RINGASKIDDY’S ORATORY – A SACRED AND PEACEFUL PLACE
Countless thousands of daily commuters, who travel through Ringaskiddy Village on the southern shores of Lower Cork Harbour, pass by and perhaps slow down outside this unique little Church. Its mere simplicity makes it attractive and it has stood the test of time.
The building was originally a Village hall and built in the latter part of the nineteenth century. It became a League of the Cross Hall about 1886. This organisation was a Temperance society a follow on from the Fr. Matthew Temperance Movement. Records show that many attractive concerts were held there and one held on February 5th 1907 was fully covered by the Cork Examiner. The Gaelic League held meetings there around that time too, promoting the Irish language. There still exists a copy of a Ticket for a function held there in March 1883. It reads “RINGASKIDDY BALL AND SOIRRE, Saturday March 17th 1883, Tickets 4|- each, commencing at 9pm, D.B. O’Flynn Hon. Sec.”
In and around 1916 it was decided by the local people to convert the hall into a little church. Ringaskiddy people had to walk to Shanbally for weekly and daily Mass. It was very basic and simple then but in 1923 it was extended. All the woodwork and seating was made by local shipwrights who worked for Palmer Bros. on nearby Parmer’s Island. (Now the Ferry Terminal) Most of the wood used was pitch pine. One key figure involved in the work was a retired British Navy man, William James. He constructed pillars which were on each side of the entrance door.
He made a statue, from concrete, depicting Christ the King, located on the left side of the entrance door. On close examination, Christ sports a pointed Navy beard and had a pair of booths instead of sandals. Of Course the Artist was a navy man. Around 1930 a bell was added to the Church and located above the front door. This is no ordinary bell. It was the Ship’s bell belonging to the White Star Liner THE CELTIC, which hit the rocks and went aground at the entrance of Cork Harbour in 1928. Palmer Brothers of Ringaskiddy were agents for the White Star Line and they presented the bell. William James made the little belfry for the bell and it still stands to this day. In the 1950’s Matt Twomey made a little cross which is mounted on top of the belfry.
Over the years most of the maintenance work was carried by the local people. They cleaned, painted and carried out other repairs. In the late 1990’some more work was done including the installation of a new wooden Altar which became the centrepiece of the church. It was made from a cross section of a 250 year old Sweet Chestnut Tree located in local Coolmore wood. The tree had been felled in the 1950’s and little did anyone know that what remained would become a work of art nearly fifty years later. Local man, the late Martin O’Donoghue, a gifted woodworker, produced this inspirational piece of work. Other decorative woods including Elm and spalted beech were crafted by the same man too.
Throughout the years it has been hugely popular with visitors and many a person found a few solitary minutes within this little special place to relax, wind down and reflect. A very simple and beautiful religious effigy hangs on the wall within. It was sent from Naples, Italy to The Oratory by an Italian Sea Captain. The message on the rear states that he treasured the times he visited this church when his Ship docked in Ringaskiddy. Interestingly many of the Sunday mass goers come from outside the parish. It obviously has a special attraction for them.
Just a few years ago a major refurbishment was carried out. There were many serious defects in the walls and roof and the huge volumes of traffic on the road outside were having an effect too. A group of local Ringaskiddy people along with Parish Priest Rev. Fr. Sean O’Sullivan set about the task. A preservation order was placed on the building, so there were very strict controls and conditions laid out to ensure that all the wonderful old artefacts would be preserved and maintained. There was a small extension to the church with a new side room as well. It was a job well done and there are statues of many of the old favourite saints fully restored and back in their own little settings. When the church was re-opened there was only a debt of €1900 outstanding and the following week a local coffee morning cleared that figure.
The generosity of the local people towards the building fund ensured that their own little holy place would be preserved for generations to come.
In 2009 Frances Twomey and Tony McGettigan produced a splendid book entitled “ Lovely flows the Lee” outlining the journey of the River Lee from where it rises near Gougane Barra and flowing into Cork Harbour near Ringaskiddy. The final chapter features The Oratory and they described it ”as a sacred and peaceful place, near but afar from the hurly burly world.”