The Secret Paths That Led Ireland’s Catholics to Forbidden Mass

Atlas Obscura | 1/10/2018 | Staff
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On Ireland’s southwest coast, in County Kerry, there is a small village called Caherdaniel. Nearby, there is a national park, a fort that offers glimpses of the Skellig Islands, and the sloping shores of Derrynane Bay. And, etched into this countryside, is the Caherdaniel Mass Path. Like other such paths around Ireland, this narrow track was used by Catholics to attend mass 300 years ago, during a time of religious persecution.

The locations of these passages were closely held secrets, which is why it took Irish photographer Caitriona Dunnett years to research her project Mass Paths. It was the one at Caherdaniel that first sparked her interest. “I photographed it and remembered learning about the penal times at school,” she says. “It inspired me to research and find other penal paths to photograph.”

Path - Murrisk - Mass - Rock

Path to Murrisk Mass Rock.

Beginning in the 1690s, the Protestant-controlled Irish Parliament, in conjunction with the English Parliament, passed a series of increasingly stringent, brutally wide-ranging penal laws that imposed serious restrictions on the already oppressed Catholic majority. No Catholic person could vote, or become a lawyer or a judge. They could not own a firearm or serve in the army or navy. They could not set up a school, or teach or be educated abroad. They could not own a horse worth more than £5. They could not speak or read their native Gaelic.

Attempt - Catholic - Land - Holdings - Law

In an attempt to decrease Catholic land holdings, in the early 1700s, a new law prohibited primogeniture, and instead, when an Irish Catholic died, his land was divided among his sons and daughters. But any son who became Protestant could inherit everything. According to one report, Catholics made up 90 percent of the country’s population. A the end of 1703, they owned less than 10 percent of the land.

Catholic bishops were forced to leave the...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Atlas Obscura
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