Antiquities Near Miltown Malbay

Thomas Johnson Westropp
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Clare County Library

Kilmihil Church (O.S. Map 48)

This thriving village, with its wide street, good shops and neat houses (a pleasant contrast to some of the wretched decayed “towns” of the west), lies inland about 9 miles from the sea, and not far to the south of Cahermurphy described in the first part of this paper. In painful and unwholesome neighbourhood to its houses lie the ruined church and overcrowded graveyard, horribly neglected and overgrown, and comparable to the worst kept and wildest in the county.

The mediæval lives of St. Senan state that he built the church here in honour of St. Michael the Archangel, who had aided him in his contest with the cata or amphibious monster that had made its den in Scattery. Over this legend Eugene O’Curry waxes amusingly angry and abusive, till, completely carried away by his own eloquence, he insults the memory of the pure, “peace-loving father” Senan, by contrasting the glorious chief of the Armies of Heaven with the founder of Kilmihil “a feeble hermit possessed of all the human frailties” (alas! poor Senan), “and who was as crazy and vindictive as he was austere and pious, though indeed a great and good man for the little and bad times he lived in [25]”. O’ Curry must have been maddened by red tape from his official superiors, or by rain from Heaven and bad lodging on earth, the evening he penned those lines.

The church is utterly defaced, ragged and broken, of flagstone masonry. The east window has been pulled down, and the other opes defaced since 1839, and I could find no carvings anywhere. The church measures 70 feet by 26 feet. The east window in 1839 had a pointed light 18 inches wide, well cut and with bar holes, the splay being 6 feet 10 inches wide. The north wall is featureless, and the west has only a low rude doorway, 3 feet 8 inches wide, and the piers of a fallen belfry on the top of the gable which has been more than once repaired and rebuilt in parts. The south wall, going eastward, has a window, once square-headed, 4 inches from the west, having a 6 inch wall light, next it was a door, pointed and of well dressed stone, outside, the weatherledge of a porch is visible. Eastward is a defaced window, the arch of the splay still remained when I saw it; then another round-headed window 3 feet 6 inches from the east end. The monuments so far as I had time to examine them were of purely local interest.

The church is not mentioned in 1302, but stood before 1390, and was evidently much rebuilt a century later. Not far to the east is the well of St. Michael. Father Anthony Bruodin tells a curious story of its rediscovery by his relation Lady Mariana, widow of Thomas MacGorman, in 1632. She had long suffered from gout, and at length saw in a dream the great Archangel who directed her to go to his church at Kilmihil and dig at a little distance from it where she should find some rushes growing. Aided by her son, Thomas MacGorman, and the parish priest, Rev. Dermot O’Quealy, she sought for, found, opened and drank of the well and was cured. Many others coming on pilgrimage to the well were also relieved of their complaints. Unfortunately it seems to have soon lost its healing power.

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