07 July 2020
The church and tower in
Shanagolden and links with
the Precentors of Limerick
On my way back to Askeaton from Ballybunion on Sunday afternoon [5 July 2020], having visited the former Church of Ireland parish church on the edges of Foynes, two of us went in search of the former parish church in neighbouring Shanagolden.
I had briefly visited this church back in 2017, while I was on my way from the morning service in Tarbert to an afternoon confirmation service in Rathkeale, but on this occasion I had a little more time to walk around the churchyard and to see the tower of the former churchyard.
Shanagolden is on the R521, between Foynes, Askeaton and Newcastle West. Shanagolden has a population of about 400, and the village was laid out during the 1580s as a plantation village after the defeat of the Munster Geraldines, but the story of the church and this area goes back many centuries earlier.
The area is mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters. Brian Ború’s elder brother, Mahon or Mathgamain mac Cennétig, King of Munster, defeated the Norsemen of Limerick and Waterford at Sengualainn in a ‘red slaughter’ in 968.
Turlogh O’Connor gathered a fleet together to cross the Shannon, and plundered the lands of the Uí Conaill at Foynes Island in 1124.
Shanagolden had a church from at least the beginning of the 13th century, and Donat O’Brien, Bishop of Limerick (1203-1207), gave control of the church in Shanagolden to M O’Melinus, Chantor or Precentor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, in 1207.
From the Middle Ages until the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, the Precentors of Limerick were also the Rectors of Shangolden, but a full list of Vicars of Shangolden survives from ca 1422, and the parish also had a curate from the 1680s until the mid-19th century.
The nave of the church was re-roofed in 1815 and a tower was added while the Revd George Vincent was the Vicar of Shanagolden.
Canon David La Touche Whitty (1806-1885), who was the curate in Shanagolden in 1848, was assaulted and severely beaten near Foynes Island. The assault was widely reported as ‘a monstrous and almost unheard of outrage.’ Later, Whitty was the Rector of Ennistymon, Co Clare.
Whitty was related to two extraordinary Whitty sisters who spent part of their childhood in Limerick and Co Clare: Sophia Angel St John Whitty (1877-1924) was an Irish artist and woodcarver, named after her maternal grandmother, a daughter of Bishop Edward Stopford of Meath; Clare Emma Whitty (1883-1950), was an Anglican nun, Mother Mary Clare, who died a martyr’s death during the Korean War in 1950.
Shangolden was united with Loughill ca 1878. The last separate Vicar of Shangolden was the Revd Robert James Connolly (1839-1926), who was vicar in 1878-1919. Before coming to Shanagolden, he had served in a number of parishes, including Loughill (1864-1865) and Saint John’s Church in Sandymount, Dublin (1865-1866).
He retired at the age of 80 and died on 21 August 1926. Meanwhile, Shanagolden and Loughill were united with Askeaton from 1920.
The church was deconsecrated on 16 June 1956. When it was demolished, the tower was left standing. The church silver, which was given to Shanagolden by Catherine Greer in 1714, was given to Rathronan and was then given to the church in Foynes.
Among the graves and tombs in the churchyard is the Langford family vault.
Below the church tower, a large Celtic cross with a drinking fountain was erected and installed to the memory of Stephen Edmond Spring-Rice (1877-1920), who died in London, the eldest son of the local landlord, Lord Monteagle, who lived at Mount Trenchard in Foynes.
The inscription beneath and the cross and above the fountain 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.’
Last weekend, the church tower looked forlorn and abandoned in the churchyard, standing above Shanagolden with its wide Main Street.
The shops are set well back on the Main Street, and the brick chimney-stack of the old creamery is a reminder of the past prosperity of Shanagolden.
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