As many of us look back over 2020, it will be remembered as the year in which Covid–19 brought much uncertainty. For St. Mary’s Church of Ireland, this year marks the 200th anniversary of the building of their fine Gothic Revival church, in the medieval heart of Shinrone Village. To commemorate this milestone in the community, a handsomely illustrated hardback book has been published running to over 220 pages, which celebrates the bi–centenary through memories, events, artefacts and a dash of history.
The book is a real treasure trove of information, with a wide range of contributors, a remarkable feat for a small community in rural south Offaly. As one parishioner observed: “There is something for everyone in our book with a host of themes including family, friends, faith, social, creative and cultural events.” A fellow parishioner agrees, adding: “So many memories are explored, photographs old and new brought to print, reflections on life shared, parishioners’ contributions recognised and moments in the community’s development celebrated.”
The book is refreshingly celebratory of the living and the dead, and the vibrant energy which forms the backbone of this community is evident throughout. You really get a sense this is not a history of the community. Rather in 2020, a collective memoire and will appeal to a wide readership. Countless people have ebbed and flowed through Shinrone over the years, some returning, some settling in neighbouring parishes and counties, while others still leaving a footprint in other lands where their descendants live today.
Recognising the wider diaspora, the community presented Barack Obama with a copy of the book to mark the bi–centenary, noting that the former President’s Kearney ancestors were all buried in Shinrone prior to emigration, a story which will resonate with many.
As part of the book’s research, a little–known Mary Lowndes stained glass window, formerly of Ettagh Church, took on new significance. Researchers identified the window was commissioned by the Earls of Huntingdon, formerly of Sharavogue House. It depicts St. Patrick in a missionary setting, quite unlike any of Lowndes’ other works. One of only two intact examples in Ireland by this pioneering stained glass artist, it really is fortunate to have survived at all. Experts from Ireland and the UK have taken a keen interest in the window’s future, recognising both its artistic and social importance. Funds from the sale of the book are going towards its conservation and display in St. Mary’s, which the community hopes to have in place early in the New Year, for us all to appreciate.
The book has a limited print run and can be purchased online from the Offaly History Book Store (www.offalyhistory.com/shop) or in person from David Meredith on 086 311 0153 and Cyril Stanley on 087 288 9616.
An extensive collection of parish registers and other records relating to the parish and its place in the wider community is available for consultation at the RCB Library in Dublin (Collection reference RCB Library P.380). The handlist for the same may be viewed via the Library’s online List of Parish Registers here.