The West Virginia. Cyclopedia

Saint Colman Roman Catholic Church

From West Virginia (WV) Cyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Saint Colman Roman Catholic Church, Irish Mountain
In eastern Raleigh County, near Summers County, Saint Colman's Church is all that remains of an Irish settlement established in the mountains in the late 1800s. According to traditions that the region's settlers retained, Saint Colman of Kilmacduagh preferred a solitary life in the forest. How appropriate that this small Roman Catholic church stands alone in the woods of southern West Virginia in the wilds to the east of Beckley, WV. Designated as a national historic site in 1984, the church is the only obvious remnant of a farming village of 15-to-20 families that settled on Irish Mountain in 1855. Michael Pauley may have best-described the settlement when nominating the site to the National Register of Historic Places: "Located in an extremely isolated area, this community of Irish farmers became virtually self-sufficient and formed a distinctive ethnic group. The only aspect of their lives, however, in which they did not feel self-sufficient was in their lack of a place of spiritual solace."

In 1876, Maurice Sullivan, founder of the Irish Mountain community, deeded an acre for a church and cemetery on the summit of Sullivan Knob. Within two years a sturdy chapel of hewn logs was raised on its consecrated ground. In 1904, Father J.J. Swint -- a carpenter who later became the Bishop of Wheeling -- fashioned its existing altar and some of its benches. In 1928, the church was clapboarded and painted white -- the condition in which it stands today. The cemetery behind the church is filled with neat rows of tombstones, many of which attend the last resting places of souls born on the Emerald Isle. The cemetery also contains a "Lost Corner," according to Pauley -- an area of unconsecrated ground containing graves of infants and others who died without baptism.

The route to the church was long in poor condition but is now a well-maintained gravel road. To reach Saint Colman's from Interstate 64 at Bragg (exit 133), follow Pluto Road (CR 27) south approximately one half-mile to the junction of Irish Mountain Road (CR 26), on the left; follow Irish Mountain Road, a gravel road, approximately two miles, through Dillon, WV, to the church, located on the left. The road continues down the flank of the New River Gorge to Sandstone Falls.