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Autumnal Rambles about New Quay, County Clare

The pale ey’d moon serenes the silent hour,
And many a star adorns the clear blue sky,
While pleased I view this desolated tow’r,
That rears its time-struck tott’ring top so high!

Who is it that has travelled these parts, and has not heard of the celebrated Church of Kilmacduach and its leaning round tower?

Kilmacduach, County Galway
Kilmacduach, County Galway

Archdall (Monastic Hib. at Kilmacduach), Seward (Topog Hib.), Dutton (Statistical Survey of the Co. Galway), and the author of the Post-chaise Companion (p. 527), or Traveller’s Directory through Ireland, all agree in asserting that this tower declines from the perpendicular seventeen and a half feet, while each of these writers reminds his reader that the famous hanging tower at Pisa leans no more than 13 feet. It is also remarkable that Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary has more recently fallen into, and given fresh publicity to the same error, respecting the tower at Kilmacduach.

Kilmacduach is somewhat better than 10 miles from New Quay, and is situated in the modern barony of Kiltarton, and county of Galway. It is about three miles from the town of Gort, formerly called Gurt-innse Guare, and the mansion of O’Shagnassie, now written O’Shaughnessy, the territory of which family was denominated Cineal-Aodha, as we learn from O'Halloran's History of Ireland, vol. 3, page 387.

This tract of country was also called Hua-Fiachra, and Hua-Fiacre Aidne, a name which must not be confounded with Hua-Fiachria, an ancient territory in the present county Mayo, and which lay on the river Moy, about Killala. The Abbe Mac-Geoghagan, in the first volume of his History of Ireland, p.278, describes Hua-Fiachra, as having been “territoire dans la parti meridionale du conte de Galway á present la baronie de Kiltarton, patrimonie d’O’Seaghnassy de la race des Hy-Fiachras par Dathy monarque d’Irelande au commencement du cinquieme siecle.” It is likely, however, that Mageoghagan was wrong in limiting Hy-Fiachra-Aidne to the barony of Kiltarton, for it probably also embraced parts of Dunkellin, Loughrea and Leitrim.

The Church of Kilmacduach was founded by St.Colman, about the year 620. Cotemporary with Maidoc, St.Colman was a member of the illustrious house of Hua-Fiachra of Conought. He was nearly related to Guaire, King of that province, and from his father’s name (Duach) was surnamed MacDuach, by which appellation he is more generally known than by that of Colman. Keating is wrong in calling him Mochua, and in asserting that he was brother to King Gauire, who began his reign about the year 604, and reigned 38 years. Colgan gives the saint’s pedigree in the Acta Sanctorum, p.248, and states that Guaire’s father was Colman, son of Cobhtach, who was cousin-german of Duach, father of St.Colman. By this statement, it appears that king Guaire was second cousin, once removed, of our saint. The earliest account of this saint’s transactions, is that of his retiring, attended by a young clerk, and living as a hermit in the forests of Burren. We shall here dismiss that part of his life, by referring the reader to our second ramble, in which an account has already been given of the particulars of Mac-Duach’s sojourn under the lonely craggs of the Eagle’s Nest. Colgan (A.A.S.S.301.) mentions that this retirement took place in the time of Colman, father of Guaire. It may be interesting here to inform the reader that it appears from the Ordnance map of the county Clare, recently published, that Sliebh-Carne mountain, which overhangs the Eagle’s Nest is 1075 feet over the level of the sea.

St. Colman’s reputation becoming very great he was taken notice of by his relative Guaire, who was a prince of great piety and liberality. Guaire offered him as much land as he should wish for the establishment of a religious community. The saint refused to accept of more than a small spot on which he afterwards built a monastery and where he became a Bishop. This place was not far from his former habitation beneath the Eagle’s Nest and it has been called Kilmacduach, i.e., the church, or cell of Duach’s son. Ware writes, that it is corruptly called Kilmacough, by which name it is set down in an Atlas of Ireland in my library, and which was printed between the year 1543 and 1602. On Mercator's map, published in 1623, it is set down Kylmakug.

The foundation of the Church of Kilmacduach took place in the early part of the reign of Guaire, and probably about the year 620, as already mentioned, if not a little earlier. After a life well spent, St.Colman died on the 3rd of February; but the year of his death is not recorded. The day for commemorating him in this diocese, were his memory is highly revered, is the 29th of October. The ancient Crozier of St. Colman is said to have been in 1824 in the possession of an old woman at Kilconnell, who earned a livelihood by exhibiting it to the curious. Mr. Dutton in the survey of the county of Galway p.487., relates that disputed points were frequently settled by an oath taken on the Crozier, the veneration in which it was held preventing false swearing.

North East view of the Refectory at Kilmacduach, County Galway
North East view of the Refectory at Kilmacduach, County Galway

There is a splendid view of Kilmacduach Cathedral from beside one of the loughs, which skirt its site on the north west. It has been said by some persons that these loughs are sometimes swallowed up in whirlpools. Of the truth of such assertion, I am unable to decide; but I think it probable that Archdall (Monastic. Hib.) is right in supposing that the drying up of the water rarely happens, and then only in a very dry season. The Abbey was erected for regular canons of St.Augustin, on the ancient site, by Maurice Bishop of Kilmacduach, who died in 1283. A curious mode of fastening the Abbey door is still extant, and well worthy of the visitor’s inspection. Seward and Archdall agree in the following description of the ancient cathedral. It appears to be a pretty correct one: — “The Church, although small, is a very neat building. The pillars and arches from the entrance to the altar part, and those of the east window, are finished in an elegant stile, and the angles at the east end are worked in pillars. To the south of the Church is the Sacristy and adjoining to that a room, where were probably deposited the valuable effects belonging to the Church, and which from its being arched, they called the jail. On the south of these are a Chapel and the Refectory. From the hole of this we may infer that the canons dwelt in separate houses. To the north, about two feet from the Church, is an old wall. An ancient tradition still exists at Kilmacduach of its having been once a place of penance.” Thus far Seward and Archdall. Having mentioned the Refectory, it is proper to add, that the inhabitants of the neighbourhood of Kilmacduach denominate it Shaglouch, probably from the Irish (Saidhleacht or raidhleas) Saidhleas, refreshment. This building is divided into two compartments, and was lofted in all likelihood, for a dormitory. A great portion of its walls were gutted, as if to widen the interior for some purpose or other. The most curious part of this portion of this building, is a kind of shed, resembling at the bottom a large kitchen fire-place and chimney, but communicating on the level of the loft with the rest of the building by a door-way.

A somewhat similar place of retirement still exists adjoining a dormitory or school-room, at the Abbey of Quin, in the county Clare. I have not seen any thing to resemble them in any other monastic building, but the use of these is obvious.

In the interior of the Church a stone, placed in the wall, has carved upon it in relief, the representation of St.Colman, the founder, over which is this inscription—

“ Sanctus Colomanus
Patronus tocius di-
ecesis Duacensis.”

which rendered into English for the benefit of general newspaper readers, is “St. Colman, Patron of the entire diocese of Kilmacduach.”

The letter C being used instead of T in spelling the word Tocius, shows that many generations have passed away since the stone bearing it was set up.

On another stone is carved the crucifixion, having over it, on the dexter side, the inscription “Ave Maria, INRI miserere 8 nostri, on the dexter side “Dme miserere nostri” and on the sinister side, “Fiat miserecordia tua Domine super nos.”

On a third stone, which is placed above the two last mentioned, we read,

“Fecerunt Eugenius filius Hugonis
O’Shaghnasi de Cluonyn et uxor’ejns
Morina Grifath Ip. Ored. Rogeri
Shaghnessi militis suæ nationis
tune capitanei sub Carolo Rege
Augliæ ec. 16o. 8 bris
Anno Domni 1645.”

In the nave is the monumental stone of William Mc Costellia, priest, inscribed —

“Hic jasit Gulielmus M Costelli Presbyter:
Orate pro me amore Dei, quia fui ut vos
Et vos eritis ut ego. Ano Dmi. 1621.”

Which in English is literally—“Here lies priest William Mc Costelli. Pray for me through the love of God, for I have been like you, and you will be like me. In the year of our Lord 1621.” It appears from an Inquisition, taken the 18th of March, in the third year of the reign of King James 1., that Dermot O’Shaughnessy, by deed dated the 16th July, 1595, had presented this William McCostelli, or as he is called in the Inquisition, McCostella, to the rectory and vicarage of Benange, (now Beagh.) In the southern transept is a stone with —

T Mc G;

and on a broken slab, in another part of the church is the following imperfect inscription. The stone is so mutilated that it is difficult now to guess what the legend was when perfect. I have here endeavoured to supply in crotchets the words and letters obliterated, but as more than one word is wanting to end of each line, my version of the inscription can at best be esteemed only as an approximation:—

“Ad majorem Dei Gloriam et [Saneti Colmanis]
Mc Duach hujus celiberrimæ, [æccelesiæ patronis],
Hoc monumentum condi feceru [nt]
[—] Rogerus Shaghnesy, et Johnann
[es Shaghnesy de]
Beach filij Cornelii Rogeri Shag [hnesy ]
Oibus quorum animabus propitiet [ur Deus-Factum]
Est tempore reverendi admodum, [—]
Predicatorum vicari genera [lis et cla-]
rissimi domn, domini Rogeri fi[lii—]
Equitis aurati sue natio[ois capitanei]
Ecce quam bonu[m] et quam [jucundum
est fratres habitare in]
Unym. Pls. 132.”

There is a holy well here with a circular enclosure; but the ancient round tower is the most curious object at Kilmacduach, by reason of its real inclination from the perpendicular, and its having been the subject of extravagant exaggeration in that respect committed by former writers, as also from the manner in which it has been damaged by lightning. Seward writes of it — "Here is an round tower, which leans seventeen feet and half from its perpendicular, whereas. The celebrated tower at Pisa, in Italy, leans but thirteen feet." Archdall writes— "Here is a round tower, which leans seventeen feet and half from its perpendicular. It may not be improper to remark, that the tower at Pisa, so universally celebrated, leans but thirteen feet.” The Post Chaise Companion has— "Here is the most remarkable round tower in the kingdom, composed of monstrous large stones, one hundred and twelve feet high and it leans seventeen and an half feet from its perpendicular. The celebrated tower at Pisa leans but thirteen feet." Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary says—"Near the site of the church is an ancient round tower, which declines about seventeen feet from the perpendicular." Its is truly surprising how the writers of the four books just mentioned, could have adopted, without enquiry, such an egregious mis-statement. Neither can such mis-statement be attributed to inadvertence, for three of the parties contrast the inclination of Kilmacduach tower with the famous one at Pisa, and each professes accuracy to within half a foot in the measurement. The real state of facts, as taken by actual measurement in the year 1831, with considerable accuracy, and the aid of a Hadley’s Sextant, here follows:— The diameter of the tower at the base is eighteen feet and an half, and that near the top, close under the now mutilated cone which once crowned it, is eleven feet ten inches. The column is one hundred and eight feet high, and it axis or centre at top overhangs that at the bottom, by only three feet eight inches. The inclination is towards south-west. Thus the outside of the tower at the summit overhangs the base by only four inches, while the upper extremity of the axis is five feet seven inches within the base. Therefore, the centre of gravity of the whole structure is seven feet five inches within the base: hence, the present declination of this tower in no wise endangers its stability. This tower appears to have been struck with lighting on the south-west side at some distant period. The electric fluid knocked off part of the conical top, which commonly covered our ancient round towers, and projected it with great force in a north westerly direction. The zig-zag course of the subtile fluid can easily be traced along the shattered stones on the outside of the building. Some of these stones seem to have been reduced to powder. It is not improbable but that it was the same shock which deflected the tower from its perpendicular.

The doorway leading into the tower is headed by a semicircular arch, and is at an elevation of about twenty feet from the ground, on the south-east side. I may here remark, that the round tower on Scattery Island (Conor, the son of O'Conor Kerry, was slain by his Kinsman Mahon O'Connor as both were going in a boat to the Island of Inis-Cathaigh), in the mouth of the Shannon, is an exception to all that I have seen elsewhere, as the door leading into it is perfectly on a level with the ground. The Scattery tower, in which I have been, is eighty-seven feet high, and seventeen feet diameter at the base. About four feet beneath the door-way of Kilmacduach tower is a loop hole, a foot long by three inches wide, intended in all likelihood to carry off water. This tower differs from all others I have remarked, in its having six windows at top instead of the more usual number four. O’Rourke’s tower at Clonmacnoise, in the King’s County, has eight or nine windows at top. One of these six windows at Kilmacduach is immediately over the door-way. The six windows of this tower furnish a contradiction to the arguments used by the late Dr.Lanigan, (Eccl. Hist.) in proof of his opinion as to the use for which these fabrics were erected. That laborious and well-informed writer advances the circumstance of round towers having four windows at top facing the cardinal points, as a remarkable peculiarity of the round towers in Ireland, whence he was induced to think that they were used for astronomical observation.— The six windows of the Kilmacduach tower, however, are an exception, as only two out of six can face the cardinal points. Indeed the situation of some towers, such, for instance, as that at Glendalough, in the county Wicklow, sunk in a deep valley and out-topped by lofty mountains, in itself is a proof that they were not built to command an expanded view of the Heavens, such as the astronomer would demand.

A battle was fought at Kilmacduach in the year 1200, in which Charles Carragh, as he is called in Ware’s Annals, defeated John Courcy and Walter de Lacy, with the forces led by them into Conought to assist Charles Crobderg.

The Protestant bishopric of Kilmacduach was united to that of Clonfert in the year 1602; and the possessions of the monastery here were, at the general suppression, granted to Richard Earl of Clanrikcard. The diocese is rated in the Queen’s books, according to an extent returned the twenty-eight year of Queen Elizabeth, at £13 6s. 8d., Irish.

Although the bishoprics of Kilmacduach and Clonfert were united, the deanerys of these diocese continued separate. In the autumn of the year 1842 a brazen seal of one of the deans of the former diocese was to be seen in Gort. It was of a lenticular form, and represented within a nitch, surmounted with crosses, the Holy Virgin and Child, around which was the inscription - "Sigillum David Decani Duaccencis" i. e., the seal of David Dean of Kilmacduach.

If any of those who may peruse this Ramble, should wish for the names of such Abbots and Bishops of Kilmacduach as are known, he must refer to Ware’s Bishops, Archdall’s Monasticon Hibernicum, Ereks’ Ecclesiastical Register, or the Catholic Directory Almanack and Registry. It is justly feared that an account of them might be uninteresting and tedious during an ephemeral excursion like the present.

Seal of David, Dean of Kilmacduach
Seal of David, Dean of Kilmacduach
This oval seal is the form denominated by Archaeologists “Vesica Piscis”.
The fish was emelematic of our Saviour.
Click on image for larger view

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