Doneraile Catholic Church

By Michael Shine.


The medieval Church structures were completely different then, to what we have now. When the Normans came to Ireland they found a country without parishes.. The creation of parishes accompanied the creation of manors. Cahirduggan and Doneraile parishes were created in the 1200's.These were then separate parishes, but are now unified in Doneraile Parish.

Tithes were paid for the first time in Ireland. These were a compulsory tax - one tenth of the fruits of the earth, and of a man's lobour were owed to the clergy.

The lay Lords had the right to nominate Parish Priests . This was called "Advowson". Sometimes this right was vested in a monastery, where it was called "Impropriation". The tithes would then be paid to the monastery, the prior or abbot of which would become the rector or parish priest.

The priory of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine, dedicated to St. Thomas the Martyr, was founded and endowed by the Anglo-Norman Barrys, at a place called Ballybeg, in the year 1229. Ballybeg is between Doneraile and Buttevant, but nearer to Buttevant. Its ruins can be seen about a mile south of Buttevant, on the road from Limerick to Cork.The churches or rectories of Cahirduggan and Doneraile were then granted to it on the Impropriation system. The tithes of these small churches then became payable to the prior of Ballybeg as rector.

The Canons normally would minister to those rectories which were near the priory, and the priory would then be entitled to all of the tithes. However in the case of the more distant churche the tithes would be divide between the rector and a substitute, called a vicar, who did the work in those parishes. The usual divide in those cases was, two-thirds for the rector and one-third for the vicar.

And so the priors of Ballybeg were the rectors or parish priests of Cahirduggan and Doneraile for three centuries in the late medieval period. When the priory was dissolved in 1540, various rectories or small churches were listed as being appropriated to it, including rectories in Cahirduggan and Doneraile, as well as others in East and West Cork. In the case of Doneraile parish, Rossdoyle church in Oldcourt graveyard was the chief church, but other rectories or vicarages within the parish were situated at Rossagh, Aglish and Cloustogue or Kilconnors. Cahirduggan had its own church.

At the end of the turbulent 16th century, the rectories of Cahirduggan and Doneraile were in ruins, and of no use to the Established or state Church. To solve this problem Sir Wm. St.Leger, Lord President of Munster, built a new church in 1663 for the Church of Ireland. It was erected on the left bank of the Awbeg river, opposite St. Leger's presidential castle in Doneraile. It is still used for worship, though it has been restructured a number of times, and in recent years has had major repairs done to it.

Catholics had no such comfort. Masses were said in open fields, in the ruins of an old church such as Rossdoyle, or on Mass rocks such as the one recently discovered in the townland of Carker Middle, Doneraile.

By the year 1661 there was no curate in Doneraile (Rossdoyle) or Cahirduggan, after Cromwell's campaign. The old order had disappeared, the Canons Regular of St. Augustine were gone, parishes were being enlarged and amalgamated after the Council of Trent, the era of the Penal Laws was not far away. These latter lasted from 1691 to 1761.

The Penal Laws.

The main acts passed against the Catholic clergy under the Penal Laws were (1) The Banishment Act (2) The Registration Act, and (3) The Abjuration Act.

The first parish priest of Doneraile enrolled under the Registration Act was Tadhg O'Dálaigh, pastor from 1686 to 1717. He was ordained in Rouen in France in 1669. He lived in Carker, was a Gaelic poet, and, probably said Mass legally on the Mass Rock in Carker Middle.

He was succeeded by Eoghan O'Caoimh who was in charge of the parish from 1717 to 17 26. He had been married, and was ordained a priest after his wife's death. Eoghan was an even more famous Gaelic poet and scholar. He is buried in front of the ruin of the old churh of Rossdoyle in Oldcourt graveyard.

Three of Eoghan O'Caoimh's successors are buried within the walls of this medieval church. Their names and years of their ministry are: Fr. John Cotter (1739-1784), Fr. James Cotter (1784-1799) and Fr. Lewis Walsh (1799-!815).

It is clear from this that there was a strong tradition linking Doneraile's Catholics to the ancient church of Rossdoyle. This was a significant thing in the 18th. century.It was not unusual for Mass to be said where churches had previously existed. Old parish boundaries were still observed.The people continued to bury their dead where their ancestors had been buried. Oldcourt graveyard developed around the old medieval church. In 1731 a " Report on the State of Popery" states that Doneraile had a 'kind of shed for a mass-house.' where this shed was we do not know.

Chapel in Doneraile Village.

By the late 18th. century the Penal Laws had been relaxed, and a thatched roofed chapel had been built in Doneraile village, adjoining the site of the present church. It was at the end of what is still called Chapel Lane, in the left-hand corner of a grove of Scots Pine trees, and this area was known as The Grove. This chapel was a barn-like structure, roofed with thatch, and must have been a very poor place of worship.

A map made for Lord Doneraile in 1807 shows the laneway leading from the Main Street to the Chapel Yard, at the end of Chapel Lane. This map "being a plan and survey of the grounwork of the town and streets of Doneraile" was done by Michael O'Reardon who, twenty years later, would become the architect of Doneraile's new Catholic church.

New Church and Schools.

In 1815 Dr. William O'Brien became parish priest of Doneraile. He had been educated in France, in one of the Irish colleges such as Paris or Toulouse, and was ordained in 1791 for service in the Diocese of Cloyne and Ross. He became P.P. of Castlemartyr in 1796 and of Macroom, in a temporary basis, in 1798. Later in 1798 he was sent to Clonakilty.

On his appointment to Doneraile he quickly set about providing adequate schooling for young girls. In 1818 he invited the Presentation nuns to come to Doneraile, where they founded their first convent in Co. Cork outside the one founded in Cork city by Nano Nagle. He himself contributed to the expense of building the new convent.

In 1822, Lord Doneraile built a school in his demesne for over 300 boys. Catholic boys were given religious instruction twice a week in their own chapel in Chapel Lane. However all this was changed by a very famous Doneraile P.P. - Dr. Thomas Croke.

(Dr. Croke was P.P. from 1866 to 1870. He did not like Lord Doneraile's school where the education of Catholic children was in the hands of Protestants. So he brought the Christian Brothers to Doneraile in 1870. Dr. Croke went on to become Archbishop of Cashel, became a patron of the newly founded G.A.A. and gave his name to Croke Park.)

Within 10 years of his appointment to Doneraile Dr. O'Brien decided to build a new church. In the delapidated building at the end of Chapel Lane, a public meeting of the principal Catholic inhabitants of the parish of Doneraile assembled on Monday, Sept. 25th.1826.The Very Rev. Dr. Wm.O'Brien,P.P. of Doneraile and Vicar-General of Cloyne was in the chair. The following resolutions were unanimously adopted:

(1). That the warmest thanks of the town and parish of Doneraile and of the united parish of Cahirduggan are respectfully presented to the Right Honourable Lord Viscount Doneraile for his munificent subscription of one hundred and forty six pounds in aid of the funds for erecting in that town the spacious, magnificent Roman Catholic chapel that is now in progress - the first stone of which was accordingly laid by his Lordship on the 15th. day of June, 1826.

(2) That the foregoing resolution be presented to his Lordship on our behalf by our chairman.

(3) That the law of the land having made no provision for building or repairing our houses of worship, and our own means being totally inadequate for the completion of the edifice we have begun to erect, there remains for us no other fund to draw upon, but the benevolence and liberality of our more opulent countrymen of every religious persuasion.

(4) That respectful applications for contributions be forthwith made to all those who may be supposed to feel an interest in the success of our undertaking; and particularly to the nobility and gentry who reside or possess property in our united parishes, and also to the proprietors of all such public establishments as are connected with the town of Doneraile or its surrounding vicinage.

(5) That the above resolutions be published in the principal Cork newspapers, and in the Dublin Evening Post and Morning Register. The Very Rev. Dr. O' Brien then left the chair, and his place was taken by Mr. John Harold-Barry of Ballyvonare, when it was further resolved:

(6) That the sincere thanks of this meeting be given to our venerable Chairman for his zealous exertions on all occasions to promote the spiritual interests of his flock, and for his dignified conduct of the chair.

Michael Augustine Reardon.

The architect of the church was Michael Augustine Reardon already mentioned above. Lord Doneraile's map maker was to carve a new niche for himself in the history of Doneraile. Reardon was a master of the classical orders of architecture. It is likely that he built the North Chapel in Cork in 1808 at the age of 24, and he completed many schools, convents and churches for the bishops of Cork and Cloyne. He built the Monk House, now the North Monastery in Cork and added a chapel to it later. In 1819 he built a large church in what was then Blackrock village. Afterwards he built a church for the Ursuline Convent, as well as an extension to the convent itself. In 1826 he built Doneraile church, and in the same year he was solemnly professed into the Christian Brothers at the age of 42.

When the rules of the order were changed and the Presentation Order Of Brothers emerged, Reardon opted for the new order, but he remained loyal to his bishop and went on building churches and schools. He built Cot Lane school in Cork in 1837, and the South Monastery in 1838. He also built churches at Ovens, Bantry(1837), Millstreet (1836) Kinsale (1838) and Dunmanway (1841) He was then 57 years of age. Sometime in between he fitted in a church in Douglas, Cork.

Reardon was constantly on the move, by stagecoach or on horseback, a monk cum architect cum teacher of the poor. An extraordinary man by any standards.

Completion of the Church.

The site for the new church was given free by Lord Doneraile, and work on the church continued throughout 1826 and 1827, under the supervision of Michael Reardon. It was completed and dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1827, two years before the arrival of Catholic Emancipation. The left wall of the church collapsed during erection and had to be rebuilt. The new wall was reinforced, and it will be noticed that there are fewer windows and more wall on this side of the building. As a result of the weakness on this side the wall at the left sanctuary end buckled , so buttresses were put up against the rear or western wall to support the building. The Sacristy was erected between these buttresses.

Originally there was a three tier gallery at the rear of the church. Access to this gallery was by two separate stairways, one on each side of the main entrance. On the roof of the building over the east face a stone cross was erected. However this was blown down in a storm, in the early 1940's, and replaced by a metal one. On a panel beneath the cross is the following inscription: "DOM 1827" The letters DOM are an abbreviation of the latin words 'Deo Optimo Maximo' - 'To God the Best and Greatest'.

On the west (sacristy) side of the building hangs a bell, with a dull monotonous tone, which is rung for Mass, funerals, the Angelus and such like events. Dr. William O'Brien was P.P. during the turbulent decade of the 1820's, when there was great agrarian unrest throughout North Cork, and along the Limerick border. The Whiteboys were very active in these areas. Three traumatic events occured while O'Brien was P.P. in Doneraile - the burning of Carker Lodge in 1823, the Doneraile Conspiracy of 1829 and the killing of two tithe procters in Castlepook in 1832. Dr. O'Brien died in 1834. He must be considered to be one of the more important P.P.'s of Doneraile, being energetic and zealous, with a positiva approach to his mission.

Interior of Church.

After entering the church by the main doors at the east end, a chapel for the Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament can be seen on the right hand side. This was built in 1989, and the idea was brought from Rome by the new Bishop of Cloyne, Dr. John Magee, who had been secretary to three Popes. At this time also another tier of the old gallery was removed, and two new confession boxes were built opposite the Adoration Chapel on the left hand side.

Above the Adoration Chapel, on the right hand side is a pieta,showing Jesus in the arms of his mother. This memorial was erected in memory of John Harold-Barry of Ballyvonare, who died on May 5th. 1898, and of his wife Margaret Josephine, who died on Aug. 15th. 1922. This John Harold-Barry was a son of the man who was associated with the building of the church in 1826/27.

Three former P.P.'s of Doneraile are buried within the church - Dr. William O'Brien (who built it), Dr. Patrick Sheehan, and Dr. Daniel Dilworth. Dr. O'Brien is buried below the pulpit, a little to the left and his memorial inscription reads: "Dr. Wm. O'Brien, P.P., V.G. Obiit 1834" On the top left side wall, near Dr. O'Brien's grave, and between the first and second Stations of the Cross, is a memorial tablet to the first of two Patrick Sheehans who were P.P.'s of Doneraile.He was pastor from 1834 to 1849, having previously been P.P. of Rathcormac. He lived at Kilbrack Cottage, Doneraile. On the right side wall between the thirteenth and fourteenth Stations is a tablet commemorating Very Rev. Daniel Dilworth, Vicar Forane, and Chancellor of the Diocese of Cloyne, who was P.P. from 1870 to 1880. Also on the left side is a tablet in memory of a priest who died young. He was Rev. Wm. Heaphy, who was Dean of St. Colman's College Fermoy, and died on Feb. 15th. 1888, aged 28 years. He was a native of Doneraile parish.

On the right side, adjoining the sanctuary, and resting against the wall is a large crucifix, erected in memory of members of the Harold-Barry family, who died in various wars while serving in the British army.At the bottom of the crucifix are three brass plate bearing the following inscriptions:

"In loving memory of Capt. Wm. Harold-Barry who died at Krugersdorp from wounds received in action, Feb.1,1896 aged 25 years, erected by his sorrowing family."

" In loving memory of Capt. John Harold-Barry, 1915, Lt. Gerald Harold-Barry, 1916, Capt. and Adjt. Gilbert Nagle M.C. 1917, Lt. Edward Noel Carroll-Leahy 1918, who gave their lives during the Great War in France."

" Capt. Charles Harold-Barry M.C. Ballyvonare, born May 21st. 1897, Died Jan.24th. 1986."

Krugersdorp is now an industrial and mining centre in the Transvaal Province of the Republic of South Africa.It was the scene of fighting during the so-called 'Jameson Raid' of 1896, which was a failed attack on the Boer colony in the Transvaal from the British controlled Cape Colony.

Charles Harold-Barry was the last member of the family to worship in Doneraile church, thus ending their long association with it.

The pulpit has an American association. It was erected by Mrs. Ann Powers of New York, in memory of her father, Denis O'Connor, formerly of Doneraile.

The reredos or ornamental screen at the back of the main altar is decorated with some fine plasterwork. The triangular top has delicate artistic interlacing.In the centre of the screen is an image of the sun with the letters IHS on it and surrounded by a circle of stars. This is again circumscribed by a band containing 12 angels. Beneath the stars is a floral motif in the same delicate design. Marble pillars act as supports for the screen, as they do for the main altar. A replica of Da Vinci's painting "The Last Supper" is carved under this altar.

The porch at the side door was erected by Canon P.A. Sheehan, at the beginning of th 20th. century to protect the door collectors from the rain.

There are two side altars. The one on the right has a statue of St. Joseph over it and the one on the left has a statue of the Virgin and Child. One altar was erected by the parishioners to the memory of the late and much lamented P.P. the Rev. P. Duggan, and the other by the parishioners again, to the memory of Rev. E. McDonnell C.C.

Cornice mouldings wind all around the top of the four church walls. On the ceiling are two large circles containing similar decorations.

The church is said to be of the Romanesque style of architecture, and it has the rounded windows which are a feature of this style. The beautiful stained glass windows were installed by Canon David Kent for the centenary in 1927. They cost eighty pounds each when they were installed, and local religious organisations contributed to the cost of the windows. Two of them are dedicated to the author Canon P.A. Sheehan. The lower tier of the gallery was also removed at that time, as was one of the stairways leading to the gallery.

Other Features.

Canon Kent also installed a marble altar rails which had to be removed as a result of the change which followed the Second Vatican Council of 1962/65. However the marble from the altar rails was used in extending the sanctuary floor.

There is a third confession box on the top left hand side of the church. It is the old style confession box,with two entrances. It was always the box of the parish priest, before the Council. It is not used now owing to the reduction of the number of priests in the village from three to two. The Baptismal font was formerly at the end of the church, near the porch. Since Vatican 2 it has been transferred to the sanctuary.

The church was reslated in recent years, and new rafters put in. The stained-glass windows were also storm-proofed. All this work was undertaken by the present P.P. Canon Ml. O'Connell.

On the front wall of the church, facing east, two recesses were made at the turn of the century to contain statues commemorating two parishioners who died about that time.On the left side is a statue of St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus in his arms, dedicated to the memory of Ml. Murphy who died on Nov. 8th. 1900. On the right side is a statue of the Blessed Virgin, with the boy Jesus, which commemorates John Valentine Roche, who died on July 30th. 1898.

The Grove Bell.

A larger, louder, more harmonious sounding bell, was erected in the grove by Canon Kent, during his time as pastor. It rested on two truncated wooden pillars of Scots Pine trees from the grove, and its deep sound reverberated around the village and beyond. It was said to have come from the old parish church in Cobh, when it was replaced by the new Cathedral there. Canon Kent had been administrator in Cobh before his appointment as parish priest of Doneraile

After some years this large bell ceased to be used, as it was too heavy for its wooden supports,and was considered dangerous to ring. However, about midnight in the mid-1930's the grove bell, long silent, tolled again, much to the astonishment of the people of Doneraile. It was not until next day that they learned the reason why. Two locals, on their way home decided to ring in the New Year using the large church bell. It was the last time the bell was rung as it was taken down shortly afterwards.

The church is now 170 years old. It is still the parish church of Doneraile, and is likely to remain so for many years. It is a strange austere building, with no nave, side aisles, nor transept, just four walls and a roof. However, liturgically it is perfect for the new post Vatican 2 era, having no pillars between the congregation and the altar.

Segregation of Congregation.

In the early years of the church there were different admission charges to three separate sections of the church. The dearest (sixpence) were at the top of the church. This area consisted seven or eight rows of railed off seats above the top confession box, and a door near the confession box gave entrance to this exclusive area. In the centre were the seats of the middle classes: these extended from the upper class area to within nine or ten seats at the back where the poorest worshipped in the cheapest seats at the back of the church.Entry to both the centre and the top of the church was via a door at the side of the building known as "the Side Door" which thus became a kind of class symbol.

The Side Door.

Because of social and economic change, the segregation of the faithful became an anachronism with the passage of time, though it remained until well into the 20th. century, and the 'side door' syndrome remained on until recent times. Even up to the 1960's everybody who was anybody came in by the side door, where a special silver collection was made. This form of distinction was ended by Canon John Cotter, who was P.P. from 1959 until his retirement in 1988. He asked everybody to enter the church by the main entrance doors at the east end of the building. This action made him a very popular man in the parish.

Graves in the Churchyard.

Six more parish priests are buried in the churchyard. These are the names and the years they served in Doneraile: Dr. Patrick Duggan (1849-1866), Canon P.A. Sheehan, the well-known author, (1895- 1913), Canon David Barry (1913-1926),Monsignor David Kent (1926-1941), Canon Maurice O'Connell (1941-1958) and Canon John Cotter (1958-1988).

Four curates are buried in the churchyard. Inside the entrance gates, about half-way down, on the right-hand side, adjoining the parochial hall is a flat gravestone erected by Rev. Timothy Twomey in memory of his twin brother, the Rev. Cornelius Twomey who died in 1817. Fr. Timothy Twomey, the other twin is buried in front of the main entrance doors to the church; a cross enclosed in a circle marked his grave, but the whole slab was covered up when a new surface was laid in recent years. These two priesrs as well as being twins, rode twin horses. They were curates in Doneraile when Dr. Wm. O'Brien was P.P. Two priests, who were born in Doneraile, but served elsewhere were buried in the churchyard, adjoining the graves of Canon Sheehan and Canon Barry. They are Rev. Michael Sheehan, Pro-Cathedral, Dublin who died on the 21th. of April 1942, aged 38 years, and Father Thomas O'Callaghan, a curate of the Diocese of Cloyne, who died 28th. of January 1955, aged 47 years.

Two unexpected graves are located in the vicinity of the church. They are those of Captain Spencer Stewart and his wife Francis Olivia.Capt.Spencer Stewart lived at Springfort Hall, near Baltydaniel,and was a grandson of the 7th. Earl of Galloway in Scotland. Though a Protestant, he awas said to be a great benefactor of the Catholic Church in Doneraile. He died in Springfort Hall, on the 19th. of May 1893.Possibly because he was a Protestant, he was buried at the back of the sacristy, in the Grove. A wooden cross that once marked his grave has now disappeared. His wife, who was Catholic, died in 1903, and is buried in the churchyard, alongside the grave of Rev. Corneilius Twomey. No inscribed stone marks her grave, but a stone kerb encloses the rectangular plot.

Canon Sheehan.

The most striking monument in Doneraile churchyard is the lifesize bronze statue erected by the Canon Sheehan National Memorial Committee to Doneraile's most famous parish priest - the writer Canon P.A. Sheehan. It is the work of the sculptor Francis Doyle Jones, and was unveiled by Most Rev. Dr. Robert Browne, Bishop of Cloyne, on Sunday Oct. 18th. 1925.

Canon Sheehan was the author of a dozen novels, three books of essays, a book of poetry, a play and a book of sermons, most of which were written while he was P.P. of Doneraile from 1895 to 1913. Today we may not see anything strange in a priest writing novels about priests, but in Sheehan's time any kind of free comment on the clergy was frowned upon. So Sheehan was very brave and a pioneer in this field. His books gave us a fascinating insight into the life and mind of the Irish priest as seen by one of their own fellows, and into an institution,the Catholic church, which played such a dominant role in Irish life in the 19th. century.

However there was a constant conflict between Sheehan the priest and Sheehan the writer. As a priest he was concerned with his duty and responsibility to shield his people from error and temptation. As a novelist he felt the urge to be an artist. The dilemma which he faced was as he put it "Between Cavalry and Parnassus".

He resolved the conflict to some extent by regarding the writing of novels as an extension of his role in the pulpit. His purpose in writing was moralistic, to point to a moral with the sugar coating of a story. He wished to edify and instruct. While this a laudable enough aim for a writer, one does not always write good novels when one sets out to do it deliberately.

In his day he was a very popular writer, but today he is regarded as a minor novelist. Yet it can be said that, even today, in houses throughout Ireland, one will find sets of Canon Sheehans books, where there are not works of other luminaries of the Irish literary revival, such as Yeats ,Synge and O'Casey.

Canon Sheehan is buried in the churchyard. His headstone is is in the shape of a white Celtic cross, on the left side of the churchyard near the entrance to the sacristy. For his epitaph he chose the rather enigmatic words of Jesus when he was asked the question "Where dwellest thou Rabbi" "Come and See".


I wish to thank the late Canon John Cotter, P.P. of Doneraile (1958-1988) for information about the Church of the Nativity of the B.V.M. Doneraile.

I am also grateful to Mr. Tony McNamara, 16, Bishopscourt Ave., Cork, former Cork City Archiytect, for details of the life of monk-architect, Michael Augustine Reardon.

Michael Shine. Mallow Rd., Doneraile.


I would like to thank Michael for permission to reproduce this article which was first printed in the Mallow Field Journal IssueNo. 15. 1997.

Neill O'Donnell.

You are visitor Since Aug.22nd 1998.

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