Irish Stew listener Danny Leavy shared this account of the Irish in New York and the work underway to preserve and exhibit an Irish American artifact.
Up until the end of the American Revolution, Catholic worship was prohibited, but due to some persistent Irish immigrants, St. Peters at 22 Barclay Street became the first Catholic church in New York City and State and was completed soon after the war ended in 1786.
Cornelius Heeney was one of those men. Emigrating from Ireland in 1784, he became extremely wealthy in the fur trade and was well known for his acts of charity. He was a trustee of St Peters church for many years, one of its main contributors, and a contributor to the building of three other churches during his lifetime: Old St Patrick’s in the City, and both St James and St Paul’s in Brooklyn (where he was buried in land he donated). He was also instrumental in bringing the Sisters of Charity to New York to open an orphanage.
A few years ago, an article in a local newspaper back in County Offaly reminded me of Heeney’s story and so I began to research him here in New York.
Early in 2021, Irish Historian Dr. Ciaran Reilly and I teamed up with the purpose of writing a biography on this notable Irish man. Dr. Reilly had been researching for many years and we shared Offaly roots.
We soon unearthed information about St Peter’s bell. Due to financial and other difficulties, was not added until 1806, after being made under the supervision of Charles Sherry at Nantes in France on 30 June 1806.
In 1836 following a partial roof collapse, the congregation decided to rebuild the church on the same site. The original steeple was removed at the time and the bell has remained inside the roof of the current structure ever since. The bell contains the names of Rev William O’Brien and Rev Matthew O’Brien, pastors of the church, Thomas Stoughton, John Sullivan, Michael Roth, Francis Cooper, John Byrne, Andrew Morris and Cornelius Heeney, benefactors of the church and of the bell.
It is remarkable the bell has survived to this day. Working with the current pastor Father Jarlath Quinn, we hope to remove the bell and put it on display in front of the church for all to see. There is more on this story at Irish Central HERE: https://www.irishcentral.com/news/1806-original-bell-first-catholic-church-display