The Mass Hollow At Keelogue
On Friday, 25 May, 1973 at 7.30 p.m. the penal day altar at Keelogue
on the land of Mr. Denis Doran as blessed by the parish priest. Very
Rev. Fr. Patrick Byrne in the presence of an immense congregation. Mass
was concelebrated by Fr Peadar Mac Suibhne and Fr. C O'Neill, Carlow
College. Fr. Sean Kelly C.C. and Fr. Michael Butterfield, Graiguecullen
were present. The altar had been built and the Hollow prepared by Mr.
Paddy Purcell. After the Gospel the following address by Billy Kelly and
Paddy Purcell was read by Tony Fitzpatrick.
"A land without ruins is a land without memories; a land
without memories is a land without history. A land that wears a laurel
crown may be fair to see, but twine a few sad cypress leaves around the
brow of any land, and be that land barren, beautiless and bleak, it
becomes lovely in its consecrated coronal of sorrow, and it wins
sympathy from the heart of history. Crowns of roses fade, crowns of
thorns endure, Calvaries and Crucifixions take the deepest hold on
The triumphs of might are transient; the sufferings of right
are graven deepest on the chronicles of nations. Ireland differs from
all other lands, because she can claim to be a land of monuments. Not
alone in her towns and cities where there are great and stately
memorials of the past, but in every village, even the name of a townland
is in itself a memory of some battle fought and won. Almost in every
field there is some reminder of days and men long gone, of causes lost
and won; each bend of the road will produce an ancient, silent witness
to all that ebb and flow of the human tide, to all the centuries of
struggle from which the Ireland of today, after thousands of years has
The Ireland of today is the child of all those ages, and her
monuments lead us step by step through all the night of centuries of the
race, from the dark, dim past, when the first children of Adam through
Milidh Espainne set foot on Irish soil and became the Irish race. There
are raths, doons and castles, dolmens and crannogs that even modern
archaeologists tell us were old when Greece and Rome were still young.
There are rugged cells and monastic ruins . 55 of the early Christian
era, forts of the Danes and Norsemen, the abbeys, the ruined shrines and
churches and the grim, blackened walls of the cruel Cromwellian days.
There are the "Mass Rocks," the "Mass Caves," and the "Mass Pits" of the
days when in the dark penal period, the people and priest alike
suffered. There are the gibbets and graves of '98. All silent witnesses;
yet scarce one but holds the history of a people, or marks the triumph
or failure of a cause, a people that held true to the "Faith of our
Fathers." In any county in Ireland — aye, in any district - one can
study the varying fortunes of our country's history in monuments
speaking with many voices.
Yet in this land of monuments there is
scarcely a more suitable district for this study than Killeshin, with
its Holy Well, Mass Hollows and its outstanding Romanesque Doorway. On
the suggestion of Fr. Peadar MacSuibhne to erect a cross in the Mass
Hollow in a field of Denis Doran's of Keelogue, a few of the
parishioners decided to erect something more substantial than a wooden
cross, and with the help of a number of men whom we will refer to later
in this account, we cleaned out the hollow, erected the shrine and
fenced the area to the best of our ability.
The Mass Hollow
The Mass Hollow was known in the days when Mass was celebrated
there, as Clais-an-Aifrinn, the Mass Hollow, and was 'then in the hands
of the O'Doran family, and had been for some generations previous to
this time 1691—1727. What a history of hallowed memories cling around
What a tragic tale it tells of ruined churches, desecrated
altars and homes. God homeless and His people homeless as they gathered
in the dark and cold and storm, around the Mass Hollow here, as in so
many similar places up and down the country. From cabin to cabin went
the word, with swiftness and silence of a bird, "The Mass Hollow at dawn
on Sunday," and from the cabins, the hollows and the hillsides — from
Turra, Tollerton, from Killeshin below and many places further afield,
came a multitude, stumbling in the darkness, creeping in the shelter of
the ditches and hedges like animals of prey, where awaited them the only
two friends they had on earth — their priest and their God. Round the
Mass Hollow no organ pealed its notes, no incense, but the mist as it
floated from Springhill across Keelogue; no sound but the whisper of the
breeze; no light but that of God's own stars, or the faint grey streaks
of dawn that heralded the approach of day, and the danger of detection.
But little they cared, who gathered here. They felt the warm glow of
Divine Love that burned for them in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Ah! Mass Hollow, you have seen this country red with blood of
our forefathers, black with the cloud of pestilence. You have seen the
guant spectre of famine. The gentle poet who adopted the pen-name, "Slievemargy,"
summed it up in his poem "Watching and Waiting" in his address to
England when he says: —
- "Famine and fever followed in your train,
- To every luckless land that owned your sway,
- Your onward path was strewn with heaps of slain,
- Your burnings half obscured the light of day,
- You plied the lash with still persistent zeal;
- Whether by Gange's flood or Shannon tide,
- Till, trod to earth, the slaves could hardly feel,
- The shackles that destroyed their native pride."
How our hearts fill with pride as we think of the days when this
hollow was filled with the murmured prayers of our stricken forefathers,
this monument of triumph and sorrow — a monument telling of generations
of martyrs — people with the indomitable courage of martyrs. To you we
leave the Mass Hollow of Killeshin, a reminder of the days of tolerance,
of the grim struggle of our forefathers to preserve our Faith.
To act as
an inspiration to one and all, to love and cherish, the greatest gift of
God to men — our Faith. Remember that no matter how we differed over the
centuries, we never differed in our Faith. We as a people are often
accused of looking back. We can afford to look back. We have a past. May
we repeat: "A land without memories is a land without history."
In conclusion we thank those wonderful people who always spared
time to cheerfully lend a hand in the task of preparing the Mass Hollow.
Our grateful thanks to Denis Doran, of the O'Dorans, one of the seven
septs of Laois; to Michael and James Hennessy. Also to Patrick Redmond,
Patrick Moran and to John Whelan of Crossneen. Laois may well be proud
to have such men, and we can assure you we are proud to be associated
with them, and will always cherish the memory of their cheerfulness and
hospitality. Last, but by no means least, our special thanks to Patrick
O'Rourke in whose capable hands we committed the building of the altar,
who readily volunteered to do the work. His work is indeed a tribute to
the generations of builders in the O'Rourke family. As good may have
gone before, but certainly none better.
The saying 'Laois bocht agus
buacach,' is quite appropriate — bocht because of repeated plantations,
transplantations, and confiscations — but rich with the riches that
'Land Bribes,' with their accompanying foreign title could never
purchase. Buacach, certainly the natives of Laois had reason to be
proud; buacach — to hold the head high with a legitimate local and
After Mass the clergy and congregation proceeded to
St. Diarmuit's Well on land near the old Romanesque Church. In Canon
O'Hanlon's, History of the Queen's County we read: "There was a
Mass-station also at Springhill. Timothy Comerford aged 76 informed us —
and his statement was confirmed by several others — that according to
tradition, Mass used to be said near a place called 'the Copse' at a 'Cummer'
under a large oak tree which he pointed out at the back of a hedge
between a field of his and one of Mr Fennell." Vol II p. 585 published
in 1914. Volume II was "compiled chiefly from the papers of Canon John
O'Hanlon, P.P., M.R.I.A. by Fr. Edward O'Leary, P.P. M.R.I.A.,
Portarlington and Fr. Matthew Lalor, P.P., Mountmellick."
- Penal Laws Relaxed
- And Mud-walled Chapels built
Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the penal laws were
being gradually relaxed. In 1778 there was a Relief Act allowing
Catholics to hold leases of land and to inherit and bequeath property.
In 1782 and again in 1792 new concessions were made to the Catholics.
Meantime the Catholics began to build mud-walled thatched chapels. Many
of these were burned by the yeomen in areas where the United Irishmen
were active. But these chapels were soon re-built. Billy Kelly and Paddy
Purcell explained how this was done.
A mud-walled thatched chapel could
be built by nine or ten men in as many days. A site was chosen, possibly
on inferior ground. Yellow clay is found anywhere. Rushes were ideal for
thatching. No foundation was needed; a track was dug for the « walls and
also to let away water. The walls inside would be 6% to ll/2 feet high.
Timber supports were necessary for the walls every 4 feet. These
supports were about 4" square and were got in the hedges from whatever
timber was available. Saws were not used. Wattles were interlaced
between them; these were about 1 inch thick, were got green and bent in.
This was done at both sides, leaving a cavity in between to keep out
damp. Mud was forced into the wattles and smoothed over with the hands.
About 2½ or 3 feet were built in one day. This was left for a couple of
days. Building was done in the summer; frost in winter would destroy the
walls during building. The rafters were rough; no saws were used. They
were got from the local hedges, about 3 in. in diameter. The end of
every second rafter was forked; the other end was plain. The plain end
rested in the mud wall. The forked end was at the top and the plain end
of another rafter was put into it. Runners about l/2 or 2 in. thick ran
the full length of the roof. They were tied to the rafters with straw or
sedge ropes. The ropes were crossed between the runners to hold up the
scraws. It is a trade to cut the scraw, 1 ft. wide for the full length
of the roof and rolled up.
These were got in the bog because the roots
there hold better. The scraws make a great carpet. They were thatched
over that, with rushes or straw. Little holes were left in the walls for
ventilation and for look-outs. The materials and methods varied in the
various areas. It was well into the eighteenth century before chapels
were built of stone. Patrick Purcell of Ardateggle, a relative of
Paddy's and Stephen Carey of Curragh, a relative of Fr. Patrick Carey
P.P., Borris, were in the Papal Army.
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