Parish Life in the 19th Century- Loughinisland
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© Rosalind Davies 2001
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Parish Life in the 19th Century- Loughinisland

One of the most remarkable achievements of the 19th century was the revival of the Catholic Church in Ireland. In 1800 the characteristic chapel of a rural parish was still plain and unadorned, without sacristy for the priest to vest or altar rails to separate the sanctuary from the body of the church. Lacking a tabernacle or other secure place, there was no reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, and the church was closed after Sunday Mass for the remainder of the week. Sacraments such as baptism and marriage were administered in the homes of the people, as were funeral Masses for deceased members of the parish. The liturgy was simple, altar vessels and vestments were frequently of poor quality, and there were no statues or pictures to assist devotion. In the early decades of the 19th century, however, this was to change and 1850 saw the emergence of a better-organised, more devotional church and self confident church. Priests were more numerous, the laity were better instructed and the parish church became the focal point of the peopleís lives as the sacraments were now normally celebrated there. That parishes began to keep registers of birth, deaths and marriages was another indication of the new stability.

It is not always easy to trace this transformation in an individual parish, but fortunately Loughinisland is an exceptional case, for no other place in Ireland has earlier or more complete records. Father William McMullan, who became parish priest in 1805 was one of the new generation of energetic pastors and the records he kept from 1806 until his death in 1847 is testimony of his efficiency, for he documents not only births, deaths and marriages, and the houses in the parish at which confession stations were held, but he also records the amounts of the voluntary collections at Easter, Lammas and Christmas and the crop yields from his farm at Tievenadarragh.

Even a cursory glance at the registers reveals their importance as a source of information on an Ulster parish between the Union and the famine. For example the fact that there was a population explosion in Ireland in the early decades of the 19th century is well established, but an analysis of the Loughinisland parish registers gives a clear indication of the scale and effects of the increases. It also indicates that the birth-rate had begun to fall dramatically before the potato famine of 1845- 1849; and this corresponds clearly with what was happening in near-by Lecale.

Decade Average Baptisms per annum

1810- 1820 107.3; In 1820- 1829 104.5;In 1830- 1839 98.2; In 1840- 1849 62. Thus between 1810 and 1840 there were 3,100 baptisms in the parish, an average of over 100 per annum. This is an astounding statistic and when one notes that the number of burials registered the same period was 1035, the scale of Ďthe explosioní becomes clear. The population of the parish increased by more than 2,000 in 30 years, for emigration was not then on a large scale.

Father McMullan was energetic, but he soon found he needed help for such a large congregation and Fathers Cameron, Clinton, Blayney and Bradley served as curates in the parish from 1800- 1849. Father McMullan must have welcomed their assistance, for, as Professor Corish has pointed out; "In the early 19th century, in Ireland as elsewhere, there was a real sense of inhibition against a priest saying two Masses in the same church even on Sundays". Even, so, the church was too small for the large congregation and many must have knelt outside or huddled together at the back of the building. Such conditions did not make it easy for the priest to instruct his people, but there was usually a simple homily and there was catechesis of the children before or after Mass. As well a National School had been established near the Church in 1833, with Father McMullan as manager and it was there, and in the homes, that the foundations of the faith were laid.

The rapid increase in population had economic consequences for the parishioners also. Most people married young and farms were divided and subdivided, as fathers tried to provide holdings for their sons. A large number, without land, worked as farm labourers or domestic servants at Fordeís or the larger holdings, at the mills of Nutgrove and Ballydugan, or in the linen mill of John Cromie at Draper Hill which provided employment for more than 2,000 weavers.

As in other areas the failure of the potato crop (1845-1849) brought hardship to Loughinisland and there was a great clearance from the countryside through death, emigration and movement to the towns. This too, is reflected in the parish registers, which show that in the 30 years after the famine, baptisms declined to less than two a month. Despite this, however, the census of 1861 found that there were about 2,7000 Catholics in the parish, that is about three times the number that there are today.

Father Patrick Dorrian succeeded "Priestí McMullan in 1847 and for the next 20 years served as parish priest. He continues the careful keeping of records, but his entries are concise and one misses the snippets on farm purchases, elopements and faction fights which add colour and interest to the early pages. The post famine period was one of relative prosperity and Father Dorrian utilised the greater resources at his disposal to implement in the parish the liturgy and devotional practices initiated by the Synod of Thurles. It was the qualities he showed in Loughinisland which led to his choice as co-adjutor to Bishop Denvir in 1860.

One can analyse statistics and record the material improvements that marked the 19th century but the really important element, the spiritual life of its people, cannot be so easily quantified. There is no doubt, however, that long before 1900 a Catholic ethos permeated the life of the parish, missions and retreats were held, and devotions like Ďthe nine Fridaysí ensured attendance at the sacraments. The Butler and Maynooth catechisms, memorised at school, meant that parishioners were better grounded in religious doctrine, but the older people still retained their deep and simple faith and the rosary was central to their lives.

As the century ended Father Crickard transferred the townlands of Teconnaught and Magheralone to Kilmore, thus providing Father James McArdle, parish priest of Kilmore, with a magnificent site on Annacloy Road for the Holy Family Church, blessed and dedicated on Easter Sunday, 1899. At the same time the Rocks Chapel in Magheracranmoney, the last reminder in the diocese of the penal days, finally closed its doors.

Stations A distinctive feature of the Irish Church in the late 18th and early 19th century were Ď the stationsí held in private houses, scattered throughout a parish, at which confessions were heard, Mass celebrated anfd Holy Communion distributed. Before Lent and Advent notice was given in the church of the dates of the stations and of the houses in which they were to be held. Parishioners were expected to attend the houses in their district and during the Mass there was normally a brief, catechetical instruction. To have a station in oneís home was regarded as a privilege and the house and its surroundings were prepared for the coming of the priest.

Father William MacMullan in characteristic fashion kept a detailed record of the stations held in the parish of Loughinisland for the period 1823-1830. This is a valuable document which provides a useful corrective to some recent statements by historians on the devotions and practices of Irish Catholics in the years immediately before the famine. As well, the distribution of the station houses, according to townlands and the number of penitents at each house gives a useful information on the extent of the parish and the distribution of population in the early 19th century.

The entries which follow have been transcribed from the first volume of the parish register. They are compiled by Father William MacMullan.

Names of Houses Wherein I heard Confessions

1828- March Confessions- date, house, number present ; 5th Edward Grieveís, Magheralone 30; 6th Pat Vernonís, Broclough 16; 12th Hugh Savage, Taconet 16; 13th John McMullan, Hill, Sevaghan 18; 14th In the Chapel, Seaforde 22; 19th John Martin Senior, Tevenadara 25; 20th Daniel McManus, Annadorn 35; 22th Ned Maguire, Taconet 38; 24th Robert Connolly, Farranfad 43; 26th Bernard Fitzpatrick, Tevenadara 41; 27th Henry Hazard, Broclough 40

April 9th Dan Roganís, Castlenavan 20; 10th Widow Savageís, Farranfad 35; 14th Dan Vernonís, Sevaghan 30; 15th James Maguire, Broclough 44; 16th Thomas Maguire, Magheralone 52; 17th William McMullan, Tevendara 37; 18th Widow Johnston, Drumgooland 37; 20th Patrick Branigan, Dinenew 40

May 1st John OíToole, Annadorn 32; 3rd Patrick Mararanís, Heath, Magheralone 22; 5th J. McNamara Junior, Taconet 52; 5th Frank Redmondís, Tevenadara 40; 7th Murt Maglenan, Tanaghmore 41; 8th Richard McHenry, Faranfad 41; 9th Chapel Seaforde etc 22; 12th John Falloona, Seaforde 32; 13th Widow Ronaghanís, Craigduff 32; 17th Mr. Maglenanís, Castlenavin, Months Mind 30; 19th James Laverty, Artana 44 ; 20th Alexander Maguire, Sevaghan 54; 21th Mr. Kellyís, Dinenew 12; 22th Patrick Greenís, Rosconnor 42 ; 26th Chapel & Nutgrove 42; 27th Pady Herrillís, Seaforde 40; 28th Philip Burns, Drumnakelly 37; 29th Chapel 4; 31st At 2 private Masses in Hugh Flynnís, Dinenew & Hugh Maxwell;s, Broclough 45

June 3rd Ns. Fitzsimons, Seaforde, Now and Before _____

Penitents in Anno 1828 1,395

(St. Macartanís Church Loughinisland Bicentenary 1787-1987 page 31- 3


Ros Davies

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