02 November 2018
Strolling through the abbey
and church ruins in Croagh
On a recent journey between Rathkeale and Limerick, on a sunny morning in the autumn sunshine of late October, I stopped in Croagh, half-way between Rathkeale and Adare, just off the N21.
Croagh is about 22 km south-west of Limerick City, and was on the N21 until the Croagh by-pass was built in 1986. Today it has one of the widest main streets in any Irish village.
Croagh derives its name either from the Irish word cruach, which is a hill or mountain, or cróch, the Irish word for saffron. It lies in the rich farmland of the Golden Vale, and has a park, monastery, nursing home, music school, restaurant, hostel, garden centre, parish church, school, library, shop, two pubs and two GAA pitches.
But I had stopped in Croagh that morning not to decide between one pub or another, one football pitch and another, but to see the ruins of the former Augustinian abbey and former Church of Ireland parish church in the townland of Adamswood.
Local tradition says the abbey may have been founded as early as the 10th century and later was a house of the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine, also known as the Augustinian Canons. Their presence in Ireland predated by centuries the better-known Order of Saint Augustine, who arrived in Ireland around 1280.
A plaque on the north wall of the abbey says the abbey was functioning as a ‘prestigious seminary’ by the early 12th century, and the church was a collegiate church ‘up to end of the 17th century.’
However, as Croagh Abbey was suppressed with the other monastic houses at the Reformation in the 16th century, the dates on this plaque have to be questioned.
The church is now in ruins, but originally consisted of a chancel and nave, with transepts and a tower. The church lost its cruciform shape when the transepts were destroyed and the arches were blocked up.
In the 17th or 18th century, a crossing wall was inserted to the west of the transepts and the east end was re-roofed.
The original east window appears to have been completely removed and brick surrounds inserted when the church was being altered. There is a round arched opening in the chancel end of the wall that may have been a doorway, and other surviving feature include a two-light window, a single lancet window, a piscina and a round arched doorway in the nave.
The Rectors of Croagh were also Prebendaries of Croagh in the chapter of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, and the patron of the living was Henry Deane Grady and later Matthew Barrington. A glebehouse was built in 1831, when a glebe of 10 acres was bought. But until then many of the rectors seem to have been absentee pluralists.
Canon William Ashe (1747-1836), was a Vicar Choral in Limerick Cathedral when he became the Rector and Prebendary of Croagh from 1818, and had been living in Newcastle West since 1806. He was also the Rector of Kilfergus (Glin) and the Rector of Grange.
The Journal of the House of Commons noted in 1824 that he was non-resident but employed a curate in Croagh. He was living in the new glebe in Croagh and was still the incumbent when he died in 1836 at the age of 89.
The church was used as the Church of Ireland parish church from the 18th century until the 1830s, and probably much later. The Limerick historian and antiquarian Thomas Johnson Westropp (1860-1922) said the chancel was still in use when he visited the site in the early 20th century.
There is an old graveyard in is in the grounds of the abbey and church ruins. The oldest headstone dates from 1802 and is in memory of Denis Smith who died on 1 January 1802 at the age of 28.