial state for his successor.

And that successor came from St. Malachy’s College – a Doctor of Canon Law, a Classists, fluent in a number of languages. Dr Joseph Cunningham (now Canon Cunningham) but still affectionately known as the ‘wee Doc’. Within months he knew everyone (including children) by name and we envied him his photographic memory. His first task was to improve the Church heating. Later he extended the lay-by and improved car parking facilities around the Church. He added four new Classrooms to the expanding St. Joseph’s and erected a large mobile to cater for the youth. The Parent Teacher Association was founded in the early seventies and he never failed to turn up at functions in the school hall or the annual dance in the Drumkeen Hotel. Perhaps it was fitting that he should leave Drumbo to become P.P. of its parent Parish Lisburn.

In 1978 Fr. Joseph Campbell arrived and Vatican II swept through Drumbo like a whirlwind. The Sanctuary was re-arranged and we sang to the accompaniment of a new organ. Suddenly we had readers, Eucharistic Ministers, an Offertory procession, House Masses and Pastoral Council. Gabriel, our Bell, called us to Prayer and a monthly publication – ” The Link” kept us in touch with our history and Parish events. But, in our eyes at least, his greatest achievement was the building of the Parish Hall. In all his work he was assisted by our first C.C. Fr. Edward O’Donnell and later by Fr. Brian Daly. Drumbo was coming of age.

In September of ’85 St. Joseph’s had a new Principal and the following January we had a new P.P., Fr. Campbell having gone to St. Michael’s. Fr. Brian Brady had been with us a mere 8 months when tradegy hit Drumbo. We had learned that he had taken suddenly ill when holidaying in America and a couple of days later we were given the sad news by Fr. Brian Daly. In those short months this gentle giant of a man had endeared himself to his parishioners and it was a sad day when we laid his remains to rest in Glenariffe cemetery in the shadow of Trostan.

But he had left us two legacies. For the first time in its history the Church had an efficient heating system. I quote from what might have been his last homily: – ” I trust that the unusual glow of warmth in this building today will modify the frosty subject on which I feel I must address you – Money.”

His second legacy – he had left a copy of his homilies.

Co. Derry gave us our next parish priest, Fr. Felix McGuckin, who arrived in November in 1986 – ‘the year of the 3 Parish Priests.’ During his time in Drumbo the Catholic population increased dramatically (see table below) with serious consequences for the existing church building which had accomodation for just over 200 people. The population increase had similar consequences for the parish primary school which had only 10 classrooms..

Year Estimated Catholic Population. Enrolment in St. Joseph’s
1946 100 No school
1966 600 140
1986 2,500 350
2002 6,000 820

Within a short space of time a number of Sunday Masses were transferred to the (larger) parish hall and the first of the now familiar mobile classrooms arrived. It was obvious that new and larger accommodation was required and, in 1993, there was great delight and anticipation when it was announced that land had been purchased for a new church.

Fr. McGuckin worked diligently to progress the design and development of the new church but encountered many obstacles on the way, mainly of a red tape variety. Father, a single-minded and determined individual, persevered through all the difficulties. Finally, in November 2002 the beautiful new Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was opened, blessed and dedicated by his Lordship, Bishop Patrick Walsh who had served as an altar boy at the opening of the original church in 1946.

Because of insurance requirements and modern Health & Safety regulation few people had seen the inside of the new building. The interior ceilings and furniture, fabricated from Brazilian oak, the large glass roof and excellent workmanship and the colorful stained glass windows combined to offer a bright yet serene environment. The general consensus was that it was a beautiful edifice that the priests and parishioners could be rightly proud of and a building whose light, colour and quietude would lend itself to personal reflection and commmunication with God.

The church is a great credit to Fr.McGuckin, his assistants, the architects and builders and a great boon to the parishioners who were never quite comfortable in the secular atmosphere of the parish hall.

Outline planning permission has been obtained and money has been allocated for a new school, St. Ita’s, off the Purdysburn Road. As soon as this school is operational the present St. Joseph’s school will be demolished and a new school built on the site. The problem of school overcrowding is now well on the way to satisfactory resolution.

During his years in Drumbo Fr. McGuckin was ably assisted by Fr.Brian Daly, Fr. Aidan Keenan, Fr. Paul Symonds and Fr. Fearghal McGrady.

In August 2003 Fr. McGuckin was transferred to his old parish in Antrim where he is serving, in semi-retirement, as assistant priest. The same month saw the arrival of our new parish priest, Father McCartney, or, as he prefers, Fr.Sean. Fr. Sean is a follower of sport and is a keen golfer – he also plays a mean hand of bridge. With Fr.McGrady and a relatively new assistant priest, Monsignor Thomas Bartley, he forms an active parish team. A different personality from his predecessor, Fr.Sean has stamped his own character on the parish. He has appointed a new organist and choirmaster, has recruited new Ministers of the Word and new Ministers of the Eucharist, has carried out a detailed parish information survey and established a parish commmunications committee.

Fr McGrady a very popular priest, especially with the primary school children has recently been promoted to Parish Priest of Deriaghy parish near Lisburn and, although there is a feeling of sadness at our loss, we offer him our congratulations and best wishes for a successful ministry in his new parish. We also welcome his successor Fr. Brian Watters, a newly ordained priest from Killyleagh.

A sincere thanks to all our priests and helpers, past and present. We are eternally grateful. God and his holy mother bless them.