18 August 2020

Kilmoylan Church and
a sad sinecure in a
west Limerick parish

Kilmoylan Church … vicars continued to be appointed long after the church fell into ruins (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

About a mile east of Shanagolden, the ruins of Kilmoylan Church stand at the east end of the parish.

The ruined church stands on a mound between two rivers and had commanding views of the surrounding countryside of west Co Limerick.

The parish was in the patronage of the Vicars Choral of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, who appointed Vicars of Kilmoylan from at least the early 15th century.

However, in the post-Reformation period, one-third of the tithes went to Vicars Choral and two-thirds to a lay lessee of the Vicars Choral, and the Vicarage of Kilmoylan became a mere sinecure.

The nominal Vicars of Kilmoylan included Robert Elliott (1683-1687), who later became Archdeacon and Vicar-General of Ferns; Thomas Lloyd (1715), who became Precentor of Limerick; father and son Henry and David Barclay, who were both Vicars Choral of Limerick and succeeded each other; Deane Hoare, who became Vicar-General of Limerick and Precentor of Ardfert; his son, William Deane Hoare (1798-1823), who at the same time was Vicar Choral of Limerick and chaplain of Saint George’s Chapel, Limerick; and the brothers William Newcombe Willis and Thomas Willis, who also succeeded each other.

The last Vicar of Kilmoylan was Canon Thomas Payne Weldon in in 1853-1888 and lived in Glin.

Inside the ruins of Kilmoylan Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Throughout most of that time, the church was in ruins, and Samuel Lewis recorded in his Topographical Dictionary in 1837 that Kilmoylan was a parish without a church, glebe house or glebe. But the tithes continued to produce an annual income of £232 7s 11d.

Westropp measured the ruined church as 35 ft by 18 ft, but the west gable fell in the ‘Night of the Big Wind’ in 1839.

The vicars who enjoyed this egregious example of a sinecure in the Church of Ireland used it to supplement their incomes while they held other parishes, and none of these pluralists ever lived in the parish. Some lived in neighbouring parishes, or in Limerick, but at least one lived in Dublin, where he enjoyed his portion of the tithes without having any church, church services or parishes.

The parish was united with Kilfergus (Glin) in 1861 but was finally abolished in 1888, and now lies within the Rathkeale Group of Parishes. The rubble from the west wall that fell in 1839 are gathered in a pile, but the churchyard continues to be used as burial ground by local families and is well tended by a small group of local people.

The west wall of Kilmoylan Church fell in 1839, and the rubble remains gathered in a pile (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Saint Senan’s Church,
a pre-Emancipation
church in Shanagolden

Saint Senan’s Church, Shangolden … first built in 1814 on a site donated by the Rice family of Mount Trenchard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

On the way back from Ballylongford and Saleen Pier to Askeaton on Sunday afternoon, two of us stopped in Shanagolden for a short time and, for the first time, I visited Saint Senan’s Church, the Roman Catholic parish church in Shanagolden.

There are three churches named after Saint Senan in the same group of parishes: Foynes, Roberstown and Shanagolden. Saint Senan’s Church in Shanagolden, which is over 200 years old, is a pre-Emancipation, early 19th-century church in the Hiberno-Romanesque style and stands on prominent site just east of Shanagolden.

Father John Syne was registered in 1704 as priest for an area that included Kilmoylan, Shanagolden and Robertstown, and lived in the townland of Clashganiff. One of his successors, Father Philip Nolan or Pilib Ó Nualláin, died in 1738 at the age of 37, and was buried on nearby Knockpatrick.

Later in the 18th century, three Franciscan friars ministered in the parish, and they probably lived in Askeaton, where a Franciscan community had survived close to the ruins of the former Franciscan friary or abbey.

The present Catholic church in Shanagolden was built in 1814 by Father Patrick McDonnell, who was parish priest of Shanagolden from 1808 until his death in 1824.

Inside Saint Senan’s Church, Shangolden … facing towards the liturgical east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The site was donated by Stephen Edward Rice of Mount Trenchard, and the list of donors to building the church shows the ecumenical atmosphere in Co Limerick even in those pre-Emancipation days, they include John FitzGibbon (1792-1851), 2nd Earl of Clare, his brother, the Hon Richard Hobart Fitzgibbon (1793-1864), later 3rd Earl of Clare, Stephen and Thomas Rice, the Knight of Kerry and the Knight of Glin, Sir Vere Hunt, local Church of Ireland clergy, including the Revd Joseph Johnson, curate of Nantenan and Kilfinny, the Revd George Vincent, Vicar of Shanagolden, and members of the Blennherhassett, Langford and Royse families.

The church has an unusual orientation, from south-west to north-east, rather than the traditional, liturgical east-west, probably because of the difficulties created by the shape and size of the site.

The church is set back from the road with well-preserved boundary walls and steps. This is cruciform, gable-fronted church was renovated in 1824 and 1905, but still has its original form and much of its original fabric. There is good quality plasterwork, stained glass and fine render and marble galleries.

The church has a porch at the front, a three-bay nave, shallow full-height square-profile chapels, transepts with porches and a chancel and a recently-added lower sacristy.

The coherent decorative scheme culminates in the bellcote, which unifies the revival style of the building.

The roughcast rendered walls have render strip quoins. Throughout the building, the round-headed openings have moulded render surrounds, concrete sills and stained-glass windows. The oculi in the chapels having render surrounds and stained-glass windows. The porches have square-headed openings and timber panelled doors.

The pitched slate roof has a render eaves course, a rendered open-work bellcote with a cross finial, cross finials and a decorative render eaves course to the other gables.

Inside Saint Senan’s Church, Shangolden … facing towards the liturgical west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Inside the entrance, a timber screen has double-leaf half-glazed doors with stained-glass sidelights and overlights. The porch has a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child, a photograph of the original church, and a list of the subscribers to the church published in the Limerick Gazette on 9 August 1814.

Inside, there is a carved, timber A-frame ceiling, rendered galleries in the transepts and at the entrance, and the chancel has a round-headed arcade with marble pilasters.

The carved marble altar dates from 1912, and altar rails were donated by Michael O’Connor of Mullough. There is a crucifix above the altar, to the left is a statue of the Sacred Heart, and to the right a statue of the Virgin Mary. These statues are set in decorative round-headed arch surrounds.

There is a shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in the south (right) transept and a shrine to the Crucifixion in the north (left) transept to the memory of Alice M O’Brien.

All the church windows have a plain design, and the floor has geometric tiles.

A plaque on the left-hand side of the church recalls three former parish priests: Mortimer Collins (1857); James Synan (1877); and John Mulqueen (1894).

Inside Saint Senan’s Church, Shangolden … looking towards the north transept (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Outside, to the left or west of the church, a plaque in Latin on the boundary wall records that Father Patrick McDonnell built the church in 1814. Dean Patrick McNamara, who succeeded Father McDonnell as parish priest from 1824 to 1834, who is also named on the plaque, renovated the church in 1824 and bought the church bell that year. He also gave his name to Dean Street in Shanagolden.

Six former parish priests are buried in the church grounds: Canon Gerard Enright, died 1990; Canon Liston (1921); Canon William Fitzgerald (1935); Michael Donor (1909); Archdeacon Frederick Rice (1970); and Canon John Rea (1948).

A Lourdes grotto in the grounds of the church is to the memory of Lizzie Reidy, who died in 1909. A large crucifixion scene at the front of the church faces the roadside.

The plaque on the churchyard wall commemorates the building of the church in 1814-1824 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)