Two Empty Shells


Geoffrey Keating (in Irish Seathrún Céitinn) is thought to have been born c.1569 in County Tipperary; for a long time Burgess was believed his birthplace, but more recently an argument has been advanced for Moorstown Castle, a tower house then occupied by the Keating family. In 1603 he sailed for France where he attended the recently-founded Irish College in Bordeaux. On finishing his studies and being an ordained priest, he returned to Ireland where he took up clerical duties in a parish near Cahir. Over the next twenty years he wrote his major work, completed around 1634, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn (The Foundation of Knowledge on Ireland, commonly known as The History of Ireland). Written in Irish, this traced the evolution of Keating’s native country from the creation of the world until the arrival of the Anglo-Normans (who were among the author’s own forebears). The manuscript, of which the first version was only published in English in 1723 (and the full text in Irish only at the start of the last century) drew on a wide variety of sources, some of which no longer exist and others of which can be deemed pseudo-historical. Much of the content is therefore open to revision. However, as Bernadette Cunningham wrote in 2001, during a time of enormous social upheaval and political unrest, ‘Keating’s portrayal of Ireland as an ancient and worthy kingdom had enormous attractions for his contemporaries. It told the story of the kingdom of Ireland at a time when the idea of an Irish kingdom mattered a great deal to contemporaries. In consequence, though it may tell us relatively little about early Irish history that cannot be gleaned from other sources, it reveals a great deal about Keating’s own seventeenth-century world.’




Little is known about Keating’s life, or even when and where he died. With regard to the latter, a plaque above the doorcase of a mortuary chapel at Tubrid, County Tipperary carries the following inscription in Latin: ‘Orate Pro Aiabs P. Eugenu: Duhy Vic de Tybrud: et D: Doct Galf: Keating huis Sacelli Fundatoru: necno et pro oibs alusta sacerd. quam laicis quoru corpa in eod: jacet sa A Dom 1644.’ (Pray for the souls of Father Eugenius Duhy, Vicar of Tybrud, and of Geoffrey Keating, D.D., Founders of this Chapel ; and also for all others, both Priests and Laics whose bodies lie in the same chapel. In the year of our Lord 1644.) Accordingly, we know he was dead by this time but the exact date and death remain a mystery. Now roofless and in one corner of a substantial graveyard, the chapel still thanks to the Roman Catholic priest and historian Patrick Power who in the early years of the last century championed the memory of Keating, and arranged to have steel rods inserted into the building to ensure its walls did not collapse.




To the immediate north of the chapel at Tubrid stand the remains of another building, St John’s a former Church of Ireland church thought to have been built on the site of an older place of worship: he buttressed walls of the nave suggest these might even have been retained from the earlier building. Turrets with conical caps stand at each corner of the main body of the church, while the tower has four capped octagonal towers. Many sources (such as www.buildingsofireland.ie) give a date of 1819-20 for the church’s construction, meaning it comes from the period when the Board of First Fruits was at its most active. However, the Representative Church Body Library (in effect the archives for the Church of Ireland) holds a number of drawings of the building signed by James Pain and dated 1835: these show exterior and interior ground plans and elevations. In 1823 Pain had been appointed architect to the Board of First Fruits for Munster (responsible for all churches and glebe houses in the province) and he continued to work for the board and its successor, the Ecclesiastical Commission, until at least 1843. Therefore one may assume the church was designed by his office and is later than the date usually given. (It is not listed in David Lee’s 2005 monograph on the architect, but on the other hand the author advises that not all churches attributable to Pain are listed in the relevant appendix and recommends consultation of the RCB Library archives). Drawings of the same church also survive from the office of Welland & Gillespie, architects to the Ecclesiastical Commission from 1860 until the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland ten years later, but whether these plans were executed or not is unclear. St John’s, Tubrid ceased to be used for services in 1919 and, like its older neighbor, now stands a roofless shell.

Off with His Head


A stained glass window in the chancel of St John the Baptist, Duhill, County Tipperary. It is one of two designed and made by Harry Clarke for this little parish church. That to the left of the altar depicts a rather insipid Bernadette receiving a vision of the Virgin at Lourdes. In contrast that on the right-hand side is altogether more earthy (and more gorgeously coloured) and, inspired by the saint to whom the building is dedicated, shows the moment after his death when Salome beholds the newly-executed John’s head on a salver, observed by Herod and Herodias. Dating from 1925, the window commemorates local woman Margaret Byrne and her two brothers, both of whom had been priests..

Pressed by the Moon


Pressed by the Moon, mute arbitress of tides,
While the loud equinox its power combines,
The sea no more its swelling surge confines,
But o’er the shrinking land sublimely rides.





The wild blast, rising from the western cave,
Drives the huge billows from their heaving bed;
Tears from their grassy tombs the village dead,
And breaks the silent sabbath of the grave!





With shells and sea-weed mingled, on the shore,
Lo! their bones whiten in the frequent wave;
But vain to them the winds and waters rave;
They hear the warring elements no more:
While I am doomed, by life’s long storm oppressed,
To gaze with envy on their gloomy rest.


Sonnet Written in the Churchyard at Middleton (1789) by Charlotte Smith
Photographs of Rathfran Friary, County Mayo.
Remembering all those no longer with us to celebrate Christmas

A Casual Approach


This country is so replete with ruins that sometimes they are treated quite casually. This is the case with what survives of a late 15th century Franciscan friary in Roscrea, County Tipperary, designated a National Monument. Access to the present, early 19th century Roman Catholic church is gained via the base of the 60-foot former bell tower, under which cars now drive.


Founded by Maolrouny O’Carroll and his wife Bibiana in 1477, the friary lasted barely 100 years before being closed down as part of that era’s general suppression of religious houses. Today the most substantial surviving portions are the bell tower (onto which various fragments from the site have been cemented), the north wall of the church and the latter’s east window, although this is largely blocked by the gable end of a house built right against it.

Just an Inch


The somewhat scant remains of Inch Abbey, County Down. Originally on an island in the Quoile marshes (but since these were drained now on the banks of the river Quoile, the first monastic settlement here was established c.800 but few traces of it survive: the buildings were plundered more than once in the 11th and 12th centuries by the Vikings. The present monastery dates from 1180 when Cistercian monks from Furness in Lancashire were settled here by the Anglo-Norman knight John de Courcy and his wife Affreca as an act of atonement for his destruction of another religious house at nearby Erinagh.



Although wealthy, Inch Abbey seems never to have had a particularly large community; growth in numbers weren’t helped by Parliament restricting admission to the monastery to the English or Anglicised Irish. This helps to explain why in the 15th century, the transepts were blocked off and a small church created out of the chancel and the first bay of the nave, the rest of the space being abandoned. The tall east windows survive, as do those to the immediate north and south, but not much else, with few parts of the ancillary buildings still above ground. Inch Abbey was suppressed in 1541 and the site, together with some 850 acres, was granted to Gerald FitzGerald, 11th Earl of Kildare.

A Melancholy Gloom


‘Adjoining the castle [in Malahide, County Dublin], and embowered in a thick grove of chestnuts, that, in their leafy honours, cast a melancholy gloom upon the picture, are the roofless ruins of a venerable church, silent, sad, and solitary; its solitude, more striking from the appearance of a low and lonely tomb, standing in the centre of the temple,bearing on its surface the effigy of a female, habited in the costume of two centuries ago.’


‘She was the daughter of a Baron Plunkett, of Killeen, and in early life had been betrothed to the young Lord of Galtrim. Upon the day of celebrating the nuptials, and at the delivery of the last words of the solemn contract, the bridegroom was called away from the altar-steps to head his followers, and scatter a gathering of the Irish. Oh, vanity of earthly hopes ! in a few short hours he was borne homewards to his widowed bride,
“Stretch’d on his shield, like the steel-girt slain
By moonlight seen on the battle plain.”
This sepulchre the curious now often visit to contemplate the resting-place of one who had thus the unusual fortune “to be maid, wife, and widow in a single day.” Her fortune afterwards proved less wayward, for she lived to marry, as her third husband, Sir Richard Talbot, of Malahide.’


From The Scenery and Antiquities of Ireland by J. Stirling Coyne and N.P. Willis (1841)

A Short Life


All that remains of the former Church of Ireland church of St Nathlash in Rockmills, County Cork. Assisted by a grant of £800 from the Board of First Fruits, it was built in 1811 by Colonel Richard Aldworth whose main residence, Newmarket, was elsewhere in the same county but who kept a sporting lodge close to Rockmills, the latter name derived from the flour mills which Colonel Aldworth had also established in the area. Described by Samuel Lewis in 1837 as ‘a small neat structure with a tower and spire’, the church was in use for little more than 65 years. Following the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869, the parish of Rockmills was united with that of nearby Kildorrery, and in 1889 the greater part of St Nathlash’s was demolished.

Small but Perfectly Formed


The chapel on Lambay Island, County Dublin was originally built on the site of an older ruin in 1833; at the time, the place was owned by the Talbots of Malahide Castle. At the start of the last century, the island was bought by Cecil Baring and his wife Maude, who commissioned Edwin Lutyens to renovate and extend all existing structures on Lambay, not least the late mediaeval castle. Lutyens also transformed the external appearance of the chapel into a small Doric temple (although it was, and still is, used for Christian worship, as the statue of the Virgin on the indicates. Inside the building, a stained glass window designed by Patrick Pollen in the form of a cross was later inserted.

Built Chiefly at the Expence…


Another ruinous church, this time of more recent vintage: the former Church of Ireland premises in Drumlumman, County Cavan. A plaque over the small west door carries the inscription ‘ ‘This Church was Built Chiefly at the expence of William Gore of Woodford Esq in the year 1789.’ The gothic windows on the east and south sides are believed to be a later addition. The church continued to be used for services until the 1970s and has since fallen into its present sad state.



William Gore, at whose expense the church was principally built, inherited an estate at Woodford, County Leitrim, originally owned by the O’Rourkes, one of their castles being incorporated into the house. His son, also William, married a Shropshire heiress Mary Jane Ormsby in 1815 and changed his surname to Ormsby Gore: the couple’s eldest son John was created first Baron Harlech in 1876. Having briefly represented Leitrim in the House of Commons, William Ormsby Gore and his family lived primarily in England: by 1837 Samuel Lewis described Woodford as having formerly been ‘a place of great splendour.’ The house no longer stands and it now looks as though the church Mr Gore had helped to build is going the same way.

Former Greatness


Difficult though it is to imagine today, the village of Lorrha, County Tipperary was once a major centre of religious activity. St Ruadhan is believed to have founded a monastery here in the sixth century and this flourished until the mid-ninth century when it was twice attacked by the Vikings. Following the arrival of the Normans some 300 years later, the old monastery was re-established, this time as a priory under the care of the Augustinian Canons.



The Augustinian Priory remained active until 1541 when dissolved on the orders of Henry VIII: eleven years later the buildings were granted on a twenty year lease to the last prior. The church is the most substantial surviving part of the establishment, and is notable for its carved doorway at the west end, at the top of which is a the head of a woman wearing an elaborate headdress. While it is claimed this represents a member of the de Burgh family responsible for establishing the priory in the 12th century both the doorway and the east window date from some three centuries later, so this seems unlikely