Poll an Altair, Penal Mass Rock, Knockballyroney, Scotstown, Co Monaghan
Venue for Mass in Tydavnet Parish in Penal Times. The information on the accompanying board to the right of the Altar says…. “Poll an Aifrinn” is the name given to a little steep gorge between Eshcloghfin and Knockballyroney. It was shown to me by the late Joe Murray, Knockballyroney on 11th August 1998. Less than 5 months later on St Stephen’s Day 1998, Joe died suddenly during the mighty gale that raged on that day – may the Lord have mercy on him. This place is well known to many of the neighbours, and is variously called Poll an Ailteann, Poll an Altar, Poll an Antrim.  All associate it with a Mass place and a refuge for priests in Penal times. Pat McKenna, Dernasell East was shown the exact spot where the Mass Rock was by his uncle Jimmy not long before he died in 1996 at the age of ninety. The story goes that it was here that the Mass was regularly said. On this particular Sunday the soldiers were watching.  The people seeing them moved with the priest further out and up the little valley in the direction of Bragan where they said Mass at the place called “Leac an tSagairt”. It was here that the priest was shot according to the story handed down. The cross erected at “Leac an tSagairt” in 1938 commemorates this event.  So there are two Mass sites closely related, “Poll and Aifrinn”, the Mass Hollow, and “Leac an tSagairt”, the Priest’s Rock. McKenna’s history of the Diocese of Clogher mentions two Mass Gardens in this area (Vol 1, page 333), one between Esh and Bragan, namely Leac an tSagairt, in the Parish of Truagh, and one between Esh and Knockballyroney, namely Poll an Aifrinn in Tydavnet Parish. In spite of persecution the priests and people of Tydavnet parish remained true to their faith and their Mass down through the centuries. As we celebrate Poll an Aifrinn, we do not do so with any air of triumphalism but with humble thanks to God for giving our ancestors the wisdom and the courage to be loyal to their faith. We pray for the same loyalty for our present generation, as we pray also for forgiveness for those who persecuted our people down the years. We have now located the actual spot where Mass was celebrated and the fragments of the rock disturbed by afforestation. Coillte kindly gave us permission to make a pad (path) to the site from the Esh Forest Road and we have cleared a track along the little stream to the site of the Mass Rock which is on the Eshcloghfin side of the valley. FAS workers, led by Peter Sherry have erected an altar and it is topped by commemorative slab of Knockatallon stone inscribed by Declan McQuaid. Written by Rev Fr J Gilsenan, Parish Priest of Tydavnet, 2000 (This project was assisted by Blackwater Regional Partnership,  Coillte, Monaghan Co Co, Interreg and the European Union)