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Catholic Mass Rock – A place to celebrate Mass during Penal Times

The secluded setting for this Mass Rock

Penal Laws were imposed by the ruling British on Irish Roman Catholics during the 1600’s and 1700’s, in a bid to force people to accept the reformed Christian faith.
The laws were very restrictive and have had a long and lasting effect on the daily life of Irish Catholics. The laws included:
-Restrictions on how children of Catholics were educated
-Banning Catholics from holding public office or serving in the army
-Expelling Catholic clergy from the country, or executing them
-Taking land and distributing it among British Lords
-Dividing inherited land equally between children, to reduce land size held by individual Catholics
-Excluding Catholics from voting
-Ban on Catholics inheriting Protestant land

Another restriction during Penal Times was a ban on the celebration of Catholic Mass. Catholic priests and worshippers had to find hidden areas in the Irish countryside to celebrate Mass. Many of these places were marked with “Mass Rocks”. The Mass Rock (Carraig an Aifrinn in Irish) was oftentimes a rock taken from a church ruin, and used as a place of worship for Roman Catholics.

The Mass Rock is marked with a commemorative plaque. You can also see a cross in the background

Many of these Mass Rocks can be found around the Irish countryside today. Some are more prominently displayed these days due to the development of land, while others still remain in very secluded areas.
I grew up just a few minutes away from the one shown in the picture below and never knew it existed until recently. It is very difficult to locate, but I have a very inquisitive Dad who likes to wander through places that may not look like much, and he took me here a couple of weeks ago. It gave me an eerie feeling to stand where people stood during times of persecution, and just try to imagine what life must have been like.

The inscription written in both Irish and English reads, “Mass was celebrated here in Penal Times”

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  1. There was a Mass Rock on the farm where my mother grew up near Skibbereen in West Cork. As kids we loved to go walking around the farm on a quest to locate it. It too was in a very secluded outcrop of rocks, with a lookout point where a guard stood on watch duty when Mass was being said. Thanks for sharing this informative post, and for your great photos.

    • Thanks Mairead
      Good to know someone’s enjoying some of the posts and photos ๐Ÿ™‚


  2. I loved this article, I knew of penal times but your images and writing brought it to a very personal level. The things we take for granted these days, Thanks again, these special gems are hard to come by.

    • Thanks Brian
      I suppose the world is full of amazing places that are looked over, due to how we live our lives these days. This was one of those simple but inspiring kind of places, that I’m glad I took a visit to. I’m always telling my Dad he should be a tour-guide ๐Ÿ™‚ He seems to know the ins and outs of every nook and cranny in Cork


  3. Thank you! I have been to Ireland 2 times and plan to attend my cousin’s wedding in 2013. I’d love to visit this rock or another similar mass rock.

    Our family lives in Athlone and our great great Grandfather’s house is still owned by my grandma’s cousin in Ballinamore Bridge near the galway/roscommon boder. I love to just go and explore so that I can learn more about my ancestor’s. Thanks for bringing this to us! I’ll ask the family about holy wells, fairy trees and mass rocks when I am next able to visit!

    Love your site!


    • Kim

      Thank you for your kind comments. I am glad you enjoyed this post.
      It sounds like you have a very strong connection with Ireland. It must be nice to go back and see you extended family. Enjoy the wedding next year. Irish weddings are great!
      Have you visited areas outside your families counties also?
      If you have any favorite place you would like to share with us, you can post a review here. http://gotireland.com/reviews-by-you/

      Best wishes,

    • You should ask you family (or local librarian

      )about “Sli An Aifreann” Athlone. Also there are two Mass rocks in Newtomncashel, Co. Longford – about 25 miles from athlone

  4. Liam,

    I am just finding this again! Yes we have been all over the place. I am getting ready to leave on Wed. for the trip to the wedding!! Really looking forward to the trip and the differences in the cultures. I wonder if you can tell me where this is and if we could find something like this easily?

    Thanks again for your site! your’e doing a great job!


    • Hi Kim
      This is in Cork about a mile or so from the airport. It’s in a very peculiar spot, off the airport road between the airport and the Kinsale Rd. roundabout, on the left as you go toward the roundabout. You’d really never know it’s there. The coordinates below almost pinpoint it.
      Latitude: 51.862102
      Longitude: -8.478878

      Enjoy your trip! Would love to see pics ๐Ÿ™‚