No. 1150 - Irishtown - St Joseph's Catholic Church (1904 - c.1989)

Irishtown is a small rural town situated approximately 10 kilometres south of Smithton. The area was first settled in the late 1850s by Irish migrants when the area was known as Upper Duck River.

The history of Irishtown’s Catholic church is unusual in as much as it is the story of unfulfilled and ambitious plans. The church was originally dedicated to St Patrick but this was changed to St Joseph in about 1910.

The Irishtown Catholic community dates back to the 1870s and for many years Mass was occasionally held in local homes. In 1903 tenders were advertised for a wooden church with “dimensions of 52ft x 20ft” with a sanctuary and sacristy. The building was to be “of gothic design” and “shows some novelty in the construction of the open timber roof.”

The foundation stone for the church was ceremonially laid on Sunday 20 September 1903:

“Sunday last, September 20, was a red-letter day for the Catholics of Irishtown, when Monsignor Beechinor, parish priest of Launceston, laid the foundation-stone of the new church of St. Patrick’s….Twenty-five years have elapsed since Monsignor Beechinor, then Dean, visited this portion of the island on a collecting tour for St. Mary's Cathedral, Hobart. The many and vast changes he observed in the progress and settlement of the coast were most gratifying to him. …On Saturday morning,… he proceeded to Irish-town, where a reception characteristic of the descendants of the Green Isle, was tendered him….The ceremony was performed after the 11 o'clock mass. Large numbers of sympathisers were present from various parts of this extensive mission. Stanley, Forest and Montagu were well represented…. After an effective discourse he reminded his large audience that the new church was to be dedicated to St Patrick and called after him. His spiritual children were scattered everywhere and carried with them the precious gift of Faith. Afterwards he appealed to the people present to give generously to the new church, and his appeal was not in vain….”.

The building, which was designed by architect A.G.H Black of Devonport, was completed early in the following year and opened on Sunday 20 March 1904.

A change in the church’s name to St Joseph occurred around 1910. I have not found a reason for this but it is probably to avoid confusion with St Patrick’s Catholic church at Forest which opened in 1911.

In 1915 a report in the Circular Head Chronicle announced that the “parishioners of the Irishtown Catholic Church are considering the advisability of removing the church to a more central position”. In May 1916 an advertisement was placed in the Circular Head Chronicle calling for tenders for the building’s removal to a more central site near the Irishtown railway station. Applicants were requested to advise as whether the church was to “be removed as is or taken to pieces”.

For reasons unknown, the scheme to move the church did not proceed. Instead, in September 1917, plans for a new church were announced:

“After mass at Irishtown on Sunday a meeting was held to take into consideration the proposal to erect a new church. Father O'Donnell presided. He explained the position with regard to the present site of the church, which was considered too far out of the way. Some time ago arrangements were made with Mr. Langton to purchase an acre and a half near the new railway station, which was most central. The total cost of this, with fees, and survey, was £82. There were also a few old debts to be paid. If this was liquidated the way would be free to proceed with the erection of the new church. It was eventually decided to build a new church on the site that had been purchased. A collection was then taken up, and in cash and promises the splendid total of £113 was received. The committee then decided to hold a Queen carnival and bazaar to provide funds for the new church, and the hope was addressed that the foundation stone would be laid before Xmas. It is probable that the present church, which was erected only a few years ago, will be transferred to Smithton to serve as a temporary chapel until such time as a building suitable for the progressive town can be erected”.

Once again the proposal came to nothing. This may be related to Father T.J. O’ Donnell’s departure from Circular Head in January 1918. O’ Donnell had a reputation and record of a determined church builder and his legacy included St Patrick’s at Forest, St Brigid’s at Wynyard and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart at Montagu.

In 1939 there was yet another attempt to build a new church. In August 1939 the Circular Head Chronicle published a report stating that “Messrs East, Smith & Willing, architects of Launceston are preparing plans and specifications for a new brick Catholic church at Irishtown”. The intervention of World War Two is the probably reason for this plan not being developed.

Finally, in 1950, a third attempt at building a new church was made. In June the Advocate published a report outlining detailed plans for a modern building:

“Partly by contract and partly by voluntary labour a new Catholic church is to be built at Irishtown. It is to have a concrete foundation with walls of concrete bricks. The roof will be timber framed and tiled. The interior is to be plastered. With the above method of construction it is estimated that the building will be completed for about £4000, which will not include interior decorations. It is hoped to proceed with the erection of the building as soon as a plan is approved. To raise funds a euchre tournament was held on Monday evening….”.

The third and final attempt to build a new church did not prove to be lucky and the project faltered. The reason for this is not given. However the postwar years were a time of massive change for Irishtown with passing of the older generation of ‘settler pioneers’ and the migration of the younger generation to larger towns and cities.

The latter years of St Joseph’s is not well documented and the date of the church’s final closure is not known. The property was sold in the late 1980s and the church was demolished to make way for a house.

The only photographs I have of the church are of the building in its early years and I am on the lookout for more recent images. Further information about the church is welcome and articles on ‘Churches of Tasmania’ are frequently updated.

The Irishtown Catholic Church with a 'confirmation group' -1906 - Weekly Courier. 

The church is visible in this 1916 photograph from the Weekly Courier

A public notice from the North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times (1904)


North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Saturday 25 July 1903, page 2
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Friday 25 September 1903, page 4
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Monday 14 March 1904, page 2
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Thursday 17 March 1904, page 3
Weekly Courier, Saturday 21 April 1906, page 23
Circular Head Chronicle, Wednesday 15 March 1911, page 3
Circular Head Chronicle, Wednesday 17 February 1915, page 5
Circular Head Chronicle, Wednesday 10 May 1916, page 2
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Thursday 11 May 1916, page 2
Weekly Courier, Thursday 3 August 1916, page 21
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Saturday 1 September 1917, page 2
Circular Head Chronicle, Wednesday 16 January 1918, page 2
Advocate, Friday 27 July 1928, page 4
Circular Head Chronicle, Wednesday 23 August 1939, page 2
Advocate, Wednesday 21 June 1950, page 11


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