26 August 2020
Parish church in Waterville looks
out onto the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.