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Churches with Round Towers in Northern Clare by Thomas Johnson Westropp

Plans of Dromcliff, Rath and Kilnaboy; the earliest churches

I here give plans not only of Dromcliff, but also of Rath and Kilnaboy, which did not appear in the first part of this Paper.[41] It is not intended to dogmatize as to the age of every part of the wall, but merely to show where in each building the masonry or details of a particular era seem to predominate. The north walls of all four churches show pre-Norman masonry in the lowest courses, the upper parts having been rebuilt.]

As Kilnaboy and Dromcliff were much overgrown, I was not at first able to fix their angles as accurately as I could have wished. I found on a subsequent occasion that the internal north wall of Kilnaboy exceeded the south side by 15 inches, but the other measurements are correct.

Plans of Kilnaboy and Dromcliff Churches
Plans of Kilnaboy and Dromcliff Churches

In the plans of Rath and Dysert every angle is carefully fixed, but the north and east walls of Rath chancel were too hopelessly effaced to justify my even suggesting their site. The orientation noted on these plans is from the Ordnance Survey, and may prove of interest to students of this obscure subject.

All history and tradition of the founder of Dromcliff is lost, perhaps from the ravages of the Danes up the Fergus,[42] when most parts of Thomond became ‘a land where all things were forgotten.’ Its only mediæval record seems to be its taxation (Ecclesia de Drumleb) in 1302-6, unless MacFirbis alludes to it, and not (as is more likely) to its Sligo namesake, in 1396. ‘The campanile or cloicteach of Dromcliabh was destroyed by lightning.’ The parishes of Dromcliff, Killone, and Kilmaley retained their old name (Ogormuck) to this century.

Unfortunately this lack of record is common to most of the earliest structures in the west. In Clare, if we tabulate the actual history before 950, it becomes clear that it is nearly confined to the obits of Scattery from 548, and Tomgrany from 735, with mere incidental notices of Dysert, 737, and perhaps of Spansil Hill, 837. The lay history is as scanty, only giving dates of a few battles and deaths of chiefs in the almost separate western states of the Corcomroes and Corcovaskin; while the authentic tradition of the Dalgais seems scarcely able to penetrate before 812, beginning with the wars of Corc,[43] the opponent of Turgesius.

The ancient states of Corcomroe, Corcovaskin, and the Dalgais, became in church government the later bishoprics of Kilfenora, Scattery,[44] and Killaloe (or rather Thomond, its center oscillating between Killaloe and Inniscaltra), while the later deaneries of Omullod, Ogashin, Tradree, and Ogormock preserve the names of the chieftainries.

As regards the foundation of the earliest churches, tradition states candidly that St. Patrick never preached in Thomond,[45] and accredits his disciple Brecan with the foundation of the earliest churches in Clare, those at Kilbrecan (possibly Carntemple) and Doora,[46] both within an easy walk of Dromcliff. If this be so we may perhaps conjecture that the latter, if not founded by him, was one of the earliest central mission churches in Clare.

If we further allow the mediæval lives of the saints to have preserved at least the record of the foundation of the churches, we may eke out the Annals and form this table of early Church Foundations in Clare:—

500 to 550.—Kilbreacan and Doora (Brecan); Scattery, Mutton Island, Inisloe, and Moylough (Senan)[47]; Tomgraney (Cronan)[48]; Tomfinlough (Luchtighern); Kilmacreehy (Maccreiche); Kilmanaheen (Manchin).[49] Circa 600.—Killaloe, Killoffin, and Killow (Lugid or Molua).[50] Ante 650.—Kilnamona (Lacteen)[51]; Iniscaltra and Moynoe (Caimin)[52]; Slieve Carran and probably Oughtmama (Colman MacDuach). Ante 730.—Dysert (Tola).

The Danish Wars seem to have checked the rise of other abbeys, nor is it till Donald More’s reign (1169-94) that we find the foundation of any new religious houses.

Out of some thirty-five sites, with pre-Norman churches, in Clare, only some six are vested as national monuments. All the rest are at the mercy of our relentless climate, ivy, and peasantry, or, worse still, exposed to such persons as demolished the towers of Rath and Tomgraney, with several of our churches, or of such as removed the cross of Inghiné from Kilnaboy, to throw it into an out-house, out of sight and memory, for fifteen years.


Dromcliff Church and Round Tower


Appendix: The Crosiers of Rath and Dysert