29 July 2019

Saint Bartholomew’s Church,
Dromcollogher, and its 1990s
glass-panelled nave walls

Saint Bartholomew’s Church in Dromcollogher, Co Limerick … built in 1824 and renovated in 1861, 1906-1909, the 1950s and the 1990s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

On my way to lunch in Springfield Castle at the weekend, I stopped to visit the churches in Broadford and Dromcollogher in west Limerick for the first time.

In the Church of Ireland Diocese of Limerick, these villages are within the Rathkeale Group of Parishes, although they have no parish churches; in the Roman Catholic Church, they form one parish of Dromcollogher-Broadford.

Dromcollogher is a picturesque small town or village in Co Limerick, not far from the border of North County Cork and about 12 km west of Charleville. It has a population of about 600 people.

The name Dromcollogher (Drom Collachair) in Irish means ‘the ridge of the hazel wood.’ Local people spell its name Dromcollogher, but there are other variations, including Drumcolloher, Dromcolloher and Drumcullogher, and Dromcolliher is used by the Ordnance Survey and An Post.

Graves in the ruins of the mediaeval church in Dromcollogher (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Dromcollogher is listed as a mediaeval town by Limerick County Council, with many protected buildings. It is first mentioned in The Book of Leinster in 1160, and it is mentioned twice in the Black Book of Limerick ca 1200.

An early mediaeval church was destroyed by war in 1302. It was rebuilt and was known as the capella Dromcolkylle in Corcomohid in 1418, when it was part of the larger parish of Corcomohide.

Dromcollogher was one of the starting points for the Irish Co-Op Movement. The first co-operative creamery was set up here in 1889 on the initiative of Count Horace Plunkett. The songwriter Percy French composed a song ‘There’s Only One Street In Dromcollogher.’

Inside Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Dromcollogher (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The protected or listed buildings in Dromcollogher include Saint Bartholomew’s, the Roman Catholic parish church built in 1824.

Father Maurice England was registered as parish priest of the larger surrounding area in 1704, and a new parish was formed after his death in 1719. Father Patrick Quin, parish priest, who died in 1778, was buried within the walls of the ruined mediaeval parish church.

Saint Bartholomew’s Church was built in 1824 by Father Michael Fitzgerald, who bought the site from Robert Jones Staveley of Glenduff Castle, Co Limerick, a judge of the High Court.

Renovations were carried out in 1861 by Father Patrick Quaid, who also built a new church in neighbouring Broadford. Father Michael Byrne (PP 1902-1917) refurbished and decorated the church in the early 20th century, with improvements designed in 1906-1909 by the Limerick-based architect Brian Edward Fitzgerald Sheehy (1870-1930). The apse and many of the stained-glass windows were added at this time.

The High Altar and apse in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Dromcollogher (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The stained-glass windows behind the altar depict (from left to right) Saint David, the Virgin Mary, the Sacred Heart, and Saint Catherine. They were donated by David and Mary O’Leary Hannigan of Kilbolane Castle, Milford, Co Cork, and other members of their family in 1906.

The stained-glass windows in the left transept depict the Sacred Heart, donated by Mrs Toomey in memory of her parents, and the Holy Child of Jerusalem, similar to the Child of Prague.

‘The Holy Child of Jerusalem’ in a stained-glass window in the west (liturgical north) transept (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A stained-glass window of Saint Patrick in the right transept was donated in memory of Patrick Quaid Hannigan and his wife Mary. A stained-glass window of Saint Joseph was donated by Patrick O’Sullivan.

James Pearse (1839-1900), father of the 1916 leaders Patrick and William Pearse, donated the statue of the Virgin Mary to the left of the High Altar. The statue to the right is of the Sacred Heart.

A Pieta statue is in memory of John Gleeson. Other statues in the church include Saint Theresa of Lisieux, Saint Joseph, and Saint Anthony. The Stations of the Cross are in memory of Dorcas Mary Aherne.

The walls of the nave were removed and replaced with glass panels, forming light-filled, cloister like side aisles (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Further renovations were carried out in the 1950s and again in the 1990s. There was considerable debate in the 1990s about whether to build a new church or to radically upgrade the existing church.

The walls of the nave were removed and replaced with glass panels, forming light-filled, cloister like side aisles. The glass panels are the work of Kevin Kelly and the Abbey Stained Glass Studios.

The glass is engraved with both religious and secular scenes, including scenes from the life of Saint Bartholomew, the calling of Saint Nathaniel, who is identified with Saint Bartholomew, in Saint John’s Gospel (see John 1: 43-51), scenes from local history and excerpts from poetry by the local bardic poet, Daibhi O Bruadair (1625-1698), who lived in Springfield Castle, outside Dromcollogher.

The glass panels depict scenes from the life of Saint Bartholomew, including the calling of Saint Nathaniel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

This is a cruciform-plan double-height gable-fronted parish church, aligned on a north-south axis rather than the traditional liturgical east-west axis.

The church had a three-bay nave, with a recent porch at the front, glazed side aisles at each side, three-bay transepts at the sides, and a canted, three-bay chancel at the liturgical east end (north). There are timber-frame balconies in each transept.

The once free-standing three-stage bell tower to north (liturgical east) is linked to the church and sacristy by a recent corridor.

The once free-standing three-stage bell tower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Much of the church’s historic character remains intact, mostly through the retention of key historic features, including the stained-glass windows, decorative stone details and the bell tower.

These alterations to the nave make for a light and airy interior that retains many artistic features, including the finely-crafted balconies and statues.

The episcopal coat-of-arms of Bishop Jeremiah Newman (1926-1995) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Two displays of episcopal coats-of-arms commemorate Jeremiah Newman (1926-1995), former Bishop of Limerick, who was born in Church Street, Dromcollogher.

Father William O’Donnell, who was parish priest for 33 years and died in 1876, is the only parish priest buried inside the church. Four parish priests are buried in the church grounds: Michael Byrne; Canon James Foley; Canon John Reeves; and Archdeacon Hugh O’Connor.

The Celtic cross in the churchyard is a memorial to the 48 victims of a fire in 1926 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A large Celtic cross in the churchyard is a memorial to the victims of a fire at a film showing on Sunday evening, 5 September 1926. William ‘Baby’ Forde had hired a room from Patrick Brennan in the centre of Dromcollogher and planned to show Cecil B DeMille’s Ten Commandments in a make-shift, timber-built cinema. But, during the showing, a reel of nitrate film caught fire from the flame of a candle. The fire spread, and 46 people died that night, with two more dying later in hospital.

The 48 people represented one-tenth of the population of Dromcollogher at the time. Many who died were children. One entire family died – a father, mother and their two children.

The victims were buried in the churchyard in a communal grave marked by the Celtic cross. The town library was later built on the site of the fire.

The tragedy, known locally as the ‘Dromcollogher Burning,’ was the worst-known fire disaster in Irish history until the Betelgeuse fire in 1979 and the Stardust disaster in 1981, in which 50 and 48 people died.

Saint Catherine depicted in one of the chancel windows (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Broadford’s pre-Famine
church recalls legends
about snow in August

The parish church in Broadford, Co Limerick, has an unusual dedication to Our Lady of the Snows (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

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.

Inside the church in Broadford, looking towards the liturgical east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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.

An inscription on the belfry recalls Father Patrick Quaid, who built the church in 1844-1846 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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, with Saint Anthony and Saint David (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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).

The baptismal font in the porch in the church in Broadford, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)