16 July 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
48, Saint Colman’s Cathedral, Kilmacduagh

The cathedral and monastic ruins at Kilmacduagh, Co Galway … sometimes referred to as ‘the seven Churches’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

This week, my photographs are from seven cathedrals or former cathedrals in the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe. Earlier in this series, I have looked at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, and Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert. My photographs this week are from Aghadoe, Ardfert, Emly, Gort, Kilfenora, Kilmacduagh and Roscrea.

The East End of Kilmacduagh Cathedral … the cathedral acquired its present shape in the 14th and 15th centuries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Since my appointment as Precentor of Limerick, Killaloe and Clonfert in 2017, I have tried to visit all the cathedrals and former cathedrals in the diocese. This morning (16 July 2021), my photographs are from Saint Colman’s Cathedral, Kilmacduagh, Co Galway.

Saint Colman founded his monastery at Kilmacduagh, about 5 km south-west of Gort, on land given by his cousin, King Guaire Aidne mac Colmáin of Connacht, in the early seventh century.

This site on the edges of the Burren District gave rise to the Diocese of Kilmacduagh and it has several churches and a well-preserved but leaning round tower that is over 30 metres high.

The site includes the ruined cathedral, Saint John’s Church, Saint Mary’s Church, the ruins of an Augustinian Church, the Glebe House, which may have been the residence of the abbots and bishops of Kilmacduagh, and Ireland’s tallest round tower.

The name Kilmacduagh means ‘the church of Duagh’s son.’ Saint Colman, the son of Duagh, was the first abbot or bishop of the monastery until his death ca 632. His feast day is celebrated on 29 October, but the date of the monastic foundation is uncertain.

The names of his successors, apart from Indrect, who died in 814, until the Anglo-Normans arrived, have not survived in the Annals.

Nevertheless, the site was so important in mediaeval times that it became the centre of a new diocese, the Diocese of Kilmacduagh, in the 12th century. The Diocese of Kilfenora and the Diocese of Kilmacduagh both had their territories defined by the Synod of Kells in 1132.

The ruins of the monastery are sometimes referred to as ‘the seven Churches.’ However, not all of these buildings were actually churches, and none of them dates back to the seventh century.

The present, cruciform cathedral is 29.2 metres long and 6.8 metres wide. It dates from the 11th or 12th century, but is the result of rebuilding much of the earlier cathedral in the 14th and 15th centuries. The building seen today is a mixture of Romanesque, Gothic and Tudor styles.

The west wall of the nave dates from the 11th or 12th century, but incorporates a blocked tenth century doorway below a three-light Tudor window with some zig-zag carving.

The rest of the nave was built in the 12th century when the cathedral was enlarged. The south wall has a Romanesque lancet, a Gothic arch leading to the south transept, a small lancet window and a low Gothic entrance door.

The north wall has a blocked flat-arch early doorway leading to the north transept has been blocked up but contains a small round-headed doorway.

A high Romanesque arch leads to the late 13th or early 14th century chancel, with an Early English East Window replacing a blocked Romanesque window.

The south wall also has a replacement Gothic window. Beside this, a doorway leads to what may have been a sacristy. It has one round-arch window in the south gable.

The cathedral became cruciform in shape when the transepts were added in the 14th and 15th centuries. The 15th century south transept has Gothic windows in the south and east walls.

The north transept was probably added in the 14th century. It has square Tudor windows in the east and west walls and a narrow window in the north wall. This transept is sometimes known as the O’Shaughnessy Chapel, and has a number of tombs, from the 16th to the 18th century, of members of the O’Shaughnessy family, who were lay patrons of the cathedral, including wall tomb of Sir Dermot O’Shaughnessy.

The cathedral is surrounded by a graveyard still used by local people.

Kilmacduagh Cathedral began to fall into disuse and disrepair in the religious strife that followed the Reformations in the 16th century.

When Roland Lynch arrived as the new bishop in 1587, he found all the buildings ‘spoiled and wasted.’ He was the last separate Bishop of Kilmacduagh. He also became Bishop of Clonfert in 1602, and the two dioceses were united in 1625.

The cathedral was reroofed in 1640s, but fell into disrepair and disuse and once again in the Cromwellian period.

Later, Saint Colman’s Church in Gort, built in 1814 to replace an earlier church, served in effect as the cathedral of the Diocese of Kilmacduagh. The Rectors of Gort were the Deans of Kilmacduagh, and the Rectory on Church Street, Gort, built in 1812, was also known as the Deanery House.

With the Church Temporalities (Ireland) Act 1833, the united see became part of the Diocese of Killaloe and Clonfert in 1834.

The last Church of Ireland Dean of Kilmacduagh installed in Kilmacduagh Cathedral was the Very Revd Christopher Henry Gould Butson (1817-1892). Butson was born in Dublin, a son of James Strange Butson, Archdeacon of Clonfert (1812-1845), and a grandson of Christopher Butson (1747-1836), Bishop of Clonfert and Kilmacduagh (1804-1834) and Bishop of Killaloe, Clonfert and Kilmacduagh (1834-1836).

Dean Butson was educated at Trinity College Dublin. He was a curate in Clontarf (1844-1845), Vicar of Clonfert (1845-1882), Archdeacon of Clonfert (1856-1874), and Dean of Kilmacduagh (1874-1892).

When Dean Butson was installed in Kilmacduagh Cathedral in 1874, he reported, he ‘had to sit upon a tombstone amidst a luxuriant crop of stinging nettles, within the precincts of the roofless cathedral.’

His successor in Gort, Henry Varian Daly (1838-1925), was the Rector of Gort (1874-1925), Archdeacon of Clonfert (1881-1925) and Archdeacon of Kilmacduagh (1891-1925).

Since 1976, Kilmacduagh is one of the dioceses incorporated into the United Dioceses of Limerick and Killaloe, incorporating Ardfert, Aghadoe, Clonfert, Emly, Kilfenora and Kilmacduagh. Formally, the Dean of Killaloe and Clonfert is also Dean of Kilfenora and Provost of Kilmacduagh, although these appointments have not always been made formally in recent years.

Meanwhile, Saint Colman’s Church in Gort has become a public library, and there is no open Church of Ireland parish church within the boundaries of the former Kilmacduagh.

The seven other church buildings on the site at Kilmacduagh are:

The round tower, about 15 metres south-west of the cathedral.
Saint Mary’s Church, also known as ‘The Lady’s Church,’ on the east side of the road.
The Church of Saint John the Baptist, to the north of the cathedral.
The Glebe House or ‘Abbot’s House’, further north, beside the car park.
Saint Colman’s Church, south of the graveyard.
The ‘Monastery Church’ or ‘O’Heyne’s Church’, about 180 metres north-east of the cathedral.
An unidentified church beside O’Heyne’s Church.

Inside the cathedral ruins in Kilmacduagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Matthew 12: 1-8 (NRSVA):

1 At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.’ 3 He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. 5 Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”, you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.’

The north transept was probably added in the 14th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (16 July 2021) invites us to pray:

We pray for those struggling with mental health issues. May we treat mental health as seriously as we treat physical health, and promote wellbeing across the contexts in which we operate.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The west end of Kilmacduagh Cathedral … the cathedral fell into disuse and disrepair after the Reformations (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The round tower beside Kilmacduagh Cathedral is Ireland’s tallest round tower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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