26 August 2020

Parish church in Waterville looks
out onto the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’

In the porch of the Church of Saint Michael and All Angels, Waterville … renovated in recent years to serve as a church and a heritage centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

The ‘Status Orange’ warning for Storm Francis had come into effect by the time we arrived in Waterville from Kenmare and Sneem for the first overnight stop on the Ring of Kerry as part of the August ‘Road Trip’ through southern Ireland.

Waterville is on a narrow strip of land between Currane Lake and the Atlantic Ocean. The winds were high and the rain was heavy as we arrived checked in for the night at Klondyke House on the edge of Waterville, and we decided to drive rather than walk to the Smugglers’ Inn on the coast for dinner rather than walk.

Before continuing on to Ballinskelligs and Valentia Island, we stopped to visit Saint Michael and All Angels Church, the Church of Ireland parish church, which was closed for restoration work when I visited Waterville two years ago (2018).

The Church of Ireland parish in Waterville is also been known as Dromod and in the past has been known as Templedrome. The original church at Dromod or Dromid was at Salahig, outside Waterville, and dated back to the 12th century.

The list of vicars and rectors of the parish dates back to the early 15th century when Maurice O’Sullewayn (O’Sullivan) was appointed Vicar of Inishnosail or Drummad in the Diocese of Ardfert, after obtaining a dispensation because he was the son of a priest. A similar dispensation, for the same reason, was granted in 1430 to his successor, Maurice O’Cuoma.

By the mid-15th century, the Papal letters note that the parish was a sinecure. The appointment was often filled by non-resident pluralists, who left their pastoral and parochial duties to low-paid curates. For example, in the early 19th century, Daniel Eccles Lucas was Rector of Dromod or Waterville in Co Kerry (1812-1828), and at the same time Rector of Castleblakeney, Co Galway (1823-1828), in the Diocese of Elphin.

Saint Michael’s Church, Waterville, Co Kerry, was built in the 1860s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

George Blake Concannon was Rector of Dromod in 1855-1872, but during that time was also chaplain to the Earl of Gainsborough (1865-1870). This second appointment is all the more surprising because Charles Noel (1818-1881), 2nd Earl of Gainsborough, was a prominent Whig politician who became a Roman Catholic in a very public conversion in 1850, along with his wife and children.

I told this story in ‘Four Victorian weddings and a funeral,’ published last year as a chapter in Marriage and the Irish: A miscellany, edited by Salvador Ryan (Wordwell: Dublin, 2019).

While Concannon was Rector of Dromod, the Church of Saint Michael and All Angels was built in 1861 and was consecrated by Bishop Charles Graves of Limerick and Ardfert in 1866. The church is set in an interesting graveyard, with the former parish school beside it, and commending views out across Waterville Bay.

Inside Saint Michael’s Church, designed by Welland and Gillespie (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Saint Michael’s is a double-height over part-basement Gothic Revival church, dated 1866. It was designed by Joseph Welland and completed by the partnership of Welland and Gillespie.

The church has a four-bay nave, a single-bay, double-height lower chancel at the east end, a vestry projection on the north side, a corbelled limestone ashlar spirelet at the gable, and a single-bay porch on the south side,.

The church is built with random rubble red sandstone walls with grey limestone dressings and has a pitched artificial slate roof with gable limestone copings and springers. There is a buttress at the centre of the west gable, a limestone corbel table to the gutters, carved rosettes at the west gable and a base batter. The lancet windows have limestone surrounds and leaded diamond glazing with stained glass margins. The east window is a triple lancet.

The church was first planned in 1858-1859 and the foundation stone was laid in March 1859. The contractor was DW Murphy of Bantry, Co Cork. The plans were modified by Joseph Welland and William Gillespie in 1861-1866, and the church was consecrated on 29 September 1866.

The windows at the west end of the church are in memory of John Edward Butler of Waterville (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The two-light west window, designed by Heaton, Butler and Bayne, was erected in 1882 in memory of John Edward Butler of Waterville and Youghal.

A later Victorian Rector of Dromod, Canon William Augustine Blood-Smith, was in Waterville in 1881-1883. He was a son-in-law of Canon Samuel Willis, Rector of Rathkeale, and later became Archdeacon of Killaloe and Kilfenora.

A lighting strike around 1900 and an increase in the size of the congregation with the expansion of the Commercial Cable Company provided the impetus for extending the church and adding a new belfry.

There are two memorials in the church to Archdeacon John George Fahy and his family. He was the Rector of Dromod for over 40 years (1883-1924), was also Archdeacon of Aghadoe from 1912 and Archdeacon of Ardfert and Aghadoe from 1922, although Ardfert is misspelled on his memorial as Ardeert.

The reredos in Saint Michael’s Church was dedicated 60 years ago on 18 September 1960 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

A new reredos in Saint Michael’s Church was dedicated on 18 September 1960. The church was rededicated to Saint Michael and All Angels on 29 September 1966, when James Leslie Enright was the Rector of Waterville and Valentia.

The Friends of Saint Michael’s, Waterville, was set up in 2010, after the church was a venue during the Charlie Chaplin Comedy Film Festival.

Two years ago, the local parish and the Rural Development Agency signed an agreement on a 10-year lease for the church. The parish still uses the church for services, but a heritage centre has been added to the vestry, and the church is being used for exhibitions, films, concerts and other events.

Archdeacon John George Fahy and his family are commemorated by two memorials in Saint Michael’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The completion of the first stage was celebrated at an ecumenical service on Trinity Sunday, 27 May 2018, when Father Gerald Finnucane and Saint Finian’s Parish, Waterville, were thanked for the use of the Waterville Oratory during the project.

A report from the Kenmare and Dromod Group of Parishes in Newslnk was inviting: ‘We look forward to welcoming our regular Sunday visitors, following in the footsteps of Charlie Chaplin and General Charles de Gaulle – why not join them for a day out to the far West of the Kingdom of Kerry.’

The Waterville community, through the local development company IRD is dedicated to the protection, restoration and enhancement of the church.

The Revd Michael Cavanagh has been the priest-in-charge of Kenmare, Kilcrohane, Dromod and Valentia since 2010.

Saint Michael’s Church looks out onto Waterville Bay and the Wild Atlantic Way (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

When Sneem was a knot
in the river and had
‘a very eccentric’ rector

Sneem is colourful, even on a wet and windy grey day in summer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

On the way from Kenmare to Waterville, we drove along the southern loop of the Ring of Kerry, passing through Parknasilla and stopping at Sneem. Sneem is 27 km west of Kenmare and 45 km west of Killarney, and lies on the estuary of the River Sneem.

Even on a wet, windy and grey day at the end of summer, Sneem is a colourful town. The former French President Charles de Gaulle visited Sneem on several occasions. The village has many fine sculptures, including a statue of Steve ‘Crusher’ Casey, a world champion wrestler who was born in Sneem.

William Melville, the first head of the British Secret Service, was also born near Sneem, at Direenaclaurig Cross.

The name of Sneem in Irish is An tSnaidhm and means ‘The Knot.’ There are several explanations for this name:

1, A knot-like swirling is said to be visible where the River Sneem meets the currents of Kenmare Bay in the estuary, just below the village.

2, Sneem has two squares, North and South, and the bridge in the middle of Sneem acts as a knot between the two squares.

3, Sneem is the knot in the Ring of Kerry.

The Church of the Transfiguration, the Church of Ireland parish church beside the bridge at Sneem (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

In the Church of Ireland, the parish of Sneem is known as Kilcrohane. The list of vicars and rectors of Kilcrohane or Sneem date back to the late 14th century, when Denis O’Sullivan died in 1396 and was succeeded by Mark Otronia, who needed a dispensation for ordination because he was a priest’s son.

Canon Mountifort Longfield, who was Rector of Sneem for most of the first half of the 19th century (1809-1850). A year after he arrived in Sneem, the Church of the Transfiguration at Kilcrohane was built in 1810 beside the bridge with a gift of £553 from the Board of First Fruits.

This double-height parish church has a three-bay nave, a single-bay full-height polygonal apse at east gable end and a single-bay two-stage entrance tower at the west gable end, with a square plan and curved flanking bays at the first level, and an octagonal upper stage, with a copper-clad octagonal spire, topped by a wind vane with a fish.

The church was renovated by the architects Welland and Gillespie in 1863, when the vestry was added at the south side.

The church was named after Feast of Transfiguration when it was renovated again in 1967, when Dean Charles Gray-Stack was Rector of the Kenmare Group of Parishes. New windows were installed, the walls were rendered and a porch was added on to the tower.

The single lancets have limestone sills, render surrounds and replacement timber windows. There are round-headed paired and tripled windows at the west front.

Inside the church, there is a plain ceiling with profiled edges. The plain walls have brass and marble wall memorials. The church still has its original timber pews, but the west gallery has been replaced.

The churchyard, which continues in use, has cut-stone graves and mausoleums, dating ca 1810, when the church was built.

The gateway has a pair of rubble stone piers with battlemented parapets, inscribed plaques and wrought-iron gates.

Canon Mountifort Longfield was the father of two distinguished academic clerics: Mountifort Longfield (1802-1884), the first Professor of Political Economy at Trinity College Dublin, Regius Professor of Feudal and English Law in TCD, and Judge of the Landed Estates Court; and Canon George Longfield (1818-1878), Regius Professor of Hebrew in TCD and Treasurer of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Longfield’s successor in the parish, the Revd Arthur Vincent Watson, was a former curate in Waterville (Dromod), and is said to have been ‘very eccentric and had fits of madness.’ After 22 years, he was forced to retire in 1872, and moved to Kenmare. Leslie recalls, ‘During a mad fit he shot his wife, and ended his days in a criminal lunatic asylum.’

The Revd Charles Le Poer Trench Heaslop (1853-1931) was Rector of Kilcrohane not just once, but on three separate occasions: 1912-1914, 1917-1918 and 1920-1923. When he moved to Wiltshire in 1923, the parish was united with Dromod (Waterville).

The Revd Michael Cavanagh has been the priest-in-charge of Kenmare, Kilcrohane, Dromod and Valentia since 2010.

From Sneem, we continued on to Waterville. About 5 km outside Sneem is the ‘Staigue Fort,’ one of the largest and finest ring forts in Ireland. We stopped briefly at the beach at Glenbeg, but time was catching up on us and it was too late to stop at the ruins of Derrynane Abbey (or Aghamore), said to have been founded by Saint Finbarr in the seventh century, and at Caherdaniel, the ancestral home of Daniel O’Connell.

The long sandy beach at Glenbeg, on the road from Sneem to Waterville on the Ring of Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)