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Ordnance Survey Letters by John O'Donovan and Eugene Curry, 1839
Parish of Tomfinlough (b)
There is a stone in the graveyard wall at its south west angle on the outside, measuring about three and a half feet in length, one foot in thickness and two feet in height over the level of the field. It is a hewn stone and appears to have been part of the doorway of some edifice, traces of the foundations of which may be seen extending to the north. On the front of this stone are two raised solid circles about six inches in diameter, one of them fashioned like a saucer turned upside down, the other plain and having a small cross slightly and rudely indented on (in) it. The stone is popularly called “The Plague Stone” and the following bit of tradition concerning it is well remembered and pretty generally believed in the neighbourhood. “Long ago a great plague raged all over Ireland and the people were dying in thousands from it every day. It made its appearance in large lumps or boils on the head and no medical or surgical skill was found to prevail against it. It first broke out in the north of Ireland and soon extended its ravages to the other parts of the Island. When the old Priest of Toomfenlough had heard of its near approach to that part of the Country, he called his flock together, exhorted them to make their souls and requested that the first person in his Parish who should be afflicted with the disease would come to him without a moment’s delay.
In a day or two afterwards as he with two other ecclesiastics of his establishment were making hay in the little meadow near the Church, he saw a woman running with all her speed towards him and shouting that she had caught the plague and begging of him to come near her. He ran forward and met her opposite and near the stone just mentioned, asking her where the plague then was; she pointed at once to two large lumps on her head and he instantly put up his hand, pulled of both the lumps and dashed them against the stone, upon which one of them broke and its contents escaped, while the other one remained unbroken. (The broken one is represented on the stone by the figure of the inverted saucer, and the unbroken one by the other figure). The woman was cured immediately of her distemper and after returning many thanks and prayers to the good old Priest set off about her business. About this time the three young men who were with the old man making the hay came up to him, two of them viewing him with admiration and wonder, while the third laughed at himself and his miracle. The old man then asked them all if they believed that a miracle had been worked in their presence; the two first mentioned said that they firmly believed it to be a miracle, but the third said he did not believe, upon which the old man said that he would leave posterity to judge of the correctness or truth of the belief of both the parties, upon which he caused three heads resembling those of the three young men to be carved out of stone and placed over the door of the Church, placing that of the unbeliever in the middle, asserting at the same time that the heads of the believers should remain for ever unaffected by time or weather while the head of the unbeliever should gradually yield to the influence of both and present to future ages a striking and impressive example of the instability of error and the immutability of truth.” If this legend has any foundation at all it would go to prove that the bit of wall in which those heads are now found is part of the ancient ecclesiastical edifice of the place, tho’ the people never heard of its having been such.
The stone at which the miracle was performed was from thenceforward called “The Plague Stone” the name by which it is known to this day. The plague did not on that occasion make its further appearance within the distance of two miles at any side of Toomfinlough, nor has it done so ever since, for even during the late terrible ravages of the Cholera a single case of it did not occur within the above distance of this plague stone. This is asserted to have been the fact, whatever might have been the cause.
On that occasion people crowded in thousands to perform rounds, etc., at the plague stone, but whether its protective influence extended beyond the limits of its Termon or not, it would be very difficult to ascertain.
The following Castles mentioned in the list of Castles preserved in MS. T.C.D. Class E.2. 14, are to be found in this Parish, viz.:-
The latter of these Castles only (Rathlaithin Castle) remains
in good external preservation.
Rathlaithin is mentioned in the Wars of Torlogh p.399, Ord. Survey Copy. Tuaimfinloch is mentioned in Hardiman’s Irish Deeds, No.27. See Cathair Sguaibi in No.21, a Townland of this Parish.