|Clare County Library||
|Autumnal Rambles about New Quay, County Clare|
NO. 6 VISIT TO KILFENORA CATHEDRAL
“Where rev’rend shrines
in Gothic grandeur stood,
In the first number of these Rambles, the reader, enroute to Blackhead, was conducted to Ballyvaughan: it, therefore, is now unnecessary to re-describe the way from New Quay to that village, through which also runs the road, at present about to be journeyed over, leading southward over the mountain to Kilfenora.
On the right, a mile beyond Ballyvaughan, is Newtown Castle, said to have formerly been the residence of the Princes of Burrin: a tradition rendered probable from the circumstance of its still continuing to be inhabited by a gentleman named O’Loughlin. Whoever may have been the founder of this Castle, its construction is very curious indeed, the uppermost portion of the building being a circular tower, erected upon a tolerably high square base.- Had this truly remarkable edifice stood in any of the countries to which Horace had access in the Augustan Age, the architect might reasonable be supposed to have sat for the poet to portray him, where, in reproving the inconstancy of mankind, he writes to Mæcenas-
“Edificat-mutat quadrata rotundis.”
Most certainly the words “he builds-he changes square to round, ”give no imperfect picture of him, who, whether he was king of a commoner planned and erected the Castle of Newtown.
The reference just made to the Kings of Burrin, evokes to memory the virtues of a late stem from that race, on whom, alas! the tomb has but just closed. I envy not the breast that can withhold the tribute of a sincere sigh to the Shade of the Great Departed. Mild, though penetrating-courteous, yet firm in the administration of justice, Sir Michael O'Loughlin (On the 19th instant, at Newtown Castle, County Clare, Charles O'Loghlen, Esq., in the 70th year of his age, to the deep regret of a numerous circle of respectable relatives and friends. He was the lineal descendant of the Princes of Burrin -- and his character partook of all the generous and hospitable qualities of all the former chieftains of our country. His remains were accompanied to the grave by a large concourse of the gentry and respectable inhabitants of the entire district. --- May he rest in peace) was at once a polished gentleman, a first-rate lawyer, and an upright judge. Strictly adhering to the forms of that Religion, in the attainment of whose freedom he once was a zealous champion, he conceded to others the liberty of conscience he himself laid claim to. By his demise a bright ornament has dropped from the judicial place. Thomond will long mourn the premature departure of one of her most accomplished sons. Although the late Master of the Rolls accepted from the present rulers of his country a rank, not rendered more honourable from the giver, than from him on whom it was conferred, he never lost sight of the proud and flattering recollection that he was the descendant of an Irish Prince. An impression of the seal with which he used to close his private correspondence is now before me. It presents, on the dexter side of the shield, an oak tree erased; and, on the sinister side, an anchor and cable. The shield is surmounted with the open, six barred, and full-faced helmet, borne only by kings --Crest, on a wreath, a hand and dagger. The motto is “My hope and safety is to hold by the anchor of oak,” an allusion to the Princes of Burrin having formerly been Chieftains inured to sea-faring and navigation, their territory having a long extent of coast. It is said that the proprietor of Newtown Castle claims to be a lineal descendant and representative of the Burrin kings. This pretension is, however, disputed by another member of the family, whose residence we have already passed on the hill close by Ballyvaughan.
Having left Newtown, the traveller meets in a sequestered valley a neat and snug cottage, close by the road side: this is the abode of the parish priest, the Rev. Mr. Rider. A little further on, on the same side of the way, is the Castle of Greggans, near to which, in a retired mountain glen, stood, when I last visited this locality, the walls of an unfinished house. The timber of the roof was, at that time, exposed to the weather, and fast going to decay. It was erected by a Mr. Martin, who, for some reason that I did not learn, left it unfinished, a prey to the elements, and to as destructive depredators.
The tourist is now advanced about three miles from Ballyvaughan, and has to ascend a steep mountain, called Knocknathulla (Cnoc, a hill, and Tula, a heap or burial place so Tula An Teampuil means the part of a church where bones and skulls are heaped up), which was rendered to me as meaning Tully’s-Hill. I, however, rather take it to mean The Hill of the Chiefs, from Cnoc, a hill, and Tulac, a chief. The road traverses in a zigzag winding up the side of the mountain, from the summit of which, although seemingly not as elevated as other mountains in the neighbourhood, an extensive prospect itself. On one side, are the town, bay, and lofty mountains of Galway; while, on the other, Sliebh Callan, the Moher Cliffs, and wide Atlantic Ocean, bound the view. After you have travelled about a mile further, within a hundred yards of the road towards the west, an enormous fort arrests your attention. It is called by the country-people Cahir-mic-Neoughton, or the Stone Fastness of the Son of Neoughton, a name appearing to have been given to it from the nature of the building itself. Cahir-mic-Neoughton is a fort of a circular shape. It was encompassed by a perpendicular wall, about fourteen feet high, and regularly built of squared and hammered stone, without any mortar. On one side, the jealous entrance was protected by a strongly fortified barbican. Much of the exterior walls yet preserve their perfect original state; but the interior of the fort is a confused mass of ruins. To a considerable distance around is spread a wild and uncultivated mountain, unrelieved even by a cabin, with the solitary exception of a lonely shepherd’s hut, thrown together under the rampart of the fastness. Most probably, the Hill of the Chiefs has been so called, from the Lord of this once formidable fortress. How happy is the change from feudal strife to the peaceful security of our days! No mountainous strongholds are longer necessary for the safety of man or beast. All can now calmly repose beneath the protection of the law, without fearing the sword of some neighbouring warlike chieftain. Would to Heaven, the halcyon scene was perfected by the establishment of a better understanding between landlord and tenant, and that a reasonable Fixity of Tenure had supplanted burnings and assassination! Reflecting on agrarian outrage, I blush and mourn for the degradation of my native county. How oft, Tipperary, have I, in early boyhood, wandered over thy fertile fields, culling, as I heedlessly went, primroses and wild blue violets! The friends and companions of those happy days are long since gathered to the tomb. With them have fled from thy meads those days of security and innocence.-
Thy blood-stained plains and burning houses have since inured even thy youth to scenes of violence and horror.- The wild and wicked retribution of revenge has reddened thy once green glebe with the murder of thy children.
At Noughavale, a little off the road, is the ruin of a Parish Church, hardby, which is a vaulted Chapel, with a rather modern inscription. The only thing worth remarking in the Church, or surrounding grave-yard, is a tomb-stone placed differently from all those about it; it lies north and south, while the rest are placed east and west. A reverend friend (now no more), who visited this place with me in August, 1838, on seeing this misplaced grave-stone, wittily remarked, that he supposed the person whose demise it was intended to commemorate wished to lie in death as he moved when in life, at right angles with all his neighbours.
There is a holy well at a short distance from the eastern end of the Church. On the wall enclosing this well, I saw many whitish round flat stones, about five inches in diameter; these stones resembled cakes of bread, and seemed to be offerings to the patron saint. It is clear that the ancient Irish held certain springs scared as well as they did fire; and these fountains, as such, were under the protection of the Druids. Possibly the round stones are some offerings in traditionary imitation of the celebrated Druid’s eggs. I found a stone a small distance from the well, in shape of a meniscus, being convex on one side, and concave on the other; it seemed to have been used as a drinking cup by the votaries of the Heathen or Christian Naids.
Journeying still further, we arrived at the Turlough of Kilfenora. The meaning of the word Turlough has been explained in one of our former rambles, to which the reader is referred. The Turlough of Kilfenora, like to all others, is but a natural reservoir for rain-water during wet weather, which dries by evaporation when the atmosphere becomes dry. It supplies excellent pasture and meadow land in the summer season. After passing the Turlough the traveller has not far to go until he arrives at Kilfenora.
Kilfenora is situated on the north-eastern border of the Barony of Corcumroe, County of Clare. It was formerly called Fennabore, and is denominated Cellumabrack called Fennabore, and is denominated Cellumabrack, the silent cell, the books of valuation of the Apostolic Chamber, published by Centius Camaerarius, who was afterwards Pope by the title of Honorius the 3rd. It probably is this See which is called Rathsmaigha-Deisgirt in the acts of the Synod of Rathbressail, held in 1115. The town is represented as having formerly been considerable; but it is now a place of no importance.
Antiquaries with Sir James Ware at their head, have been obliged to own their inability to ascertain by whom, or when the See of Kilfenora was founded. It is, however, certain that the Cathedral is dedicated to St. Fachnan. This Diocese was placed under the Archbishop of Cashel, in Cardinal Paparo's distribution of Sees in the Year 1152, and it so remained until the Reformation after which, at different periods it was annexed respectively to Tuam, Clonfert, or Killaloe Dioceses. The present Cathedral of Kilfenora is a wretched building, with an uncouth gable-end and square belfry; these set all orders and stiles of architecture at defiance. The building is also used as the Parish Church. In the interior of the house, and within a few of the communion-table, a coenotaph is fixed in the northern wall, the inscription on which, inviting the reader to pray for the dead, is deserving attention, as having existed in the Protestant Cathedral for more than a century and a-half.
It is to be observed, that this monument was erected long subsequent to the Reformation, and while the See was held by John Vesey, Archbishop of Tuam. Had Pusyism been in vogue in those days, the said John of Tuam might now be supposed to have embraced its doctrines. How much more of true Christian feeling has the toleration used by Archbishop Vesey respecting this monument evinced, than the modern and mock orthodox intolerance of the Vicar of Carisbrook in the Isle of Wight, who in 1838 instituted a suit in the Arches Court against Mary Woolfrey. The offence with which that ecclesiastic charged this woman, was her having erected a tomb in memory of her deceased husband, James Woolfrey bearing the pious and consolatory inscription, “Pray for the soul of James Woolfrey. It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead—Maccabees xii, 46.” How chastened must the zealous and uncharitable churchman have felt himself when the Protestant Judge of the Court in December, 1838, decided that the erection of the tomb, by the afflicted widow, was not contrary to the doctrine of the church of England, and adjudged that the reverend divine should pay the costs!
The coenotaph which lead to this digression, whatever may be the differences in religion between those who chance to read this ramble, at all events supplies to each a feeling lesson on the vanities of this life, and cannot fail to make a deep impression on the thinking Christian. It is in the Latin language (Donaldus Mac Donagh et uxor eius Maria O Conor sibi et suis ambobus prosteris Hune tumulum fieri secera. Au, Dui, 1685. Memento mori. Forna, savor populi, fervor juvenalis, opesque Subripuere tibi noseare quid sit homo. Post homiven versuis, post vermem foetor et horror sic in non Hominem veritur omnis homo. Sic transit Gloria mundi. Juisquis eris qui transieris, sta, perlege, plora, Sum quod eris; fueramque quod es - Pro me precor ora), and runs in English nearly as follows:—
“Donald M’Donogh, and his
Beauty, popular applause, youthful ardour
Pray for me I entreat you.”
The two last written lines are conveyed in a metrical distich in the original, viz—
“Quisquis eris qui transieris sta perlege, plora, Sum quod eris; fueramque quod es—Pro me, precor, ora.’
There were heretofore several stately
crosses about Kilfenora. Seward (Topog! Hib) mentions seven as existing
when he wrote—one only is standing at the present day. When I
saw it, it was in a potato garden outside the church-yard and opposite
to the western cable of the church. The entire cross was then twelve
feet high, and formed out of a single stone. In point of sculpture it
was far inferior to the carving displayed on the crosses at Clonmacnoise
and Durrow, in the King’s County. The mutilated remains of two
other similar crosses, were at the same period (1838) visible at Kilfenora;—one
of them in a ruined building adjoining the ancient choir; the other
in the church-yard, south of the Cathedral (A stone cross which
once stood at Kilfenora has been removed by Bishop Robert Mount to the
episcopal pleasure grounds at Clarisford close to the town of Killaloe
- This cross seems to have been plain on one side and on the other is
only ornamented with the figure of a man in a long tunic and with outstretched
arms at the intersection of the shaft with the arms of the cross. It
was broken into several pieces before its removal and the bishop caused
it to be joined together with irons firmly bolted to the stone. The
following inscription is (1856) carved on a brass plate affixed to the
front of this cross.
Afterwards it was decreed by an old Canon of the Irish Church--"Ubieunque inveneritis signum Crucis Christi ne lacesseritis."--"Wherever you find the mark of the Cross of Christ do you trouble not." The practice prevalent to this day of marking the doors of cottages with the sign of the cross seems to be but a usage founded on the Canon just mentioned, and handed down by tradition, although the cause of the original usage is no longer generally known. Those who violated the Canon were visited with the most severe ecclesiastical censures.
In the ancient choir, which stands west of the present Parish Church, some venerable vestiges of days gone by, present themselves to the scrutinizing eye of the antiquary. Amongst these is an Altar-shaped monument, standing in the south-western corner, and bearing the following inscription, divided in the four panelled compartments, which form the front of the monument without any regard to orthography, thus ---
“William Mac enc Harigh and his
wife (Thus properly divided, "William MacEneharigh and his
wife Eliz Midena made this tombe, anno Dûi 1650")
In both the north-east and south-east corners, a flat monumental slab lies upon the ground. Each of these is carved with the effigy of a Bishop, or Abbot, but without any inscription to identify the personages over whom they were respectively placed. Probably these prelates were two of the six to commemorate whom Harris (Ware’s Bishops) informs us that a curious inscription was to be found at Kilfenora previous to the Reformation. That learned antiquary quotes a Latin copy ("Senos pontifices in se locus claudit iste. Illis multiplices te posco praemia, Christe Omnes hi fuerant fratumn laris hujus amici; Hubertus de Burgh, Prosul quondam Limerici; Donald, Mattheus, pastores Laonienses, Christian, Maurituis, Simon quoq; Fenaboreusis. Ergo, beuigne Pater, locus hos non comprimat ater, Lui legis ista, Pater dicas et Ave reboa ter. Cen Centuninanoque; dies quisquis rogitando meretur Detur ut his requies, adte quandog; reversus, Luid sis, et quid eris, animo vigile mediteris, Si Minor his fueris, seu Major, ejussus sodalis Tandem pulvis eris, non fallit regula talis") of the inscription verbatim from the calendar of the Dominicans at Limerick. He also gives of it following English paraphrase:--
“Six prelates here do lie, and
in their favour
In a nitch in the wall, at the north side of the choir, there is a curiously ornamented tomb, with pierced mullions after the fashion of a Gothic window. In the same corner with the last mentioned tomb, a neat tablet is fixed in the wall, commemorating Bishop Nihell, who was Roman Catholic Prelate of the united dioceses of Kilmacduach and Kilfenora, about the end of the last century. The following is a translation of the inscription
“Here is entombed
(I have purposely abstained from troubling the readers of this popular publication of my Rambles with the original Latin words of monumental inscriptions; but if any person wishes for them they shall be published on his signifying his pleasure to that effect to the Editor of the Galway Vindicator)
There is a neat Roman Catholic Chapel at Kilfenora. At Kilcarragh not far from the Cathedral, was formerly an hospital or monastery, the ruins of which are still visible. It was granted at the dissolution to John King.