News

Restored Victorian mosaic.

October, 2015

The beautiful Victorian mosaic discovered under the church floor during the renovations has been restored and is now displayed under a glass cover. Click here to see a photograph of it.

Parish Office relocation.

April 26, 2015

The Parish Office has been relocated back to the Presbytery in North Square. The new entrance is at the side of the building, adjacent to the bottle banks and e-car charger. Telephone: 087 348 0050. The office hours are Tuesday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m..

St. Michaels' Rededication DVD.

December 14, 2014

A DVD is available of the Rededication Service. It costs €10, and is available from Sneem House, DJ O'Sullivan's, An Post and Christian's Mace. Orders may also be placed via +353873480050 (0873480050 in Ireland), or sneem@dioceseofkerry.ie.

History of St. Michael's

churchThe first documented parish church stood on the present site but the date it was built is unknown. It is believed it was built around the same time as the Church of Ireland parish church in 1810. The third Earl of Dunraven (1812-1871), whose family seat was at Adare Manor, County Limerick, was a Catholic convert who rented Garnish Island from the landlords, the Blands, in 1855. He was appalled by the condition of the church in Sneem, and resolved to build a fitting place for divine worship at his own expense.

He employed a leading London architect, Philip Charles Hardwick, who had worked on the rebuilding of Adare Manor and was the architect to several institutions, including the Bank of England. The design for Sneem's new church was cruciform, and in the Italian style, with the length from the chancel to nave being one hundred feet, and the breadth across the transepts seventy-four feet.

Demolition work on the old church started in 1861, and the contractor for the building work was Denis William Murphy from Bantry, but he died before the foundation stone was laid. Hisi eldest son, William Martin Murphy (born 1844), took over the job. Sneem was one of his first contracts. He was later to become a director of the Dublin United Tramways Company, and a press baron with extensive interests in the newspaper trade. But he also earned fame, or infamy, as the most hated man in Ireland just before the outbreak of the First World War. He organised around four hundred employers into a federation which opposed the general strike led by Jim Larkin, which brought about the great lock-out of 1913 in Dublin.

On September the third, 1863, Bishop David Moriarty blessed the foundation stone of the church. He wrote in his diary: “Blessed the first stone on the new church in Sneem in honorem Sanctissimae Trinitatis et Sancti Michaelis Archangeli. Lord Dunraven, who donated the money for the church, was present. Dominus conservet eum et beatus faciat illium in terra! Father Michael Walsh, the most venerable of Irish priests P.P., and Father Davis C.C.. A joyous day, bonfire and illuminations at night: I preached in English, and Archdeacon O'Sullivan in Irish. Lord Dunraven gave a very appropriate speech.” (Father Walsh was fabled in song as Father O'Flynn by Alfred Percival Graves.)

The ceremony started at 1 p.m., and parishioners packed the village. The bishop and several clergy assembled at the altar on the fair green, and the local gentry were present. The bishop led a procession to the work site, and there they met the Earl of Dunraven. After the bishop gave a sermon, he blessed the stone and sprinkled it with holy water. Archdeacon O'Sullivan, from Kenmare, then stood on the foundation stone and gave an address in Irish.

In his speech, the Earl said he had travelled all over Ireland before deciding that Sneem was the place to build his holiday retreat. He recalled his first attendance at Mass in the old church, and that whilst he was having his house built with every comfort, the House of God was “left desolate and in ruin”. He also praised the rôle of the Blands for giving a lease for the site for the church, more land to plant the grounds, and refusing to take rent for the land. The original lease was for ninety-one years from the twenty-ninth of September, 1864, and the rent was one shilling a year.

The contractors completed their work in less than two years. On the twenty-seventh of July, 1865, Bishop Moriarty returned to Sneem, this time to perform the opening ceremony.

His diary entry for the date is: “Blessed the church of Sneem sub invocatione S.S. Trinitatis et S. Michaelis Archangeli. Doctor Butler celebrated High Mass. I preached. Lord Dunraven, the founder, was present, with Mr. Maunsell and Mr. S. de Vere, Father Michael Walsh P.P., Father Thomas Davis C.C.. Great festivities that evening in the village; confirmed two hundred and seventy-one. Well prepared.”.

Doctor Butler was the Bishop of Limerick, Mr. Maunsell (or Monsell) was the Earl's brother-in-law and M.P. for Limerick, and Stephen de Vere was the brother of Aubrey, the poet.

The press reported that the Earl and other dignitaries departed at eleven p.m., but the festivities among the parishioners went on until the next morning. One account said that during the whole night there was not the least sign of disorder, and not a single man was to be seen with the signs of liquor on him.

Father Walsh entertained the assembled clergy and dignitaries for dinner in the presbytery. To cope with all the visitors, he had to borrow cutlery and crockery from his friend Dean Charles Graves of Parknasilla, father of Alfred Percival Graves and later the Church of Ireland Bishop of Limerick, and a guest at the celebrations that night. Whenever he had to entertain his own bishop, Father Walsh would borrow the quality tableware from the Graves household, but never let on to the bishop that he was dining off “Protestant plates”.

We do not know exactly where is the final resting place of Father Walsh, the man who was parish priest when the foundation stone was laid, and when the church was blessed and opened. During his thirty-seven year ministry in Sneem, encompassing the years of the Great Famine, he held Mass in a leaking church, or in a boggy fair green. Just over a year after the new church was completed, he died.

The cost of building the church was estimated at £3,000 in The Dublin Builder on the fifteenth of September, 1863. It had soared thirty-three per cent by the fourth of August, 1865, when the paper reported that the Earl had spent the “princely sum of £4,000”.

Major work to the roof was carried out in the early 1950s. Internal changes arising from Vatican II, including the removal of the altar rails, were carried out in the 1970s, and there was further restoration work in the 1980s.

On the day that the church was opened, Bishop Moriarty confirmed two hundred and seventy-one. Confirmation classes are somewhat more modest nowadays, and the parish population of around eight hundred and fifty is but a fraction of the nine thousand recorded at the end of the nineteenth century. But the church has witnessed thousands of baptisms, first communions, confirmations, marriages and funerals through the years.

In 2009, the parish priest, Father Pat Murphy, launched an appeal to raise €1,000,000 for major renovation works. The people of Sneem, both at home and abroad, were asked to respond generously to ensure the parish retains a church that is cherished by its people, and admired by visitors. Perhaps the spirit of Father O'Flynn will be invoked from the song, and he will be “coaxing the aisy ones” and “lifting the lazy ones” as the current generation rises to the challenge

If you would like to help financially, click here. Thank you!

For more information on Father Walsh, click here to read a piece kindly made available by Bob Frewen of Dublin and Clashnacree.