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The Annals of Kilfenora or Ye Citie of the Crosses by Charles Ffrench Blake-Forster


The Annals: 1870

1870- This year Pope Pius IX, having determined on holding an Oecumical Council, summoned around his Throne the Hierarchies of Christendom, and the call of the Successor of St Peter was answered by about seven hundred Bishops and Patriarchs, who assembled in the Rome of the Popes, amongst whom was the Lord Bishop of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora. His Lordship took an energetic and distinguished part in the deliberations of the Vatican Council.

In describing the Cathedral of Kilfenora, it may be said to consist of two parts – one ancient, the other modern. The latter which is a portion of the original Cathedral, has been handsomely renovated and is now used as the Protestant Parish Church. The steeple, which is below the average height, rises in the form of stairs, and defies every order of architecture. On entering this church, which is very comfortably arranged, the first object which attracts the attention of the visitor, is an ancient stone font to the right of the inner or second doorway. This ancient memorial of Catholic times, in all probability, dates from the days of St Fachnan; and it is probable that some of the early Christians of Thomond were baptised here. To the left is a fire-place, and on the same side, but nearer to the communion table, is a cenotaph fixed in the wall to the memory of Donald McDonagh, who was during his life a great benefactor to Kilfenora, and is well spoken of in tradition.

There are many monumental inscriptions in this part of the Cathedral, but at the time the church was renovated they were removed into the portion now in ruins. On entering the precincts of the latter

Where rev’rend shrines in Gothic grandeur stood
The nettle of the noxious night-shade spreads
And ashlings wafted from the neighbouring wood
Through the worn turrets wave their trembling head.

You behold a small table-altar tomb, which although apparently old, the scrutinising eye of the antiquarian would soon discover that it is not of very great antiquity, as it lacks an effigy. It however dates from the seventeenth century, and was the family vault of the MacEncarigs. It bears the following quaint inscription, which being divided in the four Panell compartments which form the front of the monument without any regard to orthography was deciphered by the writer with great difficulty

William Macen Charic and His wife
Eliende A Made This to Mbe an
    O dni 1650

In the south-east angle a rude and antique slab is placed in the ground which although bearing neither date nor inscription, is certainly the oldest monument in the church. On it is carved in relief the representation of a Bishop or Abbot. This figure is represented as wearing a mitre, and as Kilfenora was from a very early period a Bishopric, and as there is mention made of mitred Abbots in connection with it, the effigy is most probably emblematic of one of the earliest Bishops of the diocese. According to tradition it marks the resting place of Saint Fachnan the founder of Kilfenora Cathedral, but from the absence of an inscription or other certain proof, this must for ever remain a disputed point. Though this figure has suffered considerably from exposure to the atmosphere, nevertheless the face appears to have been well executed. The neck is long and slender, and hands clasp a chalice to the breast. The left encircles the upper portion, while the right grasps the stem, having the thumb touching the small finger of the other hand. The feet which are encased in boots, which appear to represent those in fashion in the time of Edward IV., rest on a portion of the stone left in relief for that purpose. There was a similar monument to this in the north-east angle, but it has disappeared, and there is no trace of it now.

In a niche in the wall at the north side of the choir, there is a curiously ornamented tomb, having pierced mullions after the fashion of a Gothic window. It is surmounted by a figure representing a Bishop’s head, and although a tomb, is commonly called the Abbots Chair. Near this is a perpendicular plain slab, the foot of which is placed in the round, and it commemorates Dr Nihil, who was Catholic Bishop of the united diocese of Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora, towards the end of the last century.

Near this slab is one in a horizontal position with this inscription in large English letters, carved round the margin. “Here lyeth the body of Hygate Lone, who lived 21 years Deane of thys church, and died in September 1638”.
Close to this grave is another inscription-

“Here lieth the body of the Very Reverend George Stevenson L.L.D., Dean of Kilfenora, and Rector of Callan, in the county of Kilkenny, and formerly, Fellow of Kings College Cambridge, born July the 5th 1765, died April the 6th 1826”.

There are a few other inscriptions of a much later date, which are however, of no interest, and the chief ornament is a large Gothic window looking to the East. Indeed the neglected state of this and other ruins in the country, are sufficient to remind one of this passage in Wordsworth:-

“Of old things all are over old
Of good things none are good enough
W’ll shew that we can help to frame
A world of other stuff”.

In this church also is interred the celebrated Teige-na-Stoile, who resided in Smithstown Castle. The slab to his memory is not now visible as it is covered with debris and overgrown with weeds. It was for a long time believed to have been removed as no trace of it could be found here, until some years ago it was discovered by the late Rev A. Quinn, P.P. of Kilfenora. It bore no date but simply the words, “Teige O’Brien”, were inscribed on it.

On leaving the cathedral the visitor enters the O’Brien Chapel. Here are interred several members of the Ennistymon family. There are no inscriptions, as the slabs in the walls were broken by the falling in of the roof. A portion of a very ancient cross may be seen here, ornamented with the representation of a bishop in full canonicals, angles, etc.

Previous to the so-called “Reformation”, a curious Latin inscription was to be seen at Kilfenora, of which the following is a translation:-

“Six Prelates here do lie, and in their favour
I beg your friendly prayers to Christ our Saviour
Who in their lifetime for this house did work
The first of whom I name was Herbert Burke
Who graced the See of Limerick, and Matthew
With Donald, Bishops both of Killaloe
Christian and Maurice, I shall name before
And Simon, Bishops of Fenabore.
Therefore, kind Father, let not any soul
Of these good men be lodged in the Blackhole
You who read this, kneel down in humble posture
Below three Aves, say one Pater Noster
Whoever for their souls sincerely prays,
Merits indulgence for a hundred days
And you who reads the verses of this stone
Think of yourself and make the case your own
Then seriously reflect on what you see
And think of what you are and what you’ll be
Whether you’re greater, equal, less, you must,
As well as these, be crumbled into dust”.

Charles Ffrench Blakeforster


The Annals: 1800-1866