|Clare County Library||
|The Charter of
Clare Abbey and the Augustinian ‘Province’ in Co. Clare
By Michael Mac Mahon
Augustinian Tradition; Westropp’s Survey; Holy Water Fonts; Expansion and Regression
When we examine Westropp’s survey of the actual church buildings themselves in the Augustinian rectories the coincidences become even more interesting. The churches at Kilshanny and Kilchreest, although separated by almost the width of the county, are so remarkably similar, even in size, that both must be assigned to the building tradition of the Augustinians. Indeed, it is noteworthy that Westropp himself, although unaware of their common Augustinian association, cited the east windows in these two churches as the only examples of ‘switch line’ tracery among some forty contemporary buildings. At the other end of the county the large church at Kilballyowen displays some of the features observable at the two places already mentioned. Kilballyowen is said to take its name from a dedication to St. John the Baptist and a decorated medieval font carrying a depiction of the saint was found some years ago in the ruins of the church. Angular mouldings, sometimes known as ‘weather ledges’, occur over the doors at Kildysert, Kilchreest and Kilmaley, but are not recorded elsewhere in Westropp’s notes ranging over a series of 186 churches. Canon Dwyer noticed a narrow opening in the south wall at Kildysert, a feature which he had earlier observed at the Augustinian convent at Killone. Architecturally the churches of Killofin and Kilfiddane are identical twins, even to the extent that they are virtually the same in size; and we have already seen that both these churches were impropriate to Killone. The church at Kilmurry-Ibrickane had two doors on one side, a feature which, although rare throughout the series, is observable at Kilchreest and Kildysert. Like Kildysert, Kilmurry may have had a domiciliary building attached as the ordnance surveyors were told in 1840 that the church was formerly ‘a residence for priests’. This old church standing on the mensal lands of the O’Briens of Aran and Tromra, is the largest of all the churches in west Clare, including that on Canons’ Island. It measures eighty-six feet in length and twenty-seven feet in width. The townland where the church is located is called Shandrum which at one time had a sub-denomination called Knocknamo (i.e. hill of the cows). This is now anglicised to Oxmount, but the name in its Latin form – Collis Bovum - in the papal letters, sometimes proved a stumbling block for historians. The rectory here, as we have seen, was called the ‘village of Our Lady in ybrican’ in the fifteenth century inventory of Clare Abbey, and, indeed, a remarkable stone carving of Our Lady and the Child was preserved in the church. It is, in fact, one of the very few medieval statues of any kind to have survived in the diocese. What may well have been another item of statuary associated with the church was the ‘beautiful stone called Clochanslanathoir, or saviour’s Stone’ seen by the ordnance surveyors in 1840, but this has now disappeared. The association of the Augustinians with the rectory here is further emphasised by the fact that members of the Mac Giollaphádraig family were connected with the church in the fifteenth century. This family provided many abbots to Canons’ Island and, indeed, seem to have enjoyed uninterrupted control of that house for almost a hundred years.
Holy Water Fonts
Expansion and Regression
It is clear from the names of the abbots at this period that hereditary succession, so often the bane of the medieval Irish Church, was again rearing its head and by the middle of the fifteenth century the practice of nepotism was commonplace as powerful families tried to secure control of the property of the religious houses. This state of affairs led eventually to other abuses; and, indeed, abbatial succession at this period was often from father to son. Dermot Mac GiollaPhádraig, appointed to the abbacy of Canons’ Island by papal mandate in 1478, had earlier received a dispensation [from canonical illegitimacy] as the son of an Augustinian abbot and an unmarried woman. Such instances could be multiplied by entries in the papal registers, but, as Dr. Gleeson has pointed out, this was a period when the government of the Church as a whole was in confusion and even appointments to the College of Cardinals were often questionable.
Despite these unwelcome trends, however,
the Irish Church, was far from being in crisis as the record of church
building makes clear. In any event the clouds of regression on the horizon
could not altogether obscure the outstanding contribution which the Canons
Regular of St. Augustine had made to the ecclesiastical history of the
county, and in particular to the development of the early diocesan Church.
The Residential Houses; Kilshanny;
Augustinian Impropriations; Care of Souls