Across the road from the old tower house in Ardmayle, County Tipperary stands this handsome church dedicated to St John the Baptist, reputedly standing in a place of worship since the 12th century. In its present form, only the tower at the west end is part of the original building, although a window inserted into this looks late-medieval. According to Lewis, writing in 1837, the rest of the building was reconstructed 22 years earlier, thanks to a gift of £800 and a loan of a further £150 by the Board of First Fruits. Until 1987, St John’s was used for Church of Ireland services but was subsequently restored by the local heritage society and is now used for a variety of purposes.
‘The Abbey of Killagha [County Kerry] was erected on the site of the abbey of St. Coleman by Geoffrey de Marisco for Canons Regular of St. Augustine, and dedicated to our Blessed Lady. Hervey de Marisco, one of the first Norman knights who came to Ireland, acquired large tracts of land in Tipperary, Wexford and Kerry. He died without descendants, and his large estates passed to his brother, Geoffrey. The latter is mentioned as Judiciary of Ireland in 1215. Smith, in his “History of Kerry”, says Killagha was erected in the reign of Henry III, which would be some time after 1216. Geoffrey de Marisco founded also a house for Knights Hospitallers in Awney in Limerick, and built the castle of Castleisland.
It is to be regretted that the records of the Augustinian order in Ireland are of the most meagre character. The Canons Regular aimed at a contemplative rather than a missionary life. They sought to realise the spirit of an à Kempis rather than a Dominic. Hence they were not bound up in such close relations with the people among whom they lived as were, for example, the Dominicans or Franciscans. When the ties were broken in the sixteenth century that bound the Canons Regular to their abbeys, they did not look back with the same wistful longing as did the members of these two orders, to recover their lost homes and renew old relations. As a consequence, we see the Dominicans and Franciscans dwelling once more beside their old monasteries, while hardly an instance occurs of the Canons Regular returning to the place that they left.’
‘The Abbey of Our Lady grew into importance soon after the Canons Regular had taken possession of it. It received large tracts of land in different parts of the county. Tithes and glebes were added, and the abbey became very wealthy. The Canons Regular happily united industrious habits of life with contemplation, and probably spent part of their time in manual labour. Lands were tilled and woods planted, and the surroundings of Our Lady’s Abbey became quickly changed. The place came to be recognised as one of unusual beauty, and the abbey henceforth to be known as Killagha, or the Abbey of Our Lady de Bello Loco…
…I have very little to record of Killagha during the intervening years down to the sixteenth century. Some improvements were made in the church, most probably in the fifteenth century. The beautiful east window was put in, also a handsome double-lancet window at the south side of the chancel, an aumbry within the sanctuary, two Gothic doors leading to the church from the south side, and a square window of three lights in the western gable. The insertion of these windows and doors has led Archdall to conclude that the foundation of the abbey is of more recent date than that assigned to it. “The architecture,” he says, “which is of a dark marble, bespeaks the structure to be much more modern than the time before mentioned.” The windows and doors that I have named are, indeed, more modern, but the other parts of the building, which are altogether different in character from the insertions, date most probably from the time of Henry III.’
‘The church is the only portion of the abbey buildings that at present remains; a few feet of masonry attaching to the south side of the chancel are all that we now see of what was once the abbey of Killagha. I am inclined to think that the materials of the abbey were removed soon after it was destroyed in 1649, as Smith and Archdall make particular reference to the church, but make no reference to the abbey structure…
The church is of rubble masonry, and though of plain workmanship, is solidly constructed. Though still in a fair state of preservation, there are evidences of approaching decay. Rents appear in the western gable, and the southern wall; and the joints are becoming much open in the east window. The church, rectangular and without aisles, lies east and west, and very long for its width; length 128 feet five inches, and breadth 23 inches five inches. The walls are very massive, those at the sides 4 feet 8 inches, and in parts 5 feet, eastern gable 4 feet 4 inches, western 4 feet 7 inches. It was divided, at intersection of chancel and nave by a steeple, or bell tower.’
Extracts from The Abbey of Killagha, Parish of Kilcoleman, Co. Kerry by the Rev. James Carmody in The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland , Series 5, Vol. XVI, 1906.
Not far from Ballyadams Castle, County Laois (see Monday’s post, Saved by Two Daughters) can be found what remains of the parish’s old church, surrounded by old tombstones. Inside the ruined buildings are two interesting monuments, both badly worn. On the ground in the south-east corner is the recumbent figure of Walter Hartpole, Dean of Leighlin who died in 1597. On the opposite wall is a tablet erected in 1631 to Robert Bowen who had died a decade earlier, having inherited Ballyadams Castle from his father John Thomas Bowen: Robert had been married to Alice Hartpole, a daughter of Walter. The upper portion of this monument features a crest and coat of arms, and text proclaiming as following:
‘An epitaph on the death of Robert Bowen Esquire.
If tears prevent not every readers eye may well perceive that in this tomb doth lie
Friends hope foes dread whose thrice victorious hand gained love, wrought peace within this joyful land
Whose worth doth mount itself on angels wings
Whose great descent was first from Royal Kings
Whose never dying virtues live for why
Whose fame’s eterniz’d he can never dy’
Formerly the upper section of the chest tomb was decorated with the figure of the deceased in full armour, with his wife by his side, but these were destroyed in the 19th century. All that remains are the figures below of the couple’s four children.
This week’s ruined church can be found at Skirk, County Laois on a high site with wonderful views across the surrounding countryside. There seems to be some uncertainty about when it was constructed, since some writers propose a mid-18th century date. However, the usually reliable Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) says it was built in 1831 thanks to a loan of £500 from the Board of First Fruits. The latter option makes more sense since to the immediate south are the remains of an older, late medieval church, a section of which seemingly collapsed in the 1830s so that now only the east gable and a portion of one wall survive: it appears that this was used as a mausoleum, the blocked entrance to which can still be seen.
Long in ruins, this is Christ Church, otherwise Magourney parish church in Coachford, County Cork. In 1750 Charles Smith called it ‘new’ suggesting the building had likely been constructed in the first half of the 18th century. Thanks to funds provided by the ever-helpful Board of First Fruits, in 1818/19 it was extensively refurbished and the tower raised to its present level with blind lunettes and oculi; the little flanking pavilions, one of which held the vestry, the other a staircase, date from the same period. Just a few decades later, however, the parish embarked on building another new church, and this one was deconsecrated in the late 1850s.
‘The Island of Devenish is undoubtedly one of the foremost and most interesting of the Lough Erne Archipelago. As the visitor sails down the lake from Enniskillen, after turning the point of Derrylinch, the Round Tower tops, with the rounded windows and the square Bell Tower of a more modern priory, appear over the Island’s highest ridge towards the south. On proceeding, wooded promontories throw their broad shadows across the still bays; the fair slopes and lawny knolls stand greenly out from the dark sylvan scenery; while the islands seem to be floating, as on a crystal sea, until the tourist reaches Devenish Island. The soil is exceedingly fertile and covered with the rankest and greenest grass. Over this the pilgrim, landing from his well-appointed pleasure-boat will be sure to turn his steps in the direction of various old buildings, lying in proximate position, and yet somewhat separated in some instances. The ruins, which yet remain in their insular situation, are of extraordinary antiquarian interest.’
From Lives of the Irish Saints by the Rev. John Canon O’Hanlon, Volume IX (1873)
‘One of the most interesting spots in the neighbourhood of Enniskillen, is Devenish Island, with its round tower and other ancient relics. It stands just where the lower lake expands; and is about two miles from Enniskillen. One may visit it either by boat from Enniskillen, or follow the road from the town, and make use of the ferry-boat. The island slopes gently from the water’s edge, in a fine green swell; but is entirely destitute of wood; and is said to contain upwards of seventy acres. The round tower of Devenish is said to be the most perfect in Ireland and, altogether, the finest specimen of these singular structures. The height of the tower is eighty-two feet; the thickness of its walls three feet, five inches; the circumference forty-nine feet; and the diameter, inside, nine feet, two inches. Twelve feet above the doorway there is a window, angularly pointed; and, higher up, another window nearly square. Still higher are the four windows, common in all these towers; and the key-stone above each is ornamented with a human head.’
From Ireland in 1834: A Journey throughout Ireland by Henry D Inglis (1835)
‘The lower church is dedicated to St. Molush, “who read the planets” we were told; and near it are the remains of an ancient building, called St Molush’s kitchen. In the vicinity is a coffin of hewn stone in which, if the saint found a resting place, he has long since been dispossessed of it, and superstition now ascribes to this stone-bed the power of removing pains in the back. Near the summit of the hill are the remains of the abbey. The centre of the building is an arch resting on four pillars, and supporting a belfry tower, with a winding staircase of good workmanship leading to the summit. An inscription records the date of the erection, and the name of the architect, etc. That which was apparently the northern aisle of the church, is now changed into a stall for cattle, a desecration much resented by the herdsman, a very superstitious and apparently a very devout Catholic who repeated with much zest an observation which had been made to him, that the author of this piece of barbarism would be found to be adorned with hoofs and horns in the next world!’
From The Island of Saints, or Ireland in 1855 by John Eliot Howard (1855)
What remains of St Anne’s church in Mallow, County Cork. It was built probably in the early 18th century to replace a predecessor which had been much damaged during the Williamite Wars but only lasted around 100 years before being in turn superseded by a newer building erected to the immediate west and designed by the Pain brothers. Now surrounded by decaying tombstones, the church retains a wonderfully slender belltower through which access was gained to the interior, the south side of which is distinguished by five large round-headed windows.
In the second decade of the 19th century, a new Church of Ireland church dedicated to the Holy Trinity was built in Castlerea, County Roscommon with the aid of a grant from the Board of First Fruits. Replacing an older building which had hitherto been used for services, the second Holy Trinity opened for services in 1819 when the local doctor, Thomas Wills Wilde (grandfather of Oscar Wilde) acted as the Church Warden. Later Douglas Hyde, whose father was a clergyman, would be baptised here. The building is of standard design for the period, of cruciform shape with a two-bay nave and a three-storey entrance tower at the west end. It closed for worship in late December 1997 and then stood empty for many years before being rescued by a local voluntary group who restored the premises for use as a multi-purpose arts and community centre: the group is currently running a gofundme page to ensure the property can continue to serve this purpose. It might also like to consider raising money to landscape the immediate surrounds, because at the moment this rather already somewhat bleak, cement-rendered building sits in an unappetising ocean of tarmacadam and gravel.
The remains of the early 18th church of the Holy Trinity in Castlerea, County Roscommon. This building, and surrounding graveyard, stand in what had been part of the demesne owned by the Sandfords, who owned much of the land in this part of the country. The church ruins are notable for an exceptionally fine limestone Venetian window set into the building’s east gable. The graveyard is the burial place of Oscar Wilde’s grandfather Dr Thomas Wills Wilde, who practised medicine in the town and whose father, Ralph Wilde, acted as land agent for Lord Mount Sandford. The church was abandoned in the early 19th century when a new one was built on higher ground in the town.
At some date in the future, research will probably be undertaken into the consequences of the near-wholesale disappearance of Roman Catholic religious orders from Ireland during the late 20th/early 21st centuries. For more than 100 years, they had been a dominant presence across the country, every town of any consequence having at least one, more often several, large building complexes occupied by various orders who would have been responsible for the area’s education and, as we have discovered of late, other less savoury activities. By and large, the persons responsible for running those institutions have disappeared, primarily due to the fact that since the 1970s fewer and fewer individuals have been prepared to become nuns or monks and so forth. But the buildings remain, still dominating many a neighbourhood, even though their intended residents have departed. Sometimes the properties have found a new purpose, more often they now stand empty, their decaying presence serving as testament to an authority that once erroneously believed itself invincible. Like Shelley’s Ozymandias, they proclaim ‘Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair.’ So, aside from the physical manifestations, what have been the consequences of this ebbing of a once-powerful tide? What effect has it, will it have, on the national psyche? That remains to be investigated, but when such work begins, perhaps those responsible might like to consider how we have been here before, that we went through a similar experience back in the second half of the 16th century.
Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Ballindoon Priory, County Sligo was a late-comer to the company of Ireland’s religious houses. A Dominican foundation, it was established on the banks of Lough Arrow in 1507 by one Thomas O’Farrell under the patronage of the McDonaghs, who were then the most powerful family in the area. The interior of the church is dominated by a remarkable two-storey, triple-vaulted archway. The arches on the ground floor are all the same height but only the centre one provides access from nave to chancel, those on either side probably once holding altars (that to the south has since been blocked). The central arch above is much higher than its neighbours and may once have contained a cross or crucifix although it also has a hole in the ceiling to allow the suspension of a bell rope from further up the tower. This floor, effectively a gallery, is lit by exceptionally tall, narrow windows set into the north and south walls. Reached by an unusual external staircase, the top of the tower is thought once to have contained accommodation for whoever lived on the site, since no domestic ranges were ever constructed around the church (the land to the immediate south of the church drops steeply down to the lakeshore). Both the east and west ends of the church have splendid traceried windows
Ballindoon Priory was almost the last such religious house to be established in Ireland, although Eóghan O’Rourke and his wife Margaret O’Brien founded a Franciscan friary at Creevelea, County Leitrim a year later, in 1508. At the time both these buildings were erected, it must have seemed as though little would change, that the Roman Catholic church would continue to have a dominant presence throughout the country, and its properties enjoy a secure future. Just a few decades later, Henry VIII proclaimed himself head of the church in his dominions, which included Ireland, and ordered the dissolution of all religious houses. One by one, they were closed down, their occupants sent away, their possessions confiscated and frequently granted or sold to supporters of the English crown. An entire way of life disappeared, leaving the Irish countryside littered with the decaying remains of what had once seemed an immutable authority. This must have been a unsettling experience for the entire population, who over the space of some 50 years witnessed the loss of the familiar and with it the sense of comforting security. Sound familiar? History has an uneasy way of repeating itself.