No pews to take

When people lay claim to having the biggest this or the smallest that, there’s a part of me that wants proof. Usually I take a lot on faith, believing that if you go to the trouble to make the assertion, it must be true and if it isn’t, does it really matter much? But occasionally I’m disappointed.

About 20 years ago, when showing some American friends around Ireland (or rather they were showing me as they had the guidebook), we came across what was reputedly the smallest church in Ireland in the hamlet of Portbraddon in Co. Antrim – St Gobban’s. Privately owned, this 10×4 ft church (3×1.4 m) is a little gem. Portbraddon itself is gorgeous – a handful of houses and a small harbour and an even smaller beach at the end of a narrow road.

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The church was apparently built as a cow byre back in 1950 and is now a tourist attraction that raises a phenomenal amount of money (tens of thousands, if not more) for local charities through visitor donations.

I’ll hold up my Catholic hand and say that I’d never heard of St Gobban, but apparently back in his day (ca. sixth century) he was one of Ireland’s foremost architects. He could have been born in Malahide, Co. Dublin, in or around 560 AD or he might have been born in Cork or in Antrim – depends on what you read. No matter – that he was an architect and is now immortalised in what claims to be the smallest church in Ireland, amuses me.

But there’s another church making the same claim – the Costello Memorial Chapel in Carrick-on-Shannon. It also claims to be the second smallest church in the world. The mind boggles. But from what I can see, this one is 16×12 ft, so definitely bigger. A little research before making a claim might be in order…

No matter. I have other things to be losing sleep over. If you’re in the vicinity, it’s worth dropping by. Even if you have to search for it and an don’t have an obliging navigator – it’s worth persevering.


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