The Little Ark of Kilbaha.

The Little Ark of Kilbaha.

In 1839 the present parishes of Kilballyowen and Moyarta in West Clare where one, and were called after Carrigaholt which was the central village. The population was only 8,000 and many people were dying of cholera. In that you are priest by the name of Father Michael Meehan was sent to help the dying victims and to give them the Last Sacrament. There was no church in the parish then because landlords would not permit the land to be used for a site. The priests used makeshift tents to say Mass in, but these proved useless in bad weather.

It is unsure how Fr. Meehan came up with the idea, but in 1852, he announced a plan to build a wooden box that would have four wheels and in this he planned to say Mass. It is thought he got the idea from a bathing box on the beach and Killkee. The timber was ordered from Limerick and a local carpenter, Owen Collins, was employed to build what was to become known as “the little ark”. After building a wooden structure, he then covered it in a tarred canvas.

There were two windows which ran along the length of both sides and at the front of the door. Inside, at the far end from the door end there was a low alter on which a statue of the Sacred Heart stood. Above the altar there was a crucifix. When it is finally ready for use it was brought down to the beach in Kilbaha. The breach for the type of “no man's land” meaning that noone was breaking the law by using that area. However, despite this Fr. Meehan was prosecuted for placing a nuisance at the crossroads of Kilbaha. The case was tried and dismissed.

There by the sea for five years, Mass was celebrated and religious instructions given. People were married there and children baptised. Around “the little arc” on Sundays, in the mud and soaking rain in the burning heat of summer and through the frost of winter, the people gathered. The strange Mass house soon began to attract attention and visitors arrived and went away shocked and amazed – shocked at the fact that a quarter of a century after passing of emancipation, the Catholics of West Clare, because of landlord bigotry, could not get a site for a church. Amazed at the lengths of the people went to practice their religion.

Site was finally granted in late 1856 but Fr. Meehan refused it for the reason that was in a bog. Pressure was put on the landlord and the new site was granted. The first stone was laid on 12 July 1857 at Moneen, a mile from the site where the ark stood.

The church of “Our Lady, Star of the Sea” was dedicated on 10 October 1858. At first the arc was brought to the site and was used until the church was ready. It was later placed inside the church doors to the left, until the present building of the house was added.On the day of the dedication of the church, Mass was celebrated in the arc and a crowd of 3000 people attended the ceremony. Father Meehan died on 24 January 1878 after spending his last remaining years working in the parish. On Saturday the 26th his remains were brought from Kilrush to Carrigaholt and to Kilbaha by horse drawn hearse. The coffin was taken out brought to the spot where the arc had stood on the shore. On Tuesday, February 1, 1878 his body was interred where it remains today, within feet of the arc. The arc is still preserved in the church at Moneen today.


 Nov ’12

Fr. Meehan - Little Ark.


Fr. Meehan - Little Ark.

In the 1850's the celebration of Mass was prohibited in the Loop Head Peninsula West Clare.This situation had developed as the result of the attempts of the local land agent, Marcus Keane, to enforce the conversion of the local populace to Protestantism.

Three schools were built on the Loop Head Peninsula in West Clare where the Protestant faith was taught. Food was provided for those who attended these schools and, in these days following the famine, this encouraged children to attend.At the same time a Protestant church was built at the entrance to Dun Dalhin (Marcus Keane's house) overlooking the bay at Kilbaha. The Parish Priest at this time was Father Michael Meehan. Fr. Meehan had come to Loop Head as Parish Priest in 1849. He was very familiar with the area, having spent a good deal of time with his aunt who lived in Cross and later Moneen and therefore he recognised the need to build schools in the area, as at this time there were none. In 1850 he opened the first of the six schools which he established in the Loop Head Peninsula. With the establishment of the landlord sponsored schools, increasing pressure was put on tenants to denounce their Catholic faith and send their children to these schools, under threat of eviction.

Obviously, these circumstances led to conflict between Marcus Keane and Father Meehan.During this time Fr.Meehan was also trying to obtain a site to build a church in Kilbaha. His attempts were unsuccessful. At one stage he did manage to acquire two adjoining houses in Kilbaha. He knocked the two houses into one and used the building for Mass. He was evicted from the premises after one month.Father Meehan then constructed a tarpaulin shelter on poles which he attempted to use for Mass and then he used the covered shafts of a cart as a shelter but both proved to be unsuitable.

It was against this backdrop of persecution that Father Meehan came up with the idea of The Little Ark. He believed that if a suitable structure could be built it could be brought to the shore in Kilbaha and placed between high and low tide, in no-man's land. He thought that this would be an end to the problems he and his parishioners faced. Owen Collins, a carpenter in Carrigaholt, was commissioned to build a portable box on wheels.

In 1852, when completed, the box was drawn in triumphal procession from Carrigaholt to Kilbaha. Father Meehan then used the box, or The Little Ark, as it became known, to say Mass in for the next four years.

Father Meehan's congregation would gather on the fore-shore at Kilbaha every Sunday, kneeling in prayer around the Ark. This practice continued for over four years and the sight of some three hundred people, praying in all weathers, attracted much publicity. Eventually, a site was given for a church in 1857. The foundation stone for the church, 'Our Lady, Star of the Sea',was laid on12th July 1857. The church was dedicated on 10th October 1858. The Little Ark was placed inside the church and remains there to this day, housed in a specially built annex.

Submitted by a Mr. Joe A Kelly. Northampton. Nov ’12

Fr Tim Kelly


Fr. Tim Kelly. 1803 - 1860.


The portrait of Fr. Tim Kelly was given to Joe A Kelly, of Northampton, by Sr Frances Sheedy, last Rev Mother of the Sisters of Mercy, Kilrush, Co Clare.

The article is the work of Archdeacon P. Ryan in his research on the History of Kilrush. Co Clare.

According to my calculations the subscription of the local parishioners totals £77 13s 0d. Not bad going.

The following is a transcription, dated 13th Dec. 1849 of the letter from Fr. Tim describing the dire situation in West Clare to :

His Excellency the Earl of Clarendon, Lord Lieutenant General and General Governor of Ireland. (George Villers 4th Earl of Clarendon KG. GCB. PC.)

"My Lord, -- Fully sensible of your pressing engagements I am unwilling to trespass on your Excellency: yet, from the heart rending scenes which have occurred in this district within the last few days, I feel it a duty briefly to offer our distressed situation to your Excellency's consideration.

In this Union (Kilrush), the poorest in Ireland, during the summer months, thirty thousand persons, half the present population, received outdoor relief. Of these nearly twenty thousand have been, within the last year, thrown house-less and homeless on the world. I shall not harrow your Excellency's tender feelings by a description of their miserable state: while the families being huddled together in miserable huts, in appearances more like corpses from the sepulcher than animated beings. Several philanthropic Englishmen have visited the district and seen with their own eyes our condition, have, I presume, already given your Excellency a faint idea of our state. Yet the cup of our misery has only within the last fortnight been filled up. Not a single ownce of meal or any outdoor relief, has been administered for the last ten days. Our poorhouse contains over two thousand inmates: of these, nine hundred are children of a delicate frame and constitution: yet the young as well as the old are fed on turnips for the last week. Thousands from the neighbouring parishes, deprived of outdoor relief, crowd about the Union workhouses: there disappointed, they surround the houses of the shopkeepers and struggling farmer: and their lamentations-their hunger shrieks-are truly heart rending. But, my lord, I am gratified to say that no property is touched - no threat held forth. I know whole families in this town to lie down on their beds of straw, determined rather to starve than steal. It is true that no means are left untried to alleviate their miseries by many, very many charitable persons, of whom it may be said that, if they could coin their hearts into gold, they would give it to the poor in their present extreme necessity.

Yet, what avail their efforts to meet the present awful destitution! It was determined that a public meeting would be held to address your Excellency: but when a report-alas! A true report- reached us, that thirty five paupers from Moyarta parish, a distance of fifteen miles, in the hope to be relieved at the workhouse, were all drowned while crossing a narrow ferry, I considered it my duty not to lose a moment in communicating to your Excellency our awful situation, which may be imagined but can not be described. One week more and no food! The honest peaceable poor of this district fall like leaves in Autumn.

I feel, in thus addressing your Excellency, I take a bold step: but your sympathy for the poor has encouraged me. Never, never be it said, that during your Excellency's Administration half the population in a remote and wretched district were suffered to starve. I write in a hurry- I write in confusion. My house at this moment is surrounded by a crowd of poor persons, whose blood has become water, seeking relief! Which alas! I cannot bestow.

Anxiously and confidently expecting at your Excellency's hands a remedy, I have the honour to be your Excellency's obedient and humble servant." Timothy Kelly. P.P., Kilrush


The following was the reply, of 18th Dec 1849, from Dublin Castle:


"Sir, -In acknowledging the receipt of your memorial, the Lord Lieutenant has directed me to state that his Excellency has received with deep regret, the intelligence of the melancholy loss of life, which has occurred at the ferry of Kilrush, and of the destitution stated to prevail in that Union. He regrets that the guardians have not put rates in course of collection, from which funds could be afforded for the relief of the poor, the responsibility of providing which rests with that body. Your communication has been referred to the Poor Law Commissioners. I am, sir, your most obedient humble servant," T.N. Redington

Fr. Tim visited Rome and had an audience with Pope Pius IX towards the end of his very full life. Blessed Pope Pius IX, born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, was the longest-reigning elected Pope in the history of the Catholic Church, serving from 16 June 1846 until his death, a period of nearly 32 years.

B. May 1792 in Senigallia. d. Feb 1878 Apostolic Palace.

To view a copy of "The History of Kilrush" by Archdeacon P. Ryan, click the PDF image

Bishop Denis Kelly

Bishop Denis Kelly ( -1924), of the diocese of Ross, Co. Cork, died in 1924, and was buried in St.. Patrick’s Pro-Cathedral, Skibbereen, Co. Cork. He was born in Kilnaneauve, Nenagh, Co.. Tipperary, and was the eldest son of William and Bridget (nee Butler) Kelly. Educated at St.. Flannan’s College, Ennis, Co.. Clare, and the Irish College, Paris, where he took 1st. Prize in Classics, Mathematics, Mental Philosophy, Theology, Scripture, and Canon Law, and was awarded a Ph.D. Ordained on March 17th., 1877, he was appointed curate back in Ireland for a short time. He was appointed professor at St.. Flannan’s and later Vice-President before finally becoming President of the College. In 1897, he was appointed Bishop of Ross (smallest diocese in Ireland). A champion of the working classes, and a recognized authority on education, he served on the Agricultural Board of Ireland, and was a member of the Royal Commission on Poor Law and Relief of Distress, the Cabinet Committee on Irish Finances (1911), and the National Education Committee of Inquiry (1913). He was a member of the Irish Convention, which sought to bring about a settlement of the Home Rule Question, acceptable to both the North and South of Ireland. He was vehemently opposed to the Easter Rising in 1916, and denounced it as an “unlawful war”, and he declared that “the killing of men was murder, pure and simple”. He used as his motto “Turis Fortis, Mihi Deus”, which suggests that his ancestors came from Hy-Many.


The Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and Relief of Distress 1905-09 was a body set up by the British Parliament in order to investigate how the Poor Law system should be changed. The commission included Poor Law guardians, members of the Charity Organisation Society, members of local government boards as well as the social researchers Charles Booth and Beatrice Webb.

Canon Edmund Kelly, M.C., P.P., V.F., parish priest of Killenaule and Moyglass, Co. Tipperary, died on October 11, 1955. He was born in Newtown, New Inn, Co. Tipperary in June 1874 and was ordained in Maynooth in 1900. He was sent as a temporary missionary to South Africa in 1900. He was recalled to his home diocese in 1911 and served as curate in Mullaghahone until 1915. He became a military chaplain in 1915 and served in World War 1. In 1917 he was awarded the Military Cross “for un daunting assistance to the injured and dying in East Ypres. He was appointed curate of Tipperary in 1922 and remained there until 1934, when he was made parish priest in Killenaule and Moyglass.

Dr. Joe M Kelly. Oranmore, Co Galway.