Country diary: A tale of three churches

In the saltmarsh fringing where the Ballyboe River dissolves into Trawbreaga Bay, a little egret wears its plumage like a windblown stole. Our car swoops across the 10 arches of Malin bridge and we park along the village green. Malin is almost as far north as you can get on the island of Ireland. It was a “planned settlement” that emerged from the Ulster plantation, a colonial project that “planted” the region with people from England and Scotland during the 17th century. Along the base of the green’s triangle are the tree-lined grounds of the local Church of Ireland (Anglican communion). The modest church building is the foundation on which the green, and thus the village, stand. Jackdaws spill from the bell tower, which is oriented not, as you might expect, towards the village but rather towards Malin Hall, the former landowners’ family home.

Driving north-west, the estuary appears trapped between low‑slung hills and a ridge of high dunes. On a narrow lip of land, almost within the tide’s grasp, is the splash of whitewash that is Malin Presbyterian church. Unwelcome in the village because of the 17th-century penal laws that suppressed Protestant dissenter and Catholic congregations, the original meeting house was reputedly built on shifting sands below the high water mark. Graceful as the hull of an upturned cutter and gleaming like the inside of a razorshell, this church both defies and answers to its raw location. We get out of the car to a chorus of wildfowl: the drib-drib of brent geese, the piping of oystercatchers, the shrills of wigeons.

The road leads on to another whitewashed church, hunkered at the edge of the dunes. My first thought is that the penal laws must have banished St Mary’s Catholic church to this wasteland. The truth runs deeper. In the graveyard, a brambly slump of stones is thought to be the ruins of a medieval church, probably destroyed during the plantation. St Mary’s, built in 1784 as the penal laws began to ease, restored an important place of worship for the Indigenous population.

We walk to the beach that flanks the narrowing of Trawbreaga Bay into the Atlantic. Waves seethe to a far horizon. From the soaring cliffs of the Knockamanny Bens, a party of choughs – black and shiny as curates, cardinal-red legs striping their bellies – dance on the wind.

• Country diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary

News Related


World Darts Championship draw throws up tricky tests for big names

Michael Smith will begin the defence of his world title on the opening night (Picture: Getty Images) The 2024 World Darts Championship is less than three weeks away and the ... Read more »

Pioneering flight to use repurposed cooking oil to cross Atlantic

For the first time a long haul commercial aircraft is flying across the Atlantic using 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). A long haul commercial flight is flying to the US ... Read more »

King meets world business and finance figures at Buckingham Palace

The King has met business and finance leaders from across the world at a Buckingham Palace reception to mark the conclusion of the UK’s Global Investment Summit. Charles was introduced ... Read more »

What Lou Holtz thinks of Ohio State's loss to Michigan: 'They aren't real happy'

After Ohio State’s 30-24 loss to Michigan Saturday, many college football fans were wondering where Lou Holtz was. In his postgame interview after the Buckeyes beat Notre Dame 17-14 in ... Read more »

Darius Slay wouldn't have minded being penalized on controversial no-call

Darius Slay wouldn’t have minded being penalized on controversial no-call No matter which team you were rooting for on Sunday, we can all agree that the officiating job performed by ... Read more »

Mac Jones discusses Patriots future after latest benching

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) Quarterback Mac Jones remains committed to finding success with the New England Patriots even though his future is up in the air following ... Read more »

Big blob of hot water in Pacific may be making El Niño act weirdly

A weird blob of warm water has appeared in the western Pacific and could affect the weather across North America this winter. (Image credit: A weird blob of warm ... Read more »
Top List in the World