Historic Galway mass rock believed to 350 years old

Mass Rock at Crestwood

A national monument that is around 350 years old has been re-discovered in Coolough.

The mass rock, which possibly dates back to 1650, has been located at the end of the cul de sac in Crestwood.

A survey was carried out in 1992, and the information gathered was used by the National Monuments Service to draw maps of where national monuments are located.

The original map placed the mass rock of Coolough in the back garden of a home in Crestwood.

Locals knew that that location was incorrect, however, and the true location of the mass rock was only confirmed this week.

“We are delighted that that the National Monuments Service has confirmed that we have found the mass rock of Coolough. It’s of huge importance,” said historian Damien Quinn.

Mr Quinn is chairperson of Coolough 365: People and Place, a committee established last September to document and protect historical sites in the area.

He said the mass rock was located on the estate of landlord Clan Rickard.

It was in use in Coolough probably between 1650 and 1750 after the Cromwellian campaign and during the Penal Laws in Ireland.

Though they were forbidden by the English, up to 1,300 people would attend ‘secret’ masses at the mass rock, oftentimes at night.

“In 1670, some 190 priests were deported from County Galway alone. They feared a Catholic invasion of Protestant Ireland backed by Rome and Spain. At the same time as they were being deported, more priests were being sent here from Portugal, Spain, France and Italy. The priests back then were what you might call ‘on the runs’,” said Mr Quinn.

He has established that Fr Walter Burke, a Dominican Friar from the Claddagh, celebrated masses at the mass rock for about 20 years during the 1700s.

The rock was the priest’s altar, and he would say mass with his back facing the crowd, explained Mr Quinn.

But it was much more than a place to say mass. “They had hedge schools there as well, marriages and it was a multi-purpose Catholic cultural centre,” he said.

Mr Quinn added: “We’re delighted with the find. This is the second national monument in Crestwood – we also have the Kiln – and that’s quite significant for a place of this size.”

The committee is planning to have the mass rock blessed at a ceremony this August and signs will be erected to note the significance of the mass rock, in English and as Gaeilge.

As well as the mass rock and kiln, the National Monuments Service lists three other historic sites in the area including a ringfort, enclosure and lime and architectural fragments located in Coolough Church

The committee is committed to upgrading the historical pathway that runs through Coolough village, skirts Carraig Bán and Ballinfoile/Crestwood playing pitches, to full national monument status.

As well as Mr Quinn, the committee includes Trudy Fallon (secretary), Irene Hynes (treasurer), Michelle Utley (project manager), Jarlath Kemple (archivist), city councillor Frank Fahy (Irish officer) and Laura Thomas (graphic design).