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