Inside the ruined church of Kilcredan, County Cork can be found what was evidently once a fine tomb, its remains protected from the elements by a corrugated tin roof. This marks the final resting place of Robert Tynte, a Somerset-born soldier who came to Ireland in the late 16th century and settled in Youghal, where a late-mediaeval tower house is still called Tynte’s Castle. In 1612 he married Elizabeth Spenser, widow of the poet Edmund Spenser who is said to have begun work on the epic The Faerie Queen while staying in Youghal with his friend Sir Walter Raleigh. Tynte died in 1663 and the tomb has since been much mutilated, both his head and those of the mourning figures who kneel on either side (presumably his wife and daughter) are missing – together with their hands and the commemorative plaque formerly beneath the family coat of arms. Similar butchery has taken place on another memorial tomb high on the facing wall, this one commemorating Edward Harris, a Devon-born lawyer who became Chief Justice of Munster and was buried here, together with his wife Elizabeth, following his death in 1636.
Set into the estate walls of Castle Durrow, County Laois, the little church of St Fintan’s dates from the late 18th century when built either by, or with the support of, William Flower, third Viscount Ashbrook. Internally the building is plain, but distinguished by the presence of this organ which was originally installed in the chapel at Trinity College Dublin in 1797. The manufacturer was Samuel Green, ‘Organ builder to their Majesties Isleworth Middx 1797’, the instrument commissioned at a cost of five hundred guineas by George III who then donated it to the college. Forty years later William Telford made a new organ for Trinity College, this one being brought to Durrow in 1842 and placed inside St Fintan’s by the fourth Lord Ashbrook: he had to add a transept to the south side of the building to accommodate the instrument. Today the only Green organ in Ireland, it sits inside a case which looks to date from the installation in Durrow: pipes at either end rest on piers that feature angels carrying the Flower family crest.
Two adjacent ecclesiastical ruins at Taghadoe, County Kildare, that to the left being a truncated round tower. A monastic site us believed to have been established here in the 6th century, its foundation attributed to a Saint Tua. From this evolved the Irish name Teach Tua (House of Tua) which eventually became anglicised as Taghadoe. The tower is all that remains of that religious settlement; rising some 20 metres, it has lost the original conical top.
The adjacent church is presumably on the site of an older structure, of which there are no visible remains. It was built in 1831, likely as part of the church rebuilding programme undertaken by the Church of Ireland’s Board of First Fruits. This must have suffered from a severe shortage of parishioners as it closed for services after just forty years and now stands a roofless shell. The building’s distinctive feature are the four octagonal towers, one at each corner. These lean out at a slight angle, as though in imitation of the older round tower which does likewise.
St John’s church in Clonmellon, County Westmeath featured here three years ago (see Community Spirit, March 28th 2016). A couple of pictures above give an idea of its appearance then. At that time the building was in a state of serious disrepair, but plans were already afoot for its restoration, thanks to a local initiative.
Since 2016, major work has been undertaken to St John’s and the building has now been fully restored and brought back for a wide variety of community uses. It’s hard to believe that as recently as 2016 it looked beyond salvation, but this is another example of how, with sufficient determination and imagination, none of our architectural heritage need be lost. Congratulations (and thanks) to those responsible.
The church at Dunfierth, County Kildare dates from c.1500 and is associated with the de Bermingham family which at the time was still the dominant family in this part of the country. In 1548 a tomb to Walter de Bermingham was built inside the church, and this featured a number of fine carvings.
In 1815 the de Berminghams had long since gone from the area, and the Hamilton family constructed a vaulted mausoleum inside the former chancel of Dunfierth church. This incorporated a number of carvings from the older tomb, such as a Crucifixion scene, and bands of ‘keeners’ on either side of the structure. Inside the rear wall features the carving of an armoured knight, only really visible if the natural light is sufficiently good. There are other fine pieces of work elsewhere on the site, such as this window on the south wall.
Preoccupied with inevitable traffic jams, the many motorists using Dublin’s Pearse Street are unlikely to throw a glance at the old church on their right-hand side. This is St Mark’s, which dates from the early 18th century when a new parish was created separate from that of St Andrew’s. Building work began in 1729 but the church was only roofed 23 years later. The architect responsible is unknown, but in any case the building is notable primarily for its want of external ornamentation, with sturdy limestone rubble walls. The entrance at the west end has a substantial cut-granite door with a smaller Diocletian window above: the arrow slits on either side, now blocked, once held glass to admit light to the interior spaces. The sides of the building have five tall and five short windows, one above the other and the east end has a Venetian window to light the chancel. Much altered in the 19th century, the interior retains its galleries supported by Corinthian columns. Unlike many other Church of Ireland churches in the city, St Mark’s is still in use, now by an evangelical Christian group for services.
It is difficult to visualize today, but the mediaeval friary in the centre of Ennis, County Clare originally stood on an island at a point where the river Fergus divided. The exact date of its establishment is uncertain, but the Franciscan order is believed to have been invited to open a new house here towards the middle of the 13th century: Donnchadh Ó Briain, King of Thomond is often credited with being responsible for this shortly before his death in 1242. Thereafter the friary and its grounds became the preferred burial place for generations of O’Briens and MacNamaras, the two ruling families in this part of the country. Frequently in reparation for their misdeeds over the next three centuries they gave the friars, who had little source of income, many gifts such as vestments, chalices, stained glass and books.
The advantages of having rich and generous patrons can be seen throughout what remains of Ennis Friary. As the community expanded, so the building work continued. In 1314, for example, Maccon Caech MacNamara added a sacristy and refectory to the site. And a the start of the 15th century, the handsome cloister – only sections of which survive – was constructed along with the south transept: the belfry tower dates from around 1475.
Ennis Friary contains many fine limestone carvings, mostly dating from the 15th and early 16th centuries. One of these depicts St Francis, founder of the Franciscan order, with his stigmata on display. Another shows the Virgin and Child, and a third is an affecting image of Ecce Homo, the words uttered by Pontius Pilate in St John’s Gospel when Christ, having been scourged and crowned with thorns, was presented to a hostile crowd. One of the most interesting features in the building is a series of carved panels with scenes from Christ’s Passion dating from a late-15th century tomb erected by the MacMahon family and recycled in the 1840s for a monument to the Creagh family. Unfortunately this has been placed behind glass and spotlit – making it almost impossible to photograph. A copy of the tomb stands on the site of the original in the former chancel.
Ennis Friary, like other such establishments, was suppressed in the 16th century but seemingly members of the Franciscan order continued in residence until at least 1570, thereafter being obliged to remain secretly in Ennis. In the early 17th century, Donough O’Brien, fourth Earl of Thomond handed over the site to the Church of Ireland, and services began to be held in the old church. Other parts of the site were used for legal proceedings, the former sacristy becoming a courtroom. The Church of Ireland remained here until 1871 when a new church elsewhere in the town opened and within a couple of decades the friar’s church had lost its roof. It was returned to the Franciscan order in 1969 but is now managed by the Office of Public Works which ten years ago embarked on a somewhat controversial programme of restoration when the decision was taken to re-roof the main body of the church and, as mentioned, to place the MacMahon/Creagh Tomb behind glass.
The remains of Ardclinis church, County Antrim, believed to have been founded in the early Christian period by St MacNissi, or perhaps St MacKenna: the present ruins are from the later Middle Ages. A crozier, called the Bachil McKenna, used to be set into the building and was used by local people for the taking of oaths and detection of false statements. However, it was subsequently acquired by a local farmer called Galvin. He and his successors, when not employing the crozier as a hook in the family home, would dip it into water being given to sick cows: in the early 1960s it was acquired by the National Museum of Ireland. In front of the ruins is a blackthorn ‘Rag Tree.’ Traditionally rags, belonging to someone sick or with a particular problem, are tied to a tree in the belief that this will resolve the issue.
From History of the Irish Hierarchy by Rev. Thomas Walsh (1864):
‘Athassel, in the Barony of Clanwilliam, and on the west side of the river Suir. William Fitz Adelm de Burgo founded this abbey under the evocation of St. Edmund, king and confessor, for canons regular of St. Augustine.
A.D. 1204, the founder was interred here.
A.D. 1309, the prior was sued by Leopold de Mareys and Company, merchants of Lucca, for the sum of five hundred marcs, £2,500 sterling.
A.D. 1319, the town of Athassel was maliciously burned by the Lord John Fitz Thomas.
A.D. 1326, Richard, the Red Earl of Ulster, was interred here.
A.D. 1326, Bryan O’Brien burned Athassel to the ground.
A.D. 1482, David was prior.
A.D. 1524, Edmund Butler was prior, and the last who presided over this venerable establishment. Its property in land consisted of 768 acres, besides twenty messuages, and the income of rectories amounting to £111 16s 8d, or twenty-two marcs, which would in American money exceed $550.
All this property was granted forever to Thomas, earl of Ormond, at the yearly rent of £49 3s 9d. Queen Elizabeth confirmed this grant and remitted the reserved rent.
Athassel is one of the most extensive ruins in the kingdom, and scarcely yielded to any in extent and splendor. The whole work was uniform, regular, and finished in a fine limestone.’
From The Official Illustrated Guide to the Great Southern and Western Railway by George S. Measom (1867):
‘The site was chosen with the usual taste and judgement of “monks of old”; although a few shriveled trees are now all that remains of the woods by which it was formerly encompassed, and of which there is abundant evidence. A gentle, fertilizing and productive river still rolls beside its shattered glories; and the ruins afford ample proof of the vast extent, as well as the singular beauty of the structure, when the “Holy Augustinians” kept state within its walls. To their order may be traced the most elaborate and highly wrought of all the ecclesiastical edifices in Ireland; their abbeys in that country “evincing a style of architectural elegance and grandeur but little inferior to their fabrics in England and on the Continent”.’
From The Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland (1846):
‘The ruins of the edifice are still extensive, and indicate its former magnitude and splendor. The choir measured 44 feet by 26; the nave, of the same breadth as the choir and supported by lateral aisles, was externally 117 feet in length; the tower was square and lofty; and the cloisters were extensive. A tolerable view of the ruins from the north-west, and exhibiting the dilapidated tower, the roofless nave, the cloisters and a roofless chapel in the south-west corner, is given by Dr. Ledwich in his Antiquaries of Ireland. “We cannot,” says that antiquary, “behold the numerous arches, walls, windows, and heaps of masonry promiscuously mixed in one common ruin, without saying with Ovid: Omnia sunt hominum tenui pendentia filo: Et subito casu, quæ valuere, ruunt.’ [All things human hang by a slender thread: that which seemed to stand strong, suddenly falls into ruin]
At the end of the sixth century a holy man called Fintán but now better known as St Munna, established a religious settlement at Taghmon, County Westmeath (Teach Munna: St Munna’s church). This flourished, and came to boast some 230 monks, but the present building on the site dates from the mid-15th century. This may have been before or after the place was ransacked in 1452 by Farrell MacGeoghegan in whose family territory it lay. The need for security explains the church’s most striking feature, the fortified tower at its west end where a resident priest could be safe from attack. This is of four storeys and configured like many of the tower houses then being constructed across the country, with a store on the ground floor and living/sleeping quarters on the upper levels.
In the 16th century St Munna’s church passed under the control of the Nugent family but had become ruinous within 100 years. However, by 1755 it was being used by the Church of Ireland for services and in 1843 extensive restoration work was carried out under the supervision of Joseph Welland, head architect for the Board of Ecclesiastical Commissioners: it is no longer in use for services. Aside from the tower, the building’s other notable feature is a sheela-na-gig above a window on the north wall.