The Mass Rock at Inse an tSagairt

The approach to the Mass Rock on stone steps
Reaching the Mass Rock on stone steps.
Natural holy water font in rock boulder
The natural Holy Water font adjacent the Mass Rock.

The Mass Rock at Inse an tSagairt was used to celebrate mass during penal times (1539-1829), a period when Catholic religion was outlawed by Ireland’s British occupiers. Under the shelter of the large rock, a rectangular boulder was used as the altar and a well or bullaun carved from an adjacent rock was used as a holy water font.

Local folklore has it that Fr John O’Neill was murdered here while celebrating mass in 1828, in order to collect the reward paid at that time for the head of a priest. The community of Bonane used to hold an Annual Commemorative Mass of this sad event at Inse an tSagairt. Now, mass is still celebrated here on occasion.

Priest celebrating mass surrounded by parishioners, at the Mass Rock at Inse an tSagairt.
Father Michael celebrating mass at Inse an tSagairt.

The lands the Mass Rock is situated on were purchased by Coillte, a state-owned forestry company, which planted commercial Sitka spruce in this townland of Innisfoyle in the 1960s. Fr Eugene Daly, a parishioner of Bonane who served as a priest in the UK before retiring back home to live with his sister Mary, had a great love for the Mass Rock at Inse an tSagairt and its history, and was instrumental in negotiating with the forestry service to open it to the public. Fr Daly passed away in January 2001 and was laid to rest in the lawns adjacent St Feaghna’s Church in the village.

Small bridge and stepping stones crossing the Baurearagh River
Old steppping stones and modern bridge crossing the Baurearagh River on the way to the Mass Rock.
Rough steps leading uphill to the Mass Rock
Rough steps lead uphill towards the Mass Rock.

A forest track leads down from the Baurearagh Valley road through a new plantation. Depending on the time of your visit, you may spot a pretty little native carnivorous wildflower called ‘Common Butterwort’ enjoying the sanctuary of this quiet track.  towards the river which the visitor crosses by way of a small bridge. Please note that the traditional stepping stones can be slippery. Follow the marking poles onward to the Mass Rock. Again, please take care on the steps leading up to the Rock as they can be slippery. When visiting, please respect that this is a sacred place to the community of Bonane, and do not litter. Due to forestry operations the access road may sometimes be closed to the public for safety reasons.

(Sources: Bonane – A Centenary Celebration, Edited by Fr John Shine; A Guide to the Sheen Valley Heritage Area, by Bonane Community Council)