24 September 2019

Rathronan Church near
Ardagh has links with
the Smith O’Brien family

There has been a church in the Ardagh area from the 13th century, but Rathronan Church was built in the 1820s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I was speaking at the commemorations on Sunday afternoon [23 September 2019] organised by Saint Kieran’s Heritage Association to remember William Smith O’Brien, and this was my first visit to Rathronan Church. This was once a Church of Ireland parish church but has been closed for decades.

The now derelict church near Ardagh is a short distance off the main road between Newcastlewest and Shanagolden in west Limerick, up a single track.

This Board of First Fruits parish church was built ca 1820-1825. It has a gabled three-bay double-height nave, with a four-stage square-profile tower.

Inside Rathronan Church, near Aradgh, looking towards the liturgical east end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Although this former parish church shows some signs of disrepair – the pews have been removed and the baptismal font is in a broken state of disrepair – it is cared for with affection by the local community and it retains several integral elements of architectural significance as well as much of its original form.

The textural difference created between the roughcast render and the cut limestone sills, stringcourses, hood-mouldings and crenellations is notable.

Although the Ardagh Chalice and other ecclesiastical artefacts were found near here in the 1860s, documented church history in the Ardagh area dates from 1298, when it was recorded that the church at Ardagh was held as part of the Manor of Ardagh by the Bishop of Limerick.

William Cullum was granted a patent for an annual fair at Ardagh in 1611. But 30 years later, the old parish church was destroyed in 1641 during the wars and it was not rebuilt.

Inside Rathronan Church, near Aradgh, looking to the west end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Ardagh A Roman Catholic Church was built in Ardagh in 1808-1816, when Father James Corbett was parish priest. Two Church of Ireland parish churches were built in the Ardagh area at the same time: Rathronan Church was built ca 1820-1825, and Kilscannell Church was built in 1822.

Some archaeological and historical sites confuse Rathronoan Church near Ardagh with a church in Rathronan, Co Tipperary, built in 1825 at the expense of Lady Meadows, widow of General Sir William Meadows.

Rathronan Church near Ardagh is a gabled, single-storey church with a tower at the liturgical west end and a single-bay porch at the north side of the nave.

The tower and Rathronan Church, near Aradgh, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The church has roughcast rendered walls, with the rubble stone exposed in places, a slate-hanging at the east gable and cut limestone stringcourses on the tower. The tower has cut limestone crenellations.

There is a circular recessed panel with a cut limestone surround at the second stage of each side of tower.

A window inside Rathronan Church, near Aradgh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

There is a square-headed opening at the west side of the tower with a tooled limestone sill and hood-moulding. The pointed arch openings to south and east side of the third and fourth stages of the tower have cut limestone sills, roughly dressed limestone voussoirs, render surrounds and slate louvered vents.

The four-centred arch opening at the south side of the tower has a tooled limestone surround and cut limestone hood-moulding overhead.

The church also has a pitched slate roof with cast-iron rainwater goods.

The pulpit and the altar rails survive inside Rathronan Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Inside the church, new seating was installed designed by Welland and Gillespie in 1861.

The altar and pews were removed after the church was deconsecrated and closed, and the baptismal font is shattered.

However, the original altar rails, prayer desk and pulpit survive and many of the windows are still in a good state of repair, although the baptismal font and its plinth are broken and lie in many pieces at the west end of the church.

The baptismal font and its plinth are broken and lie in many pieces at the west end of Rathronan Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

William Smith O’Brien’s funeral took place in Rathronan Church, which was the family’s parish church. The funeral procession was so long that it was said the hearse had reached the church while the end of the procession was still leaving Cahermoyle, 3 km away.

A year later, the Smith O’Brien family of Cahermoyle House commissioned the mausoleum in the Hiberno-Romanesque style erected in Rathronan churchyard in 1865.

Rathronan Church is part of an important complex with the adjacent rectory and the two large mausoleums of the Smith O’Brien and Massy families in the graveyard.

At the William Smith O’Brien commemorations in Rathronan Church (from left): Mary Kury of Saint Kieran’s Heritage Association; Councillor Adam Teskey; Canon Patrick Comerford; Iseult Murphy, a descendant of William Smith O’Brien; and parishioner Richard Langford, a descendant of the Massy family

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