Sacred relic from penal times returns to Tyrone church

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An ancient cross venerated by Tyrone people during the Penal Times has been unveiled at a local church.

The artefact, which dates to at least the 1800s, was returned to St Joseph’s Church Ackinduff by members of Killeeshil and Clonaneese Historical Society, and is believed to have been a centrepiece of worship in the nearby Altar Glen, where Mass was secretly held until the early 1800s.

Researchers at the society have followed a trail of historic references to places of worship in the Ackinduff area, uncovering the history of the holy glen and the cross.

One reference in Heather’s Edge by Rev Charles McGarvey PP described the glen as a ‘Mecca of pious souls. There memories of persecution, confiscations, outlawry, of heroic priests and a stalwart people are wafted back by the gentle breeze and their heroism sung back by the slow moving brook that passes by.”

For decades the cross and two stone candle sticks were in the safekeeping of the McBride family of Ackinduff.

In 1937, local men Paddy Loughran and Henry Marlow restored the cross with edging and backing to preserve it for future generations.

Brendan Holland from the historical society recounted the religious and historical importance of the cross.

“It was used in the annual Corpus Christi procession from St Joseph’s to the glen, and I remember hearing older people in the parish talking about the cross and their high regard for it.”

“The cross is very important to Killeeshil people; it has a history and is one of the most important artefacts we have in the parish.

“It symbolises the unwavering strength of our ancestors’ faith, and the importance that the Mass held in their lives, in spite of the laws forbidding worship.

“We are delighted to have it installed in the local church, as this will give people the chance to see and contemplate what it symbolises.”

Penal crosses take their name from a series of laws passed to suppress the Catholic population. A plaque commemorating the cross has also been installed in the church designed by Rachael Tierney-Feeley.

The cross was the centrepiece of a Corpus Christi procession in 2012 from St Joseph’s to the Altar Glen.

Hundreds of Killeeshil parishioners marked the event with an evening procession and benediction, marking the culmination of a year of eucharistic adoration in the parish.