The following is the transcript of a sermon given by Fr Christy Walsh at Kilshinihan Mass Rock on 26th July 1981 and has been added to with some details pertaining to the following years.
Carraig an Aifrinn
26th July 1981
Carraig an Aifrinn – Cill Seanachain
Kilshinahan Mass Rock What an impressive setting for it. All round we are enclosed by this great ravine – above us the blue dome of heaven; across the stream in the ancient Diocese of Ross, the chasm resembles the Nave of an underground Cathedral. On this side of the waters we stand in the sanctuary in the Diocese of Cork. The altar is hewn out of rocks at Kilshinahan.
Today the whole area is full of life – young and old are gathered here from far and near but every other day it is a glen of solitude – gleann an uaigneas – silence broken only by waters rushing down to the Argideen, the sighing of the branches in the breeze, the whistle and call of bird life and the faraway lowing of cattle in the meadows. It is indeed a place of meditation, reflection and prayer.
That of course could not be said of any of our unspoilt countryside – our peaceful hills and valleys still far away from the noise and pressure of modern civilisation. But this spot is sacred for another reason. The ground you are standing on is holy ground. For here our people came together for Mass not in pleasant situations like today but in very different circumstances – in frost and snow, in storms and floods, hungry and ill-clad, footsore and weary with no place left to them to worship God. Their hearts were broken with loss of home and loved ones; their souls trembling at the cry of the wolves up the glens of Skeaf or the sound of the Bandon Sasannacs galloping down from Clashavoon to the Argideen River.
In the church of silence it is in the Mass that Christ lives on; in the persecution of Rome it was offered underground in the Catacombs; in England by priests hidden in the big houses; in Siberia today in the frozen salt mines or hidden behind barbed wire barricades; in Ireland it was at Carraig an Aifrinn or a Mass hut against a ditch.
There are no written records of this Mass Rock. the way things were there could hardly be. But, the memory of it has been handed down from one generation to another and we have written sources that date from three or four hundred years ago. These point to and confirm the likelihood of Mass being celebrated here three hundred years ago.
Mass Rocks were in use for 150 years – 1600-1750 – : 1. Days of Elizabeth, 2. Cromwell and 3. finally the Penal Laws of William and Anne. We start with the Elizabethan Era -1601 – Disaster of Kinsale, Flight of the Earls. But the struggle goes on here, on this very site. A few hundred yards behind you stood the Castle of Burrane. The English Chronicle of the time – Paccata Hibernia – tells us that Diarmuid McCarthy lived there – he was McCarthy Rabach – same as the Mounteen Clan. Their cousins – the Riaghs in Kilbrittain were sitting tight and didn’t come into the open for faith or fatherland for another forty years. When they clashed with the Bandonians at Faill Dearg and while away west at Kilavarrig, the Bandonians took the castle. These had to return to it to King James, but then it was confiscated after the Boyne; given as payment to London Sword and Blade Co. who supplied arms to William and this London firm sold it to the Stawells.
But to return to the McCarthy Rabagh of Burrane, this is what is written about him – “He was the principal pillar of the catholique cause”. He died “after heroic resistance 13 April 1602. His body was conveyed to the Abbey of Timoleague where he was interred by a Fryer”
This Mass Rock lay on his property and the friars of Timoleague would be likely priests to use it. 1603: The Bishop of Ross the first McEgain was slain on the Bandon river, west of Enniskeane. The lands of O’Mahony had already been confiscated and the area from Enniskeane to Innishannon, planted with settlers from Bristol. Their newly built town by Boyle – Bandon – is garrisoned by a highly trained militia. Remember it isn’t more than 6 miles from here to Bandon and the new route cleared from Bandon to Clonakilty and West came this way – through Carey’s Cross, Baurleigh and on to the Argideen.
John England was PP in Bandon in 1820. Later he became Bishop of Charlestown USA. In the old marriage register of Bandon Catholic Church he made some notes in his own handwriting. He said his information came from his maternal grandfather – Lordan – of Bandon area; that should go back 1700 or more. I copied his words – “There was scarcely a catholic to be met within five miles of the town and the armed inhabitants frequently scoured the neighbourhood, particularly on Sundays, hunting for a priest, whom, if they found, they brought as a prisoner to the town and personally ill-treated, until his liberation could be obtained by some humane neighbouring gentleman”.
Some say then that a Mass Rock here would be a death trap. I don’t think so. It would be if the country was open and clear. A hundred years later it was so.
1758 – Protestant Bishop of Ossary rode from Old Head to Timoleague and he wrote in his diary “that trees were few and many fields of Barley were ripening on the uneven hills”. But a century earlier, the forests here were dense, thickets impenetrable and bogs impassable, so horsemen, once they left the cleared route couldn’t travel easily and pounce unexpectedly on a Mass Rock like this.
1650 – Second Period – things go from bad to worse – Days of Cromwell – McEgan II, Bishop of Ross is hanged at Carrigadrohig; Abbey at Timoleague is burned; priests and religion is banned; Catholics are outlawed. It was only now that the Reaghs joined the struggle in earnest but it was too late.
Dec 1655 – Brother Edward, a Capuchin arrived in Cork from England. He came to visit a Capuchin priest, Fr Michael working east of us in Courceys, KIlbrittain and Rathclaren. In a letter 1656 he writes of “the devotion of the people” in this area. “They follow Fr Michael from place to place to receive the sacraments. He says Mass twice daily before sunrise. Wherever he celebrates has the appearance of a Feast Day. He offers Mass only in some hidden place at which only a small number is present. There is risk of so many enemies in English Garrisons”.
Notice the precaution: Mass twice daily before sunrise : small congregation: Sundays not always possible so any day can be a Feast Day: Mass in some hidden place – hut or Mass Rock – Kilshinahan was in the area of Fr Michael’s ministry.
Thirdly we come to the Battle of the Boyne, the Treaty of Limerick, The Flight of the Wild Geese, the Williamite Plantation and the Penal Laws. But, one point must be remembered – Mass was not absolutely forbidden by Law. A few middle-aged priests were allowed to stay. Their names were registered in 1704. Each had to care for three or four parishes and stay where he was. This had to be guaranteed by two gentlemen who paid £50 each for him.
So, Daniel Crowley (42) lived west at Kilcoursey and had the care of Timoleague and Rathclaren. Jeremy Renard, Gortnahona and John Sweeney, Glanduff were his securities. Florence McCarthy (55) lived at Ringroan. He looked after Kilbrittain and Templetrine. No other priests or friars were allowed. The plan was that when these men died the church would fade out. Things didn’t work out that way. In spite of priest-hunters like Sean Dearg-Nash, Brinny and Ralf Clear, Bandon, the clergy were on the increase. Indeed Sam Porte Innishannon complained that when he reported priests being smuggled in, the authorities did little about it. They gave corners here and there to the priest for a Mass house. Poole, Mayfield gave an old graveyard – Kilsaxon – to Dan Hurley; Beamish gave a plot in Cashelmore; Sealy gave Gleann na mbrathar in Barleyfield and it seems that Robert Travers gave a site in KIlshinahan here.
It is possible that Daniel Crowley used the Mass Rock for awhile. He seems to have been helped by Franciscans who stayed around after the Abbey was destroyed. But by 1720 the Penal Laws were breaking down. The Bishops were returned. The Bishop appointed in charge of Cork and Ross and Cloyne was a Clogagh man – Tadgh McCarthy Rabagh. In 1728 he put up a big Mass-house in the north side of Cork city where the Cathedral stands today. Naturally he would be interested in his native locality, so in 1731 when Florence McCarthy died he united the parishes of Rathclaren and Kilbrittain. The Kilbrittain parish of today is not old. It is really made up of five or six small ancient parishes – Rathclaren, Burren, Kilshinahan, part of Templetrine and Ballymodan. In 1478 Rathclaren and Burren were united. Canon Tadgh McCarthy wrote to Rome to confirm this union. He was a close relative of Blessed Thaddeus. Kilbrittain itself was a tiny parish attached to the castle. It didn’t take in even the village – Glenduff. It doesn’t seem to have been used since Reagh left it. The Church of Ireland built theirs a mile away at Riversdale. In 1831 Protestant Bishop tried to unite it with Rathclaren but protestants refused, so service was conducted for 50 years after in the school house at Riversdale. Those townlands to the east like Rochestown, Hacketstown, Glounavirane, Gurraneasig etc. didn’t come in till after the famine. The change in population structure altered boundaries of many parishes then. Kilshinahan seems to be the oldest of all. It is mentioned in the Tax list of the Pope 1199 – Cell Sinchil. In the centuries following the name crops up many times. 1588 – a legal document of Queen Elizabeth has the Church and Chapel of Kilshinahan. Notice “Church and Chapel” – were they together? Where indeed was the original site of Kilshinahan – Cill Seanacain? If the Church of Ireland had taken it over at the Reformation, it would tell us. But, they only took Rathclaren All we do know is that a later penal-day priest got a bit of land here and built a large Mass-house in 1743 – only five minutes walk from this Mass Rock. he was Fr Lar Callannan and he lived in Garrendruig. For 50 years it remained the Roman Catholic Chapel of Kilbrittain and Rathclaren. Lar Callannan looked after it. I have no date of the death of Lar Callanan. Another Callanan, Francis, a priest, was robbed of shoes, gold watch etc. in 1778. He lived near Timoleague. He may have succeeded Lar Callanan PP as in 1797 Reverend Ml Callanan had dispute with the landlord of Barleyfield Chapel and it was razed to the ground. The Franciscans are supposed to have helped Lar Callanan so its not surprising that Patrick Geran was also PP here during those years. His dates were said to be 1760 -1802 but this could not be correct. During his time or Fr Callanan’s time Kilbrittain Church was built in 1790. The Bandon militia were housed in it during the 1798 rebellion.
Clogagh, as well as here was helped by Franciscians who stayed around after the Abbey was destroyed. They are said to have a small building in the old Clogagh cemetry. It is no surprise that Fr Callanan’s late successor was a Franciscian from the Old Cross Street Abbey, Cork – Patrick Geran.
Patrick Geran was over 100 when he died. He saw the building of the new church in KIlbrittain in 1790. He was there in 1798 when the Bandon militia came out to collect pikes and weapons from the area. It seems that the soldiers lodged in the Roman Catholic Church.
Stawell in the castle wanted to march on Bandon when Sir John Moore had taken the troops to fight in Wexford. Incidently, the ministers son Barry was killed with them in Wexford and is buried in the cemetry, over the village. The sucessor to Fr Geran was T Lane 1807-1814. James O’Mahony PP was killed at Careys Cross having anointed the aged PP of Kilbrittain. Patrick Geran became curate in Bandon and died in 1819 over 100 years old. He was buried in Gallows Hill Chapel and in 1861 was transferred to the newly built St. Patricks. Lane is buried beside the church in Kilbrittain and also Ml Foley OSA – 1814 – 1828 and also Robert Taylor – a native of Skibbereen 1828 – 1868. He renovated and extended Kilbrittain Church in 1840 and lived through the Famine years.
By 1840 Kilshinahan Church was not in use. It was converted into a dwelling house of a farmer and the graveyard into a kitchen garden. It was a large circular enclosure. In 1840 KIlbrittain Chapel in Glanduff seated 1500 people.
The remaining priests were
1865 Simon Murphy
1879 Tim O Sullivan
1884 Wm Murphy
1893 Andrew Forrrest
1900 John O Leary
1920 Denis Murphy
1930 John McSweeney
1940 Jerry Crowley
1967 John Doody
1970 Dan J McCarthy
1974 John F Murphy
1979 Dan O Flynn
1982 Jerry Hyde
1985 Jack McCarthy
1991 William Ahern
2000 Tom Riordan
2011 John Heinhold
Words of John Paul II, Phoenix Park September 1979
“As I stand here in the company of so many Irishman and women, I am thinking of how the Eucharist has been celebrated in this land; in early Monastic and in modern Churches, at Mass Rocks , in glens and forests by hunted priests and in poor thatched chapels for a people poor in worldly goods but rich in the things of the spirit. Small matter where the Mass was offered. For the Irish it was always the Mass that mattered”.