Crotty’s Church, located on Castle Street and next to the Maltings
Guesthouse is a building of significant local historical interest, built in 1836 by former Catholics who became involved in the Crotty Schism. The schism which is reputed to be the largest such incident in the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland took place when the congregation of the town rebelled against their parish priest and bishop in favour of a new young curate Fr. Michael Crotty. An allegation had been made that the funds collected for the building of the new St. Brendan’s R.C. Church were being mismanaged by the church committee. Crotty publically questioned the committee asking for the accounts to be published. The parish priest and his brother who were both members of the committee managed to have Crotty moved from Birr. Members of the congregation implored Crotty to return and lead them; following his return a struggled ensued to gain possession of the old thatched chapel and later the new stone church from the parish priest arguing that he had the support of the majority of the parish. There was also a huge dispute over who would hold the position of parish priest in the town with the bishop appointing Fr. Kennedy while the majority of the parishioners believed Fr. Crotty was entitled to the position.
The then bishop of Killaloe suspended and then excommunicated Fr. Crotty. He also put the parish under interdict and the army was called in to eject Fr. Michael Crotty from the church. He was prosecuted for disrupting public worship and
conspiracy, served jail sentences and bound to keep the peace for 7 years. His case was widely
reported in the late 1820s.
Later, Fr. William Crotty joined his cousin Michael in Birr and a site was obtained in 1836 from
the Earl of Rosse to construct a church for their congregation. With the help of over 6,000 people
in Birr, the foundation stone was laid late in 1836. However, later the two cousins diverged;
William to Presbyterianism and Michael to Anglicanism. While Michael was in England in 1839
trying to raise funds for the schism William sold the church to the Presbyterians. The building has
been used for various purposes over the years including a beer store and a clothing factory.
The 1990’S brought plans to set up a museum and cultural centre but alas nothing came of it.
The Garry Family who are owners of the adjoining Maltings Guesthouse bought the former church
in 2008 with the intention of returning the then derelict building to its former glory and opening
it to the public.