The History of Holy Trinity Church (Inishbiggle) in Co. Mayo
The historic landmark on Inishbiggle is the Holy Trinity Church. Situated on the eastern side of the island, this attractive edifice built of stone with a natural pebble dash finish, surrounded by pink rhododendrons, rises to a small tower with a bell and a cross. For many years the church has stood thus silhouetted against the cloud-swept sky.
About 1852 the Reverend Edward Nagle, of the Protestant Achill Mission at Dugort, bought the island of Inishbiggle from Sir Richard O'Donnell of Newport. During the hard times which followed the tragic famine years the island was slowly developed. Protestants and Catholics came from the mainland and Achill hoping to live under better conditions.
In 1870 a school was built near the site of the Church. The teacher lived in the now roofless cottage beyond the Church on the edge of the island facing Annagh and the mainland.
A lady from Dublin, Ellen Blair, made a generous donation of £600 for the construction of the church. Local labourers gathered to do the work required. A bad accident was avoided during the construction by the quick action of Patrick Nevin. A heavy piece of wood crashed to the ground just missing Patrick O'Malley.
Later, perhaps as a mark of gratitude, Patrick O'Malley had a builder come to put a stone wall above the original sod one which surrounded the cemetery, near the school, and on top of the central ridge which runs across the island. A metal gate was installed facing south across the spectacular bay. It is said that the cemetery has not been used for more than eighty years.
Work was completed on Holy Trinity Church. A high wrought iron gate opened to an archway of rhododendrons which leads to the front door. Beyond the vestibule still stands an old carved organ with the inscription 'Washington, New York, U.S.A' Down through the years organists included: Mrs. Margaret Brown, Mrs. Cynthia Blair and Mrs. Annie Hughes Freer.
Beyond the organ an isle leads to five rows of wooden pews. The altar stands below a lofty ceiling and one of the tall windows, which with the chapel's white walls, makes a simple, effective interior. An ante-room joins the altar area.
During the years that followed the building of the Church, many Protestants left the island for one reason or another. Ministers continued to come to the Church from their other parishes. About thirty-five years ago a special Thanksgiving Service may have had around fifty people in attendance - the majority of those tourists. As far as can be recalled, no weddings or funerals were held there. To mark the welcome arrival of electricity on the island a special joint service of Catholic and Protestant Church members was held in Holy Trinity Church.
According to local memory, the following ministers served this unique Church: The Reverend Fitzgerald; Cannon Boland; Reverend Horn; Reverend Abernethy - who departed about 1939 to serve in the Second World War; Reverend Marshall, who returned to his native England; Reverend Sidebottom; Reverend Plowman; and Reverend Friess, who is living with his wife in Mulranny. The ministers served for various periods.
When the local congregation dropped to Patrick O'Malley's grandson, James Gallagher, and his sister Ellen, the Church was closed. However, James continues to look after the building and the Church is opened frequently during the summer when visiting clergy on holiday in the area come to hold a service. Miss June Fielding from Achill has for some twenty years brought guests to Inishbiggle for this purpose, including a Vicar of Wakefield, England, and his wife. These services are greatly appreciated by the congregation present.
Our sincere thanks to Mrs Donna Allen (Inishbiggle) for permitting us to reproduce this article from the magazine Muintir Acla, issue 002, December 1995. Up to the present day (May 2000) James Gallagher continues to care for the Church.