19 June 2017
A sunny summer
On Sunday afternoon, on the way from Saint Brendan’s Church in Tarbert, Co Kerry, to Rathkeale for confirmations in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale [18 June 2017], two of us stopped for lunch in the village of Shanagolden, nestled in green-and-gold pastureland and basking in the warm summer sunshine.
In recent weeks, I have been trying to visit the towns and villages in the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes that once had Church of Ireland parish churches, even if they are no longer standing. The church in Shanagolden is of particular personal interest because this was once closely linked with the Precentors of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick
Shanagolden (Seanghualainn, ‘Old Shoulder’) is on the R521 road between Foynes and Newcastlewest, and has a population of about 300 people. Despite its size, Shanagolden has a long wide main street and a broad square, with the former shops set well back. The streetscape of the village is marked by the chimneystack of the former creamery, the tower of the former Church of Ireland parish church, and the Spring Rice Cross.
Shanagolden claims to be one of the oldest recorded settlements in Ireland. A mile north of Shanagolden, Knockpatrick, said to be the highest land in Co Limerick. On the summit are the remains of an old church said to have been consecrated by Saint Patrick. Saint Patrick’s ‘chair’ in a neighbouring field consisted of five rude unhewn stones. A nearby well, dedicated to Saint Patrick. It is said that on a clear day there are views from the hill that stretch as far as Tipperary, Galway, Cork, Kerry and Clare, and that Limerick and Ennis can be seen from here.
The earliest mention of Shanagolden and the area is recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters, which say that in 968, King Mahon of Munster defeated the Vikings of Limerick and Waterford at Sengualainn in a ‘red slaughter.’
In 1207, Bishop Donat O’Brien of Limerick, granted the church in Shanagolden to O’Melinus, Chantor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick.
About a mile south of Shanagolden, on the road towards Ardagh, Shanid Castle was once one of the most impregnable castles belonging to the FitzGeralds, Earls of Desmond. Shanid Castle is a tower castle dating from the 13th century. It sits high on a hill with a motte some 35 ft deep. This impressive stronghold boasted circular walls 10 ft thick, with motte and bailey defensives, ditches and banks.
Maurice FitzGerald was granted lands in Limerick by Richard de Clare (Strongbow) after the Norman invasions of 1169. Thomas Fitzmaurice inherited the lands of Shanid. He is said to have built Shanid Castle in 1230, although there are indications it was built before that date.
Thomas Fitzmaurice was the ancestor of the FitzGeralds, Earls of Desmond, and Shanid Castle is said to have been the first stronghold of the Knights of Glin. These Desmond Geraldines went on to build many castles, but Shanid was the strongest.
Shanid Abu (or Shanid Aboo), meaning ‘Shanid Forever’ in old Irish, became the war-cry and motto of the Earls of Desmond and Knights of Glin.
The historian Begley records that in 1480, Gerald de Geraldinis took control of both the churches at Robertstown and Shanagolden.
When the last Earl of Desmond was murdered in Kerry in 1584, the lands of the Desmond Geraldines were divided, and Shanagolden village was laid out during the 1580s as a plantation village. Shanid Castle was still inhabited until 1641, when it was finally burned and destroyed.
One of the earliest recorded nunneries in Ireland, the ‘Old Abbey’ or Saint Katherine’s Abbey, was founded as an Augustinian nunnery in 1298 in a valley about two miles east of Shanagolden. It was dissolved in 1541 with the suppression of the monastic houses at the Reformation.
This tower is the only surviving part of the former Church of Ireland church. The living was a rectory and vicarage. The rectory formed the corps of the precentorship of Limerick and the vicarage was in the patronage of the Precentor. The tithes amounted to £200, one-third payable to the vicar and the remainder to the precentor.
The old church was a large and old building. By the early 19th century, the chancel was in ruins, but in 1815 the nave was rebuilt and reroofed with a lofty square tower, with a loan of £450 from Board of First Fruits. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners also granted £101 for its repair.
Two years earlier, in 1813, the glebehouse was built with a gift of £400 and a loan of £232 from the Board of First Fruits in 1813. The Revd George Vincent (1772-1850) lived at Shanagolden House, while J Fitzgerald lived at the glebe-house, about a mile from the church.
The church closed around 1956, and all that remains is the ruined and neglected tower, where pointed arch openings and limestone sills can still be seen, as well as the pinnacles and crenellations to the roof.
The graveyard has many early and well-crafted tombs and headstones, with carved limestone gravestones and carved limestone table-tombs. There is a barrel-vaulted mausoleum to the south, belonging to the Langford family, with a flight of limestone steps to the entrance.
By the early 19th century, Shanagolden and much of the surrounding lands belonged to Thomas Spring Rice (1790-1866), Chancellor of the Exchequer and later 1st Lord Monteagle, who lived about three miles away at Mount Trenchard.
The Spring Rice memorial occupies a prominent site in the village of Shanagolden and is a notable feature within the town. The inscription carved in imitation Gaelic script reads: ‘To the glory of God and in memory of Stephen Edmond Spring Rice who died on the seventh day of April 1900 aged 22 years.’
The Hon Stephen Edmond Spring Rice was the eldest son and heir of Thomas Spring Rice (1849-1926), 2nd Lord Monteagle, and his tragic, early death complicated the succession to the family estates and titles.
The monument has been described ‘as one of the last monuments to landlords to be erected in Ireland.’ It is finely carved with high quality lettering, interlace and relief sculpture that are typical of the skills of early 20th century craftsmanship.
Close-by, the brick chimney stack of the old creamery. Shanagolden Creamery is a reminder of the former economic vitality of Shanagolden. The Co-operative Society supplied award-winning butter to London’s most prestigious shops and milk to the Cleeves toffee factory in Limerick. Across the road an old stone building that was once a forge, is the ancestral home of the poet James Clarence Mangan (1803-1849), who wrote My Dark Rosaleen:
All day long, in unrest,
To and fro, do I move.
The very soul within my breast
Is wasted for you, love!
The heart in my bosom faints
To think of you, my Queen,
My life of life, my saint of saints,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
To hear your sweet and sad complaints,
My life, my love, my saint of saints,
My Dark Rosaleen!
Woe and pain, pain and woe,
Are my lot, night and noon,
To see your bright face clouded so,
Like to the mournful moon.
Today, the literary merit of his poetry is questioned by many. He also produced what he claimed were translations from Turkish, Persian, Arabic, and Irish. But he was also known for literary hoaxes, and some of his ‘translations’ are in fact his own work.