The Churches of County Clare
By T. J. Westropp, M.A.
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Clare County Library

The English Period

The interference of the early English in church matters in Thomond had altogether little effect, and that merely for a time. Robert Travers, put into the see of Killaloe by the influence of his uncle, Geoffrey de Marisco, and the connivance of Donchad Cairbrech O’Brien, Prince of Thomond, was expelled for simony in 1226. [67]

The advowsons of certain churches granted to Thomas FitzMaurice were surrendered by him to “the King of O’Cassyn” (Ui Caisin, i.e. to Macnamara); they lay in Oblyt (ui mbloid), and covered also thirteen townlands in Corcomroe, 1311. [68] Thomas de Clare, at his death, in 1287, held the advowsons of ten parishes, which, from the lands mentioned, exactly correspond to the rural deanery of Tradree with the addition of the church of St. Finghin, at Quin. [69] The churches at Quin and Tomfinlough alone show signs of the English builders of this period.

The papal taxation of 1302-6 [70] is, however, the earliest detailed Survey, and is one of the most important lists of the Irish sees and their parishes. On studying it, we find that Kilfenora has evidently not altered in extent, but Killaloe has overspread Tradree to the Shannon. We note that the parishes of Toomullin, and perhaps Oughtdarra, have since been amalgamated with Killilagh, while in the see of Killaloe there were parishes now forgotten at Killargenayn, [71] Mukan, and Danganbrack; but their churches have vanished without leaving a trace. The mysterious Eribanub is, perhaps, Sribanus, the patron saint (Screabain) of Clondegad, which it follows in the list. Cnoc has been replaced by Kilmurry MacMahon, and Collebonoum by Kilmurry Ibricane, Kiltoola has merged into Inchicronan, and Killoe and Kilbreacan have become Clare Abbey Parish; Inisdadrum has been joined to Killadysert, while Kilfintinan, Killeely, and probably Scattery, were then in the diocese of Limerick. The three Kilmurrys, Kilmihil, Kilchrist, O’Brien’s Bridge, Kiltinanlea, and Kilnoe, have apparently sprung up since 1302; indeed, it is almost a commonplace that the earlier churches were called, as a rule, after their founder and not after scriptural persons. The 1302 taxation exhibits a grouping which may be accidental, but is so peculiar that it may represent either deaneries or some division adopted in the inquiry, and it is worth noting.

FYNNABORENSIS.—Clonurpis (Clooney); Kilsanyg (Kilshanny); Kilmankyn (Kilmanaheen); Killesconolan (Killaspuglonane, not “Killonaghan”); Kilmaccrik (Kilmacreehy, not “Kilkoony” [72]); Killadlagh (Killilagh); Killeenyarny (not “Killeney”); Dissert; Wafferig; Glaniednagh or Gleneidnagh (Gleninagh, not “Glainafuagh”); Carne (Carran); Drumcruth (Dromcreehy); Chapel of the Monks (Corcomroe); New Church (Noughaval); Kilcorny (Kilcorney); Killenny (Killeany); Kilmugoun (Kilmoon); Rath (Rathborney); Killoncan (Killonaghan, not “Monkalvel”); Cromglaon (Crumlin); Thuomlynny (Toomullen); Kiltocowragh (Kiltoraght).—Total value, £60 3s. 4d. [73]

LAONIENSIS.—The first portion commences on the bounds of the see of Limerick and passes up by Slieve Bernagh to Lough Derg—Kilfyniti (Kilfinaghta); Clonileg (Clonlea); Kellsodidilun or Kellsodiclilu (Kilseily, not “Killaloe”); Kellokennedid (Killokennedy); Kelldubirayn (Killuran); Fichell (Feakle); Thomgreney (Tomgraney); Mago (Moynoe, not “Quin or Ennis or Monaster, county Limerick”); Inysgeltra (Iniscaltra); Clonoruis (Clonrush, not “Clooney, near Quin”).

The list then comes down the Shannon to Castleconnell, and gives parishes in county Limerick, and as far Nenagh, in county Tipperary; then suddenly begins at Kilkeedy, on the northern limit of Inchiquin, and goes southward along the western bank of the Fergus; thence down the Shannon and up the sea coast, so as to cover—1, Inchiquin; 2, Islands; 3, Clonderaw; 4, Moyferta; and 5, Ibricane. 1, Kellquydi (Kilkeedy); Killinbynech (Kilnaboy); Rayth (Rathblamaic); Disert (Dysert O’Dea); Kellnymua (Kilnamona); 2, Drumleb (Drumcliff); Kellmaley (Kilmaley); Kellargenayn (not “Killard or Atlantic”); De Forgio (Clare Abbey); Clondagah (Clondagad); Eribanub; Disertmurthill (Killadysert); Kellfidayn (Kilfiddan); Kellugifioun (Killoffin); Cnoc (Knock in Kilmore); Killadmyr (Killimer); 4, Kellroys (Kilrush); Kellmolihegyn (Kilballyowen—eogain, not “Kilmurry”); Kelliheneragh (Kilfieragh); Kellarda (Killard); Collebonoum (not “Kilballyowen”); 5, Kellenfearbreygy (Kilfarboy).

The Survey then springs back to the heart of Clare, and goes round the upper baronies of Bunratty and Tulla:—

Inalli (Temple Maley, not “Inagh”); Kilrathusa (Kilraughtis); Mukan, Kelbrakayn (Kilbreckan); Kellsuvlig (Kiltoola); Inchegronayn (Inchicronan); Cluony (Clooney); Dubdery (Doora); Clonchi or Chinchi (Quin); Dangynbrecach (Danganbrack); Tulagh (Tulla); Kellugida (Killoe); Thonmynloka (Tomfinlough). Total value £128.

Next, and lastly, the Survey gives a little group of parishes in Lower Bunratty, with the Island of Inisdadrum in the Fergus:—

Kellomsoleach (Kilnasoolagh); Kellmalitrie (Kilmaleery); Kellthomry (Kilconry); Inisdadrum (Coney Island); Clonekill-hany (Clonloghan); Drumligil (Dromline); Fudnach (Feenagh); and Bunrath (Bunratty). [74]

LIMERICENSIS.—We select, as now in Clare, Kilheil (Killeely); Kilhyntena (Kilfintinan); Kilcohan (Kilquane); and Kilrussce (Kilrush or Old Church). [75]

We might expect some allusions in the unusually full records of the “Wars of Torlough,” but except on three occasions (and those, as befitted their calling, burying the dead or interceding for a prisoner) the monks and clergy never appear. The only religious edifices named in Clare are the monasteries of Corcomroe, 1268 and 1317; Clare, 1278, and Ennis, 1306, and the churches of Moynoe (the chief sanctuary of the O’Gradies), 1310; Tulla nan apstol, and the Termon of St. Cronan (Tomgraney), 1313; the Ascetics’ Church of Killmic uidonain at Leanna, 1317, and St. Finghins at Quin, 1318.

The Annals from 1350 give a few dates of foundations or repairs of some of the monasteries and churches (these are given later in this paper), and a few details of their history, but otherwise give us little specific help. An incidental letter published by Theiner [76] shows that in 1462 a church existed at Cluaynlard or Clonlara. This silence is the more disappointing that nearly complete rebuilding was effected during the fifteenth and early sixteenth century in the case of at least thirty-three churches, those of Dromcreehy, Carran, Killeany, Kilmoon, Rathbourney, Kilshanny, Killilagh, Toomullin and Kilmacreehy, in Kilfenora, and of Kilkeedy, Kilraghtis, Ruan, Templenadeirka, Coad, Kilnamona, Kilmaley, Clonlea, Killokennedy, Kiltinanlea, Temple Mochulla, Kilconry, Bunratty, Feenagh, Kilchrist, Killadysert, Kilfiddan, Killoffin, Kilcrony, Templeanaird, Kilballyone, Killard, Kilmurry-Ibricane, Moy and Kilfarboy, in Killaloe.

The complete similarity of the architecture of this group of churches to that of the Peel Towers is very instructive and noteworthy. [77] There are also some curious survivals, such as semicircular splays, angular heads, interlacings and triquetras, and lintelled doors, which recall the earlier buildings of the tenth century. Turlough MacMahon, chief of Corcovaskin, aided by his wife More, daughter of O’Brien, restored twelve parish churches and built a monument for himself in St. Mary’s Church in Clonderalaw (probably Kilmurry MacMahon), while his wife put up the beautiful canonied tomb in Ennis Friary. He died in 1472. [78]

At last, in 1584, we get a list of the parishes much as they exist on the present maps of Clare. Five new parish churches seem to have been added—Kiltenayn (Kiltinanlea), Kilaspule (if not Killaspuglonane, a Kilourg Lonane appearing on same list), Owghtory (Oughtdarra), Kilvedane (Kilvoydane, near Corofin), and Ross, now figure as parish churches—but the list is neither authoritative nor accurate. This is not the case with the reports made in the following reigns: the Visitations of 1615, 1621, and 1633. The first is literally “written within and without with woe,” few, indeed, of the churches being in any sort of repair. These may be noted as bearing on our present Survey. “Church and chancel in repair”: (1), Feakle (shingled well); Kiltinanlea, Tulloghe, Inchicronan (“in repairing”), Clonloghan, Kilmaley, Rath, Kilnamona (reasonable repair); Clondagad, Killedisert (in repairing); Killofin, Kilmurry, Clonderlaw (reasonable repair); Killard, “Killamure” (Killimer), Killmichill, Kilmurry-Ibricane, Kilfarboy. “Chancel” only in repair: Tomfinloh, Disert. “Chancel” only ruinous: Killuran; twenty in all. Roofless, but otherwise entire: Kilnoe, Killokennedy (roof unthatched); Kilmorinagall, Kilmacduan, Kilballihone, Moefartah. Unrepaired: Kilkeady and Killfieraghe. Stated to be ruins: Clonlea (old walls only); Moynoe, Iniscaltra, Quyn, Clonee, Dury, Killraghtas, Killtoolaghe, Killinafinlaghe (Kilfintinan), Kilmallery, Kilconry, Inisdadrum (no church, no inhabitants), Killeneboy, Killchrist and Kilfeddan. Those not otherwise specified were probably in no better condition.

In Kilfenora the Cathedral was being “covered” out of the tithes of Killeny and Kiltoraghe. In short, in the whole of that diocese there was not a single church in repair, and that after twelve years of peace. Nochwall and Killonoghan are stated to be “all down,” but as the walls of these venerable buildings stand to our day the note does not explain how their desolation exceeded that of the other ruins. The Cromwellians considered that the three churches of Ennis, Sixmilebridge and Killaloe, were sufficient for the spiritual wants of the English settlers in 1652. There were, indeed, only 440 English among 16,474 Irish seven years later. [79]

Finally, in 1693, we find only these churches named as being in repair—Ennis, Kilrush, Kilfinaghta (not the ancient one at Ballysheen, but the later one now in use in Sixmilebridge), and Kilmurry in Clonderlaw. The Cathedral of Killaloe was then out of repair, and Clondegad not in full repair. Kilnasoolagh and the cathedrals, if not many others, were, however, in unbroken use, and probably in some sort of repair. In 1900 the two cathedrals and Tomgraney church are the only ancient buildings used for worship, but the Protestant churches stand beside or on the sites of the old parish churches at Feakle, Quin, Kilnasoola, Kilrush, and Kilmurry MacMahon.

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