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St. Mary’s Church, Ruan, 1911–2011 by Linda Hogan and Frances O'Halloran


Seasons in Clare
by Paddy Fielding (Circa 1982)

It lies North-West of Ennis
It’s a village rich and rare
It’s name stands for the red earth
The loveliest in Clare.

The little chapel steeple
Down in the valley lies
Tucked beneath the Hill of Porte
Beneath those Banner skies.

St. Mary’s Church, Ruan
St. Mary’s Church, Ruan

And when this, St. Mary’s Church, is finished may it be for us not only a House of Prayer but a Temple of Peace where all our little feuds and factions, contentions and animosities are buried for ever
Bishop Fogarty on the occasion of the blessing of the foundation of St. Mary’s Church in 1910.


Frost’s History of Clare tells us that the name Ruan comes from the old Irish name for the Alder tree, Ruadhan. The bark of the alder was used in olden times to dye wool red. Writing in 1807 Samuel Lewis tells us that Ruan was the site of one of the principal sheep fairs in the county. This fair was held on September 26th and a fair was also held on June 17th. Until the early 1960s the school was closed on these days but by then the opening of Ennis Mart had put an end to fairs.

Frost’s History also tells us that the MacBrody family, who were hereditary poets and historians to the O’Brien’s of Thomond, were associated with our parish. They had land in Ballybrody, Lettermoylan and Kilkee which they held free of all tribute by virtue of their office as Chroniclers of Kings. The Macbrody family lost all their property during the Cromwellian wars. Bishop Fogarty alluded to this proud history when urging the people of Ruan to build a new church even though finance was a problem.

Chronological List of Churches

From the diocesan archives we learn that the most ancient church in this part of the parish is the 13th century Teampeall Hugh O’Connell in Aughrim Kelly. The next church was Teampeall na Raha in Ballymacrogan. This church had a school associated with it but there is no trace of either building now. In the old graveyard there is a ruin of a church which dates from the late 15th century and measures 55ft by 9 ½ ft. The east window has 2 gothic lights and the south wall has a plain gothic door. A later building projects from the church and has the following inscription:

“This chapel and tomb were erected by Donnach O’Kerine, the son of Dermot O’Kerine of Owan for him and his posterities in the year of Our Lord God 1688”

A thatched church was later built on the site where the priest’s house now stands. Ciarán O’Murchadha in his book “The Diocese of Killaloe” tells us that the church building was there in 1786 because of a report from that year which reveals parishioners crowding into it to take illegal Whiteboy Oaths, against the objections of the clergy. The Whiteboys, also known as Terry Alts or Ribbonmen, were a rural protest movement of the early 19th century. (The priest at that time lived beside where Gerard O’Halloran’s house is now but that house burned down in the 1930s). The thatched church was slated in about 1834 but by the early 1900s Bishop Fogarty said he understood “the loving tenacity with which you have clung to the old church until its worm eaten rafters were almost about your heads”. He went on to say that he “tried all the architects skills to have it repaired, but in vain”, so he gave his consent to have it replaced by a new one. A part of the original chimney from this old church is now in Fr. O’Neill’s possession. In the Bishop’s Visitation Book it is stated that the first stone for the new church was put down by Fr. Marcus McGrath C.C. on 11th May, 1910 (see fig.1, below)

St. Mary’s Church, Ruan: Fig. 1
Fig. 1

The remains of Fr. Constance Curtin who died in 1845 and was buried beside the old thatched church were exhumed and re-interred in the priests’ burial ground in the new church.

Fr. J. Garry (Parish Priest of Ruan, 1900 to 1912)

Fr. Garry was born in Shannahea near Kildysart around 1856. He was ordained the year that Michael Davitt started the Land League (1878) and one of the first Land League meetings in Clare was held in Inagh when he was curate there. His last public function was an address to the tenants of the Crowe estate in Dromore. He was very ill at the time and the weather was cold and wet but ‘The Clare Champion’ of 2nd November 1912 tells us of “the indignant and scornful manner in which he denounced the conduct of the authorities to the police inspector” and of his speech “full of fatherly and Christian advice, a speech full of hope and promise of success”. When he died telegrams of sympathy were sent to his brother by M.P.s John and Willie Redmond. ‘The Clare Champion’ also notes that Thos. Crowe, Dromore and his son, attended his funeral as did Sir Michael O’Loughlin (Sir Michael O’Loughlin, who was the 1st Catholic Master of the Rolls and whose mausoleum is in Ruan graveyard is also commemorated by a statue in Ennis Court House).

Group outside the new Ruan Church, 1911
Group outside the new Ruan Church, 1911

From letters in the diocesan archive it would appear that the site of the new church was a cause of some controversy in the parish. Bishop Fogarty alluded to this when he spoke at the blessing of the foundation and said “the churches are build and maintained by the people themselves. Every stone in them is their gift to God. In this ancient village they made an additional offering to God of their naturally strong feelings on the subject and cheerfully abided by the decision”. The Bishop went on to thank Mr. and Mrs. Mellett who “with extreme generosity and goodness presented the parish with the beautiful site on which your new church is now being built. Mrs. Mellet (formerly Gertrude Mathew of Rinroe) was a grandniece of Fr. Theobald Mathew, the Apostle of Temperance.

St. Mary’s Church, Ruan: Fig. 2
Fig. 2


In 1907 the total cost of the building was estimated at £2,500, less altar and baptistery. The architect was Mr. O’Malley of 10 Glentworth Street, Limerick and the builders were Mr. Harry Keller and Mr. William McInerney, both of Kilrush. Fr. Garry had about £1,000 in hand because of legacies left to the parish by Mrs. McGuane and Mr. Jeremiah Kelly (see figs.2, above & 3, below). The bishop himself gave £100 and Fr. Garry said he “will build the church in honour of the Blessed Virgin and she will find the money”. Bishop Fogarty urged the people of the parish to contribute what they could in the following words: “there is hardly a stone in a modern Irish chapel that is not put there by the hand or the pennies and shillings of the people themselves. I venture to say that when your new church here is finished it will be true to say that there is not a family in the parish that did not contribute its own share either by voluntary labour or assistance in money”. There was a debt of £400 when the church was dedicated in 1911. In 1912 a letter from Fr. M. McGrath to the bishop states that Mr. Henry Keller had agreed to put up wainscoting and altar rails at a price of £31 each.

St. Mary’s Church, Ruan: Fig. 3
Fig. 3

Dedication of church – July 1911

‘The Clare Champion’ of 29th July, 1911 tells us that the dedication was performed on the previous Sunday by Dr. Fogarty, Lord Bishop of Killaloe. The paper describes the church as follows: “The building which is gothic in style is carved out in dressed limestone. The nave is 70 feet x 26, with two transepts 22 x 18 feet each and the ridge is 40 feet high. The interior is lighted by large three light windows in stained glass panels finished with columns on the inside and moulded coping. The roof is finished in pitch pine in an ornate style and the whole effect and beauty of the structure is heightened by a handsome tower from which will spring a spire to a height of 75 feet.”

Interior of the new Ruan Church, 1911
Interior of the new Ruan Church, 1911

The sermon was preached by the Most Rev.Dr. Gilmartin, Bishop of Clonfert who took as his text “and I heard a great voice from the throne saying “Behold the Tabernacle of God with men and He will dwell with them and they shall be his people.” (Apocalypse xxi.3). He told the congregation that the first church we read about in sacred literature consisted of one stone, erected by Jacob saying “and this stone which I here set up for a title shall be called the House of God”. He appealed to the people of Ruan and their friends and neighbours to “show their devotion to God’s house by contributing to wipe off the debt that still remains due on this sacred edifice.” He concluded by saying that canon law requires that every church be called a name and the name of the new church would be St. Mary’s of Ruan.

Bishop Fogarty spoke at the end of Mass and thanked and prayed for the families whose donations had made the building possible. The people of the parish had not only given of their money alone but of their time and labour in building it. He expressed his sorrow that Fr. Garry could not be there because of illness.

St. Mary’s Church, Ruan: Fig. 4
Fig. 4

Consecration of Altar

The altar from the old church was in use in the new church when Most Rev. Patrick Clune, Archbishop of Perth and a native of Aughrim, Ruan visited his native parish in 1913. He donated a new altar from Early & Co. in Dublin at a cost of £250 (see fig.4, above).
Early & Co. of Camden Art Works in Dublin sent the following description of the altar and reredos (ornamental screens behind the altar) to Bishop Fogarty: “The general material for this altar would be Devon stone. The plinth would be marble. The columns supporting the altar table and the backgrounds to the panels in the altar front would be coloured marble. The columns to the tabernacle would be onyx. The columns supporting the canopy and the marble panels in reredos over the doors at the side, to be coloured marble. The altar table and the top of the two candle benches to be Sicilian marble. The front of the Tabernacle to be polished Alabaster or white marble as selected. The Tabernacle to have an iron safe, lined with cedar wood. The door to have brass engraved polished plate. The steps to the altar to be Sicilian marble.”

‘The Clare Champion’ of March 20th, 1915 tells us that on St. Patrick’s Day the new altar was consecrated. The altar is described as “striking and beautiful” and the Tabernacle as “exceedingly ornate of a very beautiful design”. In his sermon Bishop Fogarty explained that the first Christian altars were made of wood but stone was now the standard matter for altars. One reason for this is symbolic and the other is historical. The symbolic one is that the altar is to the church what the rock of Moses was to the people of God in the desert, the source of living waters. The historical reason is that when the early Christians were in the Catacombs Mass was said on the stone slabs covering a martyr’s tomb.

Since very early in the life of the Christian church it has been a fixed and unchangeable law that every altar must be made of stone and have inserted in it at its consecration the relics of some Christian martyr. The relics in the altar of St. Mary’s are of St. Celsus and St. Florentiana.

By now the debt on the church was £70 so the Bishop suggested that there were two more things to be done. First was to put on a porch to keep out the draught and act as a baptistery and second, to start a “copper collection” every Sunday for the upkeep of the church.

1915 – 2011

The porches and spire were added on shortly after the consecration of the altar. When digging the foundation for one of the porches the workers came across the cave which reputedly goes from Porte Hill to Lissyline forte. The porches were built by Mr. Paddy Casey, uncle of the O’Connor family of Attytirilla. The trowel used in laying the foundation stone is still in the possession of Jerry O’Connor.

Big changes were made in the late 1960s after the second Vatican Council when the Mass was no longer said in Latin and the priest faced the people, instead of having his back to them. The altar table was moved forward and the altar rails removed in line with the new regulations. The reredos were made of caen stone that shattered when disturbed but there was enough marble left over to make the lectern and the priest’s seat. Central heating was also installed around this time.

In the mid 1990s major renovations were carried out on the exterior and interior of the church and the stained glass windows behind the altar were replaced. The work was carried out by local contractors O’Connor & Egan. In the late 1990s a second sacristy and toilets were added by the Ruan FAS group, under the supervision of Mr. Morty Kelly. The FAS group continues to maintain the church grounds and graveyards.

St. Mary’s Church, Ruan: Fig. 5
Fig. 5

Stained Glass Windows (see fig.5, above)

At this time also new stained glass windows were installed behind the altar. The windows came from St. Xavier’s Chapel in Ennis, Convent of Mercy, which is now the Temple Gate Hotel. The windows transfer to Ruan came about when the Sisters of Mercy closed down their old convent and moved to new accommodation at Friars Walk. The windows were made by the famous Mayers & Co. of Munich. The Munich studios were bombed by the Allies during the Second World War, destroying all the order books, the names of the artists and the details of the commissions. The studios did not reopen with the result that these windows are irreplaceable today. Mayer windows were competitively priced because of the sheer size of the studios. For this reason they were popular in Ireland at the end of the 19th century. See below for window dedications.

In her book “Sisters of Mercy of Ennis”, Sister Pius O’Brien tells us that in the early days of the Sisters of Mercy in Ennis three Ruan girls joined the community. They were three Lingard sisters, two of whom joined in 1859 and one in 1865. In April 1872 one of the Lingards, Sr. Ignatius was a member of a group of 11 nuns who left for Connecticut at the request of Bishop McFarland of Hartford. The following September the sisters opened schools in Meriden and Middletown. In October of 1872 Sr. Ignatius was joined by her sister, Sr de Pazzi Lingard.

St. Mary’s Church, Ruan: Fig. 6
Fig. 6


At the dedication of the church in 1911 Bishop Fogarty spoke of the need for a baptistry. This was taken care of in 1916 when Canon Flannery VG donated a baptismal font. (See fig. 6, above). The font was in the porch at the right hand side (men's side) and was enclosed behind a railing and gate. The font was placed in its present position with the other Vatican Council changes. At that time coffins were also placed at the back of that side isle and were surrounded by six large candles during the funeral Mass

Brass Gate

When the curate in Ruan, Fr Liam Leamy, died at a young age in 1960 a brass gate was erected in his memory replacing the timber gate in the altar rails. When the rails were taken away the gate was put in front of the candelabra.

Stations of the Cross Dedications:

Erected by Mrs Margaret Hynes, Ballytigue in memory of her husband Patrick Hynes
Erected by Mrs. Mellett in memory of J.B.Kelly and Robert Francis Kelly
Erected by her husband Martin Crowe in memory of Mrs. Mary Crowe
Erected by Miss Bedelia Clune , Hillsborough in memory of her deceased parents James and Bridget Clune
Erected by Mrs Ellen Purcell in memory of her husband Michael Purcell and her daughter Susan Purcell
Erected by Miss Forster in memory of Miss Margaret Forste , Dr. John Forster and Dr. John Forster Rowan
Erected by Mrs. P.J. Linnane in memory of her father and mother Daniel and Mary McGann
Erected by Mrs Jane Flynn, Ballyogan in memory of her husband Thomas Flynn & her son Thomas Flynn
Erected in memory of Ciss Crowe, Ballyogan by Susan Crowe, Chicago
Erected by Mrs. Forde in memory of her husband Ferdinand and children, Ferdinand, Thomas, John and Anne (Mrs. Bryt)
Erected by Nora Foley, Adroon in memory of her husband Tom Foley
Erected by Mrs. Patrick Lynch, Aughrim in memory of Rev. Patrick Lynch & Michael Lynch
Erected by his brothers & sisters in memory of Dr. Patrick Crowe and Eily Crowe
Erected by Michael & Ellen Foley in memory of John & Bridget Foley, late of Ballymagrogan

Stained glass Window Dedications (see fig. 5, above)
Left hand window – The Nativity
Erected by the Rev. E. Scanlan C.C., Mullagh to the memory of his beloved sister Sr. M. Gertrude who died in this convent August 22nd 1907

Centre window – The Sacred Heart
To the Memory of Sister Mary Clement Corcoran who died Oct. 7th 1915

Right hand window – The Holy Family
Erected to the memory of Most Reverend Dr. Flannery, Bishop of Killaloe

This is a fitting time to remember and pray for all the people, who down through the years gave willingly and freely of their time, labour, money and talents to help in the church and in all the activities that go on in the parish. The range of activities is so wide that any list would surely omit somebody. We pray that God will reward all those who give so generously of themselves. "Through the hands of such as these God speaks and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth"

List of Parish Priests in Ruan and Dysart

Patrick Curtin 1790 Dec. 1803
Constance Curtin 1803 Mar. 1845
John MacMahon 1845 1846
Michael Dollard 1846 Oct. 1848
Jeremiah Vaughan 1848 Jan. 1859
Thomas Moloney 1859 Jan. 1869
Michael Spain 1869 1876
Robert Fitzgerald 1876 1889
Fr. D. Flannery 14/12/1888 22/10/1900
Fr. J. Garry 22/10/1900 26/10/1912
Fr. M. Breen Feb. 1913 Oct. 1923
Fr. M.S. O’hUllacain Apr. 1924 Nov. 1935
Fr. E. Vaughan Feb. 1936 Mar. 1947
Fr. M. Gunning Jun. 1947 07/02/1967
Fr. M. Ryan 13/12/1967 04/07/1970
Fr. J. Moroney 04/07/1970 25/07/1980
Fr. J. Donnelly 25/07/1980 22/07/1987
Fr. Con Duffy 22/07/1987 19/06/1992
Fr. Tom Burke 24/07/1992 July 2003
Fr. Pat O’Neill 01/07/2003  

List of Curates in Ruan and Dysart

Fr. T.C. Hill    
Fr. M. Moloney    
Fr. M. Gorman    
Fr. M. Carey    
Fr. M. Corry    
Fr. P. Barry 1882 1887
Fr. C. McNamara 1887 1889
Fr. J. Monahan 1889 1893
Fr. P.J. Hogan 1893 1897
Fr. M. O’Connor Sept. 1897 Dec. 1900
Fr. T. Daly Feb. 1901 Mar. 1905
Fr. M. McGrath Apr. 1905 Oct. 1911
Fr. P.F.Grace Dec. 1911 Oct. 1915
Fr. W. Moloney Dec. 1915 Sept. 1919
Fr. J. Austin Oct. 1919 June 1920
Fr. T. Neylon Aug. 1920 Nov. 1922
Fr. T. Daly Feb. 1923 June 1929
Fr. J. Hayes Aug. 1929 June 1933
Fr. D. Fitzgerald Aug. 1933 July 1935
Fr. A. Ryan Nov. 1935 Mar.1937
Fr. M. Ryan Nov. 1937 May 1941
Fr. J. Corry Sept. 1941 April 1948
Fr. W. Leamy July 1948 Feb. 1960
Fr. P. Carmody July 1961 Apr. 1972
Fr. J. Hourigan Aug. 1972 Sept. 1979
Fr. W. McCormack Oct. 1979 July 1984
Fr. J. O’Brien Dec. 1984 Aug. 1990
Fr. M. O’Brien Jan. 1991 Jan. 1995

List of Sacristans

Mary Clancy - (aunt of John Kirwan)
John & Nancy Kirwan served as sacristans from 1944 until 1994. In recognition of their work for the church, on May 10th 1994, they were presented with the Bene Merenti medal by Fr. Tom Burke. The Bene Merenti Medal was instituted by Pope Gregory XVI in 1832 and is conferred on those who have exhibited long and exceptional service to the Catholic Church.
Bridie Howard
Sheila Lynch

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