The name Desertmartin is derived from the Irish : Diseart Mhartain meaning “hermitage of St Martin”. The Desertmartin Catholic parish covers an area spanning forty seven townlands. It lies within the former Barony of Loughinsholin and is situated in Magherafelt District Council area. It also is included in the Diocese of Derry. The parish lies at the foot of Slieve Gallion, on the easternmost limit of the Sperrin Mountains.
It is believed that the area may have received its name from a church built by St Martin or his missionaries close to the river beside Desertmartin village. The two Catholic Churches in the parish are St Mary’s Coolcalm and St Patrick’s Keenaught. The old St Patrick’s Church, which still remains, was closed in 1973 and the present one newly built at that time was opened in the same year. The parish hall which stands close to St Mary’s was built 1954.
Old St Patrick’s Church Keenaught
One of the earliest references to Keenaught Church in the Desertmartin parish is found in a Statisical Report by J Mc Closkey of 1821. He refers to a thatched building in bad repair and too small for the congregation.
Although the old church of St Patricks has always been referred to as Keenaught it has since the drawing of Ordnance Survey maps of 1830’s been located in the townland of Cullion.On 27th August 1833 Fr Edward Donnelly, Parish Priest for Desertmartin writing to the Drapers Company concerning the building of a new church described the existing one which had been damaged by fire as “situated on a confined barren spot, on the verge of a great glen, which prohibits its enlargement or repair; what is still more grievous it cannot hold more than one half the number of people who attend there at divine service. The circumstance alone must powerfully operate upon the feelings of 259 families, which contain about 1554 persons.” Fr Donnelly proceeded with the rebuilding of the church which was completed by subscription in 1835. It measured 19 feet wide and 58 feet long.
Eighteen years later the church was subject to major redevelopment. The new church was opened on Sunday the 16th October 1853 by the Most Rev. Dr. Kelly, Catholic Bishop of Derry. The Dedication Sermon was preached by Rev. Dr. Tormey, Professor in Navan College.
In 1929 the church underwent a complete renovation. The altar was rebuilt and two new side altars provided. The altar which once stood in the centre of the side wall of the church was transferred to the eastern end. The gallery which occupied this area was removed. The flooring was completely renewed and the inside wall plaster repaired. A new sacristy was built and the church re-seated. In the sanctuary a new three light, stained-glass window was installed and the remaining windows were glazed, with leaded lights in Celtic design. The roof and the general exterior were thoroughly overhauled, paths formed around the church and a new porch added.
The church was officially opened in April 1929 by the Most Rev. Dr. O Kane Bishop of Derry. The celebrant of High Mass was Rev. M Connery P.P. Coleraine, a native of Desertmartin Parish. The master of ceremonies was Rev. Michael Bradley , Vice- President of St Columb’s College Derry. During mass devotional music was provided by the church choir under the direction of Mrs P Shields and Mr G Magee. At the conclusion of Mass the sermon was delivered by the Very Rev. P P McKenna O.P. S.T.M. of Tallagh Co. Dublin (who was a native of the Derry Diocese). Towards the end of proceedings Fr. H Boyle P.P. for the parish thanked everyone for their contribution to the official opening; to those who made financial contributions and to the parishioners for their dedication and hard work over the previous two to three years. The architect for the work was Mr W J Doherty, M.R.I.A.I from Derry and the building contractor was Mr. Michael Hasson from Feeny.
Around 1970 a decision was taken to replace the old church with a new one on land donated by Mr and Mrs Hugh McCann of Boveagh. The new church was opened in 1973 and the old was closed the same year.