History of the O’Connell Memorial Church

headers_historyThe Daniel O’Connell Memorial Church – unique in its dedication to a lay man.

history05The Daniel O’Connell Memorial Church was completed in 1902 with the first Mass said on December 14th by the Rev. Fr. J. O’Sullivan. Intended as a replacement for the small and inadequate chapel that existed in Cahersiveen, it was Canon Brosnan who conceived the idea that it should be designed and built as a fitting memorial to Daniel O’Connell, the son of Cahersiveen who transformed Irish politics. Canon Brosnan was only two years into his residency when he secured the support of  Bishop McCarthy, the Rev. Dr. Croke, Archbishop of Cashel and Cardinal McCabe, Archbishop of Dublin and so began what would be an intense press and personal campaign to raise the necessary funds. The well respected  architect George Ashlin from county Cork was invited to draw plans for the church. Specialising in early French Gothic, he planned a tall-spired Gothic building which would hold about 2000 people. The walls were to be of Minard Red Stone, the dressing of Kerry white limestone with dark bands of black limestone from Castleisland. By 1882, a model of Caen stone was made and interest was generated and subscriptions began to increase.
The Canon went to Rome and secured Papal approval from Pope Leo XIII in January 1884, along with the gift of the cornerstone, a block of Travertine weighing over 4 cwt. which had stood for nearly 2000 years in the vaults of the mansion of San Clemene in Rome. Pope Leo XIII also presented a a Sidonian marble from the Catacombs of St. Domitilla inscribed with the Papal Approval.  The Holy Father deputed the Archbishop of Cashel to lay the cornerstone on his behalf.
The new Bishop of Kerry, Rev. Andrew Higgins supported the plan and called on the Irish in America, Australia, England and Scotland for aid. Priests were sent to America and Australia to collect and nearly £10,000 was raised by 1888.

Work on the building plans were completed proposedin 1886. The following is its description ‘It embraces a nave and aisles, north and south transepts, a chancel terminating in a semi-circular apse, two side chapels, a tower at the east angle of the transept, an octagonal baptistry at the west angle of the south side and facing the Main Street – a choir for nuns opening into the north transept and two sacristies. Accommodation is provided for a congregation of two thousand people in the nave, aisles and transepts. In addition, the triforium gallery which occupies the space above the aisles and which has open arcades towards the nave, will also be available for special occasions. In the tower porch there will be two arched recessess and in the pier between these arches, the Memorial Stone presented by His Holiness Pope Leo XIII has been set. All the stone material in the church will be best Irish granite. The style adopted is Gothic, of an early Celtic type. The ceilings throughout will be groined in stone and concrete.’ A contract for the work was made with Mr. John Devlin of Glasgow in May 1886 for the sum of £23,885. Out of his own generosity, best Irish granite was brought from Newry instead of the originally specified Dingle red sandstone and work commenced.

history02The Archbishop of Cashel laid the cornerstone August 1st, 1888 and at that point, £12,522 had been raised. Building continued but by March 1893, expenditure amounted to £ 19,370 and only £17,685 had been collected. Work then ceased due to lack of funds with the death of the contractor further complicating matters.

In spite of his heroic efforts at raising funds, the difficulties in completing the building work took their toll on Canon Brosnan and he died in December 1898 at the age of 76.  Fr. O’Riordan one of the original priests sent out across the world to collect for the church, was appointed by the Bishop of Kerry to take over the Parish and therein the building project in 1899. An intense campaign on his part saw all outstanding debts paid within two years and the church completed by 1902. The final total spent was £19,370, funds being insufficient to attempt the proposed spire.
Built as a result of strong conviction, great courage and huge sacrifice, the O’Connell Memorial Church is a fitting monument to a man who did so much to better the lives of his fellow Catholics. Today it stands testament to Daniel O’Connell and generations of devoted and faithful parishioners.