23 January 2017

An early start on a misty Sunday
morning in Castletown Church

Castletown Church was built in 1831 by James Pain and the Waller family for Kilcornan Parish, Co Limerick, in (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I presided at the Eucharist and preached yesterday morning [22 January 2017] in Castletown Church, near Pallaskenry, Co Limerick. This was my first service as the new Priest-in-Charge of the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes following the Service of Welcome and Introduction in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, on Friday evening [20 January 2017].

It was an early start to the week on an icy and misty Sunday morning. We almost got lost on the way to Castletown, and found ourselves on narrow, rutted, water-filed and iced-over bohereens. Eventually, thanks to a man with a dog and a gun, we got to Castletown Church, and just on time.

Castletown Church is one of the many churches designed in Ireland by the architect James Pain (1779-1877). The church was commissioned by the Board of First Fruits, which gave grants and loans for building churches and glebe houses and offered financial aid to needy clergy.

The work of the Board of First Fruits led to a period of intensive church building in the Church of Ireland in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Between 1779 and 1829, the Board of First Fruits built, rebuilt or enlarged 697 churches and 829 glebe houses. Among these are Castletown Church.

However, the most significant benefactor towards building Castletown Church was John Waller (1763-1836), the owner of Castetown Manor and estate in this part of Co Limerick.

John Waller was the son of John T Waller and Elizabeth Maunsell, and he later became an MP for Limerick. He married Isabella Oliver of Castle Oliver and was a captain in the Kerry Cavalry, one of regiments raised during the era of Grattan’s Parliament.

Waller was an MP for Co Limerick from in the Irish House of Commons from 1790, and was MP for Kilmallock when he voted against the Act of Union. After the Union, he was elected MP for Co Limerick in 1801, but he had not taken his seat at Westminster by 25 March 1801 there is no evidence of parliamentary activity, and he stood down in 1802.

He was one of Napoleon’s détenus at Verdun and in 1805 he declined an unexpected offer of liberation instigated by his former fellow scholar, Arthur O’Connor, informing Napoleon that although private and family considerations made him extremely anxious to return to Ireland, he would rather die a prisoner than owe his liberty to a man who had proved himself a traitor to his King and an enemy to his country.

When he died on 14 November 1836, John Waller was buried in the Waller Vault in Castletown cemetery, and was succeeded by his brother, Bolton Waller.

Castletown Church, which was built for the Parish of Kilcornan, cost a total of £1,500. Of this, £700, together with the site, was an outright gift from John Waller. Moreover, Waller undertook to pay off the balance of £800, which had been obtained as a loan from the Board of First Fruits.

James Pain (1779-1877), the architect of Castletown Church, was a son of James Pain, a surveyor and builder. He was born in Isleworth, Middlesex, in 1779, and he and his younger brother, George Pain (1792-1838), were apprenticed to John Nash (1752-1835), the architect responsible for much of the layout of Regency London under the patronage of the Prince Regent.

The Pain brothers came to Ireland in 1811 to supervise building Lough Cultra Castle in Gort, Co Limerick, which John Nash had designed for Charles Vereker. Both brothers settled in Ireland and they built up a considerable practice. James Pain settled in Limerick, while George lived in Cork.

The buildings they designed or worked on include Dromoland Castle, Co Clare; Saint Columba’s Church, Drumcliffe, Ennis, Co Clare; Saint Mary’s Church, Shandon, Cork; Saint Patrick’s Church, Cork; Holy Trinity Church, Cork; Blackrock Castle, Cork; Baal’s Bridge, Thomond Bridge, and Athlunkard Bridge, all in Co Limerick; Limerick Gaol and part of Adare Manor, where he was replaced as architect by AWN Pugin.

In 1824, James Pain was appointed architect for the Board of First Fruits in Munster. He designed and built a great number of the Church of Ireland churches and glebe houses in Co Limerick, including the Glebe House in Askeaton, which stands beside the Rectory where I am now living.

Inside Castletown Church, near Pallaskenry, Co Limerick, which was built in 1831 for Kilcornan Parish (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Castletown Church was built in 1831. It has a three-bay, gable-fronted nave, with a square-profile three-stage tower to the south elevation, with square-profile, multiple-gabled, single-storey vestries to east and west elevations of the tower.

There is a pitched slate roof, with cast-iron rainwater goods, cut limestone eaves course and limestone copings to the gables.

There are pitched slate roofs to the porches, with cut limestone eaves courses and copings and finials to the gables.

There is a terracotta chimneypot to the west-facing gable of the west porch. There are cut limestone eaves course and crenellations to the top of tower, and the square-profile cut limestone finials have pointed caps.

The walls are of random coursed rubble limestone with cut limestone quoins. There is a cut limestone plinth course to the south elevation of the tower and the side porches. There is a square-headed plaque recess to the south elevation of the tower, with cut limestone surround.

The pointed arch openings to the north, east and west elevations of the nave have cut tooled limestone surrounds, sill and hood-moulding, with a timber-traceried window. The pointed arch openings to the south elevation of the porches have cut and tooled limestone surrounds and sills, cut limestone hood moulding and timber sliding sash windows.

The pointed arch opening to second stage of the tower on the south elevation has a cut tooled limestone surround, sill, hood moulding and timber-framed window.

There are paired lancet openings to each elevation of third stage of tower, with cut tooled limestone surrounds, sills, cut limestone hood-moulding and timber louvered vents. There are four-centred arch openings to south elevation of tower and east and west elevations of east and west porches, with tooled cut limestone surrounds and double-leaf timber battened doors, with cut limestone hood-moulding to those to the east and west porches and cut limestone label moulding to the south elevation of tower. The entrances have limestone steps.

This church displays a high level of architectural design and detailing, most notably in its imposing square-profile crenellated tower and flanking porches. Its cut limestone finials, crenellations and eaves courses, as well as the hood-mouldings to the doors and window openings, add an element of contrast to the rubble stone walls, while the variety of timber tracery to the windows add artistic interest.

The setting of Castletown Church within a graveyard adds context to the site, and the church makes a notable addition to the surrounding landscape.

The former Glebe House in Castletown, which was the traditional residence of the Rectors of Kilcornan, was built in 1810. However, there is no information about the architect of the building. This was the second Glebe House on that site, replacing a house that was burned down in 1735, when the Revd Roger Throp was the rector.

Throp blamed Colonel John Waller for the fire and for shooting dead his ‘valuable’ saddle horse, describing Waller as his ‘bitter and vindictive enemy.’ Throp died a year after the fire in 1736. Later, Dean Jonathan Swift lampooned Waller in a well-known balled, ‘The Legion Club’, including the lines:

See the scowling visage drop,
just as when he murdered Throp.

Captain John Waller, a son of the man lampooned by Dean Swift, gave the site and paid for building Castletown Church, which was designed by James Pain and completed in 1831.

Originally, 60 acres of land were attached to the glebe house. In 1850, Griffith’s Valuation lists only 57 acres, and this was gradually reduced over the years. The Church of Ireland sold the glebe house some years ago and it is now in private ownership.

Meanwhile, James Pain lived on in Limerick to the great age of 98. Although he continued in practice, he appears to have received very few substantial commissions after the early 1840s. His last large commission appears to have been the addition of a west wing and other alterations to Knoppogue Castle, Co Clare, begun in 1856, while he continued as architect to the Board of Superintendence of Co Limerick Gaol until 1863.

Pain died on 13 December 1877, at the age of 97, and was buried in the Vereker family vault in the churchyard of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, on 17 December 1877.

The Revd Thomas John Waller of Castletown and Rector of Kilcornan still owned 6,636 acres in Co Limerick in the 1870s. His grandson, John Thomas Waller, sold the Waller family’s Castletown estate in 1936.

Searching for the Knights Templar at
the tower by Saint Mary’s in Askeaton

The octagonal tower beside the ruins of the mediaeval church in Askeaton is said to have been built by the Knights Templar in 1298 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

For my first Sunday in the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes yesterday [22 January 2017], I presided at the Eucharist and preached in two of the four churches in the group: Castletown Church near Pallaskenry and Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

I have moved into the Rectory in Askeaton, and I am getting to know the parish and the parishioners, the towns and villages and the local people, the area and its antiquities.

One of the oldest buildings in Askeaton is in the grounds of Saint Mary’s Church. The present church was built in 1827, but beside it are the ruins of an earlier, mediaeval church, and on the south-east corner of the church is an unusual tower, associated in local legend with the Knights Templar.

The tower is said to have been built in 1298, which means it predates both the Desmond Castle, which was built in the 15th century on the site of an earlier ruined castle, and the Franciscan Abbey, which was founded in 1389 or 1420.

The tower in Askeaton is square at the base but becomes octagonal half-way up (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The tower stands at about six metres high with a base batter, built on a square plan at the base, but halfway up it becomes an octagonal tower, and the tower has a crenellated top. There is a similar ruined tower by the ruins of a former Augustinian Priory in Knocktopher, Co Kilkenny.

The adjoining mediaeval church is in a very ruined state, and only one window remains in the gable end. The church stands at about four metres in height, and is butted up against the present parish church, built in 1827.

In his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, Samuel Lewis said in 1837 that the Knights Templars originally founded this church in 1298. However, this may not be wholly true, and Lewis mistakenly ascribes many early churches in Ireland to the Knights Templars.

The Knights Templar were one of the orders founded during the Crusades by warrior monks took monastic oaths to protect the Holy Land and pilgrims. Similar orders include the Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Knights of Saint John or the Knights of Rhodes or the Knights of Malta, as well as the Teutonic Order and the Order of Saint Lazarus.

The Knights Templar, or the ‘Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Jesus Christ and the Temple of Solomon,’ were formed in 1118 in Jerusalem. They later adopted the Cistercian rule and formally received Papal recognition from Pope Innocent II in 1130. From humble beginnings, the Templars spread throughout Christendom, with strongholds and estates in most parts of Europe and the in the Holy Land.

The castle in Askeaton seen through a squint window in the tower at Saint Mary’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The Templars first came to Ireland in September 1220, a century after their original formation. Historians only agree on five Templar foundations in Ireland: Templetown, Co Wexford, where grave slabs in the churchyard mark the burial sites of ‘Poor Fellow-Soldiers’ and where the Templars had lands and houses near Hook Head; Clontarf Castle, Dublin, which was a Templar Preceptory, although the present castle has no connections with them; Baldongan Church, now in ruins, near Skerries, Co Dublin; Ballymote, Co Sligo, where the ruins of a Templar house give Templehouse Lake its name; and the Knights Templars Church at what is today Saint John’s Cemetery at Upper Saint John Street in Wexford.

Other places in Ireland that have links with the Templars include: Carrigogunnell Castle, near Clarina, Co Limerick, said to have been built by the order; Dungeel, near Killorglin, Co Kerry, where a church and a castle said to have belonged to the Templars are in ruins; Graney, near Castledermot, Co Kildare, where reputed Templar ruins stand near the ruins of the Augustinian nunnery; Kilberry, Co Kildare, where the ruins of a possible preceptory of the Knights Templar stand near the River Barrow; Roosky, Co Louth, where part of the priory may have belonged to the Templars; and Strand, Co Limerick, where the church at Temple Strand may be of Templar origin.

But there are many places in Ireland that are also linked with the Knights Templar mistakenly. For example, Kilmainham is often listed as a Templar foundation, although it was a house of the Knights Hospitaller.

The Knights Templar are also said to have built a castle or house on the site of Templeogue House, and this Templar house or castle was later replaced by or incorporated into Templeogue Castle. However, the name Templeogue comes from the Irish Teach Mealóg, meaning ‘New Church of Saint Mel.’

Temple Bar in Dublin, is sometimes linked with the order too, although the name actually refers to a land-owning family named Temple.

On the other side of the River Liffey, one of the mummies in the vaults of Saint Michan’s Church in Dublin is commonly known as ‘the crusader,’ and is sometimes described as a Knight Templar. But this dead knight lived centuries after the dissolution of the order.

The Knights Templar were also shrewd bankers and moneylenders, and this became their downfall. A heavily indebted Phillip IV of France accused them of heresy in 1307, had the leaders thrown into jail and orchestrated a show trial.

With the complicity of the Pope, the Templars were incriminated and tortured. They were suppressed in 1312, and their leaders burnt at the stake in 1313.

Within months, the Templars in Ireland were also arrested on suspicion of heresy and placed in Dublin Castle. Between 15 and 30 knights were taken, most having seen more than 40 years of service with the order. Today, they would be seen as vulnerable pensioners.

The Dublin trials of the Templars began in 1310 in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. The accusations against the knights were based on hearsay, and no evidence could be found and no confessions were forthcoming. The trials eventually fizzled out, ending after six months in an anti-climax. The Templars were admonished to be good Christians and pensioned off.

It is more than likely that, because of their age, none of them was expected to put up much resistance if left alone. Most knights in Ireland were either pensioned off or taken into other orders, who also acquired the estates of the Templars.

The property of the Knights Templar in Ireland was either confiscated by the crown or transferred to the Hospitallers. The vast network of the Knights Templar had crumbled less than two decades after they were said to have founded a house in Askeaton.

The story that there was ever a Templar Commandery here in Askeaton was first challenged by TJ Westropp in a paper in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquities in Ireland. Indeed, another local tradition claims that the church is one of three churches that were built by three sisters. However, the legend gives but no saint or founder is associated with the parish.

Whoever founded the church or built the tower, for centuries this tower also served as the bell tower of the mediaeval church. The bell-cote still has the bell in its place, and a bell rope still hangs from the bell into the tower.

Inside the ‘Knights’ Templar Tower’ at Saint Mary’s Church in Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)