St. Michael's Church, Upper Glanmire, Cork.

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

Figure 1: St. Michael's Church, Upper Glanmire, Cork.

Walking into the porch of Saint Michael’s Church, Ballinvriskig, Upper Glanmire, one can see a commemorative plaque which gives a brief overview of the history of the building. The present church replaced a thatched structure which served the community in the 1700s. The earliest mention of the Church is recorded when in October 1700, Bishop Dive Downes noted that it was 'built with stone and clay and lime. The walls are half of them down. 'Tis about 50 foot long.' The Bishop proceeds to mention that the building was never made use of for 'Divine Service, and that it was a place for the clergy to meet in... people of this parish go to Rathcony Church.' However this was to change.[1]

Figure 2: Commemorative Plaque, Church Porch.

Eighteenth century Ireland was a precarious turbulent period. At the end of the seventeenth century Penal Laws had been introduced which in essence regulated the status of Roman Catholics. These Popery Laws were directed both against Catholic clergy and laity, they curtailed activities such as education and religion. During this time, outdoor services were not uncommon due to lack of resources as well as fear of persecution. Local traditions tell us that Mass was also celebrated in the isolated ruins of old medieval churches or early monasteries, and it has been recorded that a service was held in ‘a rural Mass House in the townland of Ballinvriskig in 1723.’[2]

Figure 3: Example of a Mass House 1700s Ireland.

The laws were relaxed towards the end of the 1700s and this is reflected in 1808 when Saint Michael’s Church was dedicated and reopened for worship following major restructuring – the same year as the North Cathedral in Cork was dedicated. Originally an entrance and gallery were located where the altar is currently situated. Of course two hundred years ago, the R616 had not been built and journeys were made via the Rocky Road which was located at the rear of the church.

Figure 4: Taylor and Skinner map 1777 showing Dublin to Cork route and Rocky Road running through Ballinvriskig.

One of the earliest records relating to Saint Michael's is held in the Cork and City Archives, Blackpool. The document dates from 1820 and is a lease signed by Lord Ennismore and Bishop John Murphy for the ‘Chapel House for 99 years at one pepper corn annual rent.’[3] Lord Ennismore was a member of the ‘Hare family who had come to Ireland after the Cromwellian settlement and acquired property initially in Dublin and later in Cork.’[4] Their influence extended to Kerry at the end of the eighteenth century when Richard Hare purchased 20,000 acres of the Knight of Kerry's estate around Listowel. Another early mention of Saint Michael's is in map format.[5] In 1811, after a survey lasting twenty years, Neville Bath’s map for the Grand Jury of Cork published. Grand Juries were established in the eighteenth century to determine whether there was a good case for a criminal prosecution to take place. Later they took over some of the functions that are now carried out by county councils.

Saint Michael's has survived famine times, rebellions and revolutions and on 22 June 1983, following extensive renovations, it was once again rededicated, on this occasion by Bishop Michael Murphy. Twenty-five years later, on the 11 October 2008, the bi-centenary of the church was celebrated with a special Mass of Thanksgiving conducted by Bishop John Buckley. In 1837, Samuel Lewis, editor and publisher of topographical dictionaries, rather unkindly described the building as a ‘chapel, to which a school is attached, is a small plain edifice’.[6] Lewis may have had a point, but the beautiful simplicity and serenity of the building cannot be overlooked. Saint Michael’s Church has been a focal point for the Upper Glanmire Community over the decades. It has played a pivotal role in the time of our ancestors and surely it will be a significant part of our descendant’s lives in the years to come.

Figure 6: Interior of Saint Michael's Church, today.

[1] T. A. Lunham (ed.), ‘Bishop Dive Downes' visitation of his diocese, 1699-1702, in Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaelogical Society, vol. 15, no. 84, p. 23.

[2] Heritage Churches of County Cork, Heritage Unit of Cork County Council, (Carrigtwohill, 2015), p. 36.





Read more about the Penal Laws at


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