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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 3: Pre-reformation church and monastic sites
Chapter 19: Bunratty Parish

Bunratty Church; Tober Iosa; Tober na Macamh

BUNRATTY CHURCH

Nat. Grid. Ref: R450607; ½” Sheet 17

Photo 1: General photo of Bunratty Church, from the south-east
Photo 1: General photo of Bunratty Church, from the south-east

R.C. Parish : Newmarket-on-Fergus
Townland : Bunratty West
6” O.S. Sheet number : 61 (Co. Clare)
Reference : 9.5 cm North; 0.1 cm East
Height (G.L.) : 30’ O.D.
1” O.S. Sheet number : 143 (Limerick)

For information relating to this site refer to: (a) site plan (b) site description (c) series of photographs on the site.

Plan of Bunratty Church:

Bunratty Church:
This is one of the best persevered church sites in the Barony of Bunratty Lower. It has a particularly good selection of window types, most of them fortunately in a very good condition (photo 1).

The northern wall is 23.50 metres in length on the outside. Near its corner with the eastern wall it has a pointed doorway of cut limestone (Leask type B) in a good state of preservation (photo 2). This cut-stone doorway is 1.90 metres high, 1.08 metres wide and .18 metre deep (refer to site plan). The entrance area in from the cut door is 1.97 metres high, 1.32 metres wide and .70 metre deep. Part of one of the cut-stones, to the east, has been damaged so that a nineteenth century iron gate could be erected here. The northern wall, in the area of the door, averages 4.0 metres in height.

At a point 7.10 metres west of the door is a blocked up window, with three rectangular opes, fortunately with the shafts intact (photo 3). The actual stone cut area that defines the window is 1.47 metres wide and 1.30 metres high. The opes, which begin 1.07 metres above ground level, average .33 metre in width. The shafts are pointed and average .11 metre in width. The upper part of the window has line and pecked decoration. This window, as photo 3 shows, is of ogee nature (Leask, type H).

The remaining 10.65 metres of the northern wall, though partly ivy covered, averages 4.0 metres in height.

The western wall is 9.80 metres in length on the outside. This pointed wall is in a very good condition and reaches a maximum height of almost 14.0 metres. It is now, unfortunately, covered by ivy which can only cause damage.

The southern wall is especially important for the number of features it contains. At a point only 3.40 metres from the corner with the western wall is a window, again with three rectangular opes, shafts intact (photo 4). The cut-stone that defines this window area is 1.60 metres wide and 1.45 metres high. The three opes are 1.08 metres high each by .34 metres wide. The shafts average .10 to .15 metres in width. Though undecorative this window does have a shoulder, similar to that in Leask type J (photo 4).

Less than three metres east of this window is a second stone cut pointed doorway (photo 5). The actual cut-stone door is 1.85 metres high, 1.05 metres wide and .22 metre deep. The inner entrance area, see site plan, is 2.07 metres high, 1.32 metres wide and .63 metre deep. A close examination of the outer cut-stone will show that it contains a pecked-type decoration – Westropp, 1900, plate 12, figure 8. There is a rectangular opening over the doorway which is partly blocked up. The original purpose for this is unclear though it may have contained a slab of some description.

Unfortunately the presence of a tomb just beyond (i.e. east of) the doorway made a full examination of the wall along here very difficult for a 5.0 metre stretch. As this section contains a good example of Leask window type H (ogee) we are fortunate that it can be examined from the site’s interior. As the site plan shows this window has inclined jambs. It is .95 metre wide on the inside but only .18 metre wide on the outside. The actual window starts about 1 metre above ground level and is 1.30 metres high (photo 6).

Just over 3.0 metres further east from this window is a blocked up doorway. This closing would seem to have taken place during the nineteenth century, possibly when a tomb was placed against the entrance area, on the outside. Examination from the site’s interior showed this entrance area to be 1.08 metres wide, 1.85 metres high and .40 metres deep (to actual blocking). On the outside, beneath a vegetation covering, traces of a stone cut pointed doorway are visible. It contains a pecked type decoration on the cut-stone.

The final stretch of this interesting southern wall contains a late ogee window (Leask type H), with interesting flower decoration (photo 7). This window is 1.05 metres wide, 1.60 metres high and .80 metres deep from the inside. On the outside, however, though 1.35 metres high it is only .22 metres wide. The lower section is partly covered with ivy but fortunately the decorative motifs are vegetation clear (photo 7).

Finally, the eastern wall. This is 9.80 metres in length from the outside, it has a pointed top and reaches a maximum height of some 14.0 metres. It contains one rectangular window. This starts 2.0 metres above ground level, it is 1.50 metres high and 1.0 metres wide. It shows evidence of having been damaged.

The interior of the site, like the area about it (photo 1) contains a number of graves, tombs and vaults. An examination of these showed that Bunratty Churchyard was obviously the centre of burial for local landed gentry of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. In and about the church site are burial places of the Butlers (Castlecrine), Corbetts (Bunratty House), Studderts (Bunratty Castle) and Frosts (Ballymorris) to name but a few. Some of the family vaults are quite impressive.

Date of Church:
The earliest church on this site dates to possibly the late thirteenth century when the Norman de Clare family occupied the area and built a castle at the mouth of the river Ratty (Bun Raite – Bunratty). A town grew up around this castle and also a church was built. On the defeat of the de Clare’s and their removal from the area the O’Brien’s took control. The present church ruins possibly date from the late O’Brien period, late sixteenth century. Certainly the window types, ogee and rectangular, suggest this date. (For a detailed treatment of the Normans in Thomond refer to the introduction to the thesis).

REFERENCES TO BUNRATTY CHURCH:

Frost, 1893, page 185 (very general)
Westropp, 1900, page 151 (quite general)
Ordnance Survey Letters, 1839, Volume 2, 1928 edition, pages 135 and 136
(O’Donovan). Useful for description of church site in 1839.

OTHER SITES OF RELIGIOUS INTEREST:

Holy Wells:
There are two Holy Wells in the area of Bunratty Civil Parish.

Tober Iosa: Corlack Townland, Co. Clare 6” O.S. Sheet number 52; Reference 1.2 cm West; 13.9 cm South; at 25’ O.D.

Tober na Macamh: Cloonmunny West Townland; Co. Clare 6” O.S. Sheet number 51; Reference 14.4 cm East; 12.0 cm South; at 100’ O.D.

Photo 2: Doorway in north wall of Bunratty Church
Photo 2: Doorway in north wall of Bunratty Church

Photo 3: Ogee-type window, north wall of Bunratty Church
Photo 3: Ogee-type window, north wall of Bunratty Church

Photo 4: Window in south wall of Bunratty Church, near south-west corner
Photo 4: Window in south wall of Bunratty Church, near south-west corner

Photo 5: Cut stone door, south wall, Bunratty Church
Photo 5: Cut stone door, south wall, Bunratty Church

Photo 6: Window of Ogee type, south wall of Bunratty Church
Photo 6: Window of Ogee type, south wall of Bunratty Church

Photo 7: Detail of Ogee type window, south wall, (near corner with east wall), Bunratty Church
Photo 7: Detail of Ogee type window, south wall, (near corner with east wall), Bunratty Church

 

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