Monday, 4 November 2019

Exploring the ruins of
an 800-year-old
church in Robertstown

The ruins of the mediaeval church in Robertstown, Co Limerick, close to the banks of the Shannon Estuary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I have written in the past about Saint Senan’s Church in Robertstown, Co Limerick, which was built in 1830 and which is part of the Roman Catholic parish grouping of Foynes, Shanagolden and Robertstown.

But on my way back to Askeaton from Tarbert early on Sunday afternoon [3 November 2019], I noticed the ruins of a much earlier, mediaeval church, north of the present church, close to the banks of the Shannon Estuary.

These ruins of the mediaeval church in Robertstown are near Churchfield, with a graveyard that continued to be used for burials until recent years.

The ruins of the mediaeval church in Robertstown are near Churchfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

This part of Co Limerick is mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters, which record that King Mahon of Munster defeated the Norsemen of Limerick and Waterford at Sengualainn (Shanagolden) in a ‘red slaughter’ in 968.

Turlogh O’Connor gathered a fleet together in 1124 to cross the Shannon and plunder the lands of the Uí Conaill at Foynes Island.

Bishop Donat O’Brien of Limerick gave control of the church at Shanagolden to M O’Melinus, Chantor, in 1207.

It is believed that the original church for the Robertstown area may have been in the townland of Ardineer, although there is no trace of a church there today.

Robert de Guer probably founded the church in the early 13th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Westropp states that Robert de Guer probably founded the church in the early part of the 13th century, and this is the Robert who is believed to have given his name to Robertstown, also known in mediaeval times as Castle Robert. Throughout the Middle Ages, the church at Robertstown or Castle Robert was served by its own vicar.

Gerald de Geraldinis took control of both churches at Robertstown and Shanagolden in 1480. A century later, after the defeat of the Munster Geraldines, Shanagolden village was laid out during the 1580s as a plantation village.

The churchyard at Robertstown continued to be used for burials until recently (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The churchyard at Robertstown and the grounds of the church ruins continued to be used for burials until recent years. The oldest headstone is said to be that of Joanna O’Brien and is said to date from November 1788. The ruins have been partially rebuilt in recent years.

There are two Holy Wells in the parish where tradition and devotions are continued. In the Robertstown part of the parish, Borrigone Well is situated in the townland of Craggs. I did not get to see it yesterday, but I am told this enclosed well is beside an inlet of the Shannon River. The parish council laid down a concrete walkway in the 1960s, and a covered altar has been built beside the well.

Today, in the Roman Catholic Church, Robertstown, Shanagolden and Foynes comprise one parish district, including the villages of Shanagolden on the R521.

Robertstown is beside an inlet of the Shannon River (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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