Tullyallen Mass House from Tullyallen, near Dungannon, County Tyrone, was the place of worship of the parishioners of Killeeshill Parish
It was built in 1768 on land leased from the Earl of Charlemont, a well-known liberal Irish landlord. Contrary to popular belief (and unlike the Cromwellian era of the previous century), the building of Roman Catholic mass houses was not specifically forbidden by the Penal Laws, although these laws did affect greatly the lives of the Catholic and Dissenter population of Ireland in other ways. What usually determined whether they worshipped at a Mass Rock or in a mass house was likely to be the attitude of the landowners of the parish, the degree of wealth of the parishioners, and in the early part of the 18th century, whether or not the local priest was officially registered.
As the century progressed and Catholic confidence and prosperity grew, an increasing number of mass houses were built throughout the Irish countryside. The population of Ireland grew fast in the late 18th and 19th centuries and that of Killeshill parish where the church was situated, had trebled in size by the 1830s. In 1830 this building was extended to cope with this greatly increased congregation.
The building has been carefully recorded and re-erected here in its pre-1830 form with plain sash windows, whitewashed walls, thatched roof and the annexe at the rear which was used as the priest's accommodation. The presence of the hearth in the west gable points to the building being used as a school during the week. This practice was occasionally found in mass houses of that early period.
Detail of annexe showing priest's accommodation (click image to enlarge)
The number of Catholic emigrants from Ireland increased significantly in the pre-Famine period.
The Ordnance Survey memoirs for Killeshill parish, 1834 states that:
'there are every year some families who emigrate to America and also single men who go over to England and Scotland to assist in the harvest. It is not uncommon for a young man who has been fortunate in his service in America to send back at the end of a few years a sufficient sum to enable the rest of his family to join him there'.
During the Famine of the mid 19th century emigrant numbers rose dramatically and it was common practice for these people to visit their priest and place of worship before leaving for America. Ynyr Burges, the local landlord in the Tullyallen district, commented that, despite his relief efforts, over 300 of his people left for America in the Famine period.
Over the years many improvements were made to the building. A separate schoolhouse was built in the yard and a bell tower was built where the hearth and chimney had been. Later the chapel itself was widened and the roof was raised. Eventually it was replaced by a new building and ceased to be used for worship in 1952.
It was kindly donated to the Folk Park by the parishioners of Killeshill in 1995, supported by Fr. James Crowley PP.
The Catholics of Ulster- a history by Marianne Elliot (published 2000)
Priests and People in Pre Famine Ireland 1780-1845 by S J Connolly (published 1982)
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