The Daniel O’Connell Memorial Church in Cahersiveen is the only on in Ireland that is named after a person rather than a saint. I have seen it from the outside many, many times over the past few years in my travels in and around Kerry. It was only on 4 January 2019 that I had the opportunity to step inside.
The outside is a huge grey box-like structure, dominating the small town of Cahersiveen. You may know that Daniel O’Connell was a talented politician and Prime Minister of Ireland back in the first half of the nineteenth century. Indeed, so loved was “The Liberator” that the main street in Dublin is named after him. His life wasn’t always so grand. Born in 1775 to a poor family that couldn’t afford to support yet another child, he was given to his uncle to raise in Derrynane. It was there that the seeds were sown for Daniel’s political awareness and later success.
Today, it takes about 45 minutes to drive from Cahersiveen to Derrynane, but in the late 18th century it would have been a perilous journey on foot requiring a full day – or longer. The people of Cahersiveen are rightly proud of their collective son though, and the size of this church reflects that.
I happened to be in Cahersiveen one Friday as mass ended, and I seized the opportunity of seeing the inside. What a difference! I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t what I saw. I think the interior is no larger than St Margaret’s, but with rows of hard wooden pews made for endurance rather than comfort. There were two side altars, and as is common in Catholic churches, a number of smaller shrines around the sides. The Christmas nativity scene was still in place and it looked beautiful. I didn’t feel the presence of the Lord though, maybe because I was expecting to, or maybe because I was preoccupied with reading the architecture when I should have simply absorbed the whispers of the living stones.