THE original 170-year-old Little Ark crucifix is back in West Clare after a 50-year absence.
The one-and-a-half-foot-long crucifix was delivered by courier from Limerick to Fr Patrick Culligan in Carrigaholt recently. It was accompanied by a note stating that “we would now like to have the crucifix where it should be”.
The identity of the person who returned the crucifix to the peninsula parishes was not revealed in the package.
In the 1850s the celebration of mass was prohibited in the Cross and Carrigaholt area by the local land agent, Marcus Keane, who tried to forcibly convert the local population to Protestantism.
From 1852 to 1856, Fr Michael Meehan, the then parish priest of Moyarta and Kilballyowen (Carrigaholt and Cross), conducted mass on the shore in Kilbaha using the Little Ark, which was a portable box on wheels. The crucifix was part of the Little Ark and was used for all services, including weddings and baptisms.
Fr Culligan told The Clare Champion that it was an emotional moment when he realised what was contained in the package delivered to him.
“When you think of what was involved with Fr Meehan inventing a means to defy the landlords of the day. The crucifix is in good shape after 170 years. It’s still with me but it will be returned to the ark in Kilbaha soon. It was returned by people who wanted it to be restored to the ark,” Fr Culligan added. The Little Ark has been kept in Our Lady, Star of the Sea church in Kilbaha since 1858.
“When they got permission to build the church in Kilbaha (October 1858) the ark was brought into the church. Fr Meehan decided that there was no need for the crucifix in the ark as there was one in the church. So he brought home the crucifix to the parochial house in Carrigaholt and there it stayed until about 50 years ago,” Fr Culligan explained.
It is unclear as to how or exactly when the crucifix was removed from the parochial house.
Fr Meehan was appointed parish priest in 1849 and while he established six schools in the area, he was not allowed to build a church for several years.
“Fr Meehan got the idea of the ark when the landlords agent wouldn’t let him build a church in Kilbaha,” Fr Culligan said. “He was coming home from Kilrush and in Kilkee he saw a bathing box on the seashore. He decided he would beat the landlords by building this little ark and bring it down to the water’s edge, which in essence was no man’s land,” Fr Culligan added.
Crowds of up to 300 people are believed to have attended mass on the shore in Kilbaha in the 1850s.
“They were down there, attending mass, in all sorts of weather. One of my parishioners, who died recently, had told me that his grandmother was back there and that the Catholics had been stoned while going to hear mass at the ark,” Fr Culligan stated.