Sacred space. A study of the mass rocks of the diocese of Cork and Ross, County Cork

Bishop, Hilary
Sacred space. A study of the mass rocks of the diocese of Cork and Ross, County Cork. Doctor of Philosophy thesis, University of Liverpool.

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The history of Catholicism is an essential component in the history of modern Ireland. As locations of a distinctively Catholic faith, Mass Rocks are important historical, ritual and counter-cultural sites. Their continued use reflects, and helps reconstruct and legitimise, contemporary Irish identity whilst providing a tangible and experiential connection to Irish heritage and tradition. The mythology surrounding Mass Rocks tends to symbolise the worst excesses of the ‘Penal Laws’. Yet, as Elliott (2000) has pointed out, the impact of the Penal Laws was short-lived and the worst was over by 1730 (Elliott 2000:170). Since the 1990s, most historians have rejected this traditional ‘penal’ paradigm with its subtext of a heroic but silenced Catholic nation (Dickson 2004:38). Yet, the Irish countryside remains littered with the Mass Rocks that were used throughout this period and they are still considered to be special and sacred places. Using a framework of sacred space this research provides an original and important vista on this topic. An examination of their geographical distribution has yielded some surprising concentrations and absences in certain areas. The actual locations of these sites have proved equally intriguing since few appear to conform to the mythical, secluded, upland sanctuaries depicted in early and mid-twentieth century history textbooks and more recently on ‘republican’ murals. This research does not attempt to assess the implementation, success or failure of the Penal Laws. However, it does provide one of the most thorough syntheses of available information in respect to Mass Rocks at a diocesan level and therefore provides a valuable resource that will help widen knowledge of this emotive and often misunderstood period. Research has been based in the diocese of Cork and Ross, county Cork. The parish of Uíbh Laoghaire or Iveleary, the county of Cineal Laoghaire or O’Leary, is located within this diocese and is relatively rich in Mass Rock sites. The parish of ‘Inshiguilah’ or Inchigeelagh is referenced within the Report on the State of Popery of 1731 along with adjoining parishes. Its sound pedigree in terms of its historical, geographical and cultural background made it an excellent candidate for a case study. It offered a valuable opportunity to apply the conceptual framework of sacred space to a specific parish within the research area in order to evaluate the validity of the research findings. Although much has been written about the Penal era, the study of Mass Rocks is a neglected area of study and it is hoped that these results will help to frame Eighteenth-century Irish Catholicism within a broader economic, social, cultural and political context.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy)
Additional Information: Date: 2013-11 (completed)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Sacred Space, Catholic, Mass Rocks, Penal Laws, Ireland
Subjects: ?? GB ??
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 19 Feb 2014 09:44
Last Modified: 16 Dec 2022 04:40
DOI: 10.17638/00014093
Supervisors: [error in script]