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Church of the Immaculate Conception, Rathlin Island

Rathlin Island

Masses   - Weekends:       Sunday at 1.00 pm.(June-Sept) 
     (12 noon – Oct – May)
     Confessions before Mass.

Baptisms:    By appointment.



In penal times, Mass was celebrated under the shade of an overhanging rock in a mountain grazing in Ballynagard; the principal Mass Station, however was a large stone in Kilpatrick. 

There was another Mass Station in a hallow place named Lag-na-Sassanagh which means the “Englishman’s Hollow”.  It got its name from an English blacksmith, who long ago had his blacksmith’s forge there.  This was a few perches northeast of Kilvoruan in the Knockans.  In a note, written, apparently in 1785 to one of Dr Hamilton’s Letters, which had been written on July 27th 1784 he says:

“From a census since held by the priest of the island, in order to lay a tax for one shilling on each person above the age of sixteen years, for the purpose of erecting a Mass House, it appears that the numbers amounted to eleven hundred.  There are one hundred and forty families which therefore, almost average at the rate of one person to one family.  The census has produced a great deal of uneasiness on the island, from an opinion that one person will die during the year in each family so numbered.

That courageous attempt to erect a Mass-House was not successful, but about 1816, Dr Alexander McDonnell purchased at £48, an old mill, that Father Loughrey converted into a little church, which when it was enlarged was 48 feet long, 18 feet broad and 14 feet high.  Across one third of it was a gallery; nearly all of its timbers had been portions of vessels, which had been shipwrecked on the island.  When the mill was purchased Mr Gage, though he was Minister of the island, ceded his landlord rights in favour of his Catholic tenancy.  A letter written by Father McKenny on October 16th 1845, states that Dr Hugh McMullan held a visitation on Rathlin in 1782.  Dr Patrick McMullan, twice by Dr Crolly and once by Dr Denvir, made visitations twice on it.  Father Michael McCartan erected on the site of the old mill the present beautiful church that was dedicated by Dr Dorrian on Tuesday 22nd August 1865.

The following is from Waugh’s Irish Sketches:
Until the year 1832 the Catholics of the little isle had worshipped God in a hallow on the mountainside; and the bishops of the diocese administered confirmation under the shadow of a limestone cliff.   In the year 1832 and old deserted mill was procured, and there the Holy Sacrifice was offered until the day of which I am writing.  It seems that for many years previous this old mill – the dilapidated shelter of Catholic worshippers in the island of Rathlin, had been sinking into utter ruin, and therefore, the pastor of the island Michael McCarran, girding himself resolutely to the work, by his exertions, the sacrifice of his people and the generosity of his friends, had built one of the most beautiful little churches in the diocese of Down and Connor.  To consecrate the church Dr Dorian, the Bishop of the diocese, accompanied by the Rev Canon Keogh of Balbriggan, a number of other clergy and some of the most respectable of the Catholic laity of the   contiguous parts of Ireland, crossed the waters on the day when it was my fortune first to visit this singular spot in their company, and as all the newspapers afterwards said  - 2This religious functions and the appropriate ceremonies were carried out in the most impressive and elaborate manner.  The Rev Felix Connolly of Caledon, Co. Tyrone chanted High Mass.
The psalms, litanies, etc., were sung in a most superior manner by Rev Magill of Saintfield, Rev McCartan of Crossgar (at present P.P. Saul) and Rev Stewart of Belfast (Now P.P. Ahoghill).  The Bishop preached canon Keogh acted as Master of Ceremonies and the Dedication Sermon.  It was the dedication of the little church to the worship of God under the invocation of Mary Immaculate, of which I became accidentally a witness that day.


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