The Fehily Family of Ireland and Boston — and the “Castletown Chapel” chalice in Enniskeane Parish

Local accounts in Castletown Kenneigh — of the villages in the parish of Enniskeane and Desertserges, Co Cork, Ireland — suggest that a Fehily family was involved in the building of St. Joseph’s Church, Castletown Kenneigh.  Several sources and family history suggest that the family included two brothers Frank and Patrick Fehily who settled in the parish in the 1800s after their family was evicted from their home in their native Rosscarbery, Co Cork, for not being able to pay the rent to a landlord.

Castletown Church was one of the churches designed by a Presentation Brother Michael Augustine O’Riordan (1783 – 1848)[1]. Br. O’Riordan also designed the nearby Dunmanway parish church (opened in 1834) and several other churches in Cork.

Early Ordinance Survey maps from 1841 show a Church at Castletown. There is anecdotal evidence to say that the construction of the church commenced in the 1830s — after Catholic Emancipation of 1829 — but that it was not completed until much later. An undated account in the Presentation archives records that a strong storm levelled the church’s walls shortly after it had been built, requiring it to be completely rebuilt.

The ravages of the Great Famine then struck, further delaying the completion of the church. It is believed that the two Fehily brothers helped complete the church and were responsible for roofing it. According to Census records – the brothers  were born in 1841 (Patrick, later of the Arcade, Ballineen) and 1851 (Frank). But Francis’ memoriam card recording his death in 1924 says he was born in 1845 (closer to his brother and more likely to be accurate.) So it would have been into the 1860s before the Fehily brothers would be trusted to roof a church. Francis who was the trained stonemason was 20 years old in 1865! So we may assume that the current roof structure was put on the church in the mid-to-late 1860s or early 1870s.

What we can establish, more accurately, is the story of the Castletown Chalice.

The chalice on the altar at Castletown Church.

This is the only chalice in current use in Castletown Church. It was almost certainly bought in Boston by descendants of Frank Fehily as six of the 11 children of that family had emigrated to Boston when they were very young. Frank had married Hannah McSweeney from Gurranreigh in 1877. Between that and 1894, they had 11 children. The youngest child, Patrick, died shortly after birth in 1894 along with his mother, leaving Frank Fehily a 49-year-old widower with 10 children. Another girl (Bridget) died in 1897 at six years of age.

By the time of the 1901 Census, taken just seven years after the death of his wife, his mother-in-law Hannorah McSweeney, is listed as resident in the house along with just five of the children: Ellen (23), Francis (Frank) (17), Anne (14), Elizabeth (10) and Jeremiah (8).

It is very likely that by the 1901 Census, four of the oldest girls (Mary, Peg, Annie and Hannah) ranging in ages from 22 to 16 had already emigrated to Boston, USA.

Ten years on, in the 1911 Census, the Fehily home in Castletown is reduced to five people. Frank is now 66 years old. At home with him is the oldest of the family Ellen who is now 31 and would die that same year. Also at home is Kathleen (23) who would later marry a Skibbereen man. The other two are Lizzie (21) and Jeremiah (18).

Frank, Jnr. who is now 27 years, has already gone to Boston to join his older sisters and works there as a stonemason. So by 1911, there are 5 of the family in Boston, two have died and 4 are at home.

In 1914, a hundred years ago this year, Frank leaves his hammer and chisel behind and enters religious life in a Jesuit community in Poughkeepsie, NY. In 1921, he transfers back to Boston, to the Weston College community where he served through its amalgamation with Boston College until 1947. He made his final vows as a Jesuit Brother in 1925 at Weston College.

Brother Frank died on 23 Oct 1965 at Shadowbrook, Lenox, Mass, 40 years after his final vows and 51 years after he joined the Society of Jesus. An obituary penned in Boston noted that he was “survived by two sisters, Mrs Edmund Ring of Sommerville and Miss Annie Fehily of Charlestown”. Mrs Ring was his sister Lizzie (or Elizabeth) who with her husband Edmund were parents to Tim and Annie Ring. Their sister Peg (or Margaret) had been married to a Collins man whose first name is unknown. It is known that she died young but had given birth to four daughters and two sons. Their aunt Annie cared these for when their mother died.

Before Frank joined religious life, evidence of the strong faith of the Fehily Family is shown when in 1913 they set about having a special chalice made in Boston for use in the church in Castletown where they had been going to Mass at home.

The base of the chalice has an inscription that reads: “For use in the Castletown Chapel. Presented by a few former parishioners. Boston April 1913.”

It is believed that the chalice and its accompanying patten were brought back to Castletown Church by Mary – at this time the oldest surviving daughter. (She may well have been motivated to return to Ireland by the fact that her father was by this time 68 and of the four people who lived with him in 1911, one girl had by then died, one girl had married and one son had emigrated leaving only his 21-year-old son (Jerry) to care for his father.)

Kathleen had married Dan O’Driscoll from Skibbereen, Co Cork, and they had one daughter Philomena who still lives in Dublin but whose health prevents her from being here today. (We are indebted to her for a lot of the family history and we include her in our prayers.).

A few years after Moll returned from Boston she married Timothy O’Callaghan in 1918 and spent the rest of her long life in Castletown. For several decades, she took care of Castletown Church and was its sacristan. They had no family but she was considered by all in the community as a kind and motherly figure to all and was affectionately known as “Aunty Moll”. She died in 1971 at 92 years of age and is buried in Castletown cemetery with her husband.

Grave of Aunt Moll (Mary Fehily) and her husband Timothy O’Callaghan in Castletown Kenneigh church yard.

In September 1920, Jerry, the only son of Francis left at home — and Aunt Moll’s brother — married Nell Walsh from Kilmoylerane (in the southern end of our parish) and lived in Enniskeane where they had a shop and reared 7 children (4 boys and 3 girls). They later moved to Cork to live in the Lough Parish.

The family included Fr. Frank Fehily – who was a priest of our diocese and ministered in Bantry, Douglas and Monkstown, among other places – along with Michael, Anna, Colum, and three of the family who still live in Cork: Tess, Eileen and Brendan.

Tess, Eileen and Brendan and Brendan’s wife, Rosemary, joined the Castletown community for Mass on St. Patrick’s Day, 2014, along with some other relatives of the family. They carried the Chalice and Paten which were first brought to Castletown by their Aunt Moll 100 years ago to the altar at the offertory; along with these they also carried some of the parish’s Sacramental Registers. In these, many of the Fehily family are listed, including their Aunty Moll’s baptism and their father and mother’s marriage.

Members of the Fehily Family with Fr. Tom Hayes at Castletown Kenneigh Church on March 17th, 2014. Brendan holds the Paten, his sisters Eileen and Tess have the chalice. (Photo by Colum Cronin)

It was the parish’s way, on St. Patrick’s Day, to give thanks to Almighty God for the goodness, the faith and the faithfulness of the people who have gone before us, especially the people who made such sacrifices so that we can have what we have today.

We prayed especially on our National Patron’s day for Irish families all over the globe, especially those who have left from our parish.

We are challenged in our times by the hardships that they endured which didn’t crush their spirits or their focus on Family, on Faith and on their parish community.

[——March 2014, Fr. Tom Hayes.]

[1]  It is referenced as one of his churches in the archival records of the Presentation Brothers.

2017 update!

Since this item was published on my own blog page in 2014, two family members have found it and commented:-

  • Hi all. I am a great-granddaughter of the youngest of Frank’s sons, Jeremiah. He migrated to Sydney, Australia in 1922 and died in 1926 somewhere in South Australia. I don’t know too much, but he and his wife (unsure of her name) had my grandfather Tom. Tom and my grandmother Daphne had six sons and two daughters one of which is my dad Peter (1960). He and my mother had 4 daughters and us girls all live in Sydney and range in ages from 20-29. I hope to one day visit Cork (and St. Joseph’s) to see where my family originated. (
  • I am a descendant of the Fehily family ( the son of Joseph collins, and grandson of Patrick collins ( the unknown ” Collins” man listed in this blog that was married to Peg ( Margaret) Fehily. I recently visited County Cork and have some family history info. I would LOVE to connect or communicate with any Fehily relatives who would like to share family history info and maybe I could help fill in some blanks they may have. Please feel free to email me. I live in the Boston Ma USA area. (