Heritage Trail: St Columba’s Roman Catholic Church

St. Columba's, Douglas, in 2015
St. Columba’s, Douglas, in 2015

Historically, Douglas was part of Carrigaline parish until 1750, when the first local parish church was erected near Grange Cross. The penal laws, which prohibited Catholic worship, had been sufficiently relaxed to allow open practice of the Catholic faith. The present church was built in 1814, over a decade before Catholic Emancipation. Its plain style reflects a religious community that was still reticent about declaring their faith, but its position so close to the original Christian site in the parish is a determined attempt to put their marginalisation behind them.

Detail, St. Columba's church
Detail, St. Columba’s church

Subscriptions to build the church were sought by the Rev. Thomas Barry and he received money from both Protestants and Catholics. The Besnards, who owned the flax mill in Douglas, gave £9 13s 3d, while Beamish and Crawford, the brewers, gave £22 15s. Roger Sheehy Keating, who lived in Limerick but owned land in Cork, was the most generous donor, giving the land for the church and £50. 1 The Sheehys were a Cork merchant family that had intermarried with the MacMahon, Keating, Naish and Roche families. 2 Sheehy Keating was also related to Nano Nagle, which may explain why he gave so generously to a parish adjacent to Nagle’s foundation, the South Presentation convent. Another Douglas resident, Samuel Randall Wily of Shamrock Lawn also gave the princely sum of £50. 3 Wily was a Quaker, and his name appears on committees and subscription lists for many local and national causes in early nineteenth-century Cork. His philanthropy was multi-denominational: as well as the Catholic church in Douglas, he gave money to the Presbyterian congregation in Prince’s Street. 4 In spite of these generous donations, the congregation continued to collect money to clear the debt incurred. One way to raise money was a sermon by a guest preacher, the most notable of whom was Fr Theobald Mathew, the Capuchin priest known as the Apostle of Temperance. His ‘eloquent, pathetic and efficient appeal’ in 1828 raised £70 for the completion of the church and support of the adjoining poor school. 5

Before the foundation of the National School system in the 1830s, children of the poor attended schools run by churches or charities, which charged only nominal fees. St Columba’s Catholic parish ran its own poor school, while St Luke’s provided a school for its poor children. Both churches feared proselytizing and jealously guarded the education of their young congregations. Schools were expensive to run and the parish priest of St Columba’s worked hard to raise enough money to provide a building and pay teachers.

Memorial to Canon Scannell, next to St. Columba's church
Memorial to Canon Scannell, next to St. Columba’s church

The church, and its clergy, were central to political life in Douglas. In 1843, the Rev. John McNamara collected £26 12s 6d for Daniel O’Connell. 6 On 21 October 1849, the electors and parishioners of Douglas met in chapel yard after the last mass to discuss the Liberal candidates for their constituency. One candidate, Mr McCarthy, had been invited to speak but his opponent, Mr Keneally, demanded the right to reply. The parish priest, Rev. James O’Regan, took an active part in the meeting, attacking Mr Keneally for his published opinions on the issue of the day, Repeal of the Union. Even Charles S. Parnell spoke in the chapel yard, to canvass votes before the 1880 election. The land league agitation of the 1880s also spread to Douglas, with the parish priest, Canon Timothy Murray, chairing meetings of the local branch of the National Federation of the Land League.

Ornate metal downpipe, St. Columba's church
Ornate metal downpipe, St. Columba’s church

St Columba’s was extended and refurbished in 1907 by Rev. Thomas McCullagh, who spent £1,200 on the works. 7 These included lengthening and re-roofing the building, adding a gallery and new lead glass windows. Once again, a non-Catholic, Captain Cooper (Ballinrea House) gave generously to the Catholic parish church. 8 A stained glass window made by Watsons of Youghal was donated in memory of John Morrogh, owner of Douglas Woollen Mills and former Nationalist MP. 9

The church was last modernised and refurbished in 1999. The present-day interior, with its Romanesque-style decoration, dates from this time.

  1. Southern Reporter, 23 January 1816.
  2. http://landedestates.nuigalway.ie/LandedEstates/jsp/estate-show.jsp?id=2460 accessed 14 October 2014.
  3. His death notice is here http://www.limerickcity.ie/media/05%2015%2033.pdf accessed 14 October 2014.
  4. http://www.corkarchives.ie/media/U25web.pdf accessed 14 October 2014.
  5. Southern Reporter and Cork Commercial Courier, 5 October 1828.
  6. Cork Examiner, 13 November 1844.
  7. In sterling today, this is £422,800 (labour cost of project, measuringworth.com).
  8. For the Coopers in the census see http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/1901/Cork/Douglas/Ballinreagh_North/1136702/ and http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/1911/Cork/Douglas/Ballinrea_North/403552/.
  9. The window is to ‘John Morroch’ who died 4 October 1901. This can only be John Morrogh, who died on that day. With the rise of cultural nationalism, people often used more Irish-sounding spellings of their names.