Saint Teresa’s Church

Saint Teresa’s Church is located at 135 Glen Road, Belfast, BT11 8BL.  

Below are some photos of St. Teresa’s Church, as well as a description of the history of the building of the Church.

​The church was renovated and reopened in a Solemn Mass on 27 November 2011 – you can access a copy of the Order of Service here (note it may take a few moments to download!)

In addition, you can also read the Architect’s Notes on the 2011 Church Renovation here

A History of St Teresa’s Church

When St Teresa’s Church was built in 1911 the Glen Road was vastly different to the road that we know today.  At the time it was still very much the long country road that, in the 1840s, had been cut through acres of hillside farmland that sloped away from the mountains of Divis and Colin until it reached the banks of the River Lagan close to Derriaghy and Lambeg.

During the process of its laying, great quantities of human bones were excavated close to where the recently demolished Andersonstown Barracks stood.  This has been identified as the site of an ancient monastic church and graveyard as well as in Iron Age fort known as Callendar’s Fort.  For a long time, the Glen Road remained sparsely populated.

The year 1892 saw the opening of the Church of Ireland Church of St. Matthias as a mission church of St. Luke’s in Northumberland Street and it was mainly at the lower end of the Glen Road that in the early decades of the twentieth century, a small number of new houses and new streets began to appear.

The Street Directory of 1910 tells us that there were six houses in Divis Drive and that houses were also being built in Norfolk Drive.  Edwards McEnananey had opened a spirit and grocery shop at the corner of Divis Drive. Another grocer, Thomas Corr, was at the corner of Norfolk Drive.  Just further up the road there was a row of four Tramway cottages to house the drivers of the trams located in the nearby depot.

Twelve houses at Arizona Street, known as Upton Cottages, also existed for the labourers who worked on the surrounding farmland.  A small number of substantial villas and terraces completed the extent of the development at that time.  The rest of the road was still typically rural with hedgerows of hawthorn and blackberry briar enclosing the animals that grazed on the extensive hillside pastureland.

The area known as Andersons Town (later to become Andersonstown) was similarly populated with farmers, dairy men and labourers who lived at places with the familiar names of Lake Glen, Hillhead, Avoca, Fruithill and Rosemount.  The Street Directory of 1896 classifies Andersons Town as a village with its own Roseland National School, Wesleyan Church and police station.  Although there were places of worship for Church of Ireland parishioners on the Glen Road, and for Methodist parishioners on the Andersonstown Road at St. Lawrence’s Hall, the nearest Catholic Church was up the mountain at Hannahstown or at St Paul’s, built in 1887, on the city side.  And it was the same with schooling.

In March 1909, when Bishop Toal came to Hannahstown Church to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation, he expressed his concern over this.  He told the congregation that there were four hundred and thirty-six Catholics in the Rock and Derriaghy areas and eight hundred and fifty in the Hannahstown area, as well as seventy three children of school going age in many of the outlying districts.

The Parish of Derriaghy

At this time the church at the top of Hannahstown Hill was one of three churches that formed the parish of Derriaghy, along with St. Patrick’s at Derriaghy and St. Peter’s at the Rock.

The parish of Derriaghy already had a rich and noble past.  Its first known parish priest was Fr. Phelomy O’Hamill who is recorded to have been ordained by St. Oliver Plunkett in 1667.

In spite of his exemplary behaviour Fr. O’Hamill is believed to have died in prison during the rigorous legislation of the Penal era which imposed restriction on Catholic public worship.

But his successors – Father Magee, Father O’Mullan and Father Hugh O’Donnell – continued to lead the people of the mountain in outdoor worship.

They used the secrecy of the glens and hillsides on Colin and Bohill, as Mass stations at which they gathered, on hearing the whispered message that was passed on, “Father is coming to the mountain”.

But there was another side to the parish of Derriaghy. 

At one time this parish stretched right down to the mouth of the River Lagan, where from 1603 the essentially Protestant Plantation town of Belfast began to grow with no provision made for the inclusion of the indigenous Catholics.

In 1707 the magistrate of Belfast in a letter to an official in Dublin was proud to report: 

“We have not among us within the town above seven papists… “

As Belfast rapidly developed into a trading centre of some importance more and more Catholics began to trickle into the town to avail of its commercial side of life which was not included in the repressive side of Penal legislation.  In 1782 there were 1,092 Catholics, out of a total population of 13,100 living within its precincts.

Until this time this section of the parish of Derriaghy gathered for Mass in one of the disused sandpits at Friars Bush under the shelter of an old thorn tree.  During the 1760s they moved into the town itself to the house of a cutler who lived in Castle Street just opposite Fountain Street.

In 1768 Father O’Donnell obtained a thirty-one year lease of an old waste house in Mill Street, situated behind a row of houses opposite Marquis Street and was approached by a very narrow laneway known as Squeeze-gut Entry.  This was their place of worship until 30th May 1784 when St. Mary’s Church was built in Crooked Lane – now Chapel Lane.  The minutes of the parish meetings records in the Chapel Book (1803-1812) show that Father O’Donnell was well supported by a loyal body of influential Catholic businessmen.

With the death of Father O’Donnell in 1814 at Hannahstown, St. Mary’s became the Parish of Belfast.  The parish of Derriaghy returned to its rural roots where the nineteenth century began with the restoration of all three churches which had been destroyed during the unrest of 1798.  Derriaghy was rebuilt in 1802, the church at the Rock in 1829 and a more substantial building was erected at Hannahstown in 1826.

With the development of the Glen Road and Andersonstown Bishop Toal now charged Canon Patrick Boyle with the task of building another church within the precincts of the Parish of Derriaghy.

One family, who had a long association with the church at Hannahstown, were the two Hamill sisters of Trench House.  They were the remaining members of a longstanding family at Andersonstown, who had donated generously to improving the church at Hannahstown and to other church projects further afield.

Many local stories exist as to how the building of St. Teresa’s came about so quickly.  But by the summer of 1909 land had been acquired, an architect had been appointed and the contract for the building of a church, school and presbytery was signed and sealed.  The foundation stone for the church was laid and blessed by Bishop Toal in October 1909 – in the presence of the Hamill sisters!  The building programme took two years to complete.

The basalt stone was obtained locally.  By October 1910 the spire was in place.  Bells rang out for the first time in March 1911.  In the apse above the altar with its front mosaic panel of the Last Supper, a series of stained-glass windows was put in place depicting the patron saints of the members of the Hamill family.

In the entrance porch of the church two plaques were mounted acknowledging their generosity in financing the entire building programme.  And finally, the church itself was placed under the patronage of St. Teresa of Ávila.

This is how it was one hundred plus years ago.  On 15th October 1911 the church of St. Teresa of Ávila proudly took its place as part of the great Parish of Derriaghy. 

The new parochial house became the official residence of its parish priest.

On the morning after the laying of the first stone of the church the Irish News had commented in its report:

“In no part of the country could a more ideal spot be selected than that on which the new church will stand …”

On the day following the opening of the church its headlines were:

“Impressive Sacred Ceremony in One of the Oldest and Most Historic Parishes of Down and Connor – A memorable Day in the Catholic Annals of Ancient Derriaghy.”

© The Parish of St Teresa of Ávila, Glen Road, Belfast 2018 – 2023
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