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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: Introduction: Christianity in Clare
Folklore tells us “…that although Patrick himself did not go into what is now County Clare he was visited by the men of Thomond while in Co. Limerick and baptized them. Then from Knockpatrick, a hill near Foynes which gave him a view far and wide over Co. Clare, he blessed that land because of the willingness with which its men had come across the Shannon to meet him…” Murphy, 1974, 6.
Though Patrick may not have preached in the County Christianity did spread through the region if not during his life time certainly immediately afterwards. Local tradition states that the first Christians landed in Ing Townland (Kilmaleery Civil Parish), west of present day Newmarket-on-Fergus. From there the Christian teachings certainly spread quickly and soon the monastic settlements of Inis Cathaigh (Scattery Island) and Inis Cealtra (Holy Island) were flourishing.
In the case of the Barony of Bunratty Lower the two earliest known church/monastic sites were, as we shall see, at Kilconry and Finlough (St. Luchtighern’s Oratory). Both of these date to the early decades of the sixth century, less than a century after the death of Patrick.
There possibly were other similarly dated churches throughout south-east Clare but there are no ruins and little tradition to testify to the existence of these now. In fact one would expect that the earliest churches were of timber and it was only in time that stone structures were erected.
By the time of the Norman invasion, 1169 A.D., there were a number of other church sites in the Barony. Such sites, as we shall see, have been dated by references in the Annals as well as by the style of their cut stone windows and doors. Clonloghan Church dates to the tenth century, also Tomfinlough Church (Stage 1).
The Normans, or the Irish in the Norman period, restored and built a number of churches. The original church at Bunratty dated to the mid to late thirteenth century, likewise Kilmurry, Kilfinaghta and Tomfinlough (Stage 2).
The main period of church building, however, was post-Norman and dates, again based on the types of cutstone windows and doors, to the fifteenth – sixteenth centuries. In this group we have Bunratty Church (present structure), Feenagh, Kilconry, Crughaun, Cratloemoyle (chapel), Kilquane and Tomfinlough (Stage 3).
This introduction shows that church buildings in the Barony can be assigned to three periods – pre-Norman, Norman and post Norman. At some sites, notably Tomfinlough, a continuation in use can be followed through the three periods. I now propose to deal with these periods listing the relevant church sites and their main features.