The name Croy, in Gaelic, is Cruaidh
(pronounced Croo-ay), meaning `rocky' or `barren'. Local people
know that Croy Hill is indeed a rocky place and this perhaps
explains why Croy is so seldom mentioned in ancient history,
whether secular or ecclesiastical.
The earliest signs of human settlement in the area date from
the first millennium B.C. Archaeological excavations at the
site of the Roman fort on the Antonine Wall on Croy Hill in
1975 uncovered traces of a late Iron Age or early Bronze Age
palisade, which had doubtlessly protected a primitive community.
The same excavations provided ample evidence of a considerably
later community dating from around 140 A.D., that of the garrison
of Roman auxiliary soldiers and their families. The excavations
revealed indications of farming, pottery making, charcoal-burning
ovens and of cremation rituals. Previous investigation had already
yielded up a pagan altar of Roman origin, the earliest evidence
of any form of religious practice at Croy.
As far as is known, Christianity did not arrive in the Croy district
until the spread of the evangelising influence of early saints
like St. Ninian, (4th century A.D.), St. Blane (5th century A.D.),
St. Mungo, St. Columba and St. Machan (6th century A.D.).
St. Machan, being a local saint, is of intrinsic interest. According
to tradition he was Scottish, educated in Ireland and was created
a bishop while on a visit to Rome. His influence appears to
have reached well beyond Campsie, to Lanarkshire, Perthshire
and West Lothian. It is thought that he was buried under the
altar of his ancient and long-ruined church in Campsie Glen.
In 1458, about nine hundred years after his death, he was still
well enough remembered for Partick Leche, Chancellor of St.
Mungo's Cathedral in Glasgow to erect an altar dedicated to
him. It is situated on the north side of the nave, at the third
pillar from the roodscreen. Surely the Croy area must have known
St. Machan when his name was carried to places much further
Several place-names near Croy suggest that Christianity had
a foothold in medieval and even earlier periods. Kilsyth reputedly
had an early church on the Ebroch Bum near Barrwood Quarry.
The name Craigannet in the northern part of Kilsyth parish implies
that an ancient chapel once stood there. Similarly, Annathill
to the south of Croy most probably once maintained an early
chapel, since the word annat
(Gaelic form annaid
means a saint's church or a church containing relics of a saint.
Likewise, where the letters kil
appear in a name, there
is a likelihood of an ancient link to a church or monastic cell.
It can be argued that local names like Kilmuir (usually spelled
locally) Kilsyth, Kildrum, Kilbowie and Auchenkilns
(a corrupted form of the Gaelic words auchen cille, meaning
`the field of the [monastic] cell' ), are so linked. Near to
Auchenkilns Roundabout is situated the area of Chapelton ('the
place of the chapel') well known to Condorrat villagers. It
is also interesting to note that old maps show a road running
from Chapelton to Seafar and that the Bishop of Glasgow had
a summer residence in Seafar close to where Our Lady's High
School now stands.
The Croy locality is known to have belonged to the deanery of
Lennox in ancient times. More than seventy years ago Father
John Charleson, (missionary rector of Holy Cross, Croy 1907-1929
and an enthusiastic antiquarian), held the view that the proprietorship
of `the lands of Croy' could be traced back to a grandson of
Alwyn, second earl of Lennox in the 13th century. It may even
have been that earl who gifted the first Campsie Glen church
to Glasgow Cathedral. What is more historically certain is that
about that time the Comyn family held sway over this eastern
part of the former Dunbartonshire (then a part of Stirlingshire).
Comyn had the great misfortune to be killed by his famous rival,
Robert the Bruce, in Dumfries High Church. He was aided and
abetted in the slaying by one, Sir Malcolm Fleming, who was
later to become the Earl of Wigton. As a reward for their adherence
to Bruce's cause, the Flemings were granted the Comyn barony
of Kirkintilloch, which included Cumbernauld and surrounding
territory. It is worth mentioning that there exists a record
of a Fleming living in Croy in the 17th century.
The Kirkintilloch church, which served the Comyns and then the
Flemings, was almost certainly St. Ninian's Church. The first
church of that name in Kirkintilloch had been built about 1140.
There was also a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. At the
eastern end of the barony, in Cumbernauld, the church which
served the owners of Cumbernauld Castle and their tenants was
known as a chapel-of-ease closely associated with the Church
of St. Ninian in Kirkintilloch. A chapel-of-ease existed at
a distance from its mother-church, for the convenience of remote
parishioners. Indeed, parts of the existing stonework of that
church, now known as Cumbernauld Old Parish Church, belong to
the time of the Comyn baronetcy.
Between the 12th and 15th centuries, the Church in Scotland
was thriving. Then, there were thirteen dioceses compared with
eight at present and Mass was celebrated in every corner of
the Scottish kingdom. In Glasgow, hierarchical continuity is
traceable from 1115 to the present day, with very few years
excepted. It is a measure of the bitterness of anti-Catholic
feeling accompanying the Scottish Reformation that, within a
single generation, Scotland changed from being a Catholic country
to being one where Mass was forbidden under pain of death. In
the seventy years between 1546 and 1615, a Cardinal, an Archbishop
and three priests were hanged for their faith in Scotland. Papal
authority was abolished by law and Parliament decreed that all
monasteries and abbeys should be destroyed. By 1611 only four
heroic priests were to be found in the whole country. In 1696
all existing Scottish Catholics were ordered to leave Scotland.
During this period of oppression, the Church in Scotland came
under the charge of the Congregation de Propaganda Fide which,
in due course, attempted to keep the administration of the Church
alive by making Scotland into a prefecture administered by a
Prefect Apostolic. This form of control lasted from 1653 to
1694 when Thomas Nicolson, a converted Professor of Glasgow
University, became the first Vicar Apostolic. A new period of
oppression seized the Church in Scotland about this time. It
lasted, with varying degrees of intensity, until the relief
Bill for Catholics of 1793. The Catholic Emancipation Act of
1829, hard fought for by that great Irish politician, Daniel
O'Connell, followed this. Meantime, in Glasgow, a series of
priests cared for the pastoral needs of a small and subdued
Catholic flock – courageous men like Alexander McDonald,
John Farquharson and Andrew Scott. It was Scott who took upon
himself the task of building the chapel that grew to become
St. Andrews Cathedral, Clyde Street, in 1816.
Times were becoming more tolerant of our faith and two years
before the Catholic Emancipation Act, in 1827, Scotland was
divided up into three vicariates – the Northern, the Eastern
and the Western. Three Vicars Apostolic were appointed to administer
the three large districts.
The first Vicar Apostolic for the new Western District was Bishop
Ranald MacDonald. Andrew Scott was appointed his coadjutor to
assist the bishop with his task. In 1828 Andrew Scott was also
consecrated bishop. Four years later, in 1832 he succeeded Bishop
MacDonald as Vicar Apostolic of the Western District. Before
this event came another seemingly insignificant one which was
to prove a momentous catalyst for the growth of the faith in
On 30th November 1830, a group of twelve devout Catholic men
gathered in Torrance, near Lennoxtown, to draft a letter to
Bishop Scott in his capacity as coadjutor and to Bishop Paterson
of the Eastern district. The letter was a plaintif plea begging
both their Lordships to find a priest, for their community 'as
thair are a great number of Roman Catholicks here
nearest place worship to them was then in Glasgow. They were
aware that, although they lived close to Glasgow they actually
came under the jurisdiction of the Eastern District.
The appeal was successful, for 1831 saw the birth of St. Paul's
Mission in Lennoxtown although the actual church building was
or completed fifteen years later in 1846.
A further thirty-five years were to elapse before the third
missionary rector, Rev. John Magini, 1881 successfully requested
of Archbishop Strain of Edinburgh and St. Andrews permission
to change the name to St. Machan's honour of the ancient local
Before 1846 there were very few Catholics our area. The 1845
Statistical account for Scotland records that in the whole extent
of Cumbernald Parish there were only seven hundred families
total. It went on to state that 'there are 5 or so Irish
families, supposed to be of the Roman Catholic faith
Besides marking the completion of St. Paul's Church in Lennoxtown,
the year 1846 was to be important for another historic reason.
That year saw the start of the great Irish Potato Famine. This
catastrophe was to be the cause of one million Irish men, women
and children leave their native land in the decade between 1846
and 1856. Many thousands of them settled in Scotland bringing
with them their strong devotion to the Catholic Church. These
immigrants found employment in ironstone and coal mining, in
limestone working and in iron and steel production, railway
building and dockside labour. In the next few decades, because
the area was rich in coal, many of them settled in Kilsyth,
Croy, Smithston, Auchinstarry, Drumglass, Craiglinn, Twechar,
Condorrat and Cumbernauld.
Between 1831 and 1862, the Catholic Mission of St. Paul's at Lennoxtown
had to serve the needs as best as it could of the whole area to
the north and east of Campsie. In 1862 Rev. John Gillon from Lennoxtown
began a new church mission in Arnot's Hall, Charles Street, Kilsyth
to satisfy the spiritual needs of the fast-growing Catholic population
in that area.
The number of Catholics in Kilsyth grew rapidly even before
numbers were augmented by the building, from the 1860's onwards,
of miners' rows at Croy, Smithston, Drumglass, Auchinstarry,
Twechar and elsewhere by the Baird Company of Gartsherrie. In
1832 there were about five Catholic families in the Kilsyth
area. Between 1849 and 1863 the number had grown from one hundred
to six hundred. Remarkably, by 1866, this number had trebled
to eighteen hundred due to the availability of employment and
housing both in Kilsyth and places south of the Kelvin. The
development of a Catholic community in Kilsyth and environs
was enhanced by the arrival of Kilsyth's first priest, Father
, on 5th January 1865. It is not beyond our imagination
to picture worthy miners and their families trekking from the
outlying villages and rows lying south of the River Kelvin,
to attend the 11.30 am. Mass in Charles Street, and, from St.
Patrick's Day on 17th March 1866, in the brand new St. Patrick's
Church in Lower Craigends.
Although Croy and Kilsyth belonged to different archdioceses,
prior to the founding of Holy Cross Parish, the Catholics living
across the county border from Kilsyth relied totally for their
pastoral and educational care on the Church and school of St.
Patrick's in Kilsyth. Writing in 1927, Father (later Canon)
Octavius Claeys, the Belgian born first curate of Holy Cross
Croy (1903 – 1906), remarked 'who that had a grey
hair in his head did not remember the two fathers Murphy
) - ed.]
and the genial Canon Turner
John Canon Murphy
been parish priest of St. Patrick's from 1873 until 1889 and
Michael Canon Turner
from 1890 until 1903: (the second
was a Kilsyth curate some years later). Many
children in those early years owe their education to those two
canons. Canon Murphy
was responsible for the construction of the first St. Patrick's
School building in 1874. Ten years earlier, before Kilsyth even
had its own priest, catechism classes were being held and the
number of children attending those classes grew from sixty to
one hundred with the arrival, in January 1865, of Father
, the first Kilsyth priest. Certainly, by the
1880's at least, children from Smithston and Auchinstarry were
attending St. Patrick's School, which by then was offering a
full elementary curriculum. Clearly, the spiritual and educational
development of many of our ancestors was nurtured in the Parish
of St. Patrick in Kilsyth.
not only to the Catholic people of Kilsyth, but very much to
those in more distant places. On, foot he visited places as
far away as Croy, Twechar, Cumbernauld, Condorrat and Smithston.
In his clerical diary for the years 1890-91, he wrote of a sick
call at Croy Row, visiting three Catholic families at Turneyhill,
near Twechar, calling on a couple in a `mixed marriage' at Cumbernauld,
visiting a partially paralysed man in Condorrat and looking
in, on one visitation, on half of the homes at Smithston Row,
which he called `Little Ireland
'. Of Croy he wrote
'Croy was my pet lamb for the lengthened period of twelve
'. What a dedicated and devoted priest he was!