History of

St. Barrahane’s Church

This parish first appears in the decretal epistle of Pope Innocent III (1199) as Glenberchin.

In the visitation book of 1615 it is called Glenbarahan.

The patron saint has been identified with Berehan, son of Man of Sil Ludach Laidhe.

The eastern gable of the original Church still stands in the old graveyard at Castlehaven, at the south-western end of the harbour.

Owing to a movement of the Protestant population eastwards to the village then forming, now called Castletownshend, a petition was sent in 1756 to the Lord Lieutenant and his Majesty's Privy Council of Ireland asking permission to build a church more in the centre of the parish "owing to the danger of shipwreck suffered by the devout on their way to church in winter".

This petition was granted the same year by the Lords Justice and Council of Ireland and a church was built on the existing site in 1761.

An acre of land for the church and graveyard was sold to the parish by Richard Townsend for the nominal price of five shillings.

This Church cannot have been well built or maintained as there is an entry in the minute book of the Select Vestry, dated 19th April, 1824, which reads: "Resolved that from the ruinous state of the present Church it is absolutely expedient that a new one be built." The present church was therefore built on the same site, in 1826, at a cost of £1,384. 12s3¾d.

On December 16th 1976 a service of thanksgiving was held for the 150 years of use of the present Church. At this sesquicentenary service, the sermon was preached by the then Primate of all Ireland, the Most Reverend Dr. G. O. Simms. There was a large congregation of many denominations.

 

PATRONAGE.

The ancient patrons of the living were the chiefs of the O'Driscoll Clan. After the rebellion in 1601 and subsequent flight to Spain it was granted alternately to the Bishop of Ross and the British Crown. This arrangement continued until the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1870.

 

BUILDING.

The architect was James Pain, Provincial Architect.

The Church is built of stone from Horse Island. This is the larger island at the mouth of the harbour. For some unknown reason it was most clearly stated in the specification that no American timber was to be used anywhere in the Church. Originally it had the high box pews, each with its own door, that were normal at the period. These were replaced by the present pews in 1889.

 

CHURCH APPROACHES.

There are fifty-two steps up to the Church, one for every Sunday of the year. The iron arches and handrail are of local craftsmanship, the former in the memory of Mrs. Elizabeth Chavasse and the latter in memory of the Vice-Admiral Boyle Somerville, C.M.G. and Mrs. Somerville of the Point House.

 

CHURCH DOORS.

The outer Church doors, erected in 1950 and made of teak, are in memory of the Very Reverend Harry Becher, late Dean of Ross and Mrs. Becher. He was Rector of this Parish from 1891-1914. The inner doors erected in 1948 are of oak and are in memory of Major Henry Chavasse of Seafield.

 

THE PORCH.

Here is an oar from a ship's boat of "SS Lusitania" sunk by enemy action in 1915, not far from the harbour. It stands here in memory of the many drowned passengers and crew who were brought into the harbour.

 

WINDOWS.

 

THE EAST WINDOW:

This represents the Blessed Virgin and the Child Christ. On their right are the Three Kings with their gifts of gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. On the left are the Shepherds with St. Joseph in the background. The three Saints in the headlights are St. Brigid, one of the patron saints of Ireland, St. Fachtna, founder of the diocese of Ross, and St. Barrahane, patron saint of this parish. The window is by Harry Clarke of Dublin (1889-1931) one of the greatest glass craftsmen of modern times. It was substituted (by permission) for an earlier window that was erected in 1872 by Thomas Somerville, D.L. of Drishane House, in this parish, in memory of his wife, Henrietta Townsend of Castletownshend. The present window was given in the year 1915 by the grandchildren of Mr. and Mrs. Somerville to the memory of their grandparents.

 

WINDOW IN THE SOUTH WALL OF THE CHANCEL:

Here is a small window of exceptional beauty also by Harry Clarke. It is in memory of Sir Egerton Coghill, Bart., of Glenbarrahane, himself a painter, and represents St. Luke the Apostle, patron of painters. Note the head of the Blessed Virgin sketched on the palette in the Saint's hand. Round the central figure in miniature are the figures of St. John, St. Fidelis (name-day saint of Sir Egerton), St. Barrahane holding the Church and St. Cecilia seated at her organ.

 

THE EASTERN WINDOW ON THE NORTH SIDE:

This is a memorial to LT. Col. Thomas Henry Somerville Drishane. It represents Archangels Gabriel ad Michael (the Messenger of the Lord and Captain of the Heavenly hosts respectively). The details of the wings, armour and vestments are worthy of note, especially the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The window is by Powell of London.

 

THE EASTERN MOST WINDOW ON THE SOUTH SIDE Is in memory of the Colonel's wife Adelaide, born Coghill. It represents Hope and Charity and is also by Powell.

 

SECOND WINDOW ON THE SOUTH SIDE:

This is a memorial to Sir Joscelyn Coghill, Bart., and to his eldest son, Lieu. Neville Coghill, V.C., who died saving the colours of his regiment, the first Battalion of the 24th Foot (which later became the South Wales Borderers), at the battle of Isandlwhana against the Zulu's. The two figures are those of St. Patrick and St. George. Between them may be seen the Irish Sea. This is another Powell window.

 

THIRD WINDOW ON THE SOUTH SIDE is in memory of Colonel Kendall Coghill, C.B. a veteran of the Indian Mutiny. On the left can be seen St. Louis (Louis IX, King of France), an ancestor of Colonel Coghill. Over the head of the Saint are the poor men who used to fed at his table and, in the headlight is the ship in which he sailed to the east to fight the infidels, and the angels who guarded his ship. On the right is St. Martin of Tours, patron of soldiers. He was met by a poor beggar asking for clothing. St. Martin promptly cut his cloak I two with his sword, giving half to the beggar who kneels in the foreground. In the headlight can be seen the flaming sword of St. Martin. The window is also by Harry Clarke.

 

THE BRONZE CHANDELIERS, also THE STONE TABLET ON THE NORTH WALL

are in memory of Dr. E. Œ. Somerville, Litt. D. The latter was designed by W.H. Sharpington.

Both were subscribed for by the Doctor's many American admirers.

Dr. Somerville is buried on the bank at the east end of the Church. Her grave is marked by a rough country stone, which she had chosen herself. Her lifelong friend and collaborator, Violet Martin (Martin Ross) lies beside her.

A symposium of the life and work of Somerville and Ross was organised by the parish in 1984.

 

THE CHANCEL.

The holy table is of oak and very ancient, the greater part being worked with an adze and not a plane. The reredos will repay examination. On the right are the soldiers sleeping outside the empty tomb. Below the retable are two men in prayer. The Holy Table and reredos had previously been in the hall of Shanacourt, a house in the village. Their earlier history is unknown but some believe they came from the original Parish Church. The whole is of great antiquity and was presented to the Church in memory of Violet Martin, by her friend and cousin, Dr. E. Œ. Somerville.

 

THE CROSS ON THE HOLY TABLE was presented in 1964 in memory of Capt. Henry Owen Dabridgecourt Becher. It was made by Egan of Cork. Previously Canon 36 of the Church of Ireland forbade a Cross in this position.

 

THE FLOOR MOSAIC was designed by Dr. E. Œ. Somerville. It is based on Celtic symbols and decorations and includes the fish (the primitive symbol of the holy name), and two representations of the Ardagh Chalice. It was laid in 1925 by Rust & Co. of England. Most of the gold mosaic had to be replaced in 1964.

 

THE BAPTISTERY.

This is on the north side of the Church. It was originally the private pew of the Townshends of the Castle and the present Vestry was their anteroom. The font cover is in memory of Mrs. Judith Isabel Chavasse of Seafield. It is a copy, made in Rosscarbery, of an ancient font cover in St. Mary's Collegiate Church, Youghal. Around the baptistery are stalls, which bear the arms of some incumbents of the parish. Two boards bearing their names hang in the baptistery. The cushions were made by the ladies of the parish. The large marble memorial on the west wall is a history of the Townshend family. It was erected in 1903 by Mrs. Geraldine Henrietta Townshend Mundy. (N.B.  Since 1870 some branches of the Townsend family have spelt their name Townshend.)

 

THE ORGAN LOFT.

The Organ, which was built by Foster & Andrews of Hull in 1872 and installed at a cost of £168.0.6d., carries a plaque stating that Dr. E. Œ. Somerville acted as organist for seventy years, from 1875 to 1945. It was restored in 1957 in memory of Jane Townsend of the Red House.

 

June 1996.