Ringaskiddy’s Oratory & The White Star Liner
Updated: Jan 27
Ringaskiddy’s Oratory And The White Star Liner
Writes John Twomey
Ringaskiddy’s little Church commonly known to all as The Oratory, often described as a sacred and peaceful place, has a long and interesting history since it first opened its doors in the latter part of the nineteenth century.
The building was originally a village hall where The League of The Cross was based and where many concerts, balls and soirees were held. Around 1916 it was converted into a Church and a place of prayer and worship, by the local people. Much of the work including the making of the pews was carried out by tradesmen and shipwrights who worked with the nearby Palmer Shipping Company. Further remedial work and renovations were carried out in 1923. The Church had no bell. Every Church had a bell that would be rung twice daily and of course on Sundays to call people to pray and worship.
In those days, The Palmer Shipping Company was based in Ringaskiddy and it provided much gainful employment among many of its maritime activities. It held the lucrative agency for The White Star Liner company. This was the company that built and owned the Titanic and was headed by Bruce Ismay. When White Star liners visited Cork Harbour, Palmers would attend to all their needs which included ferrying the passengers, mail and goods to and from the vessels. Cobh (Queenstown) was the main base in those bustling days of the North Atlantic Liner Traffic.
An Ill Wind
One of the most magnificent and largest liners afloat in the White Star fleet was the Celtic built by Harland & Wolf for Bruce Ismay in Belfast in 1901. It was 680ft long and weighed just over 20,000 tons. It had a capacity for 2,860 passengers including first class, second class and third class. As the Celtic approached Cork Harbour on the 10th of December 1928, she encountered very stormy weather. As she entered the Harbour at Roches Point between Fort Camden and Fort Carlisle – disaster struck. She was blown on to a sharp reef of rocks which penetrated her bottom. She was stuck on the rocks and best efforts could not refloat her resulting in she being declared a total loss. One of the first boats to come alongside was Palmer’s Morsecock. All passengers were removed safely and rerouted from Cobh. The ship itself was stripped and cut up for scrap later.
The breaking up and dismantling of the majestic Celtic was a huge operation. Its furniture and luxurious fittings were of the best specifications. They had to be disposed of and the ship itself cut up for scrap, much of which was landed in the Passage West Scrapyard. It was about 1948 before the last remnants were removed.
The furniture was made from the best of Honduras mahogany and much sought after by people with an eye for quality. Many households in Ringaskiddy secured tables, wardrobes, chairs etc. In 1930 a house was built in Ringaskiddy and it was named “Celtic House” as its front doors came from the Celtic. To this day some of the furniture including the front doors still survive in the area.
The Ships Bell
Palmers Shipping had secured the Celtic’s ships bell and found a new use and home for it. This instrument of transatlantic shipping would now be on ‘terra firma’ replacing man’s work with God’s work. It was made available to the Oratory, thus installing a vital missing component. The little Church of the Ringaskiddy People was now at last completely fitted out. Local retired Navy man William James made a little belfry for the bell so that it could be put into use. It still stands today. Later in the 1950’s Matt Twomey made a little cross which is mounted on top of the belfry. Bruce Ismay’s bell is still busy and active after an initial commissioning in Belfast in 1901.
An interesting approach was made to the Parish Priest some years ago by the Glasgow Celtic Football Supporters Club. They wished to buy the bell and place it in their Club’s Museum. They further offered to supply a replacement. They received an emphatic ‘No’ for an answer. The bell had found a permanent home in the Oratory.
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