The Pope and Moycullen heritage

Mark McNally & Tara deRenzy

Book cover of later edition of West or H-Iar Connaught
Pope's Tree at Killrainey House
Plaque at base of Pope's Tree at Killrainey House

Cumann Staire Ruaidhrí Uí Fhlaitheartaigh Maigh Cuilinn/Moycullen Heritage

Moycullen heritage ‘is shorthand’ for Cumann Staire Ruaidhrí Uí Fhlaitheartaigh Maigh Cuilinn/Moycullen Heritage.  Our full title reflects our bilingual focus on all things heritage as well as a nod to our own history as we began our journey 25 years ago as Cumann Staire. The Ruaidhrí Ui Fhlaitheartaigh in question is the 17th century Moycullen born historian and scholar of international renown and last recognised chieftain of Iar Chonnacht. Amongst the works of Uí Fhlaitheartaigh was the prodigious “Iar Connaught” written in 1684 (though not published until 1846) giving a first-hand account of the geography and natural history of West Connacht- wolves and all.

So what has this got to do with the Pope and how has the Pope anything to do with heritage in our village?

Myself and my wife, Tara Derenzy, like a lot of people in early 2020, have some unexpected time on our hands and are watching far too much Netflix! We came across “The Two Popes” and were glued to it. After this, we decided to do a bit of investigation into how our local county council were planning for the Galway part of the 1979 Papal visit and came across the following excerpt from the Galway County Council meeting minutes of the 24th September 1979:

“The County Manager stated that he had discussed with the Mayor of Galway and the Chairman of the County Council the question of a presentation to the Pope from the people of Galway to commemorate his visit to the city. He had also discussed the matter with the Bishop who indicated that there would be no private audiences with the Pope, but that the presentation could be made through the Bishop. It was agreed to proceed with the presentation and the gifts chosen were “handcraft leather bound volumes of Hardiman’s History of Galway and O’Flaherty’s Iar—Connaught. Neither of these were presently in the Vatican Library. Both books would bear an inscription in Polish and Irish and had been commissioned in a Galway Bookshop. The books would cost about £160 each, and the method of financing the purchases had to be decided as the question of a public collection had to be ruled out. He suggested that O’Flaherty’s Iar-Connaught be presented by the County Council and Hardiman’s History of Galway by Galway Corporation, and that the books would be paid for by the Members and the staff, indoor and outdoor, in each case. The County Manager then asked the members for their views……”

So the Pope was given a copy of Iar–Connaught to mark his visit to Galway, I can visualise him thumbing through it on the way back to the Vatican. So a cherished copy of this masterpiece written by a Chieftain from Moycullen has a place in the Vatican library to this day.

The Papal Tree

There is also a tangible piece of history in Moycullen from the Popes 1979 visit. Look into the grounds of Killrainey House near the Church as you ramble past, and you will notice an Oak tree with an inscription “Papal Tree-  presented to the people of Moycullen by Pope John Paul II- September 1979”.

The actual oak sapling was blessed by Pope John Paul II at the youth mass at Ballybrit Racecourse on the 30th September 1979 and was planted in the grounds of Killrainey House in Moycullen by Fr. O’Halloran/ Fr. Kelly after the Popes mass of the 30th September 1979. We are not sure of the exact date of planting, assuming early October 1979. A sapling was blessed by the Pope and given to each parish to mark the historic visit.

As for Kilrainey house, it was built as a parochial house in the 1930s and was used as such until the mid 1990s.  You will pass Kilrainey house on two of our five heritage trails (The Kilrainey Woods trail and the Sean Reilig trail) and can read about Kilrainey house on the heritage sign in front of the church and beside the stone seat dedicated to the memory of Ruaidhrí Uí Fhlaitheartaigh.

So, as you are enjoying your restricted walk during this surreal time of pandemic- stop to take a look at the Ruaidhrí Uí Fhlaitheartaigh seat, read the heritage sign and walk the few metres to Kilrainey House and look in at the magnificent oak tree and maybe think back to the Popes visit of 1979 and our villages links to it (if you’re that vintage) or maybe visit our website or Facebook or Twitter or Instagram to look for information or join a conversation about all things Moycullen and heritage if you’re in cocooning mode. (Tara won’t allow me to mention Netflix…)

This page was added on 07/05/2020.

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