A. M. Thompson.

A brief account of the rise and progress of the change in religious opinion now taking place in Dingle, and the west of the County of Kerry, Ireland online

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Online LibraryA. M. ThompsonA brief account of the rise and progress of the change in religious opinion now taking place in Dingle, and the west of the County of Kerry, Ireland → online text (page 1 of 14)
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NOV 27 1918

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The desire you have so strongly expressed to have
a distinct account of the beginning and progress of the
remarkable change of opinion, now taking place in this
remote corner of Ireland, together with the generous and
effective interest you have shown in this work of reforma-
tion, have induced me to prepare for publication the
following narrative of what has occured at Dingle, and in
the neighbouring parishes, during the last eight or nine
years. And I cannot be satisfied, — however unwillingly
yon may consent to it. — that this little volume should
appear without being inscribed to one who has been so
especially instrumental in its production.

To men involved in business in London,- the real state
of Ireland can be so little known, that mere novelty may
invest the following statement with a higher interest than
at first might be expected : that interest may fearlessly be
yielded, since all exaggeration, all high colouring have been
scrupulously avoided in this simple relation of facts, how-
ever many of those details may surprise and almost seem
doubtful to a reader unacquainted with the character and


habits of mind of our untutored, but enquiring and intel-
ligent population.

There have been some small publications, giving slight
accounts of the religious change taking place at Dingle,
and in the surrounding country, which have been favora-
bly received ; but slight accounts of that sort, or collections
of anecdotes of the converts, however in themselves inter-
esting, can never give the public full satisfaction ; they are
also in some degree hurtful, by sending forth exaggerated
representations which touch the heart, and raise undue
expectations, which not being afterwards fully realized,
cause disappointment ; and that disappointment leads to
the undervaluing of what has absolutely been effected.

To obviate these evils I have, at your earnest request,
backed by that of many friends, consented to draw up a
fuller and more precise statement of the whole work, than
has yet been laid before the public ; in which will be found
original documents, — ^letters from the converts themselves,
and a few remarkable anecdotes, all well known to the

Many errors in the style of writing will no doubt appear,
but as an inexperienced writer can hardly avoid such, I do
not stop to apologise for them, but rather come forward
in honest humility, with all my imperfection on my head,
confident only in the truth.

D. P. T.


Feb. 10, 1845.




The south-western coast of Ireland is singularly
indented by deep bays running far inland, separated
by narrow peninsular tracts of wild mountainous
country. Of these bays, that of Castlemain, or
Dingle, is one of the largest. On its northern side,
a very narrow passage, between two bold rocky
head-lands, opens into a small inner harbour sur-
rounded by hills, bosomed in which nestles the
little town of Dingle, which, rising up the southern
slope, enjoys a splendid view across the wide bay to
the mountain range of the rugged Barony of
Iveragh. In this place there is now going on a
remarkable work of Reformation,

Forty years ago the Church of Dingle had fallen
into such ruin as to be disused. The Protestant
worshippers met for divine service in a room in the



town — they were few and careless. Yet they did
not pass unmolested by popish enmity, but were
frequently assailed in going and returning, by
cabbage-stalks and other filth. In 1804, however,
a small parish Church was erected on a former
site in the ancient Church-yard, and more regular
ministrations of the usual services afforded to those
who attended.

Fifteen years since, the writer of these pages first
visited Dingle, as a tourist ; the majestic scenery of
this neighbourhood attracted some adventurous spirits
even then, to explore its wilds. The roads had be-
come nearly impassable for any conveyance better
than a car or Irish dray.

The post was conveyed by foot-carriers ; one man
starting from Tralee, and the other from Dingle, and
trotting at a pace which is very commonly practised by
active boys in Ireland, of between four and five English
miles an hour ; they met half way, by a pass over the
mountain, exchanged bags, and each trotted back to
their respective towns, having accomplished a dis-
tance of fifteen English miles forward, and the same
back ; they did this every day, winter and summer,
for which they received the pittance of seven shillings
per week. I give this as an instance of the extreme
backwardness of this spot, so lately as the year 1830.
In this year, however, improvement commenced ; a
good road was carried along both sides of the range
of mountains, — as may be seen in the map, — that on
the northern side passing over the Conner, and open-
ing up a truly romantic and beautiful country.


interesting both in historical and antiquarian

In the troublous times of the Desmonds, Spanish
auxiliaries had landed their forces in this part of
Kerry : and here the gallant Raleigh won golden
glories for his royal mistress, repulsing these foreign
invaders, and driving them from their fortifications,
the ruins of which still crown the cliffs, literally into
dark graves of deep ocean ; the booming surfs of the
ocean break upon the base of Fort Doloro, (the Fort
of Sighs), so called because of the number driven
headlong from it into the sea. The castles of the
insurgent knights, Fitzgerald, Moor, and M'Carthy,
rising in gaunt desolation, tell tales of powerful days
and past times, when Dingle was the chief town of
the country, and a fortified place, as its name (a
corruption of Dangan or Dongon, a fortress or
strong-hold) indicates : That it was formerly known
as a place of trade, is proved from an estimate still
extant, made during Lord Strafibrd's government,
relative ' to goods that might be purchased in this
country/ ' goods usually transported from the
port of Dingle to Spain \' insomuch that Queen
Elizabeth gave money to repair its walls, and
grants of land in its neighbourhood to her faith-
ful servants, so planting a protestant population
here, with a view, probably, of counteracting all
remains of Spanish and papal influence. These ad-
vantages it continued to retain for above a century
later, as entries in the customs so late as 1750 shew
that Dingle exported annually above £60,000 v^^orth
B 2


of linen, besides large quantities of butter, eggs,
hides, and cattle. The ruins of churches, com-
paratively modern, declare that at a period not very
far back, protestantism had extended itself through-
out our peninsula. But alas ! what a mere name to
live by, while the soul was fled, did Protestantism
present in these districts during the seventeenth
century ; even the ordinances of the Established
Church were carelessly administered, and as for
pastoral care, there was none.

Smyth, in his history of Kerry, makes mention of
fifty-four Churches at one time in this county, thirty-
four of which were in ruins in 1756 ; out of these
thirty -four, only eleven have since been repaired. An
attempt was made in 1795 to rebuild the Church in
the parish of Dunurlin, but the contractor having
neglected to finish it according to specification, it re-
mained unclaimed by the Board of First Fruits — no
clergyman was on the spot to take possession of it,
and the Roman Catholics seeing it unprotected, fell
upon it, and in one night pulled it down, and carried
off the whole of the materials to the mountains with
impunity. What wonder that (as is the lamentable
fact) all the English settlers of low degree lapsed into
popery, or that in measure, as its people departed
from the truth of God, the country around Dingle
sank into insignificance and poverty, until Dingle was
only known as the name of a place unknotvn ! *

* " I wish j'ou were at Dingle-y- couch" — being a cant phrase, meaning
totally out of the way.


In the year 1831, the Rev. J. Jebb became rector
of Dunurlin, the most western of our parishes, in-
deed tlie most western in Europe, and fenced from the
incursions of the Atlantic by gigantic chfTs, many of
them presenting a perpendicular face of nine hundred
feet to the ocean, which is said to be thirty fathom
deep at their base : The aspect of the inland portion
of this tract is singularly sublime, long flats of
drifted sands formed by the encroaching of the sea,
where in the small coves it can force an entrance,
sparely clothed here and there with sea bent-grass,
and bounded only by distant mountains, present to
the eye of those who love nature in her wildest
aspect, a strangely delightful conception of the sandy
deserts of the east. Three other small parishes lie
contiguous to Dunurlin, those of Kilquane, Keelma-
kedar, and Dunquin, in not any of which was there
a resident minister, a church, or other means of
grace ; the occasional duties having been gratuitously
performed by the Rev. T. Goodman, curate of Dingle.
Mr. Jebb was nephew to the Bishop of the diocese,
and with praiseworthy zeal determined to remedy
the abuses which he observed in the district, as well
as to supply what was necessary for the due and unin-
terrupted administration of public worship. In his
own parish he appointed a resident curate at a salary
of £100 per annum, and determined to apply all the
emoluments of the living to the maintenance of
schools, and the establishment of religion on a per-
manent footing. The Bishop also required the
rectors of the neighbouring parishes to provide for


their occasional duties, and thus ensure a new and
better state of things.

The Rev. George Gubbins was eventually ap-
pointed the curate of the four parishes, Dunurlin,
Keelmakedar, Ventry, and Kilquane, and entered on
his duty with all the zeal of an ardent mind, willing
to fulfil the positive stipulations of his rector —
' that he should live in one of the four parishes, and
visit all of them at least once every week, summer and
winter, for which purpose he was required to keep a
horse ;' he was also ' required to return the names of
every lapsed Protestant throughout them, as well as
of the coast-guards, for whom more specially he was
to minister :' as it was ' his (Mr. JehVs) desire, in
every way in his poiver, to contribute to the interests,
and render if possible those parishes exemplary to
that portion of the diocese.'* Rather a difficult
matter to expect in a district where there was no
Church, no house, no school, nor any thing that could
lead one to suppose that Protestant Christianity had
ever been preached, much less established, in Ireland.

However, no way appalled, this excellent man
determined to meet the difficulties by throwing him-
self into them ; he lived in a cabin, at one shilling a
week, independent of circumstances, and deprived of
all the comforts of refined life.

Stated services were performed in each of the
parishes, and Sunday Schools established for the fami-
lies of the coast-guard stations, who formed a nucleus
for a Protestant congregation in three of the above-
* Rev. J. Jebb's letter to the Rev. G. Gubbins.


named parishes ; but as yet he had discovered none of
the lapsed families of native Protestants ; he com-
menced however a close search after them, and had the
happiness in 1832, of restoring five families to the
bosom of the Protestant Church.

Still, the minister of God, who feels that every
soul in his cure is given him in charge, cannot rest
with the mere preservation of professed adherents, or
even the recovery of the lapsed ; he must go forth
into the highways and hedges, preaching in season
and out of season, persuading, exhorting, and shewing
Jesus to be the Author and Finisher of our salvation.

At first, however, the obstacles appeared almost
insurmountable, and he could only pray that God
would open a way of access between him and his
popish parishioners ; while for the present, he took a
leaf out of the ' Jesuits' book,^ and determined to
practice medicine in such a simple way as would
bring him into contact with them; — hoping, by mani-
festing a care for their bodies, ultimately to benefit
their souls.

The Lord gave a fearful opportunity of effecting
his purpose in this respect. Cholera, in its most
frightful form, visited the parishes under his care.
The people, maddened with dismay, knew not whe-
ther to charge God or man as the author of this
visitation. The Popish priests, terrified by the idea
of contagion, actually fled from the scene, and left
to the minister of a purer faith, the privilege of ad-
ministering medical aid and kindness to the sufferers,
and thus afforded an opportunity of opening truth to


many perishing sinners, who, under other circum-
stances, would have closed the door against him.
He spared himself neither day nor night, ministering
comfort to all while life remained, and in more than
one case personally assisted in the interment of the
dead ; from henceforth he became physician-general
to the poor, who, ever after, while he remained in
the parish, sought to him in times of sickness, and
therefore could no longer regard him as an " emissary
of the evil one."

Being unable to speak Irish, he had obtained
an interpreter, and one fortunately capable of reading
the Scriptures in the Irish language, through whom
there was immediate access to the hearts of the
people ; so that by the year 1833, we find his hands
full of useful labour in these hitherto-neglected

But, much as their state was thus bettered in some
respects, improvement was not, thank God, to stop at
the mere restoration of outward order. This cen-
tury has indeed been blest beyond former ages by
the spread of scriptural light ; evangelical views of
religion, too much lost sight of hitherto, were, about
the period of which I speak, rapidly spreading through
Ireland — the doctrines of Christ, — -justification by
faith, repentance from dead works, and the need of
the continually-renewing influence of the Holy Spirit.
These great doctrines were preached by numbers of
the younger clergy, and by the grace of God, extended
to our remote peninsula.

Lord Ventry, to whom the rectorial and vicarial


tithes of Dingle belong, considering that one curate
was insufficient for its spiritual necessities, appointed
the Rev. Charles Gayer, in 1833, as his private chap-
lain, and assistant to the Rev. Thomas Goodman,
who had been, as mentioned above, for some years
gratuituously performing the occasional duties of
the whole district, until the arrival of Mr. Gubbins
in 1831.

These gentlemen were not among those who con-
sider the Protestants only as their parishioners. Such
a view of pastoral responsibility has been one cause of
Popery's standing erect and unabashed throughout
the land. Almost everywhere the people have been
given up to the priests, considered outside the pale
of the cure of souls ; and because it was difficult to
recover these wandering sheep to the fold, while they
were themselves unwilling to return, the pastors have
left them to wander and stumble on the dark moun-
tains of Popish idolatry, unheeded, uncalled, and un-
accounted of. Yet of the earth, which they cul-
tivated with the sweat of their brow, these shepherds
ate the fat and richness !

The results of a different mental view of the sub-
ject and an opposite system of conduct, prove what
might have been done throughout Ireland ere now, and
done with all good feeling on the part of both pastor
and parishioner, had such care prevailed to any extent.
It has been very generally believed, that the signal
success that has attended the ministrations of the
clergy of this district, in bringing many hun-
dreds into the fold of the Established Church, is
B 5


owing chiefly, if not entirely, to the operations of the
Irish Society in their parishes. And when the Refor-
mation here is adduced as an example for others to
follow, and as a source of encouragement to clergy-
men in other Popish districts, the reply is always,
' Oh ! but there they had the Irish Society.^

Without in the least wishing to derogate from the
blessing which the Irish Society has proved itself to
be, wherever its operations are carried on ; and desir-
ing as I do, to give ample proof of the great benefit it
has been among ourselves, (having been an eye-witness
from the commencement of its operations,)I wish to
correct the mistake alluded to above, both because I
am 'jealous for the truth,' and because I think it is
calculated not only to give false impressions respect-
ing the Society, and the line of work it has judici-
ously marked out for itself, but also to damp the ex-
ertions of parochial ministers in the remote parts of
Ireland, under the mistaken idea, that nothing can
be done among Roman Catholics, except by the
agency of the Irish Society. None who love the
truth can fail to bid the Irish Society, ' God speed,'
— to honour its labours, and to recognize in its objects
the cause of that God who has declared it to be ac-
cording to his mind, that men should hear, each in
his own tongue, the wonderful works of God.

Yet a ministry for the gathering out of God's
people, is the ordained means of God, and no So-
ciety, however excellent, can take that place, nor re-
ceive the blessing God has promised to, and fails not
to pour out upon, the faithful preaching of his word by


his ministers. And I do firmly believe, that sympathy
with the Society would be more extended if it were
shewn to be, — that which indeed it is, — simply the
ready handmaid of the faithful pastor. The clergy
throughout all parts of Ireland, would be more
readily induced to make the experiment in behalf of
their Roman Catholic parishoners, if it could be
made apparent to them, that it is possible to effect
the conversion of Romanists, by giving them the
Scriptures, and seeking conversation, as well where
the Irish is not the prevailing language, as where it is.
Moreover, where the labours of the Irish Society
are not followed up by the hearty and affectionate
exertions of the clergyman of the parish, the fruit
yielded, comes as little to perfection, as do the labours
of a minister, on the other hand, who cannot come
into communion with the people in the language they




In proof of the justice of the opinions^ expressed
at the close of the last chapter, I distinctly state, and
request that it may be particularly observed, that reli-
gious enquiry here first began in the town of Dingle,
where the people speak English ; and as far as a work
of the Almighty's can be attributed to human instru-
mentality, it resulted from the excitement and novelty
of evening service being performed in the Church,
which attracted the curious and intelligent youths
of the town, to go and hear the new parson,*
under cover of the dusk of evening. Many who
would not risk public estimation, in order to
gratify a lawful desire of information as to what
was doing and saying in a Church ; and who first
entered the Church only from curiosity, repeated the

* The want of a residence for a clergyman in Dingle, which has
always existed, obliged the excellent Mr. Goodman to live on his own
property ; which being at a distance of four miles from the town, together
with the great delicacy of his health, prevented the performance of evening
service hitherto.

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Online LibraryA. M. ThompsonA brief account of the rise and progress of the change in religious opinion now taking place in Dingle, and the west of the County of Kerry, Ireland → online text (page 1 of 14)