After a morning of a little fun on the Ring of Kerry (a photo op with a local donkey and an introduction to King Puck), our group of pilgrims motored to Bonane for a special Mass.

In “penal times,” a litany of repressive laws kept Catholics from full participation in public life in Ireland. They were barred from holding office, marrying Protestants, voting. Catholic bishops were banished; priests were required to register and abjure, and bounties were placed on the heads of those who did not.

Practice of the faith was driven into the shadows. Clandestine Masses, surreptitiously organized by word of mouth, were celebrated in out-of-the-way sites outdoors. We trekked to one of these surviving “Mass rocks” in Bonane today.

A dark slab of rock jutted out from the sloping bowl of the valley wall, with a clearing just large enough for our group to stand. Our site guide explained to us that, according to local lore, a priest named Father John O’Neill was beheaded on the site in 1829 by a group of men chasing a 45-pound bounty.

Remembering in prayer those who sacrificed everything for the faith, we celebrated Mass in the open.

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