Rev. Alexander Dallas and the Irish Church Missions
The Reverend A. Dallas was an Englishman born in Colchester in 1791. He was an officer in the Napoleonic War before becoming a protestant minister and taking charge of Wonston Parish in 1829.
In 1839 Dallas was invited to Ireland by Anthony Thomas of the Jews Society who had been a missionary in Connemara. He became involved in efforts to convert Catholics to Protestantism. He became acquainted with Captain Blake and Mrs Blake of Doon (Drumsnauv) who were building a school for girls for teaching scripture. Mrs Blake was coaxing children to school with offers of food (soup) and clothes. Dallas promised clothes and food and funds to finish the school and in so doing, set up the first of his missions in Connemara. This was during the famine of 1845-1847 when the people of the area were starving and totally neglected by the state (administered by England) and their own religious administration. There was no Catholic priest or church in the Oughterard area in the early 1800s. Dallas saw an opportunity to convert these vulnerable people who had no schooling and were starving by offering them food and clothes and education. In 1846 he decided to send some 20,000 copies of a religious tract to householders throughout
the country. The tract was entitled, “A Voice from Heaven” and was printed in Irish and English. He set about building schools churches and opened soup kitchens. He campaigned amongst the better off for money to fund all of this. This became known as the Castlekerke Mission. He saw the Glann area as having “fields white for the harvest”. The school at Cappanalaura was also used for religious services.
In 1848, Rev. John O Callaghan was brought to work Castlekerke. He was a fluent Irish speaker and had been a student at Maynooth. He is said to have been even more zealous than Dallas himself in his work of conversion but sometime after his arrival he had some form of a dispute with Captain Blake over control of funds. O’Callaghan was appointed rector of Kilcummin, Oughterard in 1851 and the bell there bears the following inscription; ‘Thomas Hodges Founder, Abbey Street, Dublin 1853. Rev’d John O’Callaghan, Rector.”
Two other schools, one at Ballygally and another in New village (Teach na Mallacht), were built in the Glann area (refer to townlands for their locations). The mission became successful and spread all over Connemara. Youngsters were paid to become scripture readers. Many families sent their children to the schools to avail of the clothes and food. Bitterness and animosity became the norm. Families who jumped became ostracised and were referred to as ’Jumpers’. Stories of races between protestant ministers and catholic priests to baptise new born children were common.
In Glann, Peter Lydon’s grandfather, Thady, who lived near the church, was evicted because a new born child was baptised by the catholic priest. There is a field in Farravaun called Thady’s field, where he lived, thanks to a kind neighbour who allowed him build a ‘Botháin there until he got his house back. The Catholic authorities were, needless to say, perplexed by this upsurge of the Irish Church Mission and set about righting the situation with the result that Catholic schools and churches sprang up in the areas affected by the Mission. A sort of religious war raged all over Connemara at the time. Some fairly nasty rivalry developed with verbal and physical onslaughts occurring on both sides. Our church in Glann may have been established as a result of this. A campaign to oust Dallas’s mission was waged between 1847 and 1884.
Dallas was no angel, with only one thing in mind, but his Mission fed thousands in Connemara who would have otherwise died and because of his activities a greater focus was placed on the region with the result that people received an education not available elsewhere. By the time of his death in 1869, Dallas was reputed to have built 21 churches, 49 schools and 4 orphanages, with over 400 full-time workers employed by the Irish Church Missions.