Places of Interest
THE CHANCEL was roofed
with an oak ceiling, or so tradition says, until the end of the
eighteenth century. It was supposed to have been painted blue with
gold stars. Now roofless, with a fifteenth century doorway leading
into the interior, it is still dominated by the three-light east
window with its triangular pillars topped by carved capitals. On
either side of the window there is a carved effigy: that of a bishop
with his right hand raised in blessing, to the north; and to the
south a tonsured, bareheaded cleric holding a book. The carving
of the cleric may date from the thirteenth century; while that of
the bishop may have been sculpted in the early fourteenth. Another
attractive feature is the wall-tomb with its cusped tracery and
high pointed arch surmounted by the stone head of a mitred bishop.
Beside it is a tomb slab showing the incised form of a bishop, complete
with crozier. There is a monumental stone in the north wall dedicated
to the Rev. Neptune Blood which bears the dates 1638-1694-1699;
and the broken shaft of a possibly post-Reformation high cross was
brought into the chancel and set into the floor. There is also an
altar-shaped tomb in the south-western angle with an inscription
transcribed by Eugene O'Curry as "William Mac-an Bharg and
and his wife Eliza Ni Dea made this tomb, Anno Dom. 1650."
The oldest decipherable tomb inscription here appears to be that
of Hygate Lowe which dates from 1638 but remember that since the
foundation of the church, monks, abbots, bishops, chieftains and
the last King of Thomond and his sons have been laid to rest here.
There are also some fragments of a high cross by the south wall.
THE LADY CHAPEL, sacristy or
chapter room, was in a rectangular wing leading to the north from
a door in the north wall of the chancel. It appears to be of the
same date as the main building and may even have served as a transept
of sorts. In her history of Kilfenora Cathedral Averil Swinfen
mentions the possibility of this being the O'Brien Chapel often
mentioned by earlier historians. Two lancet-type windows and a
ruined two-light one are left in the eastern wall. There are fragments
of a high cross beside the west wall.
THE TOWER has provoked a lot of
comment from various historians over the years. Samuel Lewis mentioned
it as "a massive square tower" while others described
it as "a pile of emigrants' luggage, with a rabbit hutch or
birdcage overhead," which "defies every order of architecture."
THE CATHEDRAL is still used for
divine worship. In fact, the bishop's throne was donated in 1981
for the installation of the Right Rev. Walton Empey as the Church
of Ireland bishop of Kilfenora. There is a mitred head over the
pointed door leading into the cathedral and beyond the second doorway
there is a large square stone baptismal font which may date from
around 1200 as its decoration matches that on the chancel's east
window. On the north side, near the eastern end and built into the
wall, is the tomb of Donaldus MacDonogh and his wife, Maria O'Connor,
which dates from 1685. This is elaborately decorated with the MacDonogh
arms sculptured on it and it carries a Latin inscription. Below
it is a more interesting inscription in English from 1752: "Here
lie the remains of Dr. Patrick MacDonogh son of the above Donaldus
and grandson of the Craven - He was dignitary of the Church of France
and of Romish Ireland - He was intimately acquainted with men of
the first rank." During the reconstruction of the 1830's the
pulpit was placed immediately against the east wall on the north
side while "in a corresponding position on the south there
are desks for the clerk and parson." The interior is otherwise
almost devoid of ornamentation.
THE HIGH CROSSES OF KILFENORA
are its most famous feature. It is believed that there were seven
high crosses here. The graveyard contains the remains of three high
crosses. There is the shaft of a thirteenth or fourteenth century
cross near the doorway of the cathedral. Close to the graveyard
gate is a rather simple cross, possibly dating from between 1300
to 1500. This is unusual insofar as it has no ring and may have
been a trial piece. The third cross is the one within the chancel.
West of the graveyard and almost midway between the cathedral and
the comparatively modern Catholic church dedicated to St. Fachtna
is a splendid high cross, which stands in a field west of the lane.
In 1821 Dr. Mant took what was then considered the finest cross
of all, the Kilfenora High Cross, to Killaloe
where it is still on display in St. Flannan's Cathedral. Some accounts
claim that the high crosses may have been carved at about the same
time as the cathedral was being built and in particular to mark
Kilfenora's independence as a diocese.
THE DOORTY CROSS, re-assembled from
broken fragments, stands near the western end of the cathedral. On
the western face is the image of a robed Christ above the figure of
someone riding a donkey. The eastern face is of more interest, as
it shows St. Peter blessing two smaller arm-linked figures; one with
an Irish-type crozier is supposed to be a bishop, while the second,
holding a tau or T-shaped crozier, may be an abbot. The whole, according
to tradition, is a representation of St. Peter or of the church blessing
Kilfenora's change from monastic to diocesan status. This would date
the cross to 1152, as it seems fairly clear that it commemorates the
setting up of the diocese of Kilfenora in that year.
CAISLEAN AN MHAGAIDH is
the funny or foolish castle. Only the foundations can be seen, at
the north-west of St. Fachtna's Catholic church. In the O'Donovan
letters it is referred to as "Caislean-an Mhaga" and the
residents of the place state that it was well begun but never raised
higher than it was at that time, (1839). Other writers claimed it
was the site of an ecclesiastical edifice but failed to give any reason
for so saying. At Kilcarragh, (Cill Cathrach), there are still some
traces of an old church and hospital which O'Curry estimated to have
been twenty -six feet long by fourteen feet six inches broad.
THE LISDOONVARNA ROAD heads north
out of Kilfenora. The old fair green with its castellated paying-stand
lies to the east, while further on, past the Noughaval Road, is
a cottage built by the Land League. The east wall of Ballyshanny
Castle is still standing but there is little else left to mark its
CAHERMINNAUN CASTLE was marked
by "a heap of ruins and rubbish" in 1839. Murrogh O'Brien,
the Lord of Caherminnaun, died here in 1591. There was an old church
and burial ground in the townland of Caherminnaun within the caher
which is to the north of the castle site and slightly west of it.
There is also a holy well called after St. Caimin at which stations
were performed in the early decades of the nineteenth century and
its water is still used as a cure for afflicted eyes.
BALLYKINVARGA RING FORT takes
its name from "Cathair Bhaile Cinn Mhargaidh, the town of the
market. There is a fine chevaux de frise encircling this large stone
fort. O'Curry reflected on the "great number of upright stones,
forming a circle about it". He also stated that "there
is a prostrate cromleac a little to the south of the caher".
This may be the larger standing stone which some people think was
part of a destroyed megalith. The interior of the fort contains
the remains of huts which were built against the wall. With its
double ring walls it must have been a formidable stronghold.
TULLAGH EARTH FORT is a good example
of its type situated above and to the west of the Kilfenora - Leamaneh
road. It is still encircled by a fosse.
ST. FACHTNA'S CATHOLIC CHURCH
was built in 1917 to a simple T-plan with round-headed door, rose
window and bellcote.
THE BURREN DISPLAY CENTRE was
officially opened by President O'Dalaigh in 1975. Managed by a community
development co-operative called Comhar Conradh na Boirne, it was
Ireland's first interpretative centre. The site previously held
the village national school. A builder was employed but shareholders
were also involved in the construction work, making it truly a community
development. It was financed by Bord Failte and Clare County Council.
The centre promoted an understanding and appreciation of the unique
Burren region and it won the International Carnegie Award for display
excellence. Recent upgrading and refurbishment has taken place here
and the revamped Burren Centre will continue to provide an interpretative
service for this region.