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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 24: Kilfinaghta Parish

Ballysheen or St Finaghta’s Church; Dominican Chapel; Toberneevoge


Nat. Grid. Ref: R475672; ½” Sheet 17

Photo 1: Ballysheen Church, from the south
Photo 1: Ballysheen Church, from the south

R.C. Parish : Sixmilebridge – Kilmurry
Townland : Sooreeny
6” O.S. Sheet number : 52 (Co. Clare)
Reference : 9.9 cm North; 21.7 cm West
Height (G.L.) : 65’ O.D.
1” O.S. Sheet number : 133 (Sixmilebridge)

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

Plan of Saint Finaghta’s Church:

Saint Finaghta’s Church:
The main entrance into this site is from the south via a pointed cut-stone doorway (Leask type B) which is in a fairly good condition (photo 2). It is 1.70 metres high, .86 metres wide and .47 metres thick. According to a 1900 article by Westropp this door should have: “…an ancient corbel with a human face cut in sandstone above it…” (page 152). However due to ivy covering (photo 1) it was not possible to uncover this face.

Along this southern area the wall survives to an average height of 3.50 metres with no area less than 3.0 metres and a 4 metre maximum in its central part (photo 1). Though obscured from the outside by an ivy covering there are two windows along this southern wall. These may, however, be partly examined from the site’s interior.

The window nearest the cut-stone doorway, though 8.50 metres from it, has its upper part missing so that it now survives as a rectangular opening which starts 1.75 metres above ground level. This opening averages .45 metres in width and survives to a height of between 1.00 and 1.25 metres.

Four metres further east is the second of the two windows along the southern wall (photo 3). This window, also in a fairly poor condition, starts 1 metre above ground level. Though 1.05 metres wide on the inside it is only .25 metre wide on the outside (see site plan). Again the upper part of this window is missing so that it survives as a rectangular opening averaging .70 metres in height. This window area is quite clear as it consists of sandstone, unlike the limestone southern wall of which it is part.

The eastern pointed wall which is 6.60 metres long on the outside (see photo 5) reaches a maximum height of 9.0 metres. There are two niches along this wall, on the inside, and a blocked up sandstone window (photo 4). In regard to the niches – these occur in the southern part of the wall, one above the other (see site plan and photo 4). The lower rectangular niche is .38 metre wide, .35 metre deep and almost .60 metre high. It has some cut sandstone around it and begins .70 metre above ground level. The second, larger, niche has a pointed top (photo 4). It is .70 metres wide, .30 metre deep and 1.10 metres high at its centre. Again it is defined by cut sandstone single column decoration. A closer examination of the area immediately over the point will show plaster work containing a spear decoration some .25 metre high (photo 4). The large blocked up central window is some 5.0 metres high, starting 1 metre above the site’s interior. The actual window is of sandstone with the wall all around it of limestone (photo 4). This was done for a decorative effect and shows the trouble the church builders went to, to make their site look more impressive. (Sandstone does not occur in this area). The stones blocking the window are of limestone. Fortunately one can examine the window at its top, some 5.50 metres above ground level (photo 4). This shows that the 1.50 metre wide window had a central cut-stone column. The window top was of a semi-circular nature. Again above the opes was evidence of plastering though the actual design is unclear on this occasion.

From the outside one has a good view of this blocked up sandstone window. However as photo 5 shows it is in some danger – note the presence of a crack above and below it. The final stretch of the eastern wall has its lower part covered by stones and bushes which made a proper examination impossible (photo 4).

The only window space visible along the long northern wall is to its east, near to the corner where it meets the eastern wall (see site plan). This window is also blocked up though one can note its main features as they are in sandstone. This window was formerly similar to the large eastern window – i.e. it had a central column and a semi-circular top. However it was much smaller in size, only 1.20 metres high at its centre by 1.10 metres wide. Unfortunately only the top part of the central shaft is now intact. On average this northern wall is 3.0 metres high along its 16.0 metres interior length. Its central part is covered beneath a heavy ivy covering which may mask a window site. The final 4.0 metre stretch of this wall, to the west, only survives as foundation blocks (see site plan).

The western wall is entirely levelled. Westropp tells us (1900) that it was standing in 1839 but by the time of his visit it had fallen.

Though people are buried in the area about this site a number of graves occur in the site’s interior also. In fact field examination found that with the exception of a small area to the west (interior) most of the site has been dug for burials. Some of these are quite modern, one dating to 1976.

As the site plan shows there is a vault inside the entrance area, to the south-west. This has been damaged and one can now look into the vault interior.

Date of Church:
Based on the plain style of the windows and the nature of the masonry Westropp feels that this site is early eleventh century. (1900, pages 151 & 152). I feel, however, that the windows, especially the large eastern one, have close similarities to the sandstone ones at Tomfinlough. It this is so it would date part, at least, of Saint Finaghta’s Church (Ballysheen) to the late thirteenth century. I feel this is a much more likely date.

(By tradition the present structure is built on the site of a Church which Saint Finaghta had in the seventh century period).


Frost, 1893, pages 61 & 62 (very general).
Westropp, 1900, pages 151 & 152 (quite interesting).
Ordnance Survey Letters (1839) Volume 2, 1928 edition, pages 111 – 113 (Curry).

Quite a general description of the Church site as it appeared in 1839. It is now quite useful for its reference to the levelled west wall: “…there is a window in the west gable but it is so covered with ivy that its form could not be ascertained…”

Other sites of religious interest:
Frost (1893), Westropp (1900) and Gleeson (1962) all have references to a Dominican House which is said to have been close to Sixmilebridge in the pre seventeenth century period. If such a house existed its site is now unknown and there is no local tradition of it. What exactly is said about it?

Frost, 1893, page 63:
“ A monastery, or rather chapel, stood near Sixmilebridge, but its site is no longer known. It was an offshoot from the Church of the Dominicans at Limerick and it existed till 1641 (Archdall, “Monast. Hib.”, Volume 1, page 93). In 1754 the place was visited by De Burgo, author of the “Hibernia Dominicana”, but he found no vestige of the old building remaining (Hib. Dom., page 213)”.

Westropp, 1900, page 152:
“ It is alleged in “Hibernia Dominicana” that a house of Dominicans stood near this place (i.e. Sixmilebridge). No ruin or site is remembered…”

Gleeson, 1962, page 277:
“ Father John O’Heyne, O.P., published his history of the Irish Dominican Province under the title Epilogus Chronologicus in 1706. It was re-edited, with notes and translation, by Father Ambrose Coleman, O.P., in 1902 (Tempest, Dundalk). In Father Coleman’s translation (page 121) the following occurs: “In County Clare there is a chapel near a town called Sixmilebridge in English and Abhann Ui Cearnaid in Irish. This belongs to the Dominicans of Limerick but has not been kept up or inhabited for a long time, that is from the beginning of the war of 1641”. Local enquiry cannot now locate any such chapel, nor is there any record of a community there to be found in the present archives of the Dominican Province at Tallaght…”

Holy Well:
There is only one Holy Well in this large Civil Parish. That is Toberneevoge, at Castlecrine. (Co. Clare 6” Sheet number 52; Reference 11.4 cm North; 36.4 cm West: Moygalla Townland, at c. 190’ O.D.). A short distance to the east of this stone lined well is the site of a children’s burial ground (cill).

(Is there a possibility that both of these features (i.e. Well and Cillin) were originally on Church or Monastic land? Perhaps there was a church site here formerly, the old site later used as a burial ground for young children).

Photo 2: South doorway, Ballysheen Church
Photo 2: South doorway, Ballysheen Church

Photo 3: Interior shot of damaged south wall window, Ballysheen Church
Photo 3: Interior shot of damaged south wall window, Ballysheen Church

Photo 4: Interior shot of east wall, Ballysheen Church
Photo 4: Interior shot of east wall, Ballysheen Church

Photo 5: East wall, Ballysheen Church, from the outside
Photo 5: East wall, Ballysheen Church, from the outside