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The Annals of Kilfenora or Ye Citie of the Crosses by Charles Ffrench Blake-Forster



The ancient town of Kilfenora, which in bygone days held such a conspicuous position in the Kingdom of Thomond, formerly enjoyed very good inland trade. It is now a market town, situated in a parish of the same name and in the Barony of Corcomroe about fourteen miles distant from Ennis, the capital of the county of Clare, and four miles (N.N.E) from Ennistymon, on the road which leads from Corofin to Lahinch. Kilfenora, which was anciently called Fenabore and Cellumabrack (the silent cell), is also known as “The City of Crosses”. It received the latter name from seven Crosses which encircled the town at regular distances from each other. These Crosses existed from time immemorial and are said by local tradition to have sprung up in one night. However, from the difference of the workmanship, it is evident they were not executed at the same time, and it is very probable that these Crosses were first placed here for purpose of marking the extent of the church property, which was known as Termon lands. It was decreed by an ancient canon of the church, “Ubincunque inveneritis signum Crucis Christine lacesseritis”. In consequence of the fear which existed of insulting the representation of the Cross, peaceable people who feared being plundered and murdered by their lawless neighbours usually had this emblem of the salvation of man printed on their doors or carved in stone. The practice which prevails in this country to the present day, of making wooden crosses and of placing them in the house, appears to have originated after the passing of the canon alluded to, and handed down from generation to generation, though those who follow this ancient custom can now assign no reason for so doing. One of the principal reasons which actuated the people in those rude ages to respect those dwellings on the doors of which the Cross was represented, or having one of stone in their immediate vicinity, and that those who violated the canon were always visited with the most severe ecclesiastical censure.

Of these curious and interesting relics, only two now remain, one of which is very handsomely carved, and although very large (about twelve feet in height) is formed out of one solid stone. This cross stands in a field immediately adjoining the town and nearly opposite the Parish Chapel. The field in which it is placed contains about an acre of rich pasture land which was formerly a potato garden, and is west of the Protestant Cathedral. On the side of the cross which looks towards Kilfenora, is sculptured and representation of the Redeemer draped. Beneath the feet of this figure the remains of which prove that it was handsomely carved, are two ropes which extend to the ground. What these were intended to represent has puzzled many antiquarians, but it is evident they were placed here for the purpose of filling up the empty space. This stately relic is orbed, and as the sculpture is inferior to that of the crosses of Clonmacnoise and Durrow it is in all likelihood of greater antiquity. It is said that it dates from the days of St. Fachnan. The other cross, the arms and head of which are broken off, stands on a slight elevation in the demesne of Ballykeal.

In this little town there is a neat Catholic Chapel, which has been greatly improved through the indefatigable exertions of the parish priest, the Rev Mr Newell, who, since he came to reside amongst them, is deservedly esteemed by his numerous parishioners. There is also a Protestant Church, a portion of the ancient Cathedral which was remodelled. On the left of the walk which leads from the entrance, an arched iron gate, of the cemetery to the door of the church, is the upper portion of an ancient and very curious cross which was placed here as a headstone over one of the graves. At a short distance from the ruins of the Cathedral is a handsome National School, which is divided into two compartments for the education of the youth of both sexes. It was erected at the expense of the late Mr. O’Brien, of Elm Vale, and Ballynalacken Castle, County of Clare, M.P. for the city of Limerick from 1841 to 1852. Over the door is the following inscription:- Kilfenora National School, Built by John O’Brien Esq, M.P. 1841.

There are fairs held at Kilfenora for the sale of cattle etc on the 4th of June, 15th of August, and 9th of October, and a butter market on every Wednesday during the summer months, which is very extensive, owing to the large number of wealthy farmers that reside in the neighbourhood. About a half-a-mile to the south-east, on the Lickeen road, is an iron spa, the waters of which are considered not inferior to those of the far-famed Lisdoonvarna, which by the main road is about four and a half miles distant from Kilfenora, and where every accommodation may be obtained at Reedy’s Hotel. The Protestant Diocese of Kilfenora, or Fenabore, in the Archiepiscopal Province of Cashel, is confined to the Baronies of Corcomroe and Burren, in the County of Clare, and extends only twenty-three statue miles by eleven. It only consisted of thirteen parishes and was, therefore the smallest and poorest in the kingdom. The Protestant Diocese of Kilfenora was united to that of Clonfert in 1741, and subsequently to Killaloe in 1752, which union still exists. The See lands comprise 9,237 acres and the income is included in that of Killaloe. The chapter consists of a Dean, Treasurer, and Archdeacon. There are neither Minor Canons, Prebendaries, or Vicars Choral. A Consistorial Court was occasionally held here by the Vicar-General.

The Bishops of Kilfenora are called in ancient records, Bishops of Fenabore, and often “Episcopus Corcumrothensis” or “Bishops of Corcomroe”, as may be seen by Clynn in his division of the Episcopal Sees, at the end of his Annals, and also by the Annals of Inisfall. They are also called “Bishops of Corcumroth” and sometimes of “Kilfenoragh”. The See was called “Cellumabrach” or the “Silent Cell” in the Census Cameralis, of Centius Camerarius (Cardinal Cencio Savelli), afterwards Pope Honorarius III, who succeeded Innocent III in 1216, and was in turn succeeded by Gregory IX in 1227. The cathedral of Kilfenora was founded by St Fachnan, by some called Fechin.

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The Annals: 1055-1394