Paddy Ryan recalls when families could pay for their own private church pew


‘Would you like to sit in our pew at Mass?’ is reputed to have been a form of proposing marriage in the not-so distant past. Whether true or otherwise, it shows the significance of having a family pew in the local church. Indeed, I recall my own earlier days of Mass-going were in a family pew in the gallery overlooking the body of the church.

This pew had been inherited from an elderly cousin by my father. While the pew hardly gave notions above our station, we were certainly a level above others high in our gallery perch.

Sale of pews came with the large-scale building of Catholic churches in the late 19th century. While it was another method of raising finance, it also reinforced class distinction. However, we cannot superimpose current norms on those of over a century ago.

And the money raised was significant as a Tipperary newspaper, in the 1880s, stated that five family pews were sold in a certain parish for prices ranging from £17 to £10. It is not known what the differences were between the pews except that £7 would have put a lot of food on the table of the average worker who was receiving not much more than £17 a year.

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