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Leaving St Molaise's church in Cliffoney after mass in the 1920's.
Leaving St Molaise's church in Cliffoney after mass in the 1920's. The church was built in 1828 and paid for by Lord Palmerston.

Saint Molaise's church in Cliffoney

A short history of Cliffoney RC Church 1828
- by John Harrison.

Cliffoney Roman Catholic church was opened for worship in 1828, 185 years ago this year (written May 2013).

The land on which the church was built was gifted to the Parish of Ahamlish by Lord Palmerston, upon the passing of Catholic Emancipation, as prior to to that the Penal laws were in force throughout Ireland and Catholic mass was forbidden. Daniel O'Connell fought for this right.

Stained glass by Joshua Clarke, Cliffoney church 1909.
Stained glass by Joshua Clarke, 1909.

As you enter the church, attention is drawn to the large timber beams in the roof, which were brought into Sligo port on a sailing ship owned by Connor and Cullen sawmills, Sligo. The sawmill was based on the site presently occupied by the Bus Eireann garage in Sligo. The iron couplings holding the great beams together were made in McGarrigle's forge near Cliffoney church.

The Captain of the sailing ship was a Cliffoney native, Captain Conway, born in the house that the late Seamus Conway occupied in Edenrevagh; the farm is now owned by the Burns family.

The first parish priest to serve in Cliffoney church was Father John McHugh, a native of Roscommon. His time as parish priest was short, as he went home to Roscommon for a holiday, and while at home he died after falling down the stairs. He is buried in the church portion of Ahamlish cemetery.

The grave stone of Fr.  Malachy Brennan.
The grave stone of Fr. Malachy Brennan.

His successor in Cliffoney was Father Malachy Brennan, P. P., who is buried inside the church to the right of the high altar. The inscription over his grave is in Latin.

The Parochial house, called Palmerston Glebe, along with four acres of land, was also gifted by Lord Palmerston to the community of Cliffoney (£600). In those days the P. P. had a house and a side-car to take him to mass, funerals, and village stations; also he also employed a boy to drive him and tend his horse in the days before motor transport. When Lord Palmerston, the British politician and Prime Minister, came from England for his holidays each summer, he stayed at the inn in Cliffoney village, which was known as the Cliffoney Inn; he tried to rename it Palmerston's Arms at the time but the name never took; today the inn-building is O'Donnell's Bar and Tennoy's shop.

Cliffoney village on old map.
Cliffoney village showing location of St Molaise's church, the Constabulary barracks and St. Bridget's well.

Father Malachy Brennan

The Old RIC Barracks was built in 1842, and was sometimes used to house Lord Palmerston's covered carriage and servants. Classiebawn was not built until after Lord Palmerston's death in 1865. Fr. Malachy Brennan became great friends with Lord Palmerston and was always invited to the parties in Palmerston's Arms; he also got an extra six acres of land for the Parochial house, ten acres in all, which is leased on a 99 year lease.

The grave stone of Fr. William Crofton, Cliffoney.
The grave stone of Fr. William Crofton.

The next P. P. was Fr William Crofton; it was he who added the porch as you enter the church, and had the stained glass windows installed behind the high altar; the windows were donated by Mr Francis McGowan's mother, who kept the grocery shop and hardware business at Gorevan's cross in the 1900's. The windows are the work of Joshua Clarke, father of Harry Clarke; Joshua's wife was an MacGonigal from the Cliffoney area.

The next priest to occupy Palmerston Glebe was Father Shannon, who was in poor health, so Fr. Michael O'Flanagan was sent as curate to help out. Father O'Flanagan, a native of the Castlerea area of Co Roscommon, was politically and socially active, and organised the local people to set up a Sinn Féin Club in 1914.

Father O'Flanagan in New York, 1921.
Father O'Flanagan, Vice-president of Sinn Féin and Republican Envoy in New York, 1921.

Father O'Flanagan was a great public speaker, and the local R.I.C. took notes at his sermons.

In June of 1915, after speaking with his housekeeper, Mrs Hannon, he stood up for the local peoples' rights and took action. In Cloonercoo bog, about 2 miles from Cliffoney, there were 300 acres of bog owned by the Congested Districts Board, previously belonging to the Classiebawn estate, from which locals were forbidden to cut turf; Father O'Flanagan, a critic of the CDB felt the bog should be divided among local small farmers, who cut turf for their own use, and to sell in Sligo and Rosses Point to earn extra income.

On Sunday 28th June, Father O'Flanagan asked the congregation to remain after mass, when he told the people to go home and sharpen their slaines, and to assemble at the Parochial house the following morning.

On Monday morning, he led a march up to Cloonercoo bog, where he cut the first sods in defiance of the R.I.C. who had followed the march. The large quantity of turf that was cut that day was quickly saved and brought down to the village, where it was stacked in a reek in front of Cliffoney hall. Father O'Flanagan put a tri-colour on the stack of turf, with a banner in Irish saying 'Ar Moin Fein' (Our Turf for Ourselves); the R.I.C. from the barracks across the street would remove the flag, and Sinn Fein would have another up next day, and this went on for some time.

Stained glass Eye of Horus, installed by Canon Casey in 1948.
Stained glass Eye of Horus, installed by Canon Casey in 1948.

Bishop Coyne in Sligo, no fan of Father O'Flanagan, was receiving complaints from the R.I.C. in Cliffoney, about the curate's behaviour. In August 1915 Bishop Coyne abruptly transferred Father O'Flanagan to Crossna in Co Roscommon.

The people of Cliffoney were having none of this; they wanted their curate back. A meeting was held outside the church, where a committe was appointed; Peter McCannon and Terence Watters of Cartron, and Andrew Harrison of Clonkeen decided to close up the church until Bishop Coyne sent back Father O'Flanagan to Cliffoney.

Sentries kept watch at the church night and day; Fr. Shannon came up to open the church one Sunday, and he was chased away by McCannon, Watters and Harrison. While the church was locked, the local people met up each evening to say the rosary for Father O'Flanagan at the cross outside the church.

A large delegation from the Parish of Ahamlish, some 300 in all, made their way into on foot, ass and cart, and pony trap, to protest in person at the Bishop's residence, but the Bishop would not meet with them.

Stone font placed in the porch of Cliffoney church after Fr. O'Flanagan's death in 1942.
Stone font placed in the porch of Cliffoney church after Fr. O'Flanagan's death in 1942.

The church remained locked until Christmas Eve, 1915.

The next P.P. of Cliffoney was Fr. Edward Doorley, who later became Bishop of Elphin. Next came Fr. John Kane, P. P., who is buried in the Church grounds. The next P. P. was Fr. Michael Casey, also buried in the church grounds; then came Fr. Sean Kelly P. P., then Fr. Patrick Healy, P. P., Fr Iorek from Poland, and finally our own Fr. Christy McHugh.

The people of Cliffoney march to Cloonerco Bog in 2016 for the centenary of Fr. O'Flanagan's time in Cliffoney in 1915.