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St Mary's Church, Belfast facts for kids

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St. Mary's Church
Saint Mary's Church, Belfast (Chapel Lane)
St Mary's Church, Belfast, February 2011 (01).JPG
St Mary's Church, Belfast
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Location Belfast, County Antrim
Country Northern Ireland
Denomination Roman Catholic
Architect(s) John O'Neill
Architectural type Romanesque architecture
Years built 1782-1784
Diocese Down and Connor
Province Armagh

St. Mary's Church, Belfast (Irish: Naoimh Eaglais Mhuire) is a Roman Catholic church located in Chapel Lane/Smithfield area of Belfast, Northern Ireland. It is mother church for the city and a mensal parish and was opened on this site in 1784. At the time, it was the only Roman Catholic church in the then town of Belfast after the relaxation of some of the Penal Laws. The church grounds contain an undistinguished grotto dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes.


In the census of 1782, there were only 365 Catholics recorded living in Belfast. Following a collection from the local Church of Ireland and Presbyterian congregations, funds were donated to the building of St. Mary's Church.

The first Mass was celebrated on 30 May 1784 - a Sunday - by Father Hugh O’Donnell, the first Parish Priest of Belfast. In the opening ceremony, a company of the Irish Volunteers lined the chapel yard and escorted Father O'Donnell into the building.

In 1813, the church's pulpit was donated by the Anglican Vicar of Belfast, Canon Turner, continuing the positive relationship between the Roman Catholic church and the local Protestant congregations. Later, in 1815, St. Patrick's Church was built to accommodate the growing Catholic population of the city.

As Belfast's Catholic population grew after the famine, the church was deemed too small and thus architect John O'Neill was contracted to design a church big enough for the burgeoning congregation. Although none of the original church can be seen, in 1868 the church was enlarged and renovated into a new Romanesque style building.

In the Marian Year of 1954 a Grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes was established under the auspices of the then Administrator, Fr Bernard MacLaverty - an uncle of the Belfast novelist of the same name. The grotto was created in the gardens surrounding the church by the Belfast architect Padraic Gregory.

To mark the bicentenary the sanctuary was renovated in 1983 with work by artist Roy Carroll, a favourite of Cahal Daly, much of this timber furniture was later removed after Daly's departure from the Diocese of Down and Connor.

In May–August 2017, the church underwent a substantial renovation work to repair the roof and walls, and to repave the grotto area.

Present Day

For almost forty years the church was served by clergy from the Mill Hill Fathers, the last of whom left in 2019. The current Administrator is Fr. Timothy Bartlett assisted by a range of retired clergy.

The church holds two masses a day from Sunday - Monday, and three a day on Friday and Saturday. The 6pm Mass on both Friday and Saturday are held in the Irish language.

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