Saturday, 28 November 2020

The mediaeval church and
graveyard at Morgans,
west of Askeaton

The medieval church site at Morgans North is about 3 or 4 km west of Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Morgans North and Morgans South are paired townlands about 3 or 4 km west of Askeaton, on both sides of the main road to Foynes. Some of the families living there seem to have been rehoused from Aughinish Island when the bauxite refinery was built there.

Two us walked from Askeaton to Morgans on Friday afternoon (27 November 2020) in search of the old church ruins associated with a mediaeval parish and legends of a monk-saint said to have been a contemporary of Saint Patrick and with a local man who died on board the Titanic.

The church at Morgans North or Dysert is said to have been built by two sisters whose names are forgotten (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Today, the church ruins stand in the middle of graveyard known as Mount Pleasant. The name Morgans may be derived from the Irish Muingeadain, meaning a ‘maritime spot.’ However, local lore tells of a monk named Muirdeabhair the Wise of Disert, who built his hut and oratory beside a spring that had been blessed by Saint Patrick and where Saint Patrick baptised.

This legend identifies the monk with ‘Muirdeabhair the Wise of Diseart’ or ‘Muirdeabhra in Ṹi Conaill Gabhra,’ named in the Martyrology of Donegal. The Feilire or Calendar of Aengus refers to him as a ‘Synod diadera.’

Ṹi Conaill Gabhra was an ancient petty kingdom in what is now West Limerick, including the modern baronies of Upper and Lower Connelloe, Shanid and Glenquin.

The Irish word Disert indicates a lonely or uninhabited area. Deisert Muirdeabhra is said to refer to the lonely uninhabited area of Muirdeabhair.

A variation of Muirdeabhair is said to be Murigeadán, and so, it is said, the neighbouring twin townlands of Muirgeadán Thuaidh and Muirgeadán Theas are known today as Morgans North and Morgans South. The feast day of Saint Muirdeabhair or Saint Morgan was on 3 November.

Inside the ruins of the mediaeval church at Morgans North (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The ruins of Morgans or Dysert church are within the old churchyard or cemetery now known as Mount Pleasant. The name Mount Pleasant was brought by the Sands family from Newtownsands or Moyvane, near Tarbert, Co Kerry, to Morgans and applied to a hillock at the back of their home, where the Keane family live today.

The church and graveyard in the townland of Morgans North are opposite the Gouldings Fertiliser plant in Morgans South. The site is in a level pasture, about 50 metres north of the public road, and we reached it across a pathway that crosses the edge of a field.

The church ruins stand in the middle of an elliptical, almost rectangular, site (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

This is an elliptical, almost rectangular, site, measing about 60 metres from east to west and about 45 metres from north to south, with a rounded west end, and enclosed by low stone wall. In the north-west section of the site is the ruin of the late medieval parish church of Morgans or Dysert.

Another local legend says the church was built in the 15th century by two sisters, although their names are not remembered.

In later times, the Franciscans of Askeaton Abbey are said to have ministered to the parish and church in Morgans.

In post-Reformation times, Morgans was a parish within the Askeaton parish, and the Rectors and Vicars of Askeaton were also appointed to Morgans, along with the neighbouring parishes of Toomdeely and Lismakeera.

The Sands family vault against the east end of the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

A family burial vault for the Sands family has been built against outside face of east wall, at the north end.

The graveyard has been cleared of overgrowth and most of the graves dates from the 19th and early 20th century, with some more recent burials. Some of the families are from Aughinish Island, others are from Askeaton, and some are from as far away as Foynes.

I could not find the earliest headstones, said to date from 1785, in memory of a W Casey, aged 46, and from 1817. Another, earlier grave, associated with the Dundon family, dates from 1824, and the lettering has been reworked, but it shows earlier influences, including an image of the Crucifixion, and symbols that include the 30 pieces of silver, a scourge, a cockerel, pliers, and a ladder for the deposition.

The Dundon grave with symbols of the Crucifixion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

A Walsh family grave that seems to be crowned by an obelisk is inscribed:

Beneath this Irish cross
erected to
commemorate her many virtues
by her loving husband
Michael Walsh of Foynes
lie the remains of Mary
who for over 20 years was
his devoted and fond wife
She left a large young family
who have great reason to mourn
the loss of her motherly care
She was generous kind
and charitable to all
Died Sep[temb]er 30th 1872 aged 38 y[ea]rs
May her soul rest in peace.

I was confused until I looked at the base of the gravestone and found shattered fragments of the former cross scatted in the grass.

The Walsh family grave looks like an obelisk but was original crowned with a Celtic cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Another grave, near the boundary wall, recalls Pat Reilly from Toomdeely who ‘was lost in Titanic 14th April 1912 aged 30 years.’

In the Roman Catholic Diocese of Limerick, Mount Pleasant graveyard is close to the boundaries of the parishes of both Shanagolden, Robertstown and of Foynes and of Askeaton and Ballysteen.

In a corner of the former churchyard, a recently-erected enclosed altar seems to be still in use on occasions.

The ruins of the church at Morgans North are in a feld 50 metres north of the road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

In the days – and nights – before
the roof of the ‘Blue Hall’ blew in

The roofless ‘Blue Hall’ in Coolcappa, standing against the blue skies of winter in West Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

The ‘Blue Hall’ is in the middle of the countryside in Coolcappa in West Limerick, almost the same distance from Creeves, Rathkeale, and Kilcolman.

In its present state it may be looking ‘blue’ but its walls could hardly ever have been painted blue. And I wondered how it got its present name and why an early forerunner of nightclubs and discos was built in such an apparently remote location.

Tom Aherne, who writes a weekly local history feature in the Limerick Leader, describes this as one of the ‘Ballrooms of Romance’ that could be found all over Co Limerick from the 1930s to the 1950s. Its ‘catchment’ area stretched to Askeaton, five miles away, Ardagh, four miles away, and to Shanagolden and Coolcappa.

It was built as a venue for meetings and fundraising events after Fine Gael was formed in 1933. The then Editor of The Irish Times RM Smyllie, once described its predecessor, Cumann na nGaedheal, as a party ‘who one wished would be open to ideas, until one saw the kind of ideas they were open to.’

The links with Fine Gael and Eoin O’Duffy and his fascist ‘Blue Shirts’ gave the ‘Blue Hall’ its nick-name in the 1930s. ‘Due to its political connections,’ Tom Aherne told me, ‘Fianna Fail supporters would not be seen dead in it.’

In time, however, the image of the ‘Blue Hall’ changed. Its name was changed too, and by the 1940s, it was known as the Casino, O’Duffy was dead, people of all political backgrounds cycled from places miles around to enjoy summer evenings in the Casino at the crossroads near Coolcappa.

In reality, it was no more than a shed, measuring 90 ft by 50 ft, with a galvanised, half-round roof that was more suited for a hay barn or a farmyard shed. A gallery over the door provided the small place for visiting bands and musicians, who included John McKnight and his band, the Glenside Ceili Band, Darkie Devine, Austin Glorney, Eamon O’Shea and many others.

Romance blossomed to the tunes and words of ‘The Isle of Capri,’ ‘Roll along covered wagon,’ ‘Just a little love,’ ‘Play to me Gypsy,’ ‘South of the Border,’ ‘Goldmine in the Sky,’ ‘Buttons and Bows’ and ‘MacNamara’s Band.’

But emigration in 1950s and changing fashions combined to mark the beginning of the end for the ‘Blue Hall.’ The showbands emerged on the scene, large halls sprang up in big towns, bicycles gave way to cars, and the days of the dance halls were coming to a close.

In recent years, in the last roll of the dice for the Casino, the roof of the ‘Blue Hall’ blew in. Today it is exposed to the blue skies, with late night revelries there now no more than a distant memory for an older generation.