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The Little Ark of Kilbaha

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

The little ark of kilbaha

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 in 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 the wooden structure, he then covered it in tarred canvas. There were two windows which ran along the length of both sides and at the front door. Inside, at the far end of the door was a low altar on which a statue of the Sacred Heart stood, and above the altar there was a crucifix.

When it was finally ready for use it was brought down to the beach in Kilbaha. The beach was a type of “no-mans land” meaning that no-one was breaking the law by using that area. However, despite this Father 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 instruction given. People were married there and children baptised. Around “the little ark” on Sundays, in 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 the 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 the people went to practice their religion.

A site was finally granted in late 1856 by Fr. Meehan refused it for the reason that it was on a bog. Pressure was put on the landlord and a new site was granted. The first stone was laid on the 12th of 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 the 10th of October 1858. At first the ark 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 to the house was added.

On the day of the dedication of the church, Mass was celebrated in the Ark and a crowd of three thousand people attended the ceremony. Fr. Meehan died on the 24th of 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 horsedrawn hearse. The coffin was taken out and brought to the spot where the ark had stood on the shore. On Tuesday February 1st 1878 his body was interred where it remains today, within feet of the ark. The ark is still preserved in the church at Moneen today.

Clare County Library wishes to thank Clare Local Studies Project
for preparation of text for this publication.


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