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A Survey of Monuments of Archaeological and Historical Interest in the Barony of Bunratty Lower, Co. Clare by William Gerrard Ryan

Part 1: Commentary: Pre-Reformation church and monastic sites: Norman Church/Monastic Sites

While much of the Norman de Clare activity in the Barony of Bunratty Lower was devoted to warfare, particularly against the O’Briens and MacNamaras (Site catalogue 3.11/3.12) time was also spent in restoring and building Church sites.

During this Norman period we find that some of the older sites ceased being used (notably Clonloghan), others were restored and altered (especially Ballysheen and Tomfinlough) while some new sites were built (e.g. Bunratty and Kilmurry).

I have previously made reference to the pre-Norman sites at Tomfinlough and Ballysheen (St. Finaghta’s). At the main Church at Tomfinlough the tenth century site was altered, possibly extended to the east (Site catalogue 2.82: site plan). At least two sandstone windows were inserted – one on the south wall, near the nineteenth century buttress, and the second in the centre of the east wall (Photographs 4 & 5, site catalogue 2.95).

At St. Finaghta’s Church, Ballysheen, a new window was also inserted in the east wall (Photo 5, site catalogue 2.45). The other sandstone windows in the north and south walls may also have been added at this time (site catalogue 2.37, site plan).

New Churches were also built during this Norman period. The original Church at Bunratty was constructed, as was the site at Kilmurry, north of Sixmilebridge. Unfortunately there is now no trace of these structures.

The Church at Kilnasoolagh was plundered by the O’Briens in 1312 A.D. (Frost, 1893, 190). It is unclear what then became of it. However, the fact that Westropp makes reference to remains of medieval windows (1900, 149) suggests it was rebuilt if not during Norman times certainly in the fifteenth-sixteenth centuries.

We can therefore state that the Normans, or Irish in the Norman period, built at least two new Churches (Bunratty and Kilmurry) and restored or rebuilt a number of other sites (Tomfinlough and Ballysheen).

Unfortunately due to a combination of later restoration or destruction the features of Norman Church sites throughout the Barony are somewhat unclear. The two sites they built (Bunratty and Kilmurry) are levelled without trace and the impressive site at Tomfinlough saw further restoration and possibly alteration during the post-Norman period. The sandstone window types, as they survive, are all now damaged (Photo 5, Site catalogue 2.95).

However the site of St. Finaghta’s, Ballysheen, does not seem to have been altered during the later period. It can, probably, therefore be regarded as a Norman-type Church, though with its origin in pre-Norman times. This site (Site catalogue 2.37: site plan) is of a rectangular shape, 20 metres east-west by 6 ½ metres north-south, with the main entrance in the south wall. The window to the east was the main one, similar to Tomfinlough. It also had two windows in the south wall, one, but possibly two, in the north wall and perhaps a window in the now collapsed west wall. Much more detailed information on Church features is available from the final period.