24 November 2020

Saint Colman’s Church ruins
and a mediaeval Augustinian
foundation in Kilcolman

Saint Colman’s Church, Kilcolman, Co Limerick, dating from the 13th century and ruins since 1641 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Kilcolman is a small village between Shanagolden and Ardagh, east of the R521, and south-west of Creeves and Askeaton. Some old manuscripts refer to it as ‘Kilcolman Inferior.’

The few buildings in this small villages include Saint Colman’s Church, a small shop that was once a post office, a school, and the ruins of a mediaeval church that is said to have once been served by Augustinian friars.

Saint Colman who gives is name to this village is the same Saint Colman associated with Templeshambo, near Bunclody in Co Wexford.

The church ruins are in Kilcolman graveyard, across the street from the present-day Saint Colman’s Church.

The church is first mentioned in records that say it was repaired in 1253 by the monks and abbots of Athassel Abbey in Co Tipperary.

The church is said to have been served by a house of Augustinian monk or friars, and it said to have been burned beyond repair and destroyed during the wars of 1641.

There is a separate list of Church of Ireland Rectors of Kilcolman after the Restoration, from 1663 until 1844. From 1663 to 1781, the list overlaps with the list of the Rectors of the neighbouring Kilbraderan, but they were probably never resident in parish, nor is it likely that they ever provided Sunday services in the ruined church or the parish, instead using the appointment to collect the tithes and supplement their income.

The last Rector appointed to Kilcolman was the Revd Henry Gubbins (1785-1845) who was the Rector and Vicar of Kilcolman in 1816-1845. At the same time, he was a curate of Saint Mary and Saint Nicholas, Limerick (1809-1836), a vicar choral of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (1829-1845) and Vicar of Clonelty and Cloncagh, Co Limerick (1840-1845).

The Church of Ireland parish was abolished after Gubbins died on 22 August 1845.

John O’Donovan measured the ruins of Saint Colman’s Church in 1840 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Meanwhile, in 1840, John O’Donovan had measured the church as 45 ft long and 18 ft high. He noted that the walls were about 10 ft high and 4 ft thick, of hammered limestone, of regular size and regularly laid in courses, cemented with lime and sand mortar.

A plaque was erected in November 1999 to commemorate the priests and monks who served the area during the years from the early 13th century to 1641.

The grounds of old Kilcolman church are now used as a graveyard and Saint Colman’s Stone in the graveyard is said to cure headaches. Some of the headstones date back to before the 19th century. The oldest legible headstone, dated 1 February 1767, is in memory of Jeremiah Shea.

The graveyard has many Cypress trees was extended in recent years with the addition of a new section.

About 400 metres north of the graveyard, Saint Colman’s Well is also referred to a Tobercolman or Tubberchullemaun. A slab at the well states ‘St Colman’s Well, enclosed 15th August 1868.’ The well was roofed and enclosed by a wall erected by the McCoy family in 1868 when their daughter was cured after been seriously ill.

Local lore says the well moved when it was cursed. According to the legend, the well has moved three times. The well was first in the cemetery beside the old church. During heavy snow in a bad winter, someone died and was mistakenly buried near the well. The moved to in a field in Ardagh, but it moved again after two old women using the well to fetch water argued over the well. One of the women washed clothes in the well and, it is said, the well then moved to its present location.

At one time, a pattern was held at the well on 29 October to mark the end of the harvest season.

Across the street from the church ruins stand across the street, Saint Colman’s Catholic Church was built in 1913 on the site of an earlier chapel of ease built in 1827.

Saint Colman’s Catholic Church, built in 1913, seen from the ruins of the mediaeval Saint Colman’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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