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The 20th Century

Canon Sydney McEwan with Eamonn Andrews, on "This is Your Life", televised on the BBC Nationwide Network on Tuesday 16th October 1962. Standing far left is Peter Ciarella.

By the early 20th century, there were just four families openly professing the Catholic faith in Lochgilphead - three Italian and one of Irish origin.

There was no church, and Peter Ciarella, a schoolboy in the 1920s, recalls Mass being celebrated in the building which today is the opticians in Union Street.

"The Church had bought the house," Peter says, "and we used a room there. The children used to go there for catechism every day before school and Fr Collins, who stayed in the Royal Hotel - what's now the Grey Gull - in Ardrishaig, used to come to Lochgilphead in a pony and trap."

At school, other children started the day with their own religious instruction and Peter says: "We went into school after that."

In 1927, the nearest church was Oban - and the road was even more difficult then than it is today. But as Peter says, only the Ciarellas, the Capoccis, the Cascis, the O'Neills and a couple of other families were practising Catholics.

He says: "In Tarbert there were McGlynns from Donegal, but because of the conditions at that time, nobody dared to say they were Catholic or they would have been thrown in the harbour."

Then the Marquis of Bute donated money to buy ground in Lochgilphead for a Catholic church. The Marquis, grandfather of the present Marquis, had built other churches and this latest one was consecrated in September 1929.

Peter Ciarella says: "The young Marquis - the present Marquis's father - used to come to Mass at Lochgilphead when he went sailing through the Crinan Canal."

The first priest was a Monsignor Comon who bought a house opposite the church. When the houses were built in Lorne Street, he moved into No 1.

For a while after the Monsignor died, there was no priest in Lochgilphead, but Canon Butler came across from Bute on the midday boat many Saturdays to say Mass and went back to Rothesay on the Monday. After his death, the 'singing priest' Sydney McEwan swept into Lochgilphead and spent 17 years in the parish.

His was a unique ministry. Already famous as a recording star, Peter believes he was sent to Argyll to raise funds to finish Oban Cathedral, which was then at a standstill because of cash flow problems. Certainly, he spent a lot of time on tour in Australia and America, and because he wouldn't fly, these journeys were made by boat and often took as long as six weeks to reach his destination.

Fr Sydney made changes in the 1950s, building the parish house next to St Margaret's, which had been named for the Marquis of Bute's wife.

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