06 October 2018

We ploughed the fields
and scattered … at
the Harvest in Rathkeale

With the Revd Michael O’Sullivan of Cork Unitarian Church at last night’s Harvest Thanksgiving Service in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale

Patrick Comerford

We ploughed the fields and scattered in Rathkeale last night … or at least sang about it, and scattered the funds we raised to help the victims of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia.

We celebrated the harvest, sang about it, prayed about, listened to God’s word about it, heard from our visiting preacher, and then enjoyed it as we sold and bought the produce of the harvest at the auction in the school.

This year it was the turn of Holy Trinity Church in Rathkeale to host the group harvest service, and there was a large number of visitors there too from local walking groups.

The visiting preacher was the Revd Michael O’Sullivan of Cork Unitarian Church, who studied theology at Maynooth and the Priory Institute.

This was not his first visit to Rathkeale: he had been here last year during the Palatine conference, and joined us in the school for coffee.

Mike, who was ordained in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church last year, is a long-time friend on Facebook, and a frequent contributor to debates I have stirred on social media.

His church on Prince’s Street in the heart of the city centre is listed as the oldest place of continuous worship in Cork, having been opened as a church over 300 years ago in August 1717.

Building began around 1711 in an area outside the then city walls called Dunscombe’s Marsh. It was built to house a Non-Subscribing Presbyterian congregation that had outgrown a smaller church in what was then Watergate Lane, now South Main Street.

The church opened on 4 August 1717, and Prince’s Street is now a well-loved area of Cork, close to the English Market, as Mike told us last night.

The Non-Subscribers were dissenters who eventually broke with the Presbyterians over the question ministers subscribing to the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Former ministers in the church include the Revd Thomas Dix Hincks (1767-1857), founder of the Royal Cork Institute, and famous members of the church include Richard Dowden (1794-1861), a Mayor of Cork and the painter Daniel Maclise (1806-1870).

The Temperance campaigner, Father Theobald Matthew, signed his Temperance Agreement in the Unitarian Church in Cork in 1839, and six years later the American social reformer, abolitionist, author and statesman Frederic Douglass visited the church.

In the 20th century, numbers began to dwindle and by 1955, with just one remaining member, plans were made to sell the church. The church has found new life in recent years, and the building was restored in recent years.

The Revd Mike O’Sullivan, who was ordained in February 2017, and the church celebrated its tercentenary in September 2017, attended by the Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork, clergy from the Synod of Munster, ecumenical guests, and the Choral Con Fusion choir.

The church has good ecumenical relationships with neighbouring churches and other faith communities in the area, and the pulpit was a gift from the Church of Ireland.

Back in Rathkeale No 2 National School after the Harvest Thanksgiving Service, the Harvest Auction was conducted by the ever-affable Councillor Adam Teskey.

The funds raised last night are going to the Church of Ireland Bishops’ Appeal Fund to help responses to the earthquake that hit the island of Sulawesi last week, causing a tsunami and around 170 aftershocks.

This is the most devastating earthquake to hit Indonesia since 2004, and Bishops’ Appeal is acting as a conduit for funds that are being directed to agencies to aid emergency relief efforts on the ground.

Councillor Adam Teskey in full flight at the harvest auction in Rathkeale last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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