Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

The Mass Hollow
Keelogue, Killeshin, Co. Laois

Source: P.MacSuibhne book 'The Parish of KILLESHIN, Graiguecullen'. 1972.

The Mass Hollow At Keelogue

On Friday, 25 May, 1973 at 7.30 p.m. the penal day altar at Keelogue on the land of Mr. Denis Doran as blessed by the parish priest. Very Rev. Fr. Patrick Byrne in the presence of an immense congregation. Mass was concelebrated by Fr Peadar Mac Suibhne and Fr. C O'Neill, Carlow College. Fr. Sean Kelly C.C. and Fr. Michael Butterfield, Graiguecullen were present. The altar had been built and the Hollow prepared by Mr. Paddy Purcell. After the Gospel the following address by Billy Kelly and Paddy Purcell was read by Tony Fitzpatrick.

Our Heritage

 "A land without ruins is a land without memories; a land without memories is a land without history. A land that wears a laurel crown may be fair to see, but twine a few sad cypress leaves around the brow of any land, and be that land barren, beautiless and bleak, it becomes lovely in its consecrated coronal of sorrow, and it wins sympathy from the heart of history. Crowns of roses fade, crowns of thorns endure, Calvaries and Crucifixions take the deepest hold on humanity.

The triumphs of might are transient; the sufferings of right are graven deepest on the chronicles of nations. Ireland differs from all other lands, because she can claim to be a land of monuments. Not alone in her towns and cities where there are great and stately memorials of the past, but in every village, even the name of a townland is in itself a memory of some battle fought and won. Almost in every field there is some reminder of days and men long gone, of causes lost and won; each bend of the road will produce an ancient, silent witness to all that ebb and flow of the human tide, to all the centuries of struggle from which the Ireland of today, after thousands of years has emerged.

The Ireland of today is the child of all those ages, and her monuments lead us step by step through all the night of centuries of the race, from the dark, dim past, when the first children of Adam through Milidh Espainne set foot on Irish soil and became the Irish race. There are raths, doons and castles, dolmens and crannogs that even modern archaeologists tell us were old when Greece and Rome were still young. There are rugged cells and monastic ruins . 55 of the early Christian era, forts of the Danes and Norsemen, the abbeys, the ruined shrines and churches and the grim, blackened walls of the cruel Cromwellian days.

There are the "Mass Rocks," the "Mass Caves," and the "Mass Pits" of the days when in the dark penal period, the people and priest alike suffered. There are the gibbets and graves of '98. All silent witnesses; yet scarce one but holds the history of a people, or marks the triumph or failure of a cause, a people that held true to the "Faith of our Fathers." In any county in Ireland aye, in any district - one can study the varying fortunes of our country's history in monuments speaking with many voices.

Yet in this land of monuments there is scarcely a more suitable district for this study than Killeshin, with its Holy Well, Mass Hollows and its outstanding Romanesque Doorway. On the suggestion of Fr. Peadar MacSuibhne to erect a cross in the Mass Hollow in a field of Denis Doran's of Keelogue, a few of the parishioners decided to erect something more substantial than a wooden cross, and with the help of a number of men whom we will refer to later in this account, we cleaned out the hollow, erected the shrine and fenced the area to the best of our ability.

The Mass Hollow

 The Mass Hollow was known in the days when Mass was celebrated there, as Clais-an-Aifrinn, the Mass Hollow, and was 'then in the hands of the O'Doran family, and had been for some generations previous to this time 16911727. What a history of hallowed memories cling around this place.

What a tragic tale it tells of ruined churches, desecrated altars and homes. God homeless and His people homeless as they gathered in the dark and cold and storm, around the Mass Hollow here, as in so many similar places up and down the country. From cabin to cabin went the word, with swiftness and silence of a bird, "The Mass Hollow at dawn on Sunday," and from the cabins, the hollows and the hillsides from Turra, Tollerton, from Killeshin below and many places further afield, came a multitude, stumbling in the darkness, creeping in the shelter of the ditches and hedges like animals of prey, where awaited them the only two friends they had on earth their priest and their God. Round the Mass Hollow no organ pealed its notes, no incense, but the mist as it floated from Springhill across Keelogue; no sound but the whisper of the breeze; no light but that of God's own stars, or the faint grey streaks of dawn that heralded the approach of day, and the danger of detection. But little they cared, who gathered here. They felt the warm glow of Divine Love that burned for them in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Our Pride

 Ah! Mass Hollow, you have seen this country red with blood of our forefathers, black with the cloud of pestilence. You have seen the guant spectre of famine. The gentle poet who adopted the pen-name, "Slievemargy," summed it up in his poem "Watching and Waiting" in his address to England when he says:

"Famine and fever followed in your train,
To every luckless land that owned your sway,
Your onward path was strewn with heaps of slain,
Your burnings half obscured the light of day,
You plied the lash with still persistent zeal;
 Whether by Gange's flood or Shannon tide,
Till, trod to earth, the slaves could hardly feel,
The shackles that destroyed their native pride."

How our hearts fill with pride as we think of the days when this hollow was filled with the murmured prayers of our stricken forefathers, this monument of triumph and sorrow a monument telling of generations of martyrs people with the indomitable courage of martyrs. To you we leave the Mass Hollow of Killeshin, a reminder of the days of tolerance, of the grim struggle of our forefathers to preserve our Faith.

To act as an inspiration to one and all, to love and cherish, the greatest gift of God to men our Faith. Remember that no matter how we differed over the centuries, we never differed in our Faith. We as a people are often accused of looking back. We can afford to look back. We have a past. May we repeat: "A land without memories is a land without history."


 In conclusion we thank those wonderful people who always spared time to cheerfully lend a hand in the task of preparing the Mass Hollow. Our grateful thanks to Denis Doran, of the O'Dorans, one of the seven septs of Laois; to Michael and James Hennessy. Also to Patrick Redmond, Patrick Moran and to John Whelan of Crossneen. Laois may well be proud to have such men, and we can assure you we are proud to be associated with them, and will always cherish the memory of their cheerfulness and hospitality. Last, but by no means least, our special thanks to Patrick O'Rourke in whose capable hands we committed the building of the altar, who readily volunteered to do the work. His work is indeed a tribute to the generations of builders in the O'Rourke family. As good may have gone before, but certainly none better.

The saying 'Laois bocht agus buacach,' is quite appropriate bocht because of repeated plantations, transplantations, and confiscations but rich with the riches that 'Land Bribes,' with their accompanying foreign title could never purchase. Buacach, certainly the natives of Laois had reason to be proud; buacach to hold the head high with a legitimate local and national pride."

After Mass the clergy and congregation proceeded to St. Diarmuit's Well on land near the old Romanesque Church. In Canon O'Hanlon's, History of the Queen's County we read: "There was a Mass-station also at Springhill. Timothy Comerford aged 76 informed us and his statement was confirmed by several others that according to tradition, Mass used to be said near a place called 'the Copse' at a 'Cummer' under a large oak tree which he pointed out at the back of a hedge between a field of his and one of Mr Fennell." Vol II p. 585 published in 1914. Volume II was "compiled chiefly from the papers of Canon John O'Hanlon, P.P., M.R.I.A. by Fr. Edward O'Leary, P.P. M.R.I.A., Portarlington and Fr. Matthew Lalor, P.P., Mountmellick."

Penal Laws Relaxed
And Mud-walled Chapels built

 Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the penal laws were being gradually relaxed. In 1778 there was a Relief Act allowing Catholics to hold leases of land and to inherit and bequeath property. In 1782 and again in 1792 new concessions were made to the Catholics. Meantime the Catholics began to build mud-walled thatched chapels. Many of these were burned by the yeomen in areas where the United Irishmen were active. But these chapels were soon re-built. Billy Kelly and Paddy Purcell explained how this was done.

A mud-walled thatched chapel could be built by nine or ten men in as many days. A site was chosen, possibly on inferior ground. Yellow clay is found anywhere. Rushes were ideal for thatching. No foundation was needed; a track was dug for the walls and also to let away water. The walls inside would be 6% to ll/2 feet high. Timber supports were necessary for the walls every 4 feet. These supports were about 4" square and were got in the hedges from whatever timber was available. Saws were not used. Wattles were interlaced between them; these were about 1 inch thick, were got green and bent in. This was done at both sides, leaving a cavity in between to keep out damp. Mud was forced into the wattles and smoothed over with the hands.

 About 2 or 3 feet were built in one day. This was left for a couple of days. Building was done in the summer; frost in winter would destroy the walls during building. The rafters were rough; no saws were used. They were got from the local hedges, about 3 in. in diameter. The end of every second rafter was forked; the other end was plain. The plain end rested in the mud wall. The forked end was at the top and the plain end of another rafter was put into it. Runners about l/2 or 2 in. thick ran the full length of the roof. They were tied to the rafters with straw or sedge ropes. The ropes were crossed between the runners to hold up the scraws. It is a trade to cut the scraw, 1 ft. wide for the full length of the roof and rolled up.

These were got in the bog because the roots there hold better. The scraws make a great carpet. They were thatched over that, with rushes or straw. Little holes were left in the walls for ventilation and for look-outs. The materials and methods varied in the various areas. It was well into the eighteenth century before chapels were built of stone. Patrick Purcell of Ardateggle, a relative of Paddy's and Stephen Carey of Curragh, a relative of Fr. Patrick Carey P.P., Borris, were in the Papal Army.


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