A special Mass will be held in the old chapel at Derrybeg next week to mark the tragic day 136 years earlier when floodwaters filled the church during Mass, leaving five parishioners dead.
At 3pm on Monday, August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption, Dr. Ró Oirmh. Pádraig Ó Baoighill, PP, will celebrate Mass in the old chapel in memory of the five people who were drowned and the congregation present on the day.
Father Ó Baoighill said there has not been a Mass in the building since August 15th, 1972, when the current St. Mary’s Church, built nearby on higher ground, was officially opened.
On the 15th of August in 1880, a disaster took place in the old chapel as the parish priest, Canon James McFadden, was celebrating Mass.
The morning was hot and pleasant as parishioners came to Derrybeg for Mass from as far as Cnoc Fola at one end of the parish and Thorr at the other. There was only one other church in the parish, Sacred Heart in Dunlewey, so the crowd would have been large.
At the time, a stream conveyed in a culvert ran beneath the church floor. During Mass a heavy downpour of rain filled the stream to overflowing, and in a short period of time, water began pouring into the church.
There was panic as floodwaters began to rise, but there are many stories of outstanding heroism by members of the congregation. Ladders brought to the church were used to get people out safely through windows; others were moved to the galleries.
Still, five members of the congregation drowned in the flood. The youngest to have perished was 13-year-old altar server Séamus Ó Fearraigh of Stranacorkra, Derrybeg. The others who were drowned in the tragedy were Grace McGarvey, Carrick, Derrybeg; Conal Boyle, Inishmaan Island; and Enrí Ó Gallchobhair and Neil Doherty, both of Magheraclogher, Bunbeg.
In more recent years, a youth club and library had been housed in the old chapel. However, the building has not been in use since 2009, when a freak storm again left it flooded.
There are pieces from the old chapel preserved within St. Mary’s: The old baptismal font, pieces of which Father Ó Baoill had restored, is on display; and part of an altar from the old chapel is on the church’s back wall.