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|Churches with Round Towers in Northern Clare by Thomas Johnson Westropp|
Rath Church and Round Tower
Macgrath alludes to this place in his account of the battle of Dysert, and is unusually just in his epithet, ‘the prospect-pleasing Rath’; this it still remains, though the wooded hills are bare. From its ridge we see the towers and woods of Dysert nestling to the east, near Ballycullinan Lake, and the wide plains off to blue Slieve Bernagh; while to the west lies the bluff brown hill of Scool, its steep slopes covered with brushwood, overhanging the ivied castle and gloomy lake, where St. Maccreehy imprisoned the horrible demon-badger  ‘deep in that forgotten mere among the tumbled fragments of the hills,’ and in whose waters Aibhell and her twenty-five banshee attendants washed the visionary clothes and corpses of the still-living Normans, when ‘the great De Clare,’ driven mad by St. Senan, lay camped before Dysert O’Dea.
The church derives its name from a large earthen rath, still called after Blathmac, who is, or was, reverenced as ‘St. Blawfugh’ in the parish on July 24th, the day given him in the ancient Calendars. We further learn that he was a poet, but none of his works seem to have reached us.
The ‘Calendar of Oengus’ and its notes relate that his son ‘Onchu, a priest, son of Blathmac of Rath Blathmaic, in the upper part of Dalgcais, was in one shrine with Finan’ at Cluan more.
‘Onchu, who loved not a despicable world;
Blathmac’s date seems absolutely uncertain; a venerable crosier, in the collection of the Royal Irish Academy, is attributed to him, and certainly belonged to Rath, as it was procured from the hereditary keeper; the two bronze bells of this church  are in the same collection. The building consists of a chancel, 18 feet 6 inches x 20 feet, its featureless south wall and the other foundations alone remaining. The nave is very much off the square, being 44 feet 9 inches on the north, 42 feet 10 inches to the south, 24 feet 8 inches at the east end, and 8 inches less at the west. The west gable has fallen, and shows that the older church extended further towards the west; the chancel arch is pointed, 10 feet 2 inches wide, with chamfered capitals. Most of the south wall of the nave to a height of 5 feet 6 inches is ancient; it is built of large blocks, many 3 feet long, in courses, and has a round corner shaft too much overgrown with ivy to show whether the capital still remains; in the wall near it is an ogee-headed window; its inner sill formed of the sill of an older light laid on edge, and showing its section, a roll and chamfer; it has been much cut away to adapt it for a shutter turning in sockets. The walls are crowned internally with a neat cornice, resting on chamfered corbels. The lower courses of the north wall are ancient and near the east end are dressed to form a plinth.
Inside the south nave wall is a very curious slab, 4 feet long by 16 inches high, evidently the outer face of the principal window of the older church. Its single light  has a large roll moulding round it, on which are cut sprays like young bracken fronds; directly under this is a large head of a dragon, like those at Dysert, but having its ears beaded (a late characteristic); it holds in its mouth two smaller serpents, whose bodies form a second roll, between which and the inner moulding is a very rich pattern of leaves, flowers, and waving bands, fluted and beaded, much more suggestive of those Celtic, or semi-Celtic designs in Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon work  than of the usual Irish ornament; nor does any Celtic interlacing occur in it. On the same slab, to the left, is a quaint little ‘sheela na gig’ struggling with two monsters, which bite her ears; the whole being in wonderful preservation. This slab is set upside down.
On a separate block beneath it is a very classic ‘honeysuckle,’ like one at Tomgraney. Another fragment  with rich interlacings and flat discs occurs near the round basin of the holy-water stoup in the east jamb of the late Gothic south door.
No trace is now apparent of the round tower, 8 feet high, alleged to have been taken down in 1838. Several blocks with a chamfer and reveal (perhaps part of the lost east window) and fragments of the cornice lie about among the graves. No interesting tombs remain, nor is anything done to keep the graveyard from desecration. Like too many in Ireland it is ‘o’ercovered quite with deadmen’s rattling bones’; and, worse still, when I visited it in April, 1891, a recently buried body had been dug up at some later funeral, and scattered in hideous fragments round the overgrown ruin.