The history of the Church in the area
Between the River Blackwater and the Bann, in the ancient precinct of Clacan, once territory of the Macans. – Mullenakill stands tall over the M1 motorway. Churchill is the anglicised name of Mullenakill given to the old Verner estate. The name is derived from the old ‘church on the hill’ or ‘summit of the Church’, and the site is said to be among one of the oldest centres of Christianity in Ireland – the ancient parish of Brochus or Derrybrochus (there are a number of variations to the spelling of this), which means ‘the oak wood of the farmhouse’.
There is believed to have been a monastery associated with St Comgall situated on the hill at Mullenakill. Ashe’s Survey of Church Lands (Archbishopric of Armagh) in 1703 refers to an ancient Celtic Cross beside the old graveyard there – which is believed to have been erected in memory of the founder of the monastery – the cross disappeared by the 1830s and has never been located by archaeologists. Ashe notes ‘On this formerly stood the church of Mullenakill which is now ruin’d and nothing remains of it but the old walls or foundations and a large Stone cross…on these towne lands have been great woods but there are now no timbers left except a few small oak and ash plants’ At Clonmore he observed ‘They have a boat on the river which serves to carry them over when they go to the Parish Church of Killeman or on other occasions’
There is a suggestion that monks also resided in Killyman (‘Church of the monks’) and with no bridge over the river that perhaps the famous Clonmore Shrine was lost in the river during travel across from one monastic site to another.
In the ‘Annals of Ulster’ and ‘Annals of the Four Masters’ we read that ‘Dacune of Daire Bruchaisi’ died 4th March 688. Again there are variations of the spelling Do Chinne, Dacume, Dochinni – this is thought to perhaps refer to a Saint Dachonna or Mochonna. Another saint associated with the area is St Aedhan of Doire-Bruchaisi, whose feast day is cited as March 29th in the Martyrology of Donegal: A Calendar of the Saints of Ireland by Fr Michael O’Clery in 1630.
In the penal times of the late 18th early 19th century it was common for the Roman Catholic people to hold outlawed meetings to celebrate Mass. In penal days, a shed in a Mass garden in the fields opposite the current chapel were thought to serve the faithful of Clonmore. It is alluded to in a letter from the Archbishop, Doctor Reilly to the Parish Priest of Dungannon found in the O’Fiaich library
The history of the Sacred Heart Church
There are two suggested reasons for the building of the chapel in its current location – one is cited in the Dungannon Observer piece in 1938 during the renovations to the church in that year. ‘The exact circumstances of the building of Clonmore Chapel are not certain, but it appears the old church was at Mulenkill in or about the present old graveyard. It is said that as the Verners wanted all the land round for themselves – for a fish pond – they gave permission for church in Clonmore’ yet in the Verner Papers dated November 1830, there is a proposition that the land was no longer in the control of Verner – local legend suggesting it had been lost in a card game to Charles Douglas of Gracehall, Lisburn. Douglas was a more liberal landlord and allowed Catholic tenants to remain in Clonmore and Clintyclay. Hearsay suggests Jack McCluskey (who lived beside McCluskey’s/Clonmore Bridge) went to talk to Douglas to seek permission for the chapel and his wife granted permission on the basis that no graves would be placed to the front of the chapel – she was thought to have been a keen horsewoman and was impressed by the horse McCluskey had been riding on his visit.
As depicted in the 1838 Ordnance Survey Memoirs of the Parish of Killyman, in the Barony of Oneiland West (Clonmore):
Public Building: Roman Catholic Church “Clonmore Roman Catholic Chapel, situated in the townland of Clonmore is a net stone building, slated. It is 44 feet long and 25 feet broad. It was built in 1834 and cost 180 pounds4, which sum was raised by subscription. The interior is neat and has a large gallery neatly fitted up with pews, the lower part only has forms5.
The whole accommodates 500 persons, the average attendance is 400. The windows of the chapel are plain, rectangular. The Reverend John Montague is the officiating priest. He resides in the town of Dungannon, County Tyrone”
There is no documentation to verify the initial renovation of the chapel (removal of the three sided gallery) but the building had extensive renovation in 1938 and again in 1998/1999.
Name changes in the Church
Throughout its 177 years of existence to date, the church in Clonmore has witnessed changes of name. Initially dedicated to St Columba (St Columbkill). St Columba’s is recorded on several of the old Ordnance Survey maps although the name is not mentioned in the Ordnance Survey memoirs of 1838.
It was recorded as ‘St Mary’s, Clonmore’ in the year’s 1940 and 1943 on the parish schedules by the Parish Priest Rev McDonald and is interesting that the Clonmore camogie team of the thirties was named ‘St Mary’s’ in the Armagh Observer records. The chapel is thought to have been rededicated to the Sacred Heart shortly after this and is referred to as such in the 1946 parish schedule.