|Clare County Library||
|Killaloe: Its Ancient
Palaces and Cathedral by Thomas Johnson Westropp
Part I: from Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. XXII (1892), Series V, Vol. II, Part IV, pp 398-410.
Killaloe, with its palaces of Grianan-Lachtna, Borumha, and Kincora, has attained a wider celebrity in the Empire than many places of much greater importance, from the days when the Scandinavians sang of “Kincaraborg” and told how “Brian, the best-natured of all kings, had his seat in Connaught,”1 to recent years, when, to our constant annoyance, it figured in popular British melody as a place averse to foreign culture.
This Paper being intended to describe features in existing antiquities in and around Killaloe, with the history bearing on them, we need not strive to penetrate to the period “in the dark backward and abysm of time” when the old capital of Thomond first arose. From the beauty and convenience of the site and the abundance of fish and game in its neighbourhood, it is probable that even long before the rise of legendary history, a settlement, already called Ceann Coradh,2 the head of the weir, had been established at the lowest point navigable from the Upper Shannon.
Here a ridge of rocks forms a natural weir below the wooded hills and towering grey crags where Aoibhell, the great banshee (perhaps the goddess of pagan Thomond), abode, high on Craiglea – that “wild Badbh,” who accompanied the Dalgais to battle, “shrieking and fluttering over their heads,” accompanied by a weird train “of the satyrs, the sprites, and the maniacs of the valley, the witches, goblins, owls and destroying demons of the air and firmament, and the demoniac phantom host.”3 St. Lua or Molua next settled near the river, and it thus became a religious settlement in the later sixth century, but none of the present edifices were constructed for many generations later, unless, perhaps, the minute “Damhliag” of Friar’s Island. Let us first consider the general history of the place to the time when English influence began to make itself felt, and then (as Petrie, Brash, and Dunraven have so completely described the stone-roofed churches) we can examine the palaces of Lachtna and Brian, and the details of the cathedral.
Apart from the vague mention of St. Molua and his successor Flannan4 (perhaps living as late as 700), it is hard to believe that Killaloe was a place of any importance before the tenth century. We often find mention of its neighbouring monasteries, Innisceltra, Tomgraney, and Lorrha, in the accounts of the ravages and wars of the Gentiles, but no mention of Killaloe. No fort in its vicinity can be identified among the uncouth names of the royal residences in “The Book of Rights,”5 nor did the pius King Cormac McCuilenan (going out to Ballaghmoon to meet his anticipated death) bequeath aught to Killaloe, though he leaves, in one of the oldest British wills,6 many legacies to the churches of the Dalgais, and remembers Lorcan (son of Lachtna) King of Thomond, 903. At last some light breaks on the scene; Ceallachan, King of Cashel (who enjoys the advantages of modern leaders in being described as a noble patriot by some and a selfish traitor by others), in 941 slaughtered the people of Decies because they had submitted to Murchad, son of Niall, King of Aileach.7 The latter, in revenge, though it was winter, mustered his forces at Grianan Aileach and set out, defeating and carrying off as prisoners Sitric, of Dublin; Lorcan, of Leinster; Callaghan, of Cashel; and Conor, of Connaught. A vivid record of this successful march8 is still extant; it tells how “we took prisoner with us Ceallachan the Just, who received in his honour a ring of fifteen ounces on his hand and a chain of iron on his stout leg. In the plain of Cairbre our only shelters were our strong leather cloaks. A night at the barren Cell-da-lua, a night in the strong Cenn-Coradh a night in Luimneach on the azure stream, we were a night at Ath Caille on the very bank of the Shannon. I did not meet since I left my home a pass like unto Cretshallach. A night at Sliabh-Suidhe-an-riogh, where we put away all our anxiety,9 we were unable to warm ourselves on the beautiful cold Magh Adhair.” In this very year, if tradition err not,10 Brian Boru was born.
We may here pause and consider the historic beginning of that great house that ruled in Thomond and put its mark for ever on our country’s history, for all the ancient buildings here described were built by this royal clan. Like the spectral Kings in Macbeth we see dimly Cormac Cass, Lughaid, who won Clare from the Firbolgs, and his descendants, Cass, Cassin, and Blod, in the fifth century, Cairhin Fin and his son Eochy Baldearg, baptized by St. Patrick at Singland. Aed Caemh, who obtained the Kingdom of Cashel in 571, and is celebrated in the poem of Brendan of Birr, who was present at the inauguration. From Aed descended Torlough, father of St. Flannan, who was King of Thomond, gave his name to the plain of Hy Thoirdhealbhaith,11 and dying about 650 lies buried in his son’s church, and Corc, “the first of the Dalgais,”12 who –
“Drew in the petty kingdoms under
The first definite historical character among these Kings is Lachtna, son of Corc, “a fair-haired man,” reigning before 847, who (as will be told more fully) paid homage to Felimy, King of Cashel, who had advanced with a large army to Liag-na-neasain before Craglea. Lachtna entertained the monarch in his palace, and Felimy made a poem in his honour and gave him his horse, his robes, and his blessing,13 though the latter, from the episcopal profaner of the churches of Clonmacnoise, Durrow, and Kildare,14 must have had little effect. Lachtna seems to have reigned far down the century, and was succeeded by his son “Lorcan, of Lough Derg,” – “Lorc of the Lamp.” He stood high in the friendship of Cormac McCuilenan of Cashel, who visited him, urged on him the importance of religious education for children, and nominated him as his successor to the throne of Cashel in 903. But Lorcan does not seem to have obtained the honour.15 Flan Sunagh, the supreme King, made a raid through Munster, from “Borhaime to Cork”16 playing chess in each territory in bravado. At last he entered Hy Caisin 877; his bard, Flan McLonain, “the Virgil of the Gael,” had warned him against insulting the Dalgais, but he disregarded the poet, marched “to the very place of inauguration” at Magh Adhair, and, after a light lunch, challenged one of his chiefs to a game of chess. He was not destined to finish it, for Lorcan, with a strong army, fell on him and burst into the place where the King was playing, “breaking his gaming tables.” Flan Sunagh escaped with difficulty, and was cut off from supplies and kept fighting for three days; Sioda of Hycaisin (ancestor of the McNamaras) taking a prominent part in the combats. At last, worn out with cold, hunger, and fighting (his armies being too terrified to rest, and completely exhausted) Flan surrendered. Lorcan treated him courteously, fed his army abundantly, and escorted him over the Shannon.17 Lorcan was evidently sensitive on questions of honour, for, after coming to Rath-nan-Urlan, near Cashel, he refused to enter the city on an unceremonious invitation from the friendly King Cormac till he received a formal message.18 Later on Teige McCathal, King of Connaught, invaded central Clare, but the natives, by fire signals, raised the alarm, and Lorcan mustered his troops at Kincora, and drove out the northern army.19
Lorcan’s son, “Kennedy the Pure,” succeeded; he was attacked by the Kings of Meath, Eile, Dealbha, and Muscrytire, joined by Teige, of Connaught, Lorcan’s enemy, and the Prince of Corcomroe, but Kennedy gave them a crushing defeat at Saighlean.
He seems to have claimed the Kingdom of Munster, and legend says he was about to be elected when his opponent’s mother successfully cited against him the oft-broken law of alternate succession. This, however, presupposes the kingship of his father Lorcan, which is more than doubtful. Kennedy’s sympathy with “Murchad of the leather cloaks” in 941, sprang from his hatred of Callaghan of Cashel, who had defeated him with great loss at Magh-duine the year before.20 He died, as became the descendant of Corc, Lachtna, and Lorcan, bravely fighting the Danes in 950,21 and left two noble sons Mahon and Brian, who fill so large a place in our most heroic history, to walk in his footsteps and emulate his patriotism.
The privileges and powers of the King of Thomond are easily learned in the “Book of Rights.”22 The Dalgais paid no tribute to the King of Cashel, but held the proud position of forming his vanguard, when he went to war, and of covering his retreat from the enemy’s country. Their King had an alternate right with the Eoghanachts, to the Kingdom of Munster, and when not enjoying it, sat beside the King of Cashel, “at his shoulder,” received from him 20 cows, 200 steeds, 3 rings of gold, 4 ships (each with a boat, and armour for 2 soldiers): on other occasions 10 steeds, 10 suits of clothing, 2 rings, 2 chessboards, or 10 drinking horns mounted with gold, 30 swords, and 30 steeds. The district of Corcovaskin, Burren, and Corcomroe paid tribute to Cashel, which accounts for the King having a palace in each. The Prince of Thomond was subject to the following strange restrictions: he was to keep horses for his stewards, to have 12 confidential advisers, and to tell all his secrets to his queen. If this last rule was enforced we can sympathize with Brian’s divorce from Gormflaith and her bitterness, for “so grim was she against King Brian that she would fain have had him dead.”23
Evil were the days when the history of Killaloe opens; “there was an astonishing and awfully great oppression over all Erin, throughout its breadth, by powerful blue Gentiles and fierce hard-hearted Danes”24 from 812. “The sea threw up floods of foreigners.” Corcovaskin and Tradaree, lying along the “Luimneach” or Shannon estuary, were the theatre of war. As we look down these two dismal centuries, we see Turgeis the Dane (instead of Patrick’s successor) holding Armagh, and Ota, his wife, seated, giving her oracles, on the altar of the great church of Clonmacnoise, while their fleets swept Loughs Ree and Deargh; then Turgeis was slain, and, after a fierce struggle, the Irish prevailed against the foreigners, and the land had rest for forty years.
“Many a petty King …
The tragedy recommenced in 916. Limerick was now the centre of the plague; its Danes ravaged Inniscaltra (Holy Island), and drowned its relics and shrines (though the men of Corcovaskin and Kerry had given the Gentiles a crushing defeat at Shannid, and slain three of their leaders, bearing the euphonious names of Rot, Pudarall and Smuralt) and over-spread the land, till “none of the men of Erin had power to give the milk of his cow nor as much as a clutch of eggs of one hen, in succour or in kindness to an aged man or friend.”25 The darkest hour came before the dawn. Mahon, son of Kennedy, King of Thomond, had in 959 been chosen King of Cashel26 and waged vigorous war on the Danes, though harassed and defeated by Fergall O’Rorke, King of Connaught. With such odds against him, it is little wonder he lost heart, and made peace with the armies of the aliens, but his brother Brian held out among the Hybloid in the Hills of Killaloe, and so ravaged the Danes of Tradaree that (like the Normans in 1277) they tried to keep out the Irish by an entrenchment. Brian’s men had nearly all fallen when at last he sought his brother and reminding him that “Lorcan, son of Lachtna, would not have submitted,” even to the Ard Righ, “for as long as it takes to play a game of chess on the green of Magh Adhair,” persuaded Mahon to try his fortune again, and the fierce battle of Sulchoid, against the Danish Governors of Limerick, Waterford, and Cork (fought in the heart of his Kingdom, in full sight of the great peaks of the Galtees, scored by a thousand water courses), resulted in complete victory for Mahon; and the destruction of Limerick crowned their arms.27 Brian then exterminated the foreigners of the Shannon Islands (Scattery, Innismore, and Innisdadrum), nor did the Danish power in Limerick ever again become formidable. Mahon was treacherously slain by Donovan, son of Cathal, his own countryman, in 976, his blood staining the Gospel of St. Barry of Cork, as he clasped it as a shield to his breast -
“Loud to-day is the piercing wail
through the land of Hy Torlough
Kincora now became the virtual capital of Ireland; we can gather little about its appearance, but the main building seems to have stood on the rising ground at the Clare end of the bridge of Killaloe: it had enclosures of stone, within which stood a number of circular houses of timber and wicker, with clay rammed between the planking, and probably painted in gaudy colours: it also had a well and salmon pond, and apparently scattered out-buildings along the river as far as its only existing relic, the fort of Bouma, still called Balboru while to the south, half-way down the steep slope, lay two churches, the one the fine stone roofed “damhliag” and the other on the site of the Cathedral. MacLiag, Brian’s bard, enables us to form an idea of the great banqueting hall of Boruma.29 On entering by the principal door (probably to the north) you saw, on a raised dais to your right, the throne of Brian; to his right was the seat of the King of Connaught, to his left that of Ulster, while the King of Tirowen faced him. They seem to have had a smaller table to themselves, before which and below the dais was a larger table, at which sat Prince Murchad (the heir-apparent), directly in front of his father and with his back to him, having the seats of the Kings of Meath, and Tirconnell to his right and left. At the end farthest from the door Prince Teige (son of Brian and Gormflaith) sat with the Chief of Hy Fiacra Aidne to his right, and O’Kelly of Hy Many to his left, while at the end next the door sat Donchad (Brian’s actual successor) between Malechlain the ex-King of Erin, and Maelmordha, King of Leinster. The board shone with numerous gold mounted cups (that of Brian30 was extant so late as 1152, when Torlough O’Brien took it to the north), and wine was plentiful, for the Danes of Dublin and Limerick contributed over 500 tons per annum. The poet McLiag was handed the first cup when present. The pages wore richly embroidered coats, which occasionally suffered from the owners taking up their masters’ quarrels and coming to blows; they had also to furbish the shields, which probably hung on the wall behind their Lords’ chairs of state. The food comprised beef, mutton, fresh pork, game and fish, oat-cakes, cheese, curds, cresses, and onions; fruits and nuts when in season; the drink being beer, mead, wine and bilberry-juice. The meat was cooked in the dining-hall itself, the smoke escaping by an opening in the centre of the conical roof.31
We only find one episode in the history of Kincora during Brian’s reign. It happened in the fatal year 1014, and is alleged to have been the cause of the confederacy which was shattered at Clontarf. Maelmordha, King of Leinster, was paying a state visit to King Brian, and (exasperated by the bitter tongue of his sister Gormflaith, the King’s repudiated wife, who was imprudently permitted to reside at Kincora) was watching a game of chess between Prince Murchad and one of his relatives. The Lagenian suggested a move which made Murchad lose the game. The prince turned round and said petulantly: “It was you who gave advice to the foreigners when they were defeated” (at Glenmama in Wicklow, where Murchad had dragged Maelmordha from the friendly but undignified shelter of a yew tree in 997.) Maelmordha retorted angrily, “I will advise them again, and they will not be defeated.” “Then,” sneered the prince “have a yew tree ready.” Maelmordha left the room in a passion, and as soon as possible set out from the palace (probably bringing his sister with him). He was just mounting his horse, which had been led over the rough plank bridge of Killaloe to the Tipperary shore, when Corcoran, one of Brian’s attendants, came to him with a message of peace from the King; but the enraged prince struck down the messenger at the end of the bridge, with his yew-wood horse-rod and rode away.32 All know the subsequent result of this trivial quarrel, but as it does not directly affect Killaloe, I merely allude to the great contest at Clontarf “when the foreigners of the world from Lochlain westward assembled against Erin,”33 the death of the only really famous King of Erin, and the mutual crippling of Northman and Celt till after two centuries the Normans were upon them.
“Where, oh Kincora, is Brian the
“Brian, emperor of the Scots,”35 and his noble heir Murchad had scarce lain two years in their graves at Armagh, when the Connaughtmen ravaged and destroyed the palace at Killaloe. Late on in the reign of Brian’s son, Donchad, (whose accession had been foretold by Aibhell in his father’s dream before Clontarf)36 the country was suffering, as in our day, from bad weather and ruined crops, to remedy which the King gathered a meeting of the clergy and laity of Munster in 1050 at Killaloe. “They made laws, imposed restraints, and reformed grievances, and God favoured them with good weather and peace,” though thirteen years of aimless feuds scarcely suggests the peace of God.
In 1062, 37Aedh O’Conor attacked Kincora and destroyed its fort: there was a well in its enclosure, and a sort of tank made of masonry, in which as sometimes occurs in modern holy wells, lived two great salmon held in superstitious respect by the Dalgais; these fish the insolent conqueror ate, filled up the well, broke down the weir of Kincora, and burned Killaloe. He some time before had also insulted the Dalgais by cutting down the tree of Magh Adhair38 where their Kings were inaugurated.
Soon after the destruction of his palace, Donchad was deposed for instigating the murder of his brother Teige, and went, a pilgrim and a penitent, to Rome; bringing as an offering to the Pope the crown and harp of his mighty father, Brian Boru. Then ensued ten years of war, and Turlough39 (Thordhealbhagh), son of the murdered Teige, fought Donchad’s son, Murchad of the short shield, whom he attacked in the palace of Kincora, 1065, and slew many of his followers. Three years later Murchad was killed by the men of Teathba, and Torlough reigned in Munster a nominal Ard Righ, recognized by the Kings of Meath, Tarah and Dublin.40 In 1072 he set out for Clonmacnoise and took from its cemetery the head of Conor, King of Tarah (who had been slain the previous January, 1072) and brought it as a trophy to Kincora. The Annalists tell a strange tale how a mouse ran out of the skull into the King’s robes, and he was taken ill by the vengeance of God and St. Kieran, so that his hair and beard began to fall off. In great terror he returned the trophy and two gold rings to the Abbey on Easter Sunday, after which he felt better, and, in recognition of this mercy, immediately invaded Breagha and slew Maelmordha O’Casey.
In 1074 he rebuilt the bridges of Killaloe and Ath Caille “in a fortnight,” aided by a levy of Munster men. His reign is noteworthy for a deputation of “five Jews from beyond the sea,” who brought him gifts, which he received, but sent the men away: not even in distant Thomond would they be tolerated.41
In 1078 his Queen, Gormflaith, died at Killaloe, leaving much wealth to the poor. She was buried at Iniscaltra.
There are recorded two burnings of Killaloe, 1081 and 1084, by the Connacians. They also burned Tomgraney and Moynoe churches in the latter year. Seven years later Torlough died; of course a war ensued in the natural order of things. Ruadri O’Conor of Connaught swept the Corcomroes of men and cattle, pressing on his march in such hot haste that three of his chiefs were left behind, and slain by the natives. The great cairn of loose rocks, on your left, as you drive from Ennistymon to Lisdoonvarna covers their remains, and is still called Cairn Connachta.42
After ravaging the district east of the Maigue as far as Bruree, he fell on Killaloe and Kincora, and destroyed them both. In the latter they found eight score heroes, Irish and Danes, and took three of them as hostages; so Murchad, King of Erin (King Torlough’s son) ransomed these captives for gold, silver, horses, cows, and goblets. Soon afterwards O’Connor again plundered Killaloe, coming down Lough Deargh (in ships taken from Murchad when he had plundered the Islands of Lough Ree, and been intercepted and defeated at Clonmacnoise, his fleet having been confiscated and used to convey the victors in their descent on his country). In 1098, Murchad, “the golden jewel of the west,” a most able and valiant prince, though suffering from such constant ill-health that he “became a living skeleton,” took heart and rebuilt Kincora, which had been destroyed by the O’Loughlins, on whom he soon took signal vengeance. He propitiated heaven by dedicating Cashel of the Kings to the Church, and then invaded Innishowen, and dismantled the Grianan of Aileach. An ancient legend says that its prince had compelled the Dalgais to bring timber from Kincora to it and roof a house in its enclosure; however, it is certain that O’Brien made each of his soldiers bring away a stone from the huge fortress, in his provision bag,43 which stones were set upon the ramparts of Limerick which seems to have become the favourite residence of the descendants of O’Brien. This insult was long remembered, and even in 1601, when O’Donnell devastated Clare, it was said to have been “in revenge of Aileach.”
In 1102 Magnus, King of Norway, spent the winter and spring at Kincora, as the guest of Murchad, who betrothed his daughter to Sigurd, the Norwegian’s son.44
The following year the King of Alban sent “a camel, a beast of wondrous size,” to Murchad, and a huge fish 15 feet long was taken in the Shannon.45 Murchad seems to have rebuilt the church of Killaloe in an ornate and beautiful style, worthy of so able a prince. The magnificent doorway in the existing cathedral is attributed to him, and resembles that of a church near Caen, built by his friend Henry I.46
Ancient Doorway in South Wall of Nave
of the Cathedral, Killaloe
This Romanesque south door of the Cathedral, illustrated in the accompanying plates, despite the brutal defacement of relic hunters, is still the glory of Clare, for seldom did man of old Erin work out in stone a design of more beauty. It consists of four orders.
The innermost has a rich pattern of chevrons and lozenges, the enclosed spaces carved in beautiful designs of converging spirals and leaf work. The right-hand pillar alone remains. The capital of this (as in all the other orders) is fluted with asparagus-like bars in the hollows, the upper part square. The shaft is square with bold flutings terminating above in lions’ heads and below in lions’ paws and human feet, and some graceful leaves. The bottom block of the left-hand pillar has a small indented stand for the base. The bases in every case have spirals and rude foliage on the cushion-moulding, which rests on square blocks.
The next order has a hollowed face, on which sprawl uncouth animals, their tails twisted into the hair of three human heads. The pillars are square, decorated with irregular chevrons, enclosing uncouth struggling animals and graceful foliage. The right-hand pier is entwined in knots of serpents; the capitals have an ear-like ornament, while the left-hand capital has animals.
The third order has bold moulded chevrons ending in a
serpent’s head; the interspaces are filled with “honeysuckle”
ornament, as fine as if designed for embroidery. The capital of the right-hand
pillar has a procession of griffins, each holding the tail of the one
before it; while the left one has a knot of snakes. The pillars are detached
round shafts cut in low relief in lozenges filled with foliage and flowers.
Ancient Doorway in South Wall of Nave of the Cathedral, Killaloe
The fourth order has an architrave deeply cut into alternate chevrons and recesses richly moulded and beaded, ending in serpent’s heads; the capital of the left pillar has an animal; the right, a beautiful honeysuckle or trumpet device. The shafts are square, with a rich vesica pattern cut into the angles, in curves of alternate beading and fillets.
The hood is plain except the foliaged corbels. A slab with an incised Celtic cross (alleged to be the tomb of King Murchad O’Brien), and a narrow carved slab lie in its recess.
A block with diapered patterns like those on the pillars of the third order, but flat instead of round, lies in the oratory, but I question whether it belongs to this arch at all.
In 1107 Kincora and Cashel were struck by lightening, and sixty casks of mead and beer were destroyed. Eleven years later, about the time of the death of Murchad (who had been deposed by his perjured brother Dermot, and died aged 68 years,47 at Lismore, on a pilgrimage, 10th March 1119, being buried at Killaloe), another serious loss befell the King of Thomond. Turlough O’Connor burst into his territory as far as Killaloe, which he burned with its churches; soon afterwards the Connacians swept Kincora completely off the face of the earth, hurling all its timber and stones into the Shannon, and they also destroyed the neighbouring fort of Boromha.48
Killaloe Cathedral, from S.E.
Torlough O’Conor after plundering Kerry crossed Killaloe bridge in 1119, and the place was burned in 1142, 1154, and perhaps, under the name of Kincora, in 1160. Several of the O’Briens were buried in its church, the most famous being King Conor na Cathrach, the benefactor of Ratisbon Abbey, in 1142; however, Donaldmore, the last King of Munster, left in it a noteworthy work to future ages. He rebuilt its cathedral;50 and as its architectural features mostly resemble those of his undoubted abbeys at Clare, 51 Killone, and Canons’ Island, we can have little doubt but that the present chancel and nave (if not the transepts) were built in his reign; the east window about 1182, though many details see to be later.52
In 1189, Donald defeated the Leinster English on the plain of Thoirdhealbhagh, near his new cathedral; he chased them to Thurles, where they made a rally and suffered a crushing defeat. In 1197, John Earl of Morton, afterwards King of England, stayed at Killaloe, and while there granted a charter, making Limerick a corporate town; giving the citizens such liberties as were held by the men of Dublin, and as Hamo de Valois had already granted.
In this year, Conor, son of Donaldmore, turned against his brother Murchad, King of Thomond, and brought the English into his territory, slaying Cumarra McNamara, Conor O’Quin, and others. The fruit of this action was very soon apparent; as St. Paul had warned the ancient Gael of Asia Minor – “If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of the other” – so it fell out with the Dalgais in the next 120 years.
Moreover, King John granted Tradree to Arnold Ketin, who in 1199 exchanged it for lands in Corcovaskin,53 while he gave to Thomas FitzMaurice five knights’ fees at Huamerith (Bunratty), “which is in Thomond, on the River Shannon.” The Normans, 1207, also made an unsuccessful attempt to fortify a castle near Boromha,54 the best spot for defence and for the command of the southern end of Lough Derg.
In 1208, the English imprisoned and deposed the unfortunate Murchad and set up his brother Donchad Cairbreach, who had instigated the action. They soon found that their nominee had no mind to be their vassal, though he submitted to King John and obtained the leadership of Carrigogunnell under a royal charter in 1209.55
It now became apparent that the Government was making
great efforts to reduce Clare to a county; they granted the lands to Corcovaskin
(nominally held by the Bishop of Norwich) to Muriard O’Brien and
then to Geoffry de Marisco, who was ordered to build castles on them.
St. Flannan’s Cathedral, from N.W.; and ancient Oratory
They gave Cratloe Wood to Godfrey Lutterel, and then to Philip Marc, and ostentatiously confirmed the donation of “Donchad Karbregh Obren” to the See of Cashel, of lands in Ibricane, at “Tromroe, with two islands in the Western Ocean, Iniskereth (Iniscaorach or Mutton Island and Inismatail,” in 1215 and 1216.56
About the same time a curious invasion of the rights of the See of Killaloe took place. Murchad had ravaged Ormond and Ely O’Carroll, as the English army assembled at Roscrea, threw up an earthwork and built a “britagium,” or wooden fort, on the church land. Hearing of this, Bishop Conor O’Heney hastened to the place, and threatened to excommunicate the English unless they desisted. The Justiciary argued with him that it was for the public good, and the bishop permitted the work to proceed on promise of payment or restitution,57 the performance of which was so long deferred, that it was recorded as unfulfilled at the Visitation of 1622.
Then came a notable attempt to strengthen English influence in Thomond; a castle was built at Killaloe,58 and an Englishman named Robert Travers imposed as bishop of the See. Conor O’Heney had died 1213, on his return from the fourth Lateran Council at Rome, and the See, which had been augmented with Roscrea and part of Iniscatha, was vacant, or granted to the Bishop of Ferns for his support; then the election of Travers was formally approved by the king, 14th January, 1217. Geoffrey de Marisco, the Justiciary, who had held the temporalities during the vacancy, was ordered to give the new bishop seisin, and the archbishop was desired to consecrate him. Some difficulty now arose; the Papal Legate deposed Robert Travers, and sent him to plead his cause at the Court of Rome. In March that year the king gave the See in charge to the archbishop of Cashel; “if the canonical election had not taken place;” the new Archbishop of Dublin, the Justiciary, Henry de Londres, one of the witnesses of Magna Charta, was to hold the Castles of Killaloe and Lorrha.59
As if the Government felt its failure, it accepted an offer to 200 marks and £100 per annum from King Donchad for Thomond, and granted him a charter thereof, 1222.60 Pope Honorius, after a delay, decided the case of the See of Killaloe against the English candidate. Writing on 26th May, 1226, to his “beloved son, the Abbat of the Abbey of the holy apostles Peter and Paul at Forgy” (Clare Abbey), from the Lateran, ordering the judges to proceed against “Robert Travers of the diocese of Killaloe, a presbyter, who being in the wrong, and not chosen, but assuming the honour on his own account, intruded himself as pastor into the said church.” Travers meantime was living in England – “a bishop without a bishoprick”- and gave two large bells to Tewkesbury Abbey in the winter of 1224. Donald O’Kennedy was chosen to succeed him; and beyond the licenses to elect bishops and grants to them of the temporalities of the See, no further systematic interference of the English is mentioned till the Tudor period.
As regards its lay history, from that time through the Middle Ages, it was blessed in having none. The Castle is not named again till 1584, and no trace of it remains.61 The tide of war never surrounded the town; and even during the long disturbances caused by the colonies of Robert de Musegros and Thomas and Richard de Clare (1249-1318), it seems probable that on only two occasions flying armies escaped by its pass; on the day when the chiefs of Clan Brian Ruad were hiding in Holy Island,62 and their men escaped over the “Magh Thoirdhealbhaigh”; and that May evening, in 1318, after De Clare and his army fell among the marshes of Dysert, when the O’Deas “rose up against them from the place where they lay in ambush, and made a slaughter of them; and the battle was before them and behind them; the water on this side and on that – the marsh, likewise, and the wood – neither was there place for them to turn aside.” When the Normans were annihilated in Thomond, and Brian O’Brien and his clan escaped with difficulty to the mountains of Arra beyond “Flannan’s Killaloe.”
Grianan Lachtna – Passing north from Killaloe, through the woods of Ballyvalley (Baile ui Mhothla), and turning to our left up a rugged mountain lane (the bed of a stream) we laboriously ascent the flanks of Craglea. Lovely views of the river and lake, the bridge and cathedral, the Silvermine hills (rich with grey, brown and purple, and dominated by the mass of the Keeper) open out more and more. Up through a slate quarry to the crags above the lake where, facing Derry Castle, flows out of the rocks, heather and fern, the lonely well, dedicated, not to saint or angel, but to “the friendly Badbh” of the Dalgais, the Banshee Aoibhill, and bearing her name “Tober eevul.” A bold crag twenty feet high on the western slope is reputed to be her residence. South-west from this another branch of the lane brings us to a pleasant meadow where, scarcely rising four feet above the ground, lying north and south, an oblong heap of slate slabs 80 ft. by 50 ft. (the Ordnance Survey letters make is 72 ft. by 38 ft.), marks King Lachtna’s palace, the Grianan Lachtna. It is surrounded by a circular earthwork about six feet wide, crested with fern and foxglove, with an opening to the west. The fort measures 134 feet from north to south, and 116 feet from east to west, at which side are faint traces of a fosse 17 feet wide.
The site is chosen with exquisite taste, commanding a view from the Galway shore of Lough Derg, with its wooded points and islands, to the Castle Oliver hills on the borders of Cork and the sites of Kincora and Balboru. The palace was probably an oblong wooden house; and though the M’Bruodins attribute it to a brother of Brian in 953, not named in the Annals or “Wars of the Gael and the Gall,” the very curious history in “The Book of Munster,”63 appended to a poem in honour of King Lachtna, great-grandfather of Brian (circa 845), makes it very probable that the palace existed in his day and was named after him. It seems that Felimy Mac Crimhan, King of Cashel (who died 847), sent envoys to demand tribute from the Dalgais, who replied that they neither owed tribute nor hostages to Cashel, for their country was sword-land won from Connaught, and no part of Munster. They had resisted such claims from thirty kings of Cashel, and suffered much molestation from them, and their palaces had been plundered by Criomthann McFidhe. The envoys, threatening instant war, returned and told Felimy, who marched straightway to Liag-na-neasin, an ancient pillar-stone, before the army of Dalgais, who “had their camp on one side of Craglea, between its summit and the Boruma” (the very position of Grianan Lachtna).
Now Lachtna, son of Corc, a hero of the Dalgais, desired peace, but when he suggested it at a council the others would not hear of it, but sprang to their feet and declared their determination to fight; Lachtna took up the weapon that lay before him on the council-board, and, calling a single attendant, went out, as if to shoot wild fowl, down the hill towards the invader’s camp, and reached it as the harmonious music and sweet chiming and chanting of the clerics arose, for they were celebrating mass before the King.
The Dalcassian, after the mass, sought Felimy, who learning with delight that he had come as a friend, offered him advantageous terms and said he would take his word as equivalent to hostages. So Lachtna promised to be true even if no one else submitted, and left the camp.
“King,” said a sage who stood near a pillar, “do you know what this liag says to me? It says that Fin McCoul saw a vision here, and that a fair man from Craglea would betray Erin to the foreigners.” Felimy said anxiously, “If this be prophesied, we did wrong to let this man go, lest he or his descendant should betray us”; so he sent a messenger after Lachtna, who at once returned, despite his attendant’s advice, and when Felimy saw his good faith he gave him his own steed and robes and blessed him and his posterity. Then Lachtna rode to Craglea and told the Dalgais, who were much impressed, and said, “If it be for piety and good faith and not by violence and hosts of men, we will do him homage and trust him.” Then all the chiefs went down to Felimy, who with difficulty kept his men in check, for they feared a surprise; and he spoke kindly to the Dalgais, making them fair promises. Then they invited him and his army to stay for Shrovetide 64and Lent; and Lachtna made him a magnificent feast, whereat Felimy sang a poem, praising and blessing his host, and praying he might excel all chiefs in robes and splendour, and that “the great King of laws” might crown him with abundance and make his children reign over the children of others. Thus the Dalgais came to recognize the King of Cashel; but it seems as if neither tribute nor hostages were paid or demanded, as Cormac MacCuilenan in 902 recognizes their immunity in the plainest language.65
Craglea was the scene of a battle with the Danes; for when Mahon asked his brother in 960 where he had left his men, Brian replied, “I have left them on Craglea, in the breach where shields were cleft; it was difficult to cut off Biorn; the man fell there with his people.”66 Not far to the south a field called Parc-an-eagh preserves the traditional site of Brian’s horse paddock.
Balboru, the ancient Beal Boroimhe or Boromha (its name, according to some, stereotyping the claim of Brian to the Leinster tribute), stands on the end of a great spur of the hill-base, where the lake narrows into the river. Of this spur the strange story now prevails amongst the peasantry that it is the end of a huge weir, commenced by Brian Boru to dam up the lake and drown out his enemies on the upper Shannon, and that the fort was built to defend the works when in progress, and was the scene of a destructive battle. Below it skeletons and urns have been found in recent years. The legends of the sites of Kincora are of little value, as the modern house of the name has affected them all.
Mrs. S. C. Hall says that a very old woman told her that the palace stood near the quay, and that Balboru was Brian’s parlour;67 the last was true, as is shown by Mac Liag’s poem. Another legend states that Brian betrothed his daughter to the King of Leinster, but the latter was attacked in the hills east of Kincora by soldiers sent against him by Brian’s wife, who disapproved of the marriage. The prince fell, mortally wounded, and, entreating his men to let him die in sight of Leinster, they attempted to bring him up the mountains of Thountinna, on the slope of which he died, and was buried in a cairn which remained till a slate quarry was cut into it. The grand uncle of my informant, Mr. Robert White of Kincora, remembered its removal, and that it contained a large skeleton and several weapons, which last were long kept by a Mr. Molloy. Near the site of this cairn a fine stone circle still bears the name of “The Graves of the Leinster-men.” A valueless legend makes the older half of O’Briens-bridge to have been broken by the great King when pursued by the Danes. However, Balboru remains, a huge mound about twenty feet high, with an earthen rampart, having its entrance to the north ; no stone-work appears in situ, and the moat is about 650 feet round at the base; about 380 feet round at the summit of the rampart; the interior level space being 100 feet in diameter. The ramparts are thickly planted with trees. The Keeper and the higher houses of Killaloe are visible from it, and a fine view up the lake.
“Boruma, city of Kings!
St. Flannan’s Cathedral
Plan of Killaloe Cathedral
This church lies in a position too low and too much overhung by the tableland to be imposing. Yet its appearance from the Tipperary shore is pleasing, and forms one of the most beautiful church pictures of the realm, with the rapid river, the great trees and the brown old cathedral, with lofty lancets, and plain bold buttresses casting their heavy shadow on the variegated ivy, while the massive tower (17 feet higher than in Harris’s day), with its turrets, stands out boldly against the noble background of crags and wooded hills, with the clustered houses of the old town and the long irregular bridge closing in the scene to your right.
The cathedral is cruciform, built of fine yellow and
purple sandstone, the belfry standing at the intersections. The west front
has a richly-moulded Gothic door, 9 feet 6 inches by 4 feet 6 inches,
its capitals adorned with foliage. Above is a narrow and lofty single
lancet, and to each side a broad buttress, the outer edges (and the inner
one of the northern buttress) being enriched with three roll-mouldings,
the central one with a fillet.68 The door is much curtailed
of its fair proportions by the raising of the older level of the ground,
and steps now lead down into the church. The nave is very gloomy, and
has no aisles.69 There are two plain lancets on each side near
the belfry. The north wall has three external buttresses projecting 6
feet 6 inches, and a modern door, opposite which in the south wall is
the exquisite Romanesque arch described in detail in the first part of
this Paper [above]. I need only remark here that its architrave is of
a rich bold pattern, well defined, and while effective at a distance,
bears close and careful examination, its interspaces being enriched by
small designs of endless variety, displaying a great abundance of leaf
and floral ornaments (so rare in our metal work and manuscripts), most
tastefully introduced. Despite its injured and neglected condition, and
most unsuitable position, it yet shows into what an ornate and elegant
style the Irish romanesque was being developed, when the love for a bald
and clumsy variety of the gothic arose in Ireland and killed the native
Some of its details are given on p.197, [above] Nos. 4 and 5, and p. 199 [below], and I may call attention to the curiously classic character of some of the ornament; to the course of plain stone above the capitals “interpolated” to raise the arch when it was removed to its present position; and to an error in the note on p. 408, vol. ii., Series 5, “chevrons of the second order,” being really “of the third,” as is manifest in the illustration. The outer face is shown in the 1738 view, but must have since been greatly defaced, as only one order shows at present. It has faint and worn geometric and leaf carvings, no side pillars, and nondescript capitals. It is slightly pointed, and to the west a broken wall projects 6 feet, with a curious circular shaft in it like a small well.
As for the inner face of the arch – the people of the district seem to value it only by getting chips off it as relics when they are about to emigrate; the church authorities leave it to damp, dirt, and neglect, the late Lord Dunraven had it whitewashed to enable him to produce a photograph, the poorest in his valuable collection; while Bishop Mant, Canon Dwyer, and Mr. Frost, avoid all detailed description; so I hope to escape reproach for saying so much about a noteworthy example of Irish art so systematically neglected by my numerous predecessors.71
The belfry rests on four arches, with plainly chamfered ribs and quadripartite vault, its corbels adorned with foliage. The space under it (between the corbels) is 26 feet 8 inches by 30 feet, and as the arches span the church without piers, an unbroken vista of the whole chancel and nave, 156 feel long, is obtained when (as at present) the screen is removed.72 A door in the north chancel wall, a barrel stair, with central pillar, ending at the roof level, and a passage tunneled through the rock-like masonry of the tower leads to an upper room, with two windows to the east and south and one to the north and west. In the last is a door supposed to be the original entrance, though now above the ridge of the nave roof, the remains of weather-ledges show that the roof has been lowered some feet. In the south window-sill of the east wall are built up four slabs with a roll moulding, part of some older window. The bell has in raised capitals “No surrender. J. Fogarty, Limerick, 1837.” A ladder leads to the roof now enclosed in the lofty turreted walls built by Bishop Knox (1794-1803). The iron work of the 1686 weathercock still stands on the eastern battlement, and a slab carved with conventional roses is set in the left jamb of the entrance from the chancel (page 197, No. 13) [above]. Another pointed door, now concealed, led to a building on the north side of the chancel, of which the weather-ridge and corbels remain. The ground is here 3 feet above the older level. A curious old font of yellow sandstone stands at the north-west corner of the chancel. On one face are unfinished carvings of a cross and conventional sprays of foliage. It was intended to rest on four pillars. Some attribute its incomplete condition to the discovery, during its carving, of a now very manifest flaw (see p.195). [See plan of Killaoe Cathedral above.]
The chancel has four lancets to each side, between which are shallow buttresses, 18 inches deep on the outside, and rich corbels on the inside. A cornice runs at the level of these corbels along both walls. These corbels figured on page 199 [below]. On the north side (from west) they have the following designs: - 1. a most elegant, though simple, arrangement of foliage; 2 and 3. beaded and geometric, with a few leaves ending in figures of a horse and a spectacle-like loop; 4 has six quaint kilted figure kissing and holding hands; 5. an elaborate device of loops, and 6. conventional foliage. On the south side (from east), 1, 2, 3 and 5 foliage; 4 has an unpleasing design of rings,73 and 5. rests on a grotesque face; 6. a painfully-elaborate mass of foliage and plaits of three cords, which appear with modification in the west corbel of the south arch.
The great east window is a bold and lofty structure.
The side lights are pointed, the central round-headed. The outer face
has only a chamfer, two roll-mouldings and a hood-ridge (page 197, No.9)
[above]. Inside the church, it is about 38 feet high and 16 feet across.
The piers splay greatly, and have double shafts terminating in capitals
of rich foliage, cutting the edge of the great pointed arch which covers
all three lights. This has three orders, the innermost decorated with
raised lozenges, formed of four bars meeting at a point in a high relief.
About half of these are perfect. This ornament rests on double shafts
and floriated capitals. The next order has a bold fish-bone design in
good preservation, and rests on plain-moulded caps (page 197, Nos. 6,
7, 8, 9) [above]. A curious cipher is cut on the north jamb of the centre
light (see page 199) [below]. On each side of the window is a double piscina.
The basins are gone, the arches unmoulded. The central and outer piers
have Norman capitals. The great buttresses on the outer east face have
neat-rounded shafts, 9 inches in diameter at their outer corners, like
those at Tomgraney, Rath,
Kilmacduagh, &c. (page 197, No.11) [above], (perhaps these are relics
of the older church); their once elaborate capitals74 are now
removed. The other chancel buttresses rise to the roof level, and have
sloping tops and scarcely projecting cornices. Those at the corners are
higher, and the tops are pyramidal. In the graveyard south of the nave
is a block with two semi-arches, perhaps a finial of the church (page
197, No.10) [above]. Two blocks, with beaded moulding, occur outside,
and over the great east window. A stone with an interlaced knot is in
the outer north wall of the nave, and one with conventional foliage in
the opposite face of the south wall of the same, each being near the transept.
Details in Killaloe Cathedral
The transepts call for little notice. The interior of the north one is divided into two storeys, and its side windows entirely remodeled in true Ecclesiastical Commissioners’ Gothic; but the head of its north lancet is apparent over the ivy, though a chimney fills its recess. This wing projects 37 feet to the north of the chancel. The south has a very elaborate double window, with rich capitals (page 199, 4th row) [above], in the east wall, through which a flight of steps and passage lead to a small barrel-stair in the south-east angle of the belfry once leading to the roof. A door remains on the side next the belfry with ascending steps, but now built up. A lofty lancet is in the south wall and two windows to the west. The organ closes this transept from the church, from which it projects 41 feet.
There are only five old tombs of any interest – 1. A very ancient incised cross, “the tomb of Murchadmore.” 2. The tomb of Bishop John Roan, 1692, outside the north light of the east window. 3. The tomb of Simon Purdon, 1719, in the chancel.754. The ornamental frame of a lost inscription in the S.E. corner of the chancel, and the very curious coffer tomb of the Redfields in the south-east angle of the graveyard. “…Redfield to ye memory of his virtuous and loving wife Elizabeth Browne alias Ro * * * here interred, Deceased Oct. 10th, 1719. Years married 44, aged 57, one husband, bless, and children eleven.”76In the side panels occur figures of a man growing like a tree, a girl praying, the Resurrection, the angel and the trumpet, and a skeleton with a cherub’s head and holding a banner of “love” and “victory,” in allusion to which are the verses:-
“Dread and terrour Death doth be,
Death bears an angel’s face,
And (not to copy its long pious paragraphs) these quaint lines occur :-
“My dearest friends in Christ above
thim will I go and see,
The first shield bears a chevron between three fleurs-de-lys, on a chief indented an eagle displayed; and the second, a lion rampant, a chief ermine.
The curious little oratory, “Brian Boru’s vault,” with its moulded door (the capitals bearing on the north foliage: on the south two lions); its overcroft and steep stone roof and later (broken) chancel, so suggestive of the churches of Kevin and Columba, is so carefully described by Petrie, Brash, and Dunraven (in vol. ii. Of “Irish Architecture,” with striking photographs) that I will only note that it lies 69 feet north of the cathedral nave, measures 28 feet 8 inches by 17 feet internally, with walls about 3 feet 8 inches thick, and is kept in good repair.
Brash having figured the Friar’s Island oratory and the Clarisford cross belonging properly to Kilfenora, I now close my Paper, unduly prolonged in attempting to do justice to the interesting and beautiful relics of the old royal and Episcopal capital, so replete with memories of our great patriot King and some of our best-known bards, princes, and warriors.77