Mason's Parochial Survey, 1814-19

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Clare County Library


Union of Kilrush, Killard, Kilfieragh, Moyferta, and Kilballyhone

IV. Ancient Buildings, &c.

These buildings are:—1st, The five Parish churches; 2nd, The ruined churches of Kilcarrol, Mologha, Kildimo, Kilnagallagh, Kilcrony, Kilcredane, and Ross; 3rd, The round tower, abbey, and churches of Inniscattery; 4th, The Castles of Carrigaholt, Clahansevan, Dunlicky, Dunmore, Dunbeg, and Inniscattery.

Ruined Churches
The church of Kilrush is said to be very ancient. A traditionary elegy is preserved in the neighbourhood, ascribing its building to Senanus, the successor of St. Patrick, and lamenting in pathetic strains, the day when the bones of an heretic were laid in his church; alluding to the interment of a venerable minister of this parish, upward of a century ago, whose doctrine the composer of these verses little suspected to have been the same for sum and substance with that professed by the ancient Irish, entirely independent of the See of Rome.

This church is unroofed, but the walls are standing. It takes this name from its high situation, near the Cliff of Baltard.

This church is said to have been rebuilt by the Macdonnel family early in the last century; it is in thorough repair, and has divine service in it regularly, with a large congregation in the summer time.

This church is in ruins; the greater part of the walls of it having been taken away to cover graves. It is, however, a great burial place for the ancient septs of Macmahon, O’Cahan, O’Honeen, &c. If the traveller should feel any surprise at seeing the celebrated names of “Conti” inscribed on several tombstones here, he may conclude that they cover the remains of descendants of some of the illustrious visitors of the Clare family, at the neighbouring castle and mansion of Carrigaholt. It is said, that when the Earls of Thomond wrote to their noble relatives here, they sometimes directed their letters “To Carrigaholt, near Spain;” alluding to the facility and frequency of intercourse between this place and the continent of Europe.
A large bell was found here a few years ago, and sent to Limerick, where it was sold.

The church of Kilballyhone is without a roof, nor is it likely that it has been covered in for a century and a half; yet the walls are standing, and in perfect repair. Light was admitted into it but sparingly at the east window, all the rest being narrow spike holes. Three courses of hewn stones project one over another, round about the side walls, and are supported on the inside by twenty-seven projecting stones, firmly fastened in the wall. This accounts for the perfect state of the building, after such a lapse of time since it was unroofed. The arch of the door is Gothic, and seems low, as the graves and tomb-stones have raised the surface of the inside of the church several feet above the level of the ancient floor, the hard, and almost impenetrable surface of which, generally forms the bottoms of the graves. Here are the remains of a baptismal font, which has been broken; but on each side of the square pedestal which supported it, are figures not inelegantly sculptured; but only two of them remain perfect. One of these is an human figure bare-headed, with a staff or crozier in his hand; and the other a tree, with two projecting branches.

As a specimen of the effects of lay impropriations and non cures on the Protestant religion in Ireland, it may be stated here, that three Protestant families of the name Austin, Gibson, and Brew, lapsed into Popery in this parish, within the last half century. This may in a great degree be ascribed to the want of a church and a resident clergyman, in a parish, regularly attended by a Romish priest. It is but just, however, to observe here, that the decline of the Protestant religion, in this instance, cannot be laid to the charge of the present incumbent; the effects of whose active and examplary zeal, are at this day visible in his large and respectable congregation at Kilrush. But Kilrush is at least twelve miles distant from the ruined church of Killballyhone; the rectorial tythes of which are divided between a lay impropriator and the Prebendary of Tomgraney, near Killaloe, sixty miles distant from it. It is much to be regretted, that so many parishes in the south of Ireland, are situated in this way, with respect to Killballyhone.

The ruined church of Kilcarrol stands on a sequestered spot, within half a mile of Kilrush, situated in a rich vein of ground: it would justify Butler’s observation,—

“No Jesuit ever yet was found
To plant a church in barren ground.”

In most places, however, as well as in Kilcarrol, early cultivation has made good ground; and monks have often converted barren and wild spots into fruitful gardens and luxuriant meadows. In this old church are the remains of a worm-eaten wooden image, held in the greatest veneration by the peasantry; and near the church is a circular mound of earth and stones, from the top of which, tradition says, St. Carrol preached. This is a popular burial place.

Mologha is celebrated as the birth place of St. Senanus, bishop and abbot of Inniscathay, (Inniscattery) which is said to have been founded by St. Patrick early in the fifth century. Seanus is here called “Saint Shannon;” and none of our boat-men would venture on the management of a vessel which had not made a pilgrimage round his “Sainted Isle,” or had not a stone in her keel from the holy strand, to keep her from sinking.

Every vestige of this church has disappeared; but tradition records its situation in an orchard near the residence of the late Mr. Arthur O’Donnel. When Ludlow laid siege to Carrigaholt, a skirmish took place here, between a party of his men and the O’Cahans or Kanes, in which the English commander, Captain Scaff, was killed, his head cut off, and put upon one of the gables of Kildimo Church.

The ruins of Kilneagallagh church are near Clare field, in the parish of Kilfieragh: part of the walls remained a few years ago. This church is said and recorded to have been founded for the use of certain nuns, called “The Daughters of Noteus.” Its ancient name was Kilcochaile; its present one denotes, “The Church of Old Women.” It is the burial place of the Protestant families of Cox and Scales, who have leases in perpetuity of adjoining farms from the representatives of the Ballykett Hickman family, by whom they, and some other families, were settled here upwards of a century since, for the purpose of encouraging the Protestant religion in this part of the country. The salutary effects of this colony have been long visible, in the superior civilization, loyalty, and industry of these parishes.

The people of the name of Scales are settled round the Danish fort of Rathaninky, in the parish of Kilfieragh: they are descended from a family of that name, on Lough-Erne side, in the county of Fermanagh. Their ancestor, who removed to this farm, had been educated for the Presbyterian ministry; but being interrupted in his pursuits by the troubled state of Ireland, under the despotism of James the second, he was glad to accept of a lease renewable for ever, of sixty acres of ground here, from Mr. Hickman. This little property he divided between his two sons, each of whom again sub-divided it between their children; and it is now occupied by almost as many Scales, as it contains acres. Having, however, turned their attention to the linen manufacture, and learned the arts of boat building, and forging anchors, &c. this interesting colony has not fallen into that state of indigence, which might have been expected from the increase of their numbers, and the subdivisions of their farms.

Kilcrony is situated on the Shannon, near Dunaha. It is remarkable only as the burial place of the ancient and respectable family of Morony, or Moroni, whose principal head, the late Andrew Morony of Dunaha, was converted from the errors of the Romish faith, by Dean Coote, one of the late rectors of this union.

There are considerable ruins of two ancient churches in this place, which is a beautiful spot of high ground, projecting into the Shannon, west of Carrigaholt. In one of them is a burial place of the Macdonnell’s of Kilkea. There is a well in one of the cliffs here, dedicated to Credan Neapha, “The Sanctified Credan:” it is remarkable for curing sore-eyes, and restoring ricketty children to health, on which account, great numbers of people resort to it from all parts of the county in summer. It is said to have a circular motion like a whirlpool, the rapidity of which is considered as the measure of its efficacy on those who use it. The tide comes near this well, but never so far as to profane it by any “intermixture of its bitter water.”

The church of Ross is situated near the natural bridges, on the remote and wild bay, called by this name. It is thirty feet long, and fifteen wide. The eastern wall had fallen into the body of the church, but was made up again in a temporary way by loose stone; and the altar has been rebuilt in the same way; from which circumstances, together with a graven image of lime-stone, which lies on the altar, it is probable that this remote and sequestered place was used in latter times for the celebration of Mass, when the Romish religion was not publicly tolerated. In the adjoining grave-yard, the inhabitants of the neighbourhood point out to strangers, the tomb of nine saints of eminent piety, said to have been buried here many centuries ago. This was once a popular burying place; but for more than a century, no person has been interred in it, owing it is said to the circumstance of a body, which had been deposited here, having been found over ground next morning, and disinterred again, as often as it was committed to its original grave. On the cliffs near this place, are several immense stones, said to have been heaved up from the ancient watery beds, by the tremendous fury of the Atlantic ocean, during the earthquake which destroyed Lisbon in 1759.

A gentleman of a neighbouring barony, who holds this farm, under Mr. Westby, leaves a long cable at Ross House, (an ancient residence of the Kanes) for the purpose of saving the timber of various kinds, which is often cast in here after a storm. Balk beams, and fine planks of mahogany, with fragments of masts, &c. are often thrown up in a considerable quantity, after a continuance of stormy weather. Some years ago a pipe of wine, supposed to be port, floated gently into one of the deep bays, between two high cliffs, near this place. The vigilant watchman and his assistants prepared the rope; one of them descended with it, and had just time to fasten it on the object of their enterprize, and be drawn back again, when a sudden swell of the sea raised the vessel half way to the top, and then descending as suddenly, dashed it to pieces on the rocks, at the base of the cliff.

At a small distance from Ross, and divided from it by a bog, the ruins of the church of Kilcoan were some years ago perceptible. It was called the church of Coan, a survivor of the nine saints, whose bodies lie in the church-yard of Ross. He was to have been buried along with them; but falling into mortal sin after their death, the piety of the times separated his remains from those of his more immaculate companions. They were, however, considered holy enough to warrant the building of a church over them, and render this one of the popular burying places of the country.

The round tower, cathedral, and other churches in the island of Inniscathay, or Inniscattery.

Round Tower
The round tower in this interesting island, is a hundred and twenty feet high; it forms a beautiful object, and an useful land-mark in the mouth of the Shannon. This Tower was struck with lightening many years ago, and split for several feet from its top: it is however, not likely to fall for some time, and when it does, it is to be hoped it may be rebuilt in a permanent manner: a sailor climbed to the top of it for a trifling wager some years since. It differs in no material respect from the other round towers in Ireland; having the door several feet from the ground.

Cathedral Church
The cathedral church of Inniscattery, once called Inniscathay, or “Battle Island”? was founded by St. Patrick, about the middle of the fifth century, and is said to have been governed by him for some time, when Senanus succeeded him as bishop and abbot of it. To this, a passage of Sir James Ware alludes, where St. Patrick is introduced prophesying, that Senanus, not then born, should be his successor. “The prelates of this church,” says Ware, (Bishops, page 502.) “are sometimes called bishops and sometimes abbots; and there are very few traces to be met with concerning them in ancient writers.”

The traditionary account of Senanus, at Kilrush, is this:—He was born at Mologha, on the scite of the present ruined church, which was erected in honour of him. Before he was baptized, his mother took him out in her arms early in a summer’s morning, and as she passed along, tasted some wild fruit that she met on her way; the child, to her utter astonishment, exclaimed:—“ Es much a lungan thu a vahir,” “You have an early appetite, mother.” The mother answered, “Shan a lavrin thu a Laniv,” “You have old talk, my child.” The word “Shan” (or old) was then adopted by the saint for his name. He desired his mother to pluck three rushes from a valley near her dwelling, where a lake sprung up, in which she baptized the child, with a form of words prescribed by himself. To this day the lake remains, and is called Loughshanan.

Senanus, and the monks of his abbey, at Inniscathay, were so strict, as to make it a matter of conscience, not so much as to look at a woman, and much less to suffer one to land on the island?.

Monastic Antiquities
A stone, upon which Senanus one knelt, and in which the print of his knee is still shewn, at he head of the creek of Kilrush, is still held in such veneration, that every countryman who passes it, bows, takes off his hat, or mutters a prayer as he goes along.

An ancient bell, said by O’Halloran and many others, to belong to St. Senanus’s altar, is still preserved by the descendants of the family of O’Kane, in “The West;” and the spot on which it is averred that it fell from heaven for the Saint’s use, is shewn at the cross, between Kildimo and Farrihy, where an altar has been erected to commemorate the event. This relic antiquity is covered by a strong coat of silver, firmly fastened to it, and ornamented by raised figures: it is in general use for the discovery of petty thefts, and the clearance of characters. Many of the country people would not swear falsely on the “Golden Bell?,” as it is called, for they are taught from their infancy, that the consequence of such an act would be instant death.

The remains of the monument of Senanus, which was defaced by the Danes, in 816, are still to be seen in Scattery Island, with the ruins of eleven churches, and several cells. In the stone that closes the top of the altar window of the cathedral church, is the head of the saint, with his mitre, boldly executed, and but little defaced. This is one of the most popular burial places in the county; but as it is not very easy of access in stormy weather, the inconvenience is remedied by a burial place called Shanakill, (the old church) on the town lands of Leadmore, near Kilrush. The country people believe that all the bodies buried in this latter place, are miraculously conveyed under the bed of the river into the holy ground of Inniscatterry.

The sea is making great inroads on this island, and consequently taking away its soil. An ancient graveyard, on one of the cliffs near the castle, is mouldering away in this manner; and layers of human bones, a few feet from the surface, are washed off gradually by the action of the tide.

Inniscatterry Castle
The castle of Inniscatterry is now but twenty or five and twenty feet high: it was granted by Queen Elizabeth to the corporation and citizens of Limerick for ever. It is on the eastern extremity of the island, as are all the churches.

Dunbeg Castle
The castle of Dunbeg, which stands at the bottom of the bay of that name, on the Atlantic ocean, is perfect. A spiral stone stair leads to the top, which is arched over, and has a grass plot on it: this castle is very high, and commands the bridge which is near it. This was one of the castles of the O’Briens, who, as well as all the other proprietors of this country, held their estate by sword tenure; being obliged to defend the country from the incursions of their turbulent neighbours. From the fourth century, the territory of Thomond was declared sword lands, (Fearhan forgabhala na clordhimb) and free from every tribute, whilst the chieftains preserved this barrier of Munster.

Dunmore Castle
Dunmore castle is situated on the western side of the bay of Dunbeg, near the entrance; it is about the same height and dimensions of the neighbouring castle of Dunbeg. The sea has worked its passage into the deep vaults under it, and with the wind whistling through it, has often produced strange and frightful noises, to the terror of those who believe the place to be haunted by the ghosts of some prisoners said to have been murdered there many centuries ago. Not one of these castles is without a deep vault, “A Donjon keep,” which the peasants call the “murdering hole,” and people with hobgoblins and apparitions.

Dunlickey Castle
Dunlickey, (or the fortified place on the rock,) is one of the most curious places in “The West.” A spot of land, containing about an acre, is nearly insulated by the ocean; and the accessible part is guarded by a high narrow tower, with a wall on each side. The tower and wall are still standing, though the mortar has been worn away, so as to give the building an appearance of being composed of loose stones: this place lies on a cliff between Kilkea and Knocknagauhun, or Carhunaveelane.

Clahansevan Castle
Clahansevan castle was situated in the same manner as Dunlichky, guarding the pass to a peninsula, assessable only through it: it was blown down by a storm in the winter of 1802. Tradition says, that it was once used for the dreadful purpose of decoying ships to this iron bound coast; and certainly it might be readily and fatally mistaken by mariners for Loops-Head lighthouse.

Carrigaholt Castle
Carrigaholt castle, (or Carrick an Oultagh, the Ulsterman’s Rock) is said to have been built by an adventurer from the County of Down, from which circumstance its name is derived. This castle, and the whole peninsula of “Western Corkavaskin,” now called “the West,” was once the property of a branch of the ancient family of MacMahon, which claims its descent from Mahon, the elder brother of Brien Boroimhe, the great king of Ireland.

The last proprietor of this Castle, and the adjoining estate of the MacMahon family, was Teig Keigh, who lived in the reign of queen Elizabeth. His sister Una had been married to Edward Fitz-Maurice the tenth Lord of Kerry, who died in 1543, leaving issue by Una MacMahon, four sons and five daughters. The daughter of Teig Keigh, (the one eyed Lord, as he was called) married Maurice the second son of Patrick Fitz-Thomas, Fitz-Maurice, Lord of Lixnaw, an obstinate rebel, who, hearing of the arrival of the English army, under Sir George Carew, at Carrigafoyle, from Kilrush, on the 28th of July, 1600, demolished his castle of Beauliew, and died of grief. Thus connected in the neighbouring county of Kerry, the unfortunate Teig became deeply implicated in the rebellion against queen Elizabeth; and spending most of his time in arms with the rebel army on the other side of the river, left his wife and unmarried daughter in the castle of Carrigaholt. Some outrages having being committed by MacMahon, on persons who had been sent into West Corkavaskin, to collect certain chief rents, or taxes due to the crown, a complaint was made to the celebrated Earl of Thomond, who sent his brother, Henry O’Brien of Trummera castle, to remonstrate with his relative MacMahon, on the impropriety of such conduct, not knowing that the unfortunate chieftain waited only for an opportunity to break out into rebellion. O’Brien arrived at the castle of Carrigaholt in the absence of the proprietor, who was with his friends in Kerry, making arrangements for their intended operations. During a stay of three weeks here, an attachment was formed between this young gentleman and the beautiful daughter of MacMahon, who, knowing her father’s savage disposition, and rooted hostility to the Thomond family, not only despaired of obtaining his consent to an union with O’Brien, but even dreaded he would assassinate him on his return. The young lover sometimes spent his mornings in the enjoyment of the pleasures of the chase; and it was agreed on between him and his mistress, that in case the Lord of the castle should return in his absence, and manifest a spirit of hostility towards him, a black handkerchief should be hoisted by the lady on the flag staff, on the western pinacle of the castle.

The castle of Carrigaholt was then, and is still, inclosed by a court yard, secured by high walls on one side, and the cliffs and bay on the other, from which, to the white strand, on the Moyarta side of the creek, there is a passage of considerable depth for several hundred yards. Returning from the chase one evening, O’Brien was so absorbed in thought, that he neglected as usual to look towards the top of the castle, till the closing of the great gate behind him, and the shouts of the guard approaching to seize him, interrupted his reverie, and directed his eyes to the black flag which waved in melancholy undulation from the top of the castle. His followers, except one, were instantly secured, when, to the astonishment of MacMahon, the intrepid O’Brien and his faithful servant plunged with their horses into the foaming tide, from the black rock near the castle, and under an heavy fire from the assassins, arrived safely on the white strand of Moyarta. In the mean time, a detachment of MacMahon’s men had hurried round to a narrow pass through a cliff, between the white strand and the road to Kilrush, and firing on the devoted fugitives, killed O’Brien’s servant, and wounded himself severely in one of his hands. He made his escape however; and his noble father sent him to queen Elizabeth’s court with his arm in a sling, and an account of the unparalleled ingratitude and treachery of his savage relative. The queen instantly, without hesitation, declared MacMahon an outlaw, and made a grant of his entire estate to the injured O’Brien, who returned to subdue him and take possession of it.

The work was however done before his arrival, for we find in Sir George Carew’s Pacata Hibernia, “That Tirlogh, son of Teig Keugh MacMahon of Thomond, slew his father, while the castle of Dunbay was besieged;” and the historian adds, that “the queen gave his lands to the Earl of Thomond’s brother.” As the wretched Tirlough fled to Spain in the month of December, 1601, no obstacle remained to O’Brien’s entering peaceably on the fortified estate of West Corkavaskin; and the triumphant return was crowned by an union with the fair and faithful object of his wishes. This founder of the Clare branch of the Thomond family was the second son of Helen, youngest daughter of Pierce Earl of Ormond. Lodge calls him Teig, and says, “His residence was at Moyartie and Carrhychoulta.” His third son, Daniel O’Brien, repaired the castle of Carrigaholt, as appears by an inscription on a large limestone chimney piece in the upper room. He represented the county of Clare in parliament, early in the seventeenth century, and was knighted for his services to the crown. He was afterwards a member of the General Assembly of Kilkenny; and on the 14th of November, 1642, was appointed to the supreme Council of that assembly; the other commissioners for the province of Munster being Viscount Roche, Edmond Fitz-Maurice, Doctor Fennel, Robert Lambert, and George Comyn.

Upon the restoration, Sir Daniel O’Brien, in consideration of his own and his children’s eminent services, was created Baron of Moyferta, or Moyarta, and Viscount Clare, and had an entire restitution of his estate by the “Act of Explanation, in 1662.” He married Catherine, daughter of Gerald, sixteenth Earl of Desmond, and had issue four sons; 1st, Donogh, his heir, who died in Limerick in 1638, and was buried in St. Mary’s Church, in the tomb of his illustrious Ancestors; 2nd, Connor, who succeeded his father; 3rd, Murrogh, who married Eleanor, daughter of Richard Wingfield, Esq.; and, 4th, Teig, who married Mary, daughter of Gerald Fitz-Gerald of Ballighane, Esq. Connor, the second Viscount, died about the year 1670, and by his wife Honora, daughter of Daniel O’Brien of Duagh, had Daniel, the third viscount, who married Philadelphia, eldest daughter of Francis Leonard, Lord Dacre of the south, and sister to Thomas, Earl of Sussex. This Lady died in 1662, and left her Lord two sons, Daniel and Charles, the fourth and fifth Viscounts. Daniel (the third Viscount) took a decided part at the revolution, being one of the most able and active supporters of king James II. of whose privy council he was sworn a member on the 28th of February, 1684. He was one of the lords who sat in the pretended parliament at Dublin, held the 7th of May, 1689. He was also Lord Lieutenant of the County of Clare, and Colonel of a regiment of horse, which he raised at Carrigaholt, and which, from the facing of their uniform, were called the “Dragoon Buoys,” (Yellow Dragoons.) John MacNamara was first, and James Phillips second Lieutenant Colonel, and Browne Major of this regiment.

In 1689, Lord Clare’s dragoons were considered the flower of king James’ army; and when they were sent into Ulster in the summer of this year, with a numerous and well appointed army, under the conduct of Lord Mount Cashel, the command of them was given to Sir James Cotter.

On the 26th of July, in this year, they were encountered near Lisnaskea, in the county of Fermanagh, by Captain Martin Armstrong, with two troops of horse and two companies of foot, who making a feint to attack with his horse, retired as if in disorder, till he drew the enemy into the ambuscade of his foot, who, by an unexpected volley, caused a great slaughter; the horse at the same instant, facing about, fell on with incredible force, and cut this brave regiment almost to pieces, very few escaping by flight; the terror and swiftness of which, gave rise to an irony, to this day used among the Muster Irish, and well known at Kilrush, “Cos, cos, a dragoon buoy;” that is, “Stop, stop, yellow dragoon;” to which, the dragoon replies, “not till we come to the bridge of Clare;” and another, “no, not till we come to the ford of Moyarte.” They who escaped to the main army of the Irish, struck an unusual panic through it. The gallant Enniskilleners, animated by this first success, followed up by the blow, and engaging the enemy at Wattle Bridge, near Castlesaunderson, gave them a signal defeat, so that the enemy’s loss, in the pursuit, in the battle, and in the defeat of Lord Clare’s regiment, was computed to amount to four thousand men.

On the 11th of May 1691, Lord Clare was outlawed for his adherence to king James; and dying soon afterwards, his son Daniel, the fourth Viscount, went into France with the unfortunate monarch and died there. His brother Charles, the fifth Viscount, married the eldest daughter of Henry Buckley, Esq., Master of the household to king James the second; and fighting for the French, at the battle of Ramellies, on the 11th of May, 1706, received nine wounds, whereof he died, leaving several children, the eldest of whom was colonel of one of the Irish regiments in the French service, bore the title of Lord Clare, and died on the 20th of May, 1742, N.S. at Prague in Bohemia.

The present proprietor of the castle and estate of Carrigaholt, is the Honourable Francis Nathaniel Burton of Buncraggy.

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