The Little Ark of Kilbaha. - The Little Ark

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