The Sylaun Mass Rock in Galway is one of the many Mass Rocks that can be found throughout the country, where Catholics secretly celebrated Mass during the Penal Laws era.

Mass Rocks, or ‘Clas an Aifrinn’ in Irish, are large flat stones that were used as altars by Catholic priests and their congregations during the 17th and 18th centuries, when the practice of their religion was outlawed by the British authorities. The Penal Laws imposed harsh restrictions and punishments on Catholics, such as banning them from owning land, voting, holding public office, or receiving education. They also forbade them from celebrating Mass or building churches.

To avoid persecution and arrest, Catholics had to resort to clandestine locations where they could worship in secret. These locations were often in remote or hidden places, such as valleys, forests, caves, or islands. They were chosen for their natural features that provided shelter and concealment, as well as their proximity to water sources or paths that could facilitate escape. The Mass Rocks were usually marked with a cross or a carving, and sometimes surrounded by a circle of stones or a wall.

The Mass Rocks were not only places of spiritual sustenance, but also of social and cultural significance. They were sites of resistance and solidarity, where people could express their identity and loyalty to their faith and community. They were also places of memory and heritage, where people could honour their ancestors and martyrs who suffered for their beliefs.

One of the most remarkable examples of a Mass Rock is the one located in Sylaun, near Tuam in Galway. The Sylaun Mass Rock consists of a man-made base with a flat altar stone on top, mounted by a stone cross on a carved base. The carved base has the image of a chalice and the words ‘UNPP HOCONOR 1680’ written on it. The date suggests that the site was used during the reign of King James II, who was sympathetic to the Catholic cause and tried to repeal some of the Penal Laws.

The site is dedicated to Fr. Ulick Nally, the priest who celebrated Mass there for his people. According to local tradition, Fr. Nally evaded capture for many years by posing as a servant in a nearby house. He was eventually arrested and executed in 1691.

The site is still used for religious ceremonies today, such as annual Masses or pilgrimages. The Sylaun Mass Rock is a unique and valuable heritage site that offers a glimpse into the past and present of Ireland’s Catholic faith. It is a place where you can appreciate the beauty and tranquility of nature, as well as the courage and devotion of the people who worshipped there.


53.527003, -8.933522

Mass Rock at Sylaun



There are currently no reviews submitted.