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Churches with Round Towers in Northern Clare by Thomas Johnson Westropp

Kilnaboy Church and Round Tower

Thomond, the kingdom of ‘the Dalgais of the Churches,’ so abounds in interesting ecclesiastical remains,[1] that it would be hard to account for the ‘plentiful scarcity’ of published descriptions and drawings of the same, were it not for that characteristic indifference in all classes happily depicted by a recent writer in the words, ‘as plentiful as ruins and almost as serviceable . . . Round Towers are fine, but you can’t get them to stand against modern artillery.’ It is true that the words ‘this historic spot’ and ‘historic Clare’ evoke much applause in political addresses, but an orator would get little attention if he set forth the grounds for his resounding epithets.

‘The upper part of Dalgais’ (called from its inhabitants ‘Kinel Fermaic,’ and nearly corresponding to the barony of Inchiquin) possessed a triad of churches, each adorned and dignified by a round tower; they were named Kill Inghinêbaoith, or Kilnaboy; Rath Blathmaic, or Rath; and Diseart Tola, or Dysert O’Dea. I devote this Paper to the illustration of their remains and those at Dromcliff, in the adjacent district of ‘Hy Cormaic’ or Islands.

Driving westward from Corofin we find ourselves at once in a country of no small beauty and interest—we are on the Prince’s-road [2] — famed in the older history of Clare. Along it marched the enthusiastic army of Prince Dermot, in 1317, to their promised victory at Corcomroe Abbey. The golden-haired, blue-eyed Prince, in his purple-flowered mantle, and the clans in their green, white, and purple tunics, with flashing weapons, passing, in defiance, Inchiquin, the stronghold of their foe, Mahon O’Brien, to crush the rivals of their absent King, Mortough.

Again, in 1573, ‘the stone road, past Bohernamicrigh,’ was the chosen route of Teigh O’Brien when he so imprudently embarked on the raid which fattened ‘the wolves of the forest, the ravens, carrion crows, and ravenous birds’ at Balanchip.

Passing ‘river-sides and woods and heathy wastes,’ we now come in sight of Inchiquin Castle, where—

‘Beneath the sleeping mountain lies the fairest lake in Clare.’[3]

Then we skirt a grassy hill, crowned by the old church of Coad, and see, facing us, the long grey ruin of Kilnaboy on the edge of a dreary table-land. It looks down on a bend of the Fergus and the ivied court, called after De Clare, with distant views of the pearly-grey terraced hills of Burren to the north and Slieve Bernagh, on the eastern horizon, across the fighting-ground of the Gael with Firbolgs, and Danes, and English, from Ludlow’s time back to—

‘Those old days that seem to be
Much older than any history
That is written in any book.’

Probably hundreds of tourists to Lisdoonvarna, before the West Clare railway was made, have looked on these ruins with curiosity as they drove through the deep cutting overhung by the ivied gable and grass-capped round tower, but few have visited them or attempted their full description.

Kilnaboy Church and Round Tower, from S.W.
Kilnaboy Church and Round Tower, from S.W.

Kilnaboy Church is an oblong building, 63 feet x 20 feet 3 inches internally; it has no chancel, and has been so extensively repaired, that probably only the western gable, and parts of the adjoining side walls, are earlier than the sixteenth century. This gable has small buttresses, 1 foot 7 inches and 1 foot 5 inches wide, and projecting 10 inches. The north wall has a low round-headed door, 2 feet wide and about 3 feet high; 7 feet 9 inches from its eastern end is a late square-headed window; 3 feet 6 inches west from the last is a contraction of the wall, as if the eastern section has been rebuilt, as the lower part of the western section appears to be old work. The south wall has an ancient window-slit, 1 foot from its internal west end; a round-headed door, 13 feet farther east, over which, on the outer face, is a misshapen little figure, probably a defaced ‘sheela na gig.’ Two rude late pointed windows, without tracery, complete the external features of this side.

Figure over Door
Figure over Door

The low door to the north was said to be the entrance to the O’Quin vault, but it opens directly into the church, and as the ancient clan of O’Quin was so completely broken up (before the fourteenth century) that no one seems able to prove an unbroken descent from it,[4] it more likely was a north porch or vestry door. An ancient canopied tomb, with angular hood and plainly moulded pointed recess,[5] stands inside this wall, between the low door and window; it has been recently plastered, and occupied by a modern family.

The east gable has a north buttress, a window with a deep splay, and three clumsy shafts with a cross-bar. The head is now too much over-grown with knotted ivy to see the design, but when O’Curry visited it in 1839, the plain interlaced tracery was visible.[6] North of it is a closed round-headed recess like Kilshanny, which, with a corbel in the N.E. corner, a neat chamfered cornice, and a slab with four trefoil-headed panels (in the spaces above which are trefoils, a triquetra, and a leaf), completes the existing features.

There are only four monuments worthy of notice—

1. At S.E. corner a large mural tablet; overhead a shield and mantling, much defaced by lime incrustations; underneath, in raised capitals, ‘THE ATCHIVEMENT OF ONEILANES’;[7] while on the tablet appears, ‘DERMOD O’NEILAN AND TEIGE O’NEILAN HIS BROTH | ER, FOR THEM AND THEIR H | EIRES, MADE THIS SEPULC | HER, 1645.’

2. Between the south windows a rudely elaborate round-headed tablet displays the Crucifixion, with I.H.S. and the Sacred Heart to the left, and 1644 to the right; beneath, in raised capitals, ‘UNDER THESE CARVED MARBEL STONES | LIETH CONNOR O’FLANAGA’S BODY AND | BONES. WHICH MON | MENT WAS MADE BY ANABEL HIS WIFE | ORATE PRO EIS. LAUS DEO.’[8]

3. A slab in the S.W. corner, ‘LOUGHLIN REAGH O’HEHIR’S TOMB, FINISHED BY HIS SON ANDREW O’HEHIR 1711.

4. A table tomb, with two arched recesses, near the north window, ‘MELAGHLIN OGE O’HEHIR AND MORE HOGAN HIS WIFE.’

Round Tower
Round Tower

The round tower stands 52 feet north of the church; it is a mere featureless stump, 13 feet high (the west side 11 feet 4 inches high) and 52 feet 5 inches circumference, its centre is opposite a spot 34 feet 6 inches from the west gable. It is very well built of crag blocks, in irregular courses, with close joints. I could find no trace of a plinth. The S.W. face is shattered, tradition says, by Cromwellian cannon.

The patroness, Inghinê Baoith,[9] the anonymous daughter of Bœthius, is stated by Mac Firbis to have been descended from Aongus, son of Cormac Cas, ancestor of Clan Iffernain (perhaps by a guess at probabilities). The Calendar of Oengus gives at March 29th, ‘A feast of Baite’s daughters, Ingen mbaiti’; their names were Ethnê and Sodelb, but the commentator doubtfully places their church in Offaly or (? Donabate), near Swords, in Fingal. As for Baoi, we find a king of Corcomroe with that name in Maccreichê’s life, who granted a site for Kilmanaheen Church, near Ennistymon, circa 550. There was also a Mo Baoi, son of Sinnell (and his wife, daughter of the chief of Corcovaskin), whose day was kept on December 14th. O’Huidhrin says that, in 1420, the Cinel Baith owned Inagh parish, adjoining Kilnaboy. Inghinê was sufficiently powerful, in 1573, to inflict on the plunderers of her church (Teig O’Brien, the Butlers, and Fitzgeralds) disastrous defeat and slaughter at Balanchip Hill. The church appears in the Taxation of 1302-6. In 1599 Hugh Roe O’Donnell made it his rallying point in his first raid into Thomond, and the same year the soldiers of Sir Conyers Clifford marched past it to attack Caherminane. Fifty-two years later Ludlow [10] and his redoubtable troopers passed it on their way to occupy Lemenagh, so prudently surrendered to the Parliament by Maureen Roe, the Amazon of Clare. The church was extensively repaired in 1715,[11] and continued in use till superseded by Corofin. The saint’s well, crowned with a modern cross, was a specific for sore eyes; her day was kept on December 29th, and O’Curry notes that her name, Ennêwê, was used as a Christian name among the peasantry so late as 1839.

 

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