No. 251 - St Patrick's at Blessington - "The Church of their Forefathers"

Blessington is an isolated settlement about 35km south east of Launceston. It was originally called Irish Town but this was changed in 1890 due to confusion with other localities in Tasmania with the same name.

As early as 1879, Father Joseph McKernan rode out to Blessington from Longford to celebrate a home Mass. In 1895 the Launceston Examiner described Father McKernan's quarterly visit to the region on St Patrick’s Day:

“The Rev. Father McKernan paid his usual quarterly visit to Blessington on Saturday last, accompanied by his niece, Miss McKernan. The young lady after partaking of some refreshment at Mr Dunn's - where the good Father stays when he comes here - set out with Miss Esther Dunn as guide to visit as many of the neighbours over hill, dale, and valley as she possibly could during the afternoon. Miss McKernan expressed herself delighted with her trip”.

In 1905, The Examiner reported that Catholic services were also being held at Upper Blessington, some 15km east of Blessington:

“The first Catholic religious service ever held in this remote district took place last Sunday evening, when Father Kelsh, of Longford, officiated in the state school in the presence of a large congregation of various creeds. Those present, of by whom by far the larger number were non-Catholics, expressed themselves pleased with the exposition given of the controverted topics touched upon, viz., the Bible, confession, and the veneration of images….Mass was celebrated next morning for the first time in this locality at Mr [Isaac] Smith’s residence”.

Another report in the following year noted that:

“It is so seldom we see a clergyman of any denomination in this remote region, under the shadow of Ben Lomond, that the visits of Father Kelsh, of Longford, are welcomed by all creeds”.

By 1919, led by Father James O’Conner, a Catholic church was at last built at Blessington. At the opening Mass on 28th January, Monsignor Gilleran’s homily provides a glimpse into the lives of the Catholics of Blessington in its earliest years:

“Monsignor Gilleran spoke about Blessington – its past, present and the future…. In speaking about its past, he referred in glowing terms to the old Irish emigrants who were the pioneers of the district. Over 50 years ago, when these Irish emigrants came to Blessington, they had a hard battle to fight to make homes for themselves and their families. They had to make the roads and clear the land. These were men of great courage to accomplish all they did…. These Irish pioneers handed on to the present inhabitants of Blessington not only their houses and farms, but also what the people were more thankful for; alluring faith and a devout attachment to the church of their forefathers…”

But faith was no match against the forces of rural depopulation and the attraction of opportunity in nearby towns. While St Patrick's was to serve the Catholics of Blessington for just over 80 years, declining numbers forced its closure and sale in 2001.The church is now a private residence.

Source: Queen Victoria Museum 1997:P:3295 - Margaret Tassell (1996)

Source: LINC Tasmania LPIC 33-1-57

The Examiner, Monday 1 Apr 1895,  Page 3
The Examiner, Wednesday 29 November 1905, page 7
The Mercury, Friday 2 March 1906, page 2
The Examiner, Friday 31 January 1919, page 6
Daily Telegraph, Saturday 1 February 1919, page 12

Southerwood, T., Launceston's Catholic Story (1831-2001), 2001, Launceston. 


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