THE establishment of a visitor centre beside Moneen Church, Kilbaha, next to the location of the Little Ark, is to be discussed in the new year.
Councillor Gabriel Keating is to ask for the help of the Diocese of Killaloe to bring his idea to reality. Moneen Church is situated close to Loop Head Lighthouse, which was opened to the public in July 2011.
The Little Ark was a large wooden portable box used by then parish priest of Moyarta and Kilballyowen, Fr Michael Meehan, to celebrate mass on Sundays during the period 1852-1857. People were married and babies were baptised at the site. At the time, Marcus Keane, an agent of absentee landlord Westby, prohibited the celebration of mass. Keane tried to forcibly convert the local population to Protestantism.
The Canadian Ambassador to Ireland, Loyola Hearn, has expressed a keen personal interest in the Little Ark and is hoping to visit the historic artefact in early 2014.
At next month’s meeting of Clare County Council, Councillor Keating will formally ask the council to consult with the diocese and the communities in Kilbaha and Cross, on his proposal.
A local carpenter, Owen Collins, built the Little Ark. According to Fr Ignatius Murphy, in his booklet, Fr Michael Meehan and The Ark of Kilbaha, on Sundays the ark was placed on the green patch at the crossroads leading to the quay in Kilbaha.
“On wet days, the people went down to the beach and picked up flat stones to keep their knees dry,” Fr Murphy recounted.
Crowds of up to 300 people are believed to have attended the masses. Fr Meehan chose the crossroads as the place to celebrate mass because, as it was part of the public highway, it was outside the landlord’s control.
“However, before long he was prosecuted for being a ‘nuisance’ on the public road. Fr Meehan won the case in Kilrush and was again victorious when it was appealed in Dublin,” Fr Murphy explained.
After a protracted battle, the first stone was laid in the construction of a new church in Kilbaha in July 1857. The dedication was held on October 10, 1858 and was the first public function of the newly appointed Coadjutor Bishop of Killaloe, Michael Flannery.
Councillor Keating is confident that if a Little Ark visitor centre is established, it would help to expand the tourism product in the Loop Head Peninsula.
“The Little Ark could become an international visitor attraction,” Councillor Keating predicted.
Last April, the original 170-year-old Little Ark crucifix returned to West Clare after a 50-year absence. The foot-and-a-half-long crucifix was delivered to Fr Patrick Culligan in Carrigaholt, accompanied by a note stating “we would now like to have the crucifix where it should be”.
However, the identity of the person who returned the crucifix to the peninsula parishes was not revealed.