There is evidence as far back as the 1200s of a Church here. The name of the Town itself—Killarney (in Irish: Cill Airne)—means "Church of the Sloes". The Irish word for wood (coill) could easily have been adopted in an altered form to describe the wooden huts the early hermits would have built for themselves. Thus the word "cill" becomes associated with a spiritual place of prayer: ie a church. This suggests that there was an ancient church built in this area and the presence of the Blackthorn tree was significant to the local's and their pre-Christian religion. Blackthorns sometimes grow near wells; and there is a Holy Well just across the road from this Church. It was the habit of the early Christians to claim the spiritual heritage of the local people and morph it into a Christian format. It is the beauty of St Patrick that he understood the inherent spirituality of the Druidic culture into which he was enslaved; so when he turned he could readily use the forms and modes of the former religion and point to their equivalent, their explanation in the Christian religion of union with God.
[The alternative spelling of the Town's name is thought by some to derive from an obscure local saint whose name comes from the pagan goddess aine in which case folklore gave the saint the attributes of the goddess (as happened with St Brigit).]
The are is redolent with the scent of early Christian history, particularly: Inisfallen (the island in Loch Leane—Killarney's largest and the lower of the three lakes—named after St Faithlinn and on which a monastery grew and which not only produced the Annals of Inisfallen but also educated the great Irish King Brian Boru); Aghadoe (which is one of the earliest of the local dioceses of the Christian Church); and Muckross Abbey (where the Franscicans established themselves in 1448).
The area is one of great beauty and of inspiration to both non-Christian and Christian sensitivities. Indeed all human beings are inspired by the beauty of creation and the creativity of humanity, irrespective of one's spiritual allegiances. This is that same capacity, which we all share, of connecting with God in creation through the beauty of what we see; we experience it in the heart. We are all, at heart, Celtic.
The take-over of Ireland by the British led to the ascendency of the Church of England in Ireland. The torrid and violent era of foreign rule brought many painful legacies that still percolate society today. The emancipation of Roman Catholics in Ireland signalled a further hardening of positions that can still persist in the minds of some; there is still some mistrust and misguided opinions between Roman Catholics and Protestants. These tragic times run contrary to the core values of love in the Christian tradition. [2016 is the centenary of the Easter Uprising that foreshadowed the final independence of the Irish people. It is to be regretted that the rebellion was ever needed; a lesson to those who wield power against the common good.]
The establishment of a church on or near the sacred heart of a community is a standard technique in the early era. This then becomes the location of subsequent churches serving the community. Thus the early representative of the Christian faith, set in stone, had an Anglican flavour. Even today most of the ancient churches are curated by the Anglican Church's successor; the Church of Ireland. This legacy of stewardship—of Killarney's Christian heritage—falls to us on behalf of all of Killarney. This heritage belongs to all Christians of whatever flavour, and to all Irish of whatever faith.
The establishment of the Town as a tourism destination by Lord Kenmare in the 1740s marks the beginning of the modern era. This is the modern distinctive of the Town and the area. That Queen Victoria chose to come to visit Killarney and the great estates signifies both a great boon to the Town and its economy but also, arguably, the downfall of the great House on the other side of Kenmare Place from the Church. It was the inability to sustain the estate and its grandeur that precipitated the gift of the estate to the nation. Thus it becomes Ireland's first and greatest National Park.
It is not only the natural heritage that makes Killarney a special place to visit. It is also its important Christian heritage that adds value to the experience of every visitor. The Annals of Inisfallen were written (mostly) in the Monastery on the island in the lake here. This current church was built in 1870; on the site of previous churches. It was adorned by the Herberts of Muckross House and houses a fabulous pipe-organ and has a renowned acoustic. It is decorated in a most attractive and unusual stencilled design and has sacred texts written in the high arches. The image above is of the memorial urn erected to commemorate the life and ministry of the Revd Arthur Hyde, 22 years Rector of Killarney. His grandson—Douglas—was elected the first President of Ireland in 1938-45.
So it is to this backstory that we look for significance and meaning, interpreting the history and story of these parts so as to understand the present and map the future. The Town is renowned for its tourism potential and well visited by vast numbers of people from around the world. This Church is the spiritual successor to this backdrop. This Church of Ireland building is dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, Mother of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is located at the heart of the community, situated between the hotel sector and the shopping area. We see visitors everyday from many nations and religions who come to marvel at the church's decoration and adornment.
Our Church can be found on Kenmare Place, at the bottom of Main Street, opposite the Town Hall and adjacent to the Plaza Hotel and the Jaunting Cars "terminus". The congregation of this church is drawn from those who feel at home with the Anglican form of Christianity. The regulations that require old buildings are maintained to preserve ancient art and craft mean the building is enormously expensive to keep in good repair. As stewards of this responsibility we rely on the help of the community locally, nationally and internationally to keep this building in a fit state for the future.
Our duty as a Church is to show the love of God to all and to maintain the legacy of memorial granted us by the past. In order to do this we have capitalised on the interest shown in our building by tourists and locals alike. Part of our mission is to offer an insight into the presence of God in all of creation, and in this particular locale, by making connections and links for people. That is why, as a service to the Town and people of Killarney, we are placing the spiritual significance of the Town's name centre-stage.
So on behalf of all the people and commerce of Killarney—past, present and future—we have branded our building "The Church of the Sloes". Our intention is to represent the whole Town in presenting the spiritual backdrop of our presence in this land-scape thus giving added value to the visitor's experience, highlighting the God-given spiritual essence of brick and branch, of window and water, of flesh and foliage.
Despite there being records of churches before the 17th Century we have no data on the names of earlier Rectors. This is the list from then onwards. You will see memorials and references to some of them around our Church.
1611 Israel Taylor
1615 Thomas Webb
1620 Henry Norris
1622 Henry Barham
1664 Humphrey Whittington
1675 Robert Wilson
1684 John Turner
1693 James Bland
1728 Francis Bland
1752 James Bland
1785 Marcus Monck
1789 Edward Herbert
1809 Arthur Hyde
1834 Edward Herbert
1879 Gerald de Courcey Meade
1880 George Robert Wynne
1904 Joseph Douglas Madden
1924 Robert Philip Rowan
1944 George Maxwell
1952 Maurice John Talbot
1954 Cecil George Fox
1965 David Kaye Lee Earl
1979 Brian FB Lougheed
2004 Stanley Evans
2006 Margaret Hemphill
2007 Susan Watterson
2014 Simon John Lumby
In July 2016 the current Rector was also appointed Archdeacon of Limerick, Ardfert, Aghadoe & Emly.