The Mass Rock at Carker (Carraig an Aifrinn in Irish) was a rock used as an altar in mid-17th century Doneraile as a location for Roman
Catholic Mass. Isolated locations like this site in the Parish of Doneraile across the country were sought to hold religious ceremonies,
as observing the Catholic Mass was a matter of difficulty and danger at the time as a result of both Cromwell’s campaign against the Irish, and the Penal Law of 1695. Irish Bishops were banished and priests had to register to preach under the 1704 Registration Act.
Priest hunters were employed to arrest unregistered priests and Presbyterian preachers under an Act of 1709. In many instances a stone would be taken from a church ruin, and relocated to a rural area, with a simple cross carved on its top. Because the activity was illegal, the services were not scheduled and parishioners would be obliged to spread the word of them informally. By the late 17th century worship generally moved to thatched Mass houses. Some of the Mass rock places may have been used for patterns.
The Mass which is now said annually at the Mass Rock, was started by Canon Sean Cotter, in July, 1984, following discussions with local resident Pat O’Kelly, and with the co-operation of other people in the vicinity. The forestry people did the heavy work of clearing up the area. Pat O’Kelly cleared the stone with a wire brush. The annual Mass is now an important event at Carker. Not only is it attended by Doneraile parishioners, but also by people from the adjoining parishes of Ballyhea and Kildorrery., as well as by people from across the border in Co. Limerick. It is now sign-posted, and people visit it regularly, with larger crowds on Sundays.
From the beginning there was a great interest in the Mass Rock, and this has been maintained. People who have emigrated and returned home have showed a special interest in it. Each year, before the month of July, when the Mass is celebrated , people living at some distance from the site have made inquiries about the exact date, so that they could bring their relatives to it. People have come from as far away as Cork City to attend the Mass. The O’Kelly family have played a big part in organising the annual celebration of Mass there, with the help of the local priests and others. They bring seats for the occasion from the Community Centre in Doneraile. The future of the event is now secure, and it will be held every year going forward.
The area near the mass-rock has changed in recent years. People with the surname McGrath once lived about 100 yards from the rock, about 20 years before the Forestry took over this area, early in the 20 the century. Their white house was a landmark, which could be seen from the top of Curraghkerry Hill by anyone coming from Mallow. There were four other families further out. All have now passed to their eternal reward.
The Peddler’s Grave is a mysterious site located near the path leading to the mass- rock. It is a mound of stones about the length of a grave. The old people told Pat 0′ Kelly that everybody passing threw a stone at it. It is thought that it is the grave of a traveling man, who either died or was murdered at this spot. The tradition is that each time a person passes the grave he must throw a stone on it to avoid personal misfortune.
The Carker mass-rock gives much food for thought. Perhaps, people felt more need for God when living in difficult times. Even in relatively modern times the people of this area had a great devotion to the Mass, and rarely missed it. Sixty years ago, Mr. Pat Kelly saw them passing his house in pony and traps on dark winter mornings, while others walked to the 8.30 a.m. Mass in Doneraile. So, we have a picture of a people attending Mass at some danger to themselves in Cromwellian times, and later in the 18th century, when Mass was barely tolerated under the Registration Act. This is the scene we are looking at, and perhaps we could be remembering Father Tadgh O’Dalaigh, who, 300 years ago, said Mass on the mass-rock at Carker Middle, with the people gathered round him, showing their loyalty to and faith in the Mass.
Those using Sat Navs should input:
The National Grid Reference is:
(C0017 n 028), 16314/11344.
This will bring you close to the Forestry Entrance to the Carker Mass Rock which if approaching from Doneraile and Shanballymore will be on your right hand side.
At the forestry entrance on either side of the barrier, you will see two rectangle stones on either side of the stone road with two white crosses engraved on them.