Occupying a magnificent, elevated position overlooking Dunmanus Bay, St James Church was built in 1792 at the undertaking of the then rector, John Kennedy. It was one of 88 churches built between 1791-1803 with money funded by the Board of First Fruits. The Board of First Fruits was established in 1711 to build and improve churches - the intention was that everyone should be able to walk to a church. Money was obtained through a tax on clerical income. This income in turn was supplemented by tithes - a percentage of the income of those working on the land which was payable to the church.
The original building was a three bay nave and a single bay chancel and was built from of locally quarried stone with a slate roof. It cost £461 10s 9.25d. It doesn't appear to have been very well constructed for just a few years later the Reverend Henry Jones was forced to pay for extensive renovations from his own pocket. In 1832 the church was enlarged and the three stage bell tower constructed, complete with fancy pinnacles and crenellated parapets.The south nave was added in 1861. Designed by William Atkins, it features attractive red brick details. The entrance to the church was enlarged in 1935 and the gates and railings added - look out for the scallops, symbol of St James. The small vestry was built in the 1940s and the last major renovations were undertaken in the 1980s when various internal changes were made, including removing the organ.
Built at a time when the Church of Ireland was the state religion, a religious census of 1766 shows that the Durrus area had quite a high population of Protestants for the time - 71 families out of a population of 2616, bolstered by an influx of Huguenots. Catholics finally received full emancipation in 1829 and the 1869 Church Act disenfranchised the Church of Ireland as the state religion. Dwindling Protestant populations, especially after World War 1 and the Irish Civil War, saw many Protestant churches closed and abandoned. St James however continues to thrive and is a vibrant and important focus in the local community.
What a wonderful and scenic position this church commands. Sandwiched between the coast road and the original smaller road heading down to Kilcrohane, with handsome old bridges on each road, the site is elevated with magnificent views. The little Ahagouna river runs down the side of the grounds, filling an emptying with the tides - home to kingfishers and herons, trout and even salmon. The grounds are beautifully kept with lots of tall and elegant trees, usually full of noisy rooks. The huge cedar tree must surely be as old as the church and is a real landmark. A wonderfully peaceful spot, there are many old and interesting graves, and JG Farrell the writer is buried here in an unassuming patch.