A fortnight ago the Roman Catholic Bishop of Kerry was widely reported as warning that a decline in numbers of clergy meant it would soon no longer be possible to provide services in all parishes. Here, as elsewhere in the country, there are now more churches than priests, with the consequence that many of the former will begin closing their doors. Some have long since done so, such as this building in Cahersiveen, County Kerry. Dating from the mid-18th century, it is a rare survival of a penal chapel, one of the backstreet centres of worship permitted to exist before legislation against Catholics was gradually abolished. When the naval surgeon Thomas Reid visited Cahersiveen in 1822 he reported that such was the throng attending mass here only about a third of the congregation could be accommodated inside the walls.
Much of the credit for the abolition of the old Penal Laws belongs to Daniel O’Connell, who was baptised in this building in 1775 (his parents are buried in a graveyard immediately opposite). One might therefore imagine that given that pedigree the chapel would be cherished and well-maintained. Such is not the case: it appears that only thanks to the strenuous efforts of a local man, chemist Geoffrey O’Connor who died three years ago does the chapel still stand at all. Its present condition is a premonition of what could yet become of many Catholic churches both in Kerry and elsewhere across Ireland.