Blog by Gifts of Ireland

Mass Rocks in Ireland during Penal Times

Mass Rocks in Ireland during Penal Times

Well, let me tell you about how we used to have to say mass in secret in fields.

On a sunny May morning, I visited a significant piece of Irish history nestled in the serene countryside of Offaly, at the doorstep of my own home: a mass rock, a poignant relic from the penal times in Ireland.


During the 17th and 18th centuries, when the British government imposed severe restrictions on Catholic worship, these mass rocks served as clandestine altars for the Irish faithful. Priests risked their lives to celebrate the Eucharist, while congregations gathered in secret, often under the cover of dense forests or secluded hillsides.

This mass rock in Offaly stands as a testament to that turbulent era, where faith and defiance intertwined against the backdrop of oppression. Growing up myself, I have visited this rock, but I never knew it was once used for that. It was a stone for curing from what I experienced. 


In fact there is written history saying that in the early 1900s, when a house was being built here when they were digging for the foundations and they found human remains. The whole process was stopped until the remains were moved to a grave yard and buried with a mass. They discovered that they were from the body of a priest who was hanged for saying mass in penal times. So, it is intriguing for me to see that we have such a dreadful important history in my neighbourhood. 

how a mass rock was decorated 

The resilience of the Irish people during these penal times is nothing short of legendary, earning them the phrase "the fighting Irish." Despite the harsh penalties for practicing their religion, including fines, imprisonment, and even execution, the Irish remained steadfast in their faith. Their determination to preserve their cultural and religious identity in the face of adversity speaks volumes about their unyielding spirit.

As I stood by the mass rock, I reflected on how the Irish were truly rock solid in our faith. This unshakeable commitment is something that continues to inspire generations. It’s incredible to think that these stones, scattered throughout the Irish landscape, have witnessed countless whispered prayers and hymns of hope.


For those interested in delving deeper into Ireland's rich history and faith, exploring these mass rocks is a deeply moving experience.

And for those looking to bring a piece of this heritage into their homes, we offer a selection of Irish blessings gifts, including religious items, that echo the enduring spirit and faith of the Irish people. Click here to view. 

Until my next Story of Ireland, 



The Magnificent Celtic Cross of Moone
Visit to Wexford Heritage Park

1 comment

  • Donna-Jeanne Stanwood (McDowell)
    Jun 07, 2024 at 01:03

    Hi Aidan, I’ve just finished reading your story & enjoyed it SO much!!
    I live in Canada & we don’t seem to have all the History that you have
    in Ireland. My father was born in Belfast, that’s why I love learning
    all I can about your beautiful country! Thank-you very much for
    sharing your wonderful story!
    Donna-Jeanne Stanwood (McDowell)


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