29 July 2019
church recalls legends
about snow in August
Two of us drove through west Limerick at the weekend. We were going to lunch in Springfield Castle, and on the way there and back visited the villages of Castlemahon, Broadford and Dromcollogher for the first time.
In the Church of Ireland Diocese of Limerick, these villages lie within the Rathkeale Group of Parishes, although they have no parish churches; in the Roman Catholic Church, Broadford is part of the Roman Catholic parish of Dromcollogher-Broadford.
Broadford (Áth Leathan, ‘Wide Ford’) has a population of 276, according to the 2016 census. The records show it is a relatively new village: it was first recorded by cartographers in 1837, and the Roman Catholic Church was built in 1844 to accommodate a growing population in the area.
The church in Broadford has an unusual dedication – Our Lady of the Snows, whose feast is celebrated on 5 August.
Snow in August is a rare occurrence in Europe – if ever. But popular lore in Rome tells of a snowfall during the night of 5 August 352.
A Roman nobleman John and his wife were without children, but were rich in many other ways. They decided to bequeath their fortune to the Virgin Mary, and at the suggestion of Pope Liberius, prayed that she might give a sign so that they might know how to do this.
During the night of 5 August, it is said, the Virgin Mary appeared to John and his wife and to Pope Liberius, telling them to build a church in her honour at the top of the Esquiline Hill, one of the Seven Hills of Rome. As a sign, snow would cover the crest of the hill.
During that night, snow fell on the historic hill, but when the crowds gathered in the morning to see this unusual sight in white, they saw the snow had fallen in a pattern, leaving uncovered the outline of church uncovered.
The church was built over two years, and when it was completed in 354 it was dedicated as the Basilica Liberiana. The church was rebuilt on a grander scale by Pope Sixtus III 70 years later. From then on, the church was known as the Basilica Sixti and the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore or Saint Mary Major.
This church today is one of the largest basilicas in the world and its Patronal Festival on 5 August recalls the story of the miracle of the snow.
A similar story is told about the first church built in the Broadford area, when the area was known as Killaliathan or Killagholehane. The name is derived from the Irish Cill Acha Liatháin, meaning ‘the Church of the Field of the O’Leehane family.’
According to a local legend, a woman in the Uí Liathain (O’Leehane) family wanted to build a church in the area but did not know the best site for her church. She prayed for a sign to help her decide on the location. After a snowstorm in the summer, only one field remained free from the white blanket of snow. This field was part of the Uí Liatháin family’s land.
The earliest record a church in Killagholehane church is from 1201. At the time of the destruction of the church in Dromcollogher in 1302, Killagholehane church was also partially destroyed. It was rebuilt almost immediately on the same site.
There was also accommodation for priests in a building attached to the church. A tomb in the wall of the church dates from the 15th century, although it is not known to whom it belongs. It may be the tomb of the O’Daly family, a renowned Bardic family employed by the Earls of Desmond for around 300 years.
The first Roman Catholic Church in Broadford was built in 1819-1820 on the Newcastle West road, where Ó Suilleabháin’s corner house now stands. A house nearby was the childhood home from 1884 to 1885 of James Duhig (1871-1965), Archbishop of Brisbane.
The site for a new church was donated in 1839 by Lord Muskerry, who lived in Springfield Castle, who donated the site and a gift of £50 to the parish priest, Father Reeves (1833-1840).
However, the resignation of Father Reeves in 1840 delayed the project, and it was another four years before work began on the present Church Our Lady of the Snows in 1844 under the next parish priest, Father Patrick Quaid.
The church was completed in 1846. It was built with limestone that was quarried locally measured 90 ft by 30 ft. The church is built on a north/south axis rather than the liturgically normal east/west axis Father Quaid added the cut-stone belfry to the church in 1856. An inscription on the belfry reads ‘Revd P Quaid 1856.’
The stained-glass window above the altar depicts the Crucifixion, flanked by Saint Anthony (left) and Saint David (right). These windows were donated by David MacMahon in 1903 in memory of David and Johanna MacMahon, in 1903.
There is a statue of the Virgin Mary to the left of the altar and a statue to the right of Saint Theresa in memory of John Connors.
The porch, front wall and gates were added by Archdeacon Hugh O’Connor in the 1950s when he was parish priest (1946-1972). Further renovations work was carried out on in 1983-1986.
A statue of the Sacred Heart stands on the left in the churchyard, with a Crucifixion scene on the right of the church.
This is a pre-Famine church, and a small memorial in the churchyard commemorates the 2,500 people from the parish who died or emigrated during the Great Famine (1845-1852).