A seventeenth-century record of attendance at Mass in County Down

As researchers will be well aware, the number of seventeenth-century documents relating to Catholic worship at local level within Ulster is frustratingly small. For nearly all of this century the official attitude of the Dublin administration towards Catholicism was one of hostility, frequently extending to active persecution. (For more on this period in general, see Patrick J. Corish’s book, The Catholic Community in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, which was reprinted by the Ulster Historical Foundation in 2021.)

The item presented here is held in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland and has been catalogued under reference D552/B/4/2/1 as ‘Deposition by Catherine McTimpany naming persons attending mass [in Portaferry?], [c. 1671]’. The document is within the Nugent Papers in PRONI, which derive from the Anglo-Norman family of Savage of Portaferry, County Down. (In 1812 the family changed its name to Nugent on inheriting the estate of a kinsman in County Westmeath.)

The deposition was given by Catrin McTimpany.

Lisbane chapel1

This is a highly unusual surname and very few other references to this particular spelling can be found. (In 1828 a William McTimpany, son of Patrick, was baptised in the Catholic parish of Ballygalget, to the north of Portaferry.) McTimpany’s deposition concerns her attendance at Mass on two occasions, 17 July and 22 October, though unfortunately the year is not included in her testimony. We know that the deposition could not have been given any earlier than 1671 since she names the priest officiating at the Mass as Patrick Oprey (or O’Prey).

Patrick ‘Pray’ was one of the ‘Popish Priests’ who were registered at Downpatrick in 1704 when the following details about him were recorded: he was the parish priest of Ballyphilip (Portaferry), was aged 57, resided in the townland of Ballyphilip and had been ordained by Archbishop Oliver Plunkett in 1671. In the list of those who adhered to James II and were attainted at Banbridge on 10 July 1691, he appears as ‘Patrick O’Pray, Clerk, of the Little Ards’. (Information from James O’Laverty, Historical Account of the Diocese of Down and Connor, vol. 1 (1878), p. 406.)

Some of the names in the document are particularly difficult to decipher and a number of alternative renderings are given.

The transcription

Catrin McTimpany being duly sworn upon
The holy Evanglist that she went in order to hear mass
Upon the 22d of October & was too late And she also swears[?]
That the same[late?] people comming as if thy had been att mas[s]
And she further deposeth yt [that] she went to mass upon the 17th of July
And heard the same performed & she also swears that
She hase been two Sundays at Mass after yt time. She further
Swears yt to the best of knowledge there was about 40
persons at Mass Patrick Oprey Priest. The peoples
Names that was att Mass

Catrin McTimpan[y]

Meave McTimpany
Theophilus Pruin†
Arthur Carroll
Isbell Quin
Edmond Quin
Margret Savage
Cat Mcmulan
Rore McComora††
Hugh Ward
Pat Savage of Ballygalgett

† [Prin/Burn/Bruin?]
†† [McConora?]

1 Portaferry Catholic doc reduced

Reproduced courtesy of the Deputy Keeper of the Records, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI, D552/B/4/2/1).

This article was first published in the Directory of Irish Family History Research, no. 44 (2021).