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Ordnance Survey Letters by John O'Donovan and Eugene Curry, 1839

Parish of Disert (a)

                                                                                                                                    23rd October 1839.

The Parish of Disert in the Barony of Inchiquin and Co. of Clare, is bounded on the north by the Parish of Kilkeedy; on the east by the Parishes of Inchicronan and Dromclieve; on the south by the Parish of Kilmurry Ibrican; and on the west by the Parish of Rath. See Down Survey Map.

The name of this Parish strictly speaking is not of ecclesiastical origin, as Diseart means nothing more than wilderness, and yet I believe that every place of the name in Ireland is found in connection with an ecclesiastical establishment. This can be easily accounted for by considering that when any of the ancient Irish hermits retired to the wilderness for solitude the place of his retirement immediately became associated with his name, and thenceforward was called after him, whether it became an ecclesiastical establishment, which I believe was invariably the case, or not, and hence all the Diserts, such as Disert Dermoda, now called Tristledermot, Co. Kildare; Disert Aongusa, Queen’s County, with many others, and Disert Tola our immediate subject, deriving its name from St. Tola, Bishop, who, it would appear, was the founder of the first Church here, and whose festival, according to the Irish Calendar, was held on the 30th March.

Tola, Easpóg ó Diseart an uachtar Dhal cCais, 30th March.
Tola, Bishop from Diseart in the upper part of Dalcais.

Doctor Lanigan, having found a Diseart Tola in this district and another in the Barony of Delvin, Co. Westmeath, concludes that there is some mistake in the account, and gets over the difficulty by assuming that Disert Tola was placed (situated) somewhere on the confines of Munster and Meath. Hear the Doctor:-

Lanigan’s Ecc. Hist. Vol. III., p. 171

DISERT-TOLA. St. Tola, Bishop of Clonard, died in 734 on the 30th of March, the day on which his anniversary was commemorated (105). This Saint was of the illustrious family of the Galengi (106) and son of one Dunchad. He led for many years the life of a hermit at a place called from him Disert-Tola, and situated either in the southern part of the ancient Meath, or northern part of ancient Munster and consequently in the now King’s County (107). Afterwards he was raised to the See of Clonard, but in what year is not recorded. It has been said that he was Bishop also of Kildare. That this is a mistake may be safely concluded from as much as is known of his transactions (108).

(105). Colgan, treating of St. Tola (at 30th March, page 793) quotes the Four Masters, who assign his death to 733 (734). As to the day of it, which was omitted by them, he does not (ib.) expressly mark it, only observing that his memory was revered on the 30th of March; but elsewhere (A.A. S.S. page 407) we read, according to his printed text, that Tola died on the 3rd of March. This must be a typographical error for thirty, whereas Colgan states that he has taken from the calendars of all the obitual days, the Natalis of the several Saints whom he names on this part of the A.A. Now all the calendars referred to by him at page 793, have Tola’s name only at the 30th March, and it is plain that Colgan considered it as his Natalis. This mistake of the printer (one of the thousands which have greatly injured Colgan’s works) led astray Ware, (Bishops at Meath) who, accordingly, assigned Tola’s death to the 3rd of March. Besides this mistake Ware fell into another for which Colgan is not to blame, although he professed to follow him; for instead of 733, which Colgan has everywhere for the death of Tola, he, or his printer, has given him 732.

(106). The family of the Galengi inhabited, I suppose, some of the districts called Galenga or Gallen. There was a Gallen or Galian, which comprised a very large part of the Queen’s County and of the Counties of Carlow and Kildare. Considering the situation of the place in which, as will be just seen, St. Tola commenced his career, it is not improbable that he was a native of that Territory.

(107). Colgan observes that the Calendar of Cashel places Disert-Tola in Meath, while, according to every other authority, it was in upper Dalcassia, that is, the northern part of Munster. He justly remarks that it lay perhaps as the boundary of both Provinces. In former times Meath and Munster met each other in what is called the King’s County, which has been made up of districts that belonged to these Provinces. That Disert-Tola was in the now Barony of Garrycastle in said County may, I think, be deduced from the circumstance related by the Four Masters at A.D. 1034 of Carten, Lord of Dealbhna, having been killed by some of his subjects when entering the Church of Disert-Tola. This Dealbhna was in all probability the one surnamed Eathra, the McCoghlan’s country, of Barony of Garrycastle. (See Harris’s Antiq., Chapter 7, and Sewar at Dealbhna).

(108). In St. Tola’s Acts at 30th March, in which Colgan collected everything that he could find concerning him, Kildare is not even mentioned. In the passage of the Four Masters relative to him, there quoted at full length, he is called Bishop only of Clonard. The Calendar of Cashel has “St. Tola of Disert Tola.” The Martyrology of Donegall, St. Tola, Bishop and Anchoret, of Disert-Tola.” But in no calendar whatsoever is he said to have belonged to Kildare. Yet, at page 407, we find - and of Kildare, et de Kill-dara, added to the words Bishop of Clonard. It is plain that Killdara has slipped in, instead of Disert Tola. Hence proceeded the mistake of Ware and Harris, who (Bishops at Meath and Kildare) make him Bishop only of Clonard, but likewise of Kildare. To show still further that they were mistaken, I may add that in the very minute catalogue which Colgan has (Triad. Thau. page 629) of the Bishops, Abbots, etc. of Kildare from the beginning down to the 13th century, no Saint Tola is reckoned among them.

With the Doctor’s difficulties about the situation of Disert Tola I will have nothing to do but I will here bring together all the evidence that has reached me to shew that the present place has a distinct and well-founded claim to the name.

I have already quoted the Irish Calendar and will now give the following from the Annals of the Four Masters:-

Anno 1589. Dermot Oge, the son of Dermot, who was son of Conor (Bishop of Limerick) who was son of Morogh an Dana, O’Dea, died, and was interred in his own town of Disert-Tola in the cantred of Kinel-Fearmaic, in the upper part of Dal-gCais.

The following extract from O’Donnell’s incursion into Thomond in the year 1599, as given in the same Annals, will identify this Disert with the Kenel-Fearmaic (the O’Deas) and upper Dalcais.

Anno 1599. O’Donnell proceeded with the flower of the army through the middle of Coill O’Flanchadha, to Bealach-an-Fhiodfhail and before noon arrived at Cill-Inghine-Bhaoith in the upper part of Dal gCais. Those who had gone to the south returned to the north by Drumfinglass and Corofin, and joined O’Donnell at Cill-Inghine-Bhaoith. Thither the spoils of the whole country of Kinel-Fearmaic, extending from Disert to Glencolumbkille, and to Tullycummon (north) and from Cluain-Sailchearnaigh (in the east) to Leim-an-Eich (in the west) were brought to O’Donnell.

This place at a subsequent period took the name of Disert O’Dea from the Chief of the Kenel-Fearmaic (O’Dea) having built a Castle and fixed his residence here. More of its history hereafter.