26 February 2018

A reminder of sunsets
in the Mediterranean in
an old Kerry church ruin

Sunset seen through the west wall of Kilconly Church in Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Two of us went for a brisk walk on the two beaches in Ballybunion, Co Kerry, after lunch on Sunday afternoon [25 February 2018] in Daroka, where we had a table upstairs looking out at the ruins of Ballybunion Castle and the cliffs on the Atlantic coast.

Although snow is threatening later this week, it still felt like early spring in the afternoon, with a slow setting sun that was glistening on the calm waves and the sand.

Late afternoon sunshine on the beach at Ballybunion on Sunday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The sun was still setting on our way back to Askeaton, when we stopped to look at the church ruins and graveyard in Kilconly, halfway between Ballybunion and Tarbert, and close to Beal Beach.

The church ruins and churchyard nestle in a small field off the Wild Atlantic Way, with a babbling brook running through the sheltered creek as it makes its way to the Shannon estuary and the sea.

The name of Kilconly is linked to Saint Conla, who is said to have built the earliest church at this place. The ruins are said to date from the 12th to 15th century, but it is difficult to know when the church fell into disuse.

The parish is in the Diocese of Ardfert and Aghadoe, and until the mid-19th century the Treasurers of Ardfert were also Rectors and Vicars of Kilconly. They included Cecil Pery, 1st Lord Glentworth, who was Treasurer (1758-1780) and later became Bishop of Killala and then Bishop of Limerick.

The church ruins at Kilconly (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

However, the parish was too small to afford a resident rector or curate, and pastoral care in the parish was normally in provided by the curate of Aghavallin in Ballylongford, who acted as the curate of Kilconly. The tithes amount to £83.1.5¾ and there are two glebes, amounting to about four acres.

The appointment of a treasurer of Ardfert ceased in 1845. But the church may have fallen into disuse long before that, perhaps even before the Reformation. Today, Kilconly – like neighbouring Ballybunion – is part of the larger Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Paerishes.

Inside the ruins of the church, I caught a glimpse of the sun in the western sky through the west wall. All was silent around me as the sun stayed in place, balancing like a balloon in the sky.

Near the shore are the ruins of the ancient castles of Beale and Lick. Beale Castle belonged to FitzMaurice family, Barons of Kerry and later Earls of Kerry. The fortifications of the castle were demolished around 1600 by Patrick FitzMaurice (1551-1600), the 17th Lord Kerry. That year, Maurice Stack, an officer in Queen Elizabeth’s army, was invited to the castle by Lady Kerry and murdered by her attendants.

In 1633, Beale Castle was named as Beau-lieu in the Pacata Hibernia. The Civil Survey (1654-1658) refers to ‘an old stump of a castle called Licke.’

Litter House, once the home of the Wren family, originally belonged to the Blennerhassett family and passed by marriage to the Wren family.

A seastack near the ruins of Lick Castle is known locally as the ‘Devil’s Castle’ or Caislean an Deamhain.

Kilocnly also has interesting links with Saint John’s Church in Ballybunion, which was built with funds donated by Mrs Mary Young in memory of her husband, John Young. Mary Young was born Mary O’Malley in Kilconly and met her husband John Young, a tea planter, while she was working in Kilkee, Co Clare.

When John Young died, Mary Young inherited his considerable wealth. She used much of her wealth to finance building the convent in Ballybunion in 1887, Ballybunion House, and Saint John’s Church, which cost £8,500.

From Kilconly, we drove on to Beale Beach, with in the west constantly behind us.

As we made our way down to Beale Beach, we caught a last glimpse of the setting sun, as it balanced in the sky, like a Mediterranean sunset. Perhaps it was a promise of summer sunshine in Greece later year; perhaps it was a warning of the coming snow and freezing temperatures later this week.

A Mediterranean-like sunset near Beal Beach on Sunday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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