Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Four Altars


I was born in the shadow of the Four Altars, which stands proudly on a hill overlooking the present or ‘new’ road from Ballaghaderreen to Monasteraden. This monument is located in the townland of Creggane, which in the past was called Creggane-na-gcrann because of all the trees in the area.

During the Penal times priests risked their lives saying Mass in people’s houses, on the hills and behind fences. The Four Altars offered protection to the priest from the wind and rain while saying Mass. For example when the wind came from the north, the priest would say Mass at the alter facing south. From the beginning of the 18th Century places were named after the local Mass hill or Mass rock.

The priest who read Mass at Ateen-taggart in Bockagh also read Mass here when circumstances permitted and usually resided with the Costello family in Creggane. It is believed that Mass was said at least once in the 19th century, about 1820 when Father Farrell lived in the district.

The penal laws were not rigorously enforced as regards worship in many parts of the country, especially the west, after 1700. The rigour of the laws depended to a large extent on the landlord. Orlaur Abbey, for example, survived right through the penal laws. There is no evidence that Mass was said at the ‘Four Altars’ in more recent times. We know that about the year 1897, Father O’Connor, a curate in Ballaghaderreen, gathered the neighbours together to recite the rosary one October evening. I remember an elderly neighbour of mine proudly showing me a photograph of the occasion.

It is said that Myles Costello who lived in Creggane (Creggane-na-gCrann) erected the building sometime between 1720 and 1750. He was a descendant of the Costello’s of Castlemore. This family is now extinct. It was built as a monument to the faith and sufferings of the Irish.

Castlemore was the ancient seat of the family who were originally Norman settlers in Meath, called de Angulos or Nangles but later adopted the name Mac Costello or Costello. After getting the O’Gara lands they set up their headquarters at Castlemore about 1300 and prospered until ousted by Sir Theobald Dillon in 1587. In 1595 Castlemore castle was destroyed by Hugh O’Donnell.

The Costello’s of Tallaghanmore or Edmondstown were another family. The last member of this family was Captain Costello who built the residence of the present bishop of Achonry. This latter family became Protestants somewhere about, the beginning of the 19th Century. It was said that Sir Robert Peel, who was British Home Secretary from 1812 to1818, the man who established the Royal Irish constabulary (the Peelers), regularly visited this family of Tallaghanmore for the shooting season.

On 10th November 1967 the Roscommon Herald published a letter from a Rev. P. Kilgarriff who resided in Sidmouth, Devon. The writer provided additional information about Rev. Thomas Costello whose family built the Four Altars. The letter mentions that a biographical account of his life is contained in a ‘History of the Catholic Religion in the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Wilts and Gloucester’ by the very Rev George Oliver a noted historian and friend and contemporary of Rev. T. Costello.

This account states that in the spring of 1821 Father Costello took up a post in Plymouth where he ministered for thirteen years. On the 25th April 1834, he was transferred to Cannington and on 29th January 1837, he moved to Calverleigh Court where he remained until the establishment of St. John's near Tiverton on 19th May 1839.

He died on 21st March 1846 at the age of 77 years and is buried beside the St John’s Church in Tiverton.

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