Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Visiting the mediaeval
church ruins at Killeen
Cowpark near Askeaton

The ruined 15th century church at Killeen Cowpark, about 5 km east of Askeaton, off the N69 road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

In recent days, I visited the ruined 15th century church of Killeen Cowpark, about 5 km east of Askeaton, Co Limerick, off the N69 road. The ruined church is halfway between Askeaton and Kildimo, and close to both Kilcornan and Curraghchase Forest Park.

This ruined church is a national monument, and it is said to be one of the finest examples in Ireland of a late mediaeval church.

Local tradition claims that the church at Killeen Cowpark was one of three churches built in this area by three sisters, although no saint or founder is remembered in the parish. The two other churches were Cappagh Church and Beagh Church near Ballysteen.

This date of the church at Killeen Cowpark is unclear. Some historians believe it dates from the 15th century, but other accounts date it from ca 1611.

Archdeacon John Begley, in his History of the Diocese of Limerick (1906), believed the church in Monehuryn might be the old name for the church in Killeen Cowpark.

The Limerick historian and antiquarian Thomas Johnson Westropp (1860-1922) believed this church marked the former site of Saint Curnan Beg's religious foundation, and said Aubrey de Vere of Curraghchase House assured him he had never heard any tradition regarding any other church site within the bounds of Kilcornan parish.

The church ruins are remarkably well preserved, with only the roof and the tops of the walls missing. It is an unadorned rectangular church, with narrow windows and a turret-like belfry.

This is a rectangular structure, with a strong batter effect on its walls to height of 5 ft and high gable ends. It is 13.7 metres long and 7.3 metres wide.

A course of stone corbels on the inside carried the heavy timber wall plates that supported the roof timbers.

A projecting well niche on the west gable has a pointed arch and a loop in the wall provided for a rope so that the bell could be rung from inside the church.

There are two doors in the church, one in the north wall and one in the south wall. The door opening in the south wall has a simple, pointed arch and beside it there is an unusual, double-sided font.

The church has just three narrow windows, one in the east wall above the place of the former altar, and one each in the south wall and the north wall. All three windows have ogee heads, a typical feature of churches in the 15th century.

The church at Killeen Cowpark was in use until 1811. Westropp measured the church at 45 ft by 24 ft and found in good condition.

He noted the height of the side walls was about 14 ft and the height of the gables was about 22 ft. The walls were about 2’ 9’’ in thickness, the two side windows 3 ft high, and six inches wide.

He pointed out that the church did not appear to lie exactly on the traditional east/west liturgical axis. The arch in the north wall was nearly filled up with masonry and 7’ 6” high and 3 ft wide. The arched opening on the south side was 6 ft by 3 ft. The walls slant externally from about 4 ft near the foundations.

He noted that the ruined church stands on a gentle, grassy slope, about 6 ft high, and in a rough green field, with a few bushes and brambles overgrowing, stands on an elevated slope of about 20 feet over the adjoining grounds.

Westropp was of the opinion that the setting ‘imparts a character of solidity and dignity to the antique structure.’

The church was repaired in the 1930s under the direction of Canon Thomas Wall, parish priest of Kilcornan. The stones that formed the window were discovered during this renovation and replaced. The belfry is also in good condition.

At one time, there was a killeen or burial ground near the church for children who had not been baptised. There was a similar killeen near Saint Brigid’s Well in Kilbreedy.

The church at Killeen Cowpark was repaired in the 1930s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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