300th Anniversary of the Building of the Church of Saint Brendan, Crookhaven, Co. Cork

Sunday, 23rd July marked the beginning of a week of celebrations in Kilmoe Union of Parishes to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the building and consecration of the beautiful little coastal Church of St Brendan in Crookhaven, County Cork.  The Bishop, the Right Reverend Dr Paul Colton, was present at the Sunday evening Service of Compline and, in his sermon, at the request of the rector, Canon Trevor Lester, told something of the history of the church 300 years ago.  Here is the Bishop’s Sermon:

Sermon preached by

The Right Reverend Dr Paul Colton

Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross

on the occasion of the 300th Anniversary of the Church of St Brendan the Navigator, Co. Cork

Sunday, 30th July, 2017

This has been a weekend of ‘history’ in my work and ministry, but not history alone.  The life and work of the Diocese continues.  I have been meeting clergy in this part of the Diocese and chatting about the work of the Church here in our time, in 2017, now well into the 21st Century.  This morning I was in Durrus, baptising Theo, a new member of the Church, and confirming six young people.  We celebrated the Holy Communion and the Word of God was proclaimed.  This is the work of the Church in our time – Word and Sacrament, pastoral care to the people of God, and engagement with the world around us.  

In the midst of it all, as one of its patrons, I’ve been attending the inaugural West Cork History Festival, sitting at the feet of esteemed historians who help us, even if only in part, to understand what we are now because of what happened then.  And tonight I am with you here in Crookhaven to celebrate 300 years of this Church.

So it is a weekend of ‘then and now’, ‘past and present’, of what we once were, what we are and what we are becoming.

In the Church of Ireland we love and sometimes hate our history.  ‘Hate’, because it lumbers us with the costly responsibility of the preservation of so much heritage, with all the complications that go with that. ‘Love’ because it has shaped who we are, and our tradition, our way of being the Church.  So I am glad to have the opportunity to reflect with you this weekend as you celebrate 300 years of this building.  But I come also with a caution: our history alone will not sustain us or guarantee our future, any more than the past will ensure the future of any community to institution.

We are here now in a time and place with work to do, as the incarnate God – Jesus  – was when he was ‘the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1.14) – as that same Jesus challenged us to do:

… the harvest  is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into his harvest …’

(Matthew 9.37 and 38)


Again, at the end of St Matthew’s Gospel:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

(Matthew 28.19-20)

Our living today, our being as the Church, looks to that unchanging commandment Jesus set out for us in response to the question from that lawyer all those years ago (in Matthew 22.36-40):

Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him,  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

In our faithfulness to this call of Jesus Christ we are Christian disciples living out this command in this time and place.  It is a place where there has been such such love for Jesus Christ and faithfulness for centuries, and where your faithfulness continues today in very different times.

In the dining room at The Bishop’s Palace, hang the portraits of former bishops of this Diocese.  Over the fireplace is that of Bishop Charles Benjamin Dowse, who was Bishop from 1912 to 1932, through the troubled period on which much of this weekend’s West Cork History Festival has been focussing, the centenaries of which lie ahead.  Tonight we think, however, of the tercentenary of this building, and the portraits, therefore, on either side of Bishop Dowse, on either side of our dining room fireplace are relevant.  To the left is the oval portrait of Bishop Dive Downes – he hangs over our drinks trolley with its contemporary collection of craft gins.  I wonder what he would have made of that?  To the right is Bishop Peter Browne.  He hangs over a small sideboard on which we lay out tea, coffee and cake for Diocesan Meetings.  He would have approved of that; certainly, perhaps, more than the gin, as in November 1713. he wrote about and got caught up in a controversy concerning the practice of ‘drinking the health – a toast – to the memory of the dead.’

Browne had been Bishop of Cork three years by that time.  The noted Jonathan Swift, of Gullivers’ Travels fame wanted to be Bishop of Cork and Ross.  In fact Swift had written to the authorities effectively asking for the job. It was Queen Anne herself who had other ideas.  She had heard Browne preaching in London on the text ‘Never man spake as this man’ (John 7.46 –  the same reading I chose for this evening and read a moment ago)and applied it to Browne himself, and so on 2nd April 1710 he was consecrated Bishop in the chapel of Trinity College, where he was serving as Provost. What sort of job was Browne taking on?

To answer that, we have to go back momentarily to the other side of my fireplace, the ‘gin side’, to Dive Downes.  According to Webster, nearly 100 years before Peter Browne, the 1615 Regal Visitation shows that ‘there were signs of life and vigour [in the Diocese] …’ The Rebellion of 1641, followed by the years of Cromwell in Ireland (1649-53) put pay to that.  Many churches were in ruins or without churches altogether.  Such was the legacy inherited by the man to the left of my fireplace, Dive Downes.  He was appointed Bishop, by the King, on 9th March 1699.  He was enthroned in Cork on 7th June, and in Ross on 9th June and two months later , on 9th August – around this time of year – he set off on his visitation of the Dioceses.

It’s not clear whether or not he made it to here during his first sortie that year, but he did make it to Schull.  He also had made it to Fanlobbus, Bantry, Whiddy Island, Skibbereen, Sherkin Island, Caheragh, Durrus (where I was this morning) and Ross, among others. In May of the following year, 1700, he was ‘out west’ again. ON 3rd June that year he was in Schull and Kilmoe, and on 5th June 1700 came here.  He reports that he found about 200 Roman Catholic families and only nine Protestant families.  The roof was off the church.

What the visitation showed was that many churches at that time had not recovered from the Rebellion of 1641.  By 1693 only 25 of the churches in the Diocese were in good repair.  All of the others either had no church building or one in ruins.  Among the names of parishes familiar to us which Bishop Downes noted as having churches in ruins were Kinneigh, Fanlobbus, Kilmoe, Kilmocomogue.  He records that there was no roof on others, such as Schull.   In Kilmoe there was no glebe, no register, no Bible and no Book of Common Prayer.  Murragh had to borrow a Bible from Desertserges.  In both Kilmurry and Marmullane the walls of the churches were down and there were only four or five Protestants in each.  Quite a number of parishes, including Inchigeelagh, had ‘no Protestants and no church.’  Caheragh had no church.  On a Sunday in Ballymoney there were 150 in Church but only 20 received Holy Communion. At an Ordination in Kilbrogan attended by 800 only 150 received the sacrament.  Of St Nicholas’ he wrote that it had been ‘ruinous time out of mind.’  And yet in the midst of all this and the on-going efforts of restoration and reconstruction there was faithfulness. People were being confirmed.  Worship was being offered.  Deacons were being ordained.  Gifts of books and silver plate were being offered to the Church.  Churchwardens were being appointed where there were none.  Faithfulness in difficult times!  The Church came through those difficult times by faithfulness and courage.  Downes carried around with him for distribution, large quantities of bibles and copies of the Book of Common Prayer.

The baton was handed on to Bishop Peter Browne who, as I said, thanks to Queen Anne, became Bishop in 1710.

In both the ministry of Dive Downes and Peter Browne we see what concerned them as Bishop.  And here’s the thought I leave with you, and here I come back to where I started – the work of the CHurch today – in their preoccupations we see something of the concerns that continue to be our work and challenge today:

  • Oversight of the work of the clergy
  • He was adamant that clergy should visit the people in their homes and teach the children, and everyone indeed, the faith.
  • ‘Let the clergy give the first step’ , he aid ‘in laying aside the airiness of dress and profuseness of snuff …’  
  • Supervision of the churches
  • Adequate residences for clergy – Browne insisted that they would reside in their parishes and as close to the churches as possible.  
  • The conduct of worship – taking Services properly – ‘strict adherence by the clergy to the rubrics’ – the ceremonies of the Church.
  • The work and duties of churchwardens

He wrote in his book of devotions his ‘to do list’ as it were:

‘Building new Churches.  Repairing the old.  Enclosing all Church yards.  Keeping churches and churchyards clean.  Terriers of Glebes.  Preventing burying in churches …

‘… Public baptism on Sundays and Holidays.  Never on other days, yet never without Publick Service with truie immersion … Churching at the rails of the Chancel …. The water poured into the font at the time of baptism.  The same water never consecrated twice, but always poured out after Baptizing is over … Notice for Confirmation in all churches on the first Sunday in Lent.  Performed after Easter.  None but at the years of discretion.  Examination the Fryday before.  ON Sundays with Communion.  ALl expelled from the Eucharist who have not been confirmed and are not ready and desirous to be so at the first opportunity.  Every clergyman to have a list of the poor Housekeepers of his parish to lay before such as are able to relieve them.’  

Browne sets out similar instructions concerning schoolmasters and schools.  And he has notes about ‘Ministers’ widows and children.  Books to the Poorer Clergy.  Poor Clergymen.  Poor Housekeepers.  Popor of the Parish.  Employing poor workmen.  Charity schools … Clothing at Charity Schools.’

Building and rebuilding had been a mark of Browne’s episcopate in Cork for which he probably has not had adequate memorial:  charity schools, the Greencoat Hospital, Skiddy’s charity, the North Infirmary, the South Infirmary, and new churches:  St Nicholas, St Paul’s, the rebuilding of Christ Church, St Anne, Shandon, and not to forget, the building of the St Fin Barre’s Cathedral that predated the present-day one.

That was the bishop who came here and who, at his own expense, 300 years ago, in 1717 and built this church, known locally, according to Lewis as ‘the Bishop’s Church.’  Lewis, in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, was wrong about one thing.  Her says that Browne came here in 1700 and built this Church – our celebrations tonight would have been 17 years out, but, of course, as you know from what I’ve said, Browne was even Bishop then, Dive Downes was.

As your Bishop today, I don’t bring a cheque or a coffer of resources, but I do bring the same call, I imagine, that he brought then.   What we might say is this:  he was concerned to ensure that the Church in his day in this Diocese was the best and most faithful Church that it could be, in worship, ministry, proclaiming and teaching the Word, in care for resources, and in meeting pastoral need.

Three hundred years later, I as Bishop, and we all in the Diocese, are, I hope, at one with him in these objectives.  It is not the history that will sustain us, but God to whom, in our own time we respond with joy and faithfulness.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

(Matthew 22.36-40)

300 years this year! The Church of St Brendan the Navigator, Crookhaven, Co. Cork.

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