In the Penal Days
County Kerry
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"In the Penal Days"

Timothy M. Donovan wrote "The Popular History of East Kerry",
published by the Talbot Press in Dublin, in 1931

The newspaper article below, probably taken from a County Kerry newspaper, was printed under a column heading "In the Penal Days" which was edited by a Sister M. Saint Aloysius. The date of the article is unknown but it appears from the text of the article that it probably was printed in the 1930's or 1940's.

The copy in my possession shows a rubber stamp with the name of Sr. St. Aloysius on It. It is likely that she may have saved copies of columns she wrote or edited. Wouldn't It be wonderful if someone could find her papers?

Surnames mentioned in the article include: Shanahan, Heffernan, Fitzgerald, O'Leary, Donovan, and in passing, Herbert, O'Connor, Mason, Robert Emmet, Brosnan, Herbert, Marshall, Chute, Mansill, Drummond, Drew, Saunders, Talbot, Hickson and Hewson.

Locations mentioned include: Castleisland, Knockahip, Foyle, Brosna, Glounsharoon, Crocknareagha, Kilcusnin, Shanavalla, Gortglass, Gneeveguilla, and Ceanguillla.

Ray Marshall

In the Penal Days

An East Kerry Pastor
By T.M. Donovan

For about the past thirty years there was an historical puzzle to be solved with regard to one of the oldest tombs in the ancient graveyard of St. Stephen's in Castleisland. Even learned priests could not solve the riddle of the tomb. This ancient tomb belongs to Mr. Richard E. Shanahan, of Castleisland, the present-day representative of the once powerful Shanahan clan of East Kerry. Above the entrance to this tomb, over the sculptured head of an angel guarding it, there is a Latin inscription with, apparently on a casual glance, the date, 1067 - a date that takes us back to Gaelic Ireland before the Norman Conquest. It is this very-far-back date that caused all the trouble to our antiquarians; for it was hardly credible to think that this old tomb held itself above ground for eight and a half centuries! But there it was at a casual glance - 1067.

The Problem Solved

It was the late Rev. Thomas Heffernan who, will visiting his brother, Mr. Michael Heffernan, N.T., Castleisland, that first solved this mystery of the Shanahan tomb. Father Heffernan and a Castleisland friend thoroughly cleaned off the fungoid growths on the slab bearing the Latin inscription and found the following ---

"Ecce Nunc in Pulvere Dormiant

Job 7.21"

"Behold now I sleep in Dust."

Darby Shanahan of Knockahip and Glounsharoon and his brother Edmond of Castleisland the present owner's father, must have been grand-nephews of the first recorded Parish Priest of Castleisland since the Elizabethan proscription of the Catholic Church in Munster. The Diocesan Records do not even con-tain the name of this mid-eighteenth-century pastor of East Kerry. Fr. Maurice Fitzgerald, who was appointed Parish Priest in 1781, is the first recorded P.P. of Castle-island, after a long blank in these records. So for East Kerrymen this discovery of the burial place of their oldest Parish Priest is unusually interesting and instructive.

When I was writing the chapters on the past parish priests of Castleisland in my "History of East Kerry," I had only the mural records in the Parish Church to rely on; and these parish records only carried us back to the days of that grand old Sagart of the Diocese of Kerry, Fr. Maurice Fitzgerald, who became pastor in 1781. I did not know of Darby Shanahan who, early 200 years ago, preceded Father Maurice as Parish priest. As Fr. Maurice Fitzgerald presided over the parish for the long period of 49 years, and as he was ordained in 1774, we may assume that Father Darby Shanahan was in charge of his then extensive parish for 20 or 30 years, which would carry us back to near the middle of [missing]

[missing] was given to Edmond Shanahan. As Archdeacon O'Leary was called "Father Darby" by his parishioners, we see that in our list of Castleisland parish priests we have now two Father Darbys.

This Edmond Shanahan, a near relatives of Fr. Darby Shanahan's, must have been a bachelor; for when dying he left annuities to all the Shanahan families of East Kerry, or least to five of them - to the Shanahans of Castleisland, Shanavalla, Knockahip, Kilcusnin and Crocknareagha

The Thatched Chapel

Very probably it was this Father Darby Shanahan who built the "Thatched Chapel" in Castleisland - the first since old St. Stephen's Church was confiscated by Queen Elizabeth's Undertakers towards the end of the sixteenth century. Before this thatched chapel made its appearance, the hunted priests of the Penal Days said Mass in the "Glounanaffrins" or Mass Rocks of East Kerry at Gortglass, Foyle ..hilip, and Gloun [missing]

[missing] worshipping in a splendid Parish Church with its massive arches of marble, its pillars of polished granite, its beautiful stainglass windows, its magnificent high altar, and its tower and spire point to heaven; while the remnant of the descendents of these alien lords less than a score, are worship-ping without ostentation in a decaying building.

Father Darby's Tomb

The old tomb of Fr. Darby Shanahan's, although not built, as we have seen, in the 11th century, is one of the oldest tombs in the St. Stephen's graveyard. Close beside this old tomb the remains of the late Rev. John Donovan, S.J.M.A., the defender of the Gospel of St. John against the attacks of our modern pagan rationalists, lies buried in his grandmother's grave. This grand-mother of the learned Jesuit Father, Mary Shanahan, was a neice of Fr; Darby Shanahan. Had Father Donovan known that his remains would lie so near his 18th century kinsman, it would please him to think of his burial so near the tomb of [missing] Parish Priest [missing]

[missing] in the [missing] nearly worn [missing] which then became a perfect figure 1. The O became a naught and the B a 6; so at one glance one had the date 1067. The 21 was so worn down that it looked like quota-tion marks.

Father Heffernan opened the Bible at Job. Chapter , and in verse 21 he found the translation of the Lation quotation on the tomb - ". . . now I shall sleep in the dust, and thou shall seek me in the morning, but I shall not be."

Parish Priest of Oileann Ciarraighe

But now follows another discovery - this old tomb was built by the "Reverend Darby Shan-ahan, Parish Priest of Castle-island." He was the immediate predecessor of Rev. Father Maurice Fitzgerald, whose past-orate commenced in 1781. This oldest of modern parish priests of Castleisland was buried in the tomb; but the knowledge of its ownership and his burial was lost for nearly seventy years. How did this happen? We must infer that, as the time when he was the priest in charge of the large parish, which then em-braced nearly the whole of East Kerry, from Brosna to Gneeveguilla, was what one might describe as the dark midnight of the Penal Days, a priests name could not be engraved on the tomb.

The Midnight of the Penal Days

Father Darby Shanahan, or rather his friends after his death, dare not put the sacred symbol of his Catholic Faith on his tomb, the Cross of Christ. No nor even his name nor the name of his holy ministry - only this quotation from the twenty-first verse chapter 7 of the Book of Job. At that time the persecution was so ferocious, after Cromwell, that a priest could not safely acknowledge himself as a Minister of Jesus Christ!

For generations then he was forgotten until the late Patrick Shanahan of Castleisland, about 50 years ago, in clearing out the tomb for the burial of his father, Darby Shanahan, discovered the remains of the clerical garb in the decayed coffin. This [missing]

[missing] Penal Days. "A Dublin Journal [missing] mentioned the Will of Rev. Darby Shanahan, P.P. of Castleisland which was probated in 1783.

Father Darby's Nephew

In the year 1805 the leading business man of the then thatched-roofed village of Castleisland, was an Edmond Shanahan, who was a relative - probably a nephew - of the Parish Priest who died in 1781, and whose Will was probated in Dublin in 1783. This Edmond was buried in the tomb built by his uncle, Father Darby. The father of Richard E. Shanahan, the present owner of the tomb, also named Edmond, was the last of the name to receive an annuity from the estate of the Edmond who lived towards the end of the eighteenth century. Mr. Richard Shanahan still holds the Deed on the lands of Ceanguilla, Shanavalla (Gaelic, "Old Mills") with Inchecumer, together with the grist and tucking mills on the said lands, "which this Edmond Shanahan held under a head-rent to the Herberts of Muckross." This Deed was signed by Jas. O'Connor, Attorney, Denny St., Tralee, and witnessed by Thomas Chute. We have seen before that this Chute family of Chute Hall was in the Penal Days the protector of the Parish Priest of East Kerry; and that, although the Chutes were then Protestants, they had "a hiding hole" for priests who had a price on their heads.

A most curious and very interesting fact about this old Deed is that the man who sold these lands to Edmond Shanahan, Richard Mason, Esq., was the father of Robert Emmet's mother. Comparing the times of the parties concerned, it is possible that Emmet's mother may have been Richard Mason's sister, and not his daughter.

On the back of the same Deed is the writing of another Castle-island parish priest, Archdeacon O'Leary. On the 11th day of June, 1849, the Archdeacon cert-ifies the death of the last survivor of the four "lives" during which the rentcharge on the lands [missing]

[missing] Sixty-eight years ago, the late T. O'C. Brosnan, then a few years older than the writer, took me by the hand and carred me in to see the thatched school-room in the Presentation Convent building. That thatched schoolroom was the remains of Fr. Darby Shanahan's Chapel. The Convent buildings now de-voted to the teaching of Do-mestic Science were built on the site of the old thatched Church; so the pupils must remember that they are working on holy ground, where our ancestors heard Mass kneeling on the earthen floor, with a thatched roof overhead. Stark and naked of ornament as this House of God was, the faith of the worshippers, kneeling around their Eucharistic King and lord and Saviour, was brighter and more shining than marble, gold, or diamonds, and their humble adoration was sincere and heavenly, for, tired and tested by terrible persecutions, they had kept the Faith warmly and securely in their hearts and souls.

Then and Now

Let us contrast the state of religious affairs then and now. In the middle of the eighteenth century the rich and proud alien landlords of East Kerry were in the ascendant - the Gael was under their feet, a slave. Let us have a look at the grand parade of Protestant lords on the wide Main Street of Castleisland on a Sunday morning in the year 1775. See the grand equipages, the four-in-hands, the fine ladies and gentlemen in silks and satins, furs and broadcloth - the Herberts, Marshalls, Drews, Chutes, Merediths, Drummonds, Masons, Mansills, Saunders, Talbots, Hicksons, Hersons, and dozens of others in proud array, going down to the Protestant Church that replaced old St. Stephen's of the Geraldines. And look at our frieze-clad ancestors slipping quietly down old Chapel lane to worship their God and to offer the Holy Sacrifice of His Divine Son in a thatched Chapel!

To-day, thank God, the descend-ents of these frieze-clad Catholics are worshipping [missing]

The End

This page created March 2000 for County Kerry, Ireland at


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