The Churches of County Clare
By T. J. Westropp, M.A.
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Round Towers remain at Kilnaboy, Dysert O’Dea, Dromcliff, Iniscaltra and Scattery; there is reason to believe that others once existed at Tomgraney and Rathblamaic. [91]

High Crosses and Standing Crosses. - There were four sculptured crosses at Kilfenora. One has been removed to Clarisford, near Killaloe. A plain cross and the site of another are also shown. A beautiful high cross remains at Dysert O’Dea, and remains of plainer ones at Skeagh-a-vanoo, near Kells, and Kilvoydane, near Corofin; a curious tau cross stands at Roughan, near Kilnaboy, [92] and rude crosses at Termon Cronan, Dysert, and Noughaval. There were at least two crosses of some size at Iniscaltra; on the base of one appears the inscription Ilad i Dechenboir. Several cross sites are remembered near Corofin, Monasternashraduff, near Dysert, and Glennagross. Ardnacrusha, near Limerick, Crusheen, and “Cross” at Kilkeedy.

Carvings of Scriptural Scenes. - Single figures of our Lord crucified occur on the crosses at Kilfenora and Dysert O’Dea, circa 1150. A more elaborate panel of the Crucifixion, and scenes from the Passion - the arrest, the scourging, the entombment, and the Resurrection, are found on the base of the 1460 “Mac Mahon” tomb in Ennis. A figure of our Lord mocked lies in a recess in the chancel; it formed a boss in the canopy of the same tomb. Carvings of our Lord and the Apostles occupy the recess of that monument. The Virgin and Child are found on the screen under the belfry, and the “Ecce Homo” is carved on the northern arch of the transept of the same monastery. The figure of our Lord lying dead on the lap of another figure (now broken), remains in the church of Kilmurry-Ibricane. The crucifixion occurs in stucco at Quin. A curious carving on the base of the cross of Dysert probably represents Adam and Eve. [93]

Carvings of Saints.—Figures of St. Fachnan (?) and St. Tola appear on crosses respectively at Kilfenora and Dysert. Certain bishops’ heads are said to represent St. Senan, St. Maccreiche, and St. “Moon,” at Scattery Cathedral, Kilmacreehy, and Kilmoon. The wooden figure of “St. Carrol” has, I believe, vanished from Kilcarrol. “St. Luchtighern and his deacons” appear over the door of the oratory of Tomfinlough; St. Francis in the nave of Ennis Friary; and it is possible that other mysterious panels at Dysert may show St. Tola presiding over the erection of a termon cross, and St. Blathmac struggling with the local monoster, or brocach.

Sheela-na-Gigs are found at Rathblamaic on a richly carved windowsill [94]; at Kilnaboy above the south door: both of these are perfect; one from an unknown site and greatly defaced was inserted into the wall of the Clonlara canal bridge in 1769.

Bullauns, though not uncommonly found near forts and cromlechs, seldom occur near Clare churches. Specimens in the native rock are to be seen near Kinallia, and Kiltinanlea churches; one, in a block of granite, lies in the nave of Clare Abbey, while several occur in boulders and loose blocks near Leanna church site, and single basins at Kilvoydane, near Spansil Hill, and Fomerla, near Tulla.

Fonts of mediæval times are few in number. A decorated one is found at Killaloe, and one remained in 1816 at Kilballyone; a fine fluted font of the later twelfth century is at Kilfenora Cathedral, one, probably of the fifteenth century, at Killone convent, one with spiral flutings in Kilkeedy, a curious square one at Kilcorney, a round one at Dysert O’Dea, and a plain but neat octagonal one in Clare Abbey.

Altars (mediæval) are not numerous. We find a neat early example in St. Caiman’s, five in Quin Friary, one in Ennis Friary, one in Corcomroe Abbey, some traces at Canon’s Island Abbey, the arcaded front slab of one at Kilnaboy; rudely built altars are found at Killeany, Kilshanny, Carran, and Kilmoon. Others outside the church remain at Kinallia, Killeany, and Noughaval.

Tombstones with early Celtic crosses or Irish inscriptions.—Three at Oughtmama, one at Scattery, one at Killaloe Cathedral, at least three dozen at Iniscaltra (17 with inscriptions), and a doubtful (or rather, perhaps, late) example at Kilshanny.

Monumental Effigies.—King Conor O’Brien, 1268, and a Bishop at Corcomroe; early Bishop and later Bishop, Kilfenora.

Incised post-Norman Crosses.—Three at Kilfenora, two at Corcomroe, one at Clare Abbey, one at Iniscaltra.

Canopied Tombs.—Kilmacreehy, Kilfenora, Corcomroe, Kilshanny, Kilnaboy, Ennis, Quin, Ballysheen; those at Kilmacreehy, Kilfenora, Corcomroe, Ennis, and Quin, being ornamented, the others very plain.

Rounded Stones, often called “cursing stones,” lie upon the altars of some churches. Those at Kilmoon have been used for cursing. [95] There seems no definite tradition of this practice at Ross (Temple na Naeve), Kinallia, Killeany, or Killone (St. John’s Well), though in each case such stones lie upon the altar. Kinallia also possesses a flat rounded stone with two oblong flutings with rounded ends, the use of which is not clear.

Relics.—We hear of the Danes having “drowned the relics and shrines of Iniscaltra, Lough Derg. [96] The Life of St. Flannan describes the “bachall” of the saint as decorated with golden ornaments. The life of St. Maccreehy mentions a bell which that saint brought from Rome and which was long preserved in his church. The relics of Colomb, son of Crimthann, were taken by Mo Coemhe of Terryglass, and by Odran in a wain over Esge (? Ectge) southwards to Inisceltra to Camine of Iniscaltra. [97] Tradition mentions the bells of Dromcliff thrown into the Poul na Clug, near the church, and the bells of Kilnaboy concealed in a swampy patch near the road to the south of the ruin. A very vague tradition mentions a bell, “the black bell,” preserved among the Macnamaras. A “brass” bell was found inside the round tower of Dysert O’Dea, and was exchanged for a new bell in Limerick about 1838. [98] Two handsome silver brooches and a silver candlestick were found in the ruins of Scattery, and were brought to Cork. [99] The “Black Book of St. Mochulla” at Tulla was last heard of in the Delahyde lawsuit of 1627. [100] All these relics seem to have disappeared. The following are fortunately extant:—The Clog-an-Oir of Scattery, a beautiful little bell shrine of two periods, is in the hands of its hereditary keeper, Mr. Marcus Keane, of Beechpark, a representative in the female line of the Cahanes, coarbs of St. Senan. [101] Anyone swearing falsely on it was liable to be seized with convulsions ending in death. The bachall of St. Blawfugh or Blathmac of Rath was long kept in the wall of the old chapel of Corofin; the people used to swear upon it. The bachall of St. Manawla of Dysert, which was preserved down to the present reign in the family of its hereditary keepers, the last of whom, an old woman named, I believe, O’Quin, sold it. Both these fine crosiers are in the museum of the Royal Irish Academy, and have been figured and described in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries. [102] The bell of Rath, a small oval hand-bell of very thin bronze, and the crozier of St. Colman MacDuagh are also preserved in the same museum. The shrine of St. Lachteen’s arm, though it was not made in Clare, was preserved at his church in Kilnamona before Bruodin’s time, and thence removed to Lislachtin. The Clog naove Augustin of Kilshanny, a bell (possibly of St. Cuanna) now in British Museum.—It was used to swear upon, and was reputed to twist the mouths of perjurers to one side. The only other church relics are a few seals, and some pages believed to be part of St. Caimin’s Commentary on the Psalms, and now preserved in the Franciscan’s Library, Dublin. [103] The beautiful shrine and book of the “Stowe Missal,” in the Royal Irish Academy, belong, it is true, to Thomond, and mentions its king, Donchad, son of Brian Boru, but it was not made, nor so far as we know preserved, in county Clare. It probably belonged to Lorrha, and bells of the same church and of Scattery are preserved in the British Museum.

Mediæval Plate.—The church plate (both gold and silver) of the Friaries of Ennis and Quin fell into the hands of laymen in the reign of Elizabeth. Father Mooney tells how the Earl of Thomond held the plate of Ennis, and how the wife of Macnamara, of Knappogue, after the death of her husband, retained the plate of Quin, which had been confided to him for safe keeping. [104] In 1573 the church plate of Kilnaboy was carried off by Teige O’Brien and his followers, and this sacrilege was soon afterwards avenged by their disastrous defeat at Beal an chip. [105]

Church Plate.—The Protestant churches.—Killaloe Cathedral, paten, “Ex dono reverendissim in Christo Patris, Nicholai Episcopi Laonensis.” Flagon—“Deo et sacris per Rever. Dan. Witter, sac. Sanct. Theol. Doct. et Episc. Laonen., 1674.” Ennis has a chalice with the words, “For Ennis Church, 1683.” Kilnasoola has a chalice and paten with this inscription, “Ex dono Donati O’Brien Baronetti in usum ecclesiæ Killanasulach in Comitatu Clare,” c. 1690. Kilfinaghta, a chalice with “The gift of (apparently T. W.) to ye Six Miles Church in ye County of Clare, July ye 8, 1713.”

In the Roman Catholic Church of Corofin are three noteworthy chalices with the following inscriptions:—1. “Calix benedictionis cui benedicimus nonne communicatio sanguinis Christi 1 Cor. X. D. Robertus Arthurus et Margarita Blake ejus soror Deo Optimo maximo dicant.” No. 2. “Ex dono Thadæi Daly Renaldus O’Kelly sacerdos, 1620.” No 3. “Orate pro anima Jacobi O’Grypha sacerdotis qui me fieri fecit, 1670.” The latter were repaired by the Rev. James M'Mahon in the present century.

Church Glass.—Of course no great trace remains of mediæval glass. Fragments of coloured glass were found at Inchicronan, and we read of “blue coloured glass” at Ennis Friary. Many of the small windows, even in the fifteenth-century churches, were evidently never glazed. A heavy cast-iron window-frame, turning on pivots, and made to hold 16 small panes, was found in the ruins of Ennis Friary, and was long preserved at Stamer Park.

Among the many friends who helped me in this survey I can only name the principal, Mrs. O’Callaghan, of Maryfort, Mrs. Stacpoole, of Edenvale, Mrs. MacDonnell (junior), of Newhall, the late Dr. W. H. Stacpoole Westropp, of Lisdoonvarna, the late Mr. George Studdert O’Sullivan, Dr. George U. Macnamara, Rev. J. B. Greer, Mr. Richard J. Stacpoole, and Colonel George O’Callaghan Westropp. While outside the district I most gratefully acknowledge many valuable suggestions from Mr. Robert Cochrane, Sir Thomas Drew, Mr. James Mills, Mr. Standish Hayes O’Grady, and the late Dr. W. Frazer.

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