The first Catholic church built in Largs since the Reformation opened in School Street 1869. Before that date, Mass was celebrated at irregular intervals in the homes of the few Catholics in the town by a priest travelling from Saltcoats or Greenock by pony and trap. One Mass venue was the Noodle Bridge tollhouse, home of toll-keeper Con Gallagher whose decendants are still members of St Mary’s.
The new church, seating 150, was dedicated to St Mary, Star of the Sea, but quickly became known as St Mary’s or “the wee church”. For many years, the whole congregation in the winter months could be accommodated on one side of the church. In the summer, however, the church overflowed with holiday visitors and, after the First World War, as many as five Masses were needed on Sundays. Clearly, a larger church was needed.
At that time, the Largs priest was responsible for providing Sunday Mass at St Joseph’s and St Patrick’s, Wemyss bay and also Millport during the summer until eventually a resident priest was appointed to the island. Priests from St Aloysius College, Glasgow, helped to provide these services. In the 1920s in the winter months, Sunday Mass was celebrated one Sunday at 9am at Largs and 11.30am at Wemyss Bay. The next Sunday, the times would be reversed so that each congregation could enjoy a ‘sleep-in’ every second Sunday.
While Fr Joseph Doherty was parish priest, 1923 – 1933, a site in School Street and Boyd Street was bought for a future church. Various functions were held to raise money to pay for the land, which cost about £3,000 and to start a building fund for the future church.
During the Second World War, Fr Patrick Clark and then Fr Clement McGowan had to provide for the spiritual needs of Naval and Army personnel and also for the people who came to Largs after the Greenock blitz. Barrfields Pavilion and the Moorings Ballroom at the pier provided space for Mass for the greatly increased numbers. In 1942, Barrfields was requisitioned for use as a seaplane repair base but after the war it was again used for Sunday Masses.
After the war, too, fund-raising for the new church resumed. In the 1950s, Canon McGowan learned that Burnmouth, a house on an impressive sea-front site, might become available. The Galloway Diocese bought the property for a bargain price of under £5,000. It was a real answer to prayer.
In 1960, Mass was again said at the Moorings Ballroom when fire seriously damaged the church. Young Catholic residents and holiday-makers would attend a crowded dance on Saturday evening and return for a crowded Mass in the same place on Sunday morning.
The new church of St Mary, Star of the Sea opened on 24 June 1962 with Pontifical High Mass celebrated by the Bishop of Galloway, the Right Reverend Joseph McGee. The building, which seats 590, cost about £80,000 and most of the furnishings were donated by members of the congregation. It is unlikely that such a building could be built and furnished today for under a million pounds.
Soon after Fr Boyd became parish priest in 1977, the sanctuary was reordered to meet the liturgical requirements of the Second Vatican Council and a new baptismal font and lectern were added. Some time later, the fine tapestry for the back wall of the sanctuary was commissioned from the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Studio.
The church hall opened in 1980, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults was introduced in 1985 and the Renew Programme took place between 1986 and 1988. Fr Boyd’s successor, Fr Shaun Crowley, formed the first Parish Pastoral Council in 1991.
In 1998, Fr Alistair Tosh was still settling in as Parish priest when he had to contend with serious damage to the church roof caused by violent storms which shook the town that Christmas. Fr Eamonn Flynn, who succeeded him in 2005, has now overseen the installation of a new heating system and substantial renovation for the church as well as repairs and improvements for the hall. There’s a lot to be done but we’ve come a long way from the wee toll house at the Noddle Bridge.