Friday, 7 October 2016

St Thomas' Parish Church

St Thomas' sits on Rathlin Island - beside Church Bay, naturally enough.  It's a lovely little stone church, which has been here for around 200 years or so.

But that's not the whole story, since like most places in this part of the world a bit of history abounds.  No, there has been a church on this site since around the year 580, thanks initially to St Comgall of Bangor, near Belfast.

The oldest gravestone in the cemetery dates back to 1655.

As you get closer to it, you can't fail to notice four near identical gravestones near the roadside:

Buried here are 7 British sailors who died when HMS Viknor was lost in high seas in the middle of a heavily mined area off the Donegal Coast during the First World War, in 1915.  Of the 295 who perished, 7 bodies were washed up on Rathlin and only one was identifiable - Petty Officer J J Walton.  There are several other war graves in the cemetery.

The church is very simple inside - whitewashed walls and plain glass windows.  Lovely.

There was a small exhibition in the Church when we visited.  It was the story of another shipwreck - the Arandora Star.  A very interesting story, actually - World War II this time.  The Arandora Star was a troop ship which was sunk in July 1940.   On this final voyage her mission was to take Italian and German internees and German POWs to Canada.  U-boat 47 struck her with her final torpedo, which the U-bath captain thought was faulty, but clearly wasn't and the ship went down.  About half of the people on board died - over 800.

The Rathlin connection lies in the fact that two bodies were washed up near the West Lighthouse.  One had no identification marks but the other had papers to suggest he was a Giuseppe Capella, once waiter in the Savoy Hotel, London.   Both are buried in St Thomas graveyard.  There is a very touching story about Signor Capella's boyhood friend, Luigi Zazzi, who was last seen in the water with Capella.  Following some research by local man Michael McRitchie into the Italians lost from the Arandora Star who are buried all along the North of Ireland and West of Scotland, Signor Zazzi's grandson, who lives in New Zealand, got in touch with Mr McRitchie.  He had no idea that any bodies had been recovered from the sea and expressed comfort in the knowledge that the body washed up alongside Signor Capella just might have been that of his uncle.  The full story is here.

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