13 December 2019

Can conservation efforts
save the ruined church
at Castletown Conyers?

The church ruins in the graveyard at Castletown Conyers are all that survive of the mediaeval parish church of Corcomohide (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I was at a funeral earlier this week in Castletown Conyers, 5 km south of Ballingarry, on the road from Rathkeale to Charleville.

The church ruins in the graveyard at Castletown Conyers are all that survive of the mediaeval parish church of Corcomohide. But the history of this unique mediaeval settlement is being uncovered slowly and revealed as part of an effort to preserve the remains of the building known locally as ‘the Abbey.’

‘The Abbey’ was, in fact, a parish church, and with a neighbouring motte and a castle or manor house it formed the centre of a mediaeval borough of up to 300 people that dates back to the 13th century.

The church ruins at Castletown Conyers seen from the south-west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Castletown or Corcomhide was the ancestral or tribal area of the Mac Eniry family, and was known as Baile Caisleáin Mhic an Oighre or the town of Mac Eniry’s castle. The Mac Eniry remained a force in this area until the late 17th century.

Castletown became the site of a mediaeval borough, with a church, a motte, and a castle or manor house. The manor of Corkemoyd was granted by Maurice FitzMaurice to his son-in-law Thomas de Clare and his wife Juliana, who in turn granted the church, in 1276, to the Cathedral of Limerick.

Inside The church ruins at Castletown Conyers, looking east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The manor was holding a weekly market by 1284, but it was destroyed by war in 1302, and the early church was destroyed that year too.

An inquisition of 1321 suggested that about 290 people were living there. Lewis suggests the Castle at Castletown was built by the chieftain of the Mac Eniry family in 1349, and says the Mac Eniry family founded an abbey.br />
There are a number of references to the castle during the 14th century, when it was held by the de Cliffords, amongst others.

The later church, built in the late 14th or early 15th century, was dedicated to the Purification of the Virgin Mary on 2 February 1402 or 1410.

The east end of the church ruins at Castletown Conyers, shrouded in cladding (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

After the Reformation, the church served for some time as a Church of Ireland parish church and some alterations to the church were made in the 16th century.

The Book of Survey and Distribution in the 1660s referred to the area as Castleinenry.

Castletown Conyers acquired its present name when the estate was bought by Captain George Conyers in 1703, although Lewis said the parish of Castletown Conyers was granted to George Conyers by William III.

The church ruins at Castletown Conyers from the north-east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

There are some early 18th century headstones in the churchyard, the earliest marking the grave of Cornelius Ryan, who died in 1737 at the age of 34.

There is a still a reference in 1763 to ‘Castletown McEnyry.’

The Conyers vault was inserted in the west end of the church in the late 18th or early 19th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Conyers vault was inserted in the west end of the church in the late 18th or early 19th century, although it is likely that the church was a ruin at this point.

Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland in 1837, noted that Corcomohide was an ecclesiastical union, including the civil parishes of Castletown Conyers, Drumcolloher, and Kilmeedy, and had 10,742 inhabitants.

The tithes totalled to £900, of which £570 was payable to the Countess of Ormonde, as lessee under the Vicars Choral of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, and £330 to the incumbent.

There were two public schools, supported by Mr Stevelly and Colonel White, and 12 private schools.

The church was certainly a ruin by the time of the first Ordnance Survey in the 1830s and 1840s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The church was certainly a ruin by the time of the first Ordnance Survey in the 1830s and 1840s, there was neither glebe nor glebe house, and the vicarage was united with the vicarages of Kilmeedy and Dromcolloher.

In the mid-19th century, the Conyers estate was mainly in the Parish of Kilcolman, Barony of Shanid, but also in the Parish of Corcomohide, Barony of Connello Upper, Co Limerick.

Castletown Conyers, the seat of the Conyers family was the home of Charles Conyers (1758-1837) in the early 19th century, and he was succeeded by his son, the Revd Edward Fitzgerald Conyers (1787-1854). By the time of Griffith’s Valuation, the house was in use as an auxiliary workhouse, held by the Croom Guardians from Dr William Bailey, medical doctor, and valued at £25.

Members of the Conyers family still held considerable estates in the area in the 1870s, when Charles Conyers of Castletown Conyers owned 2,425 acres, Grady FitzGerald Conyers of Liskennet owned 1,023 acres and Edward Conyers of Liskennet owned 95 acres.

The Revd Edward Fitzgerald Conyers (1787-1854) and his wife Catherine Blennerhassett were the parents of the Revd Charles Conyers, who died in 1872. He was married twice – to Agnes Graham, and Margaret Drew. Castletown Conyers was the residence of Charles Conyers in 1894.

The remains of the piscina can be traced at the east end of the south wall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Major Charles Conyers (1867-1915) of the Royal Munster Fusiliers was wounded at the Battle of Ypres in 1915 and is buried at Bradhoek Military Cemetery in Belgium. There is a memorial tablet with his name in Limerick Cathedral. The family Conyers family appears to have continued to live at Castletown Conyers until the 1920s.

Major Conyers had married Dorothea Blood-Smith (1869-1947) of Fedamore, Co Limerick, in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, on 2 February 1892. She was the author of 54 novels and one autobiographical work of sporting reminiscences, published between 1900 and 1948.

The widowed Dorothea Conyers married Captain John Joseph White of Nantinan, Co Limerick, in University Church, Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, on 25 February 1917. When Captain White died at Nantinan on 14 April 1940, he was buried at Cappagh Church. Dorothea died on 26 May 1949 and was buried at Saint Mary’s Cathedral.

In places, the roots of trees and the ivy clinging to the walls appear to be the only things holding the fabric of the church together(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Today, trees are growing within the walls of the church, and in recent years a number of large stones have fallen from a height. Indeed, in places, the roots of trees and the ivy clinging to the walls appear to be the only things holding the fabric of the church together.

The archaeologist Sarah McCutcheon, who has carried out some investigations on the site, has told Norma Prendiville of the Limerick Leader that the work to stabilise the building would need to be done in several phases.

The first phase involves cutting back the trees and then drilling and treating the boles and roots. Later phases would involve repairing the cavities left by the roots, removing other vegetation, consolidating the south-east corner and north wall chancel and capping the walls. Some work on clearing the trees and ivy has been carried out under the direction of Ms McCutcheon and the north wall has been propped up.

The conservation works on the church ruins have been promoted by the Castletown Conyers Development Association and Limerick City and County Council.

An opening at the east end of the north wall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A nearby holy well, known locally as Lady’s Well, is still visited regularly, and large numbers of people attend an annual Mass at the well on 15 August.

Another well, Saint Gobnait’s Well, also known as Saint Debora’s Well or Saint Deriola’s Well, was the venue for an annual pattern on 11 February, but this came to an end around 1870. The site of this well was in a high field, north of Ballagran to the left of the road to Castletown, and has long dried up.

A surviving lancet window in the south wall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Reading Saint Luke’s Gospel
in Advent 2019: Luke 13

‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard’ … (Luke 13: 6) … a fig tree in Córdoba (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Advent this year, I am joining many people in reading a chapter from Saint Luke’s Gospel each morning. In all, there are 24 chapters in Saint Luke’s Gospel, so this means being able to read through the full Gospel, reaching the last chapter on Christmas Eve [24 December 2019].

Why not join me as I read through Saint Luke’s Gospel each morning this Advent?

Luke 13 (NRSVA):

1 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them – do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’

6 Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” 8 He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down”.’

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’ 15 But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

18 He said therefore, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.’

20 And again he said, ‘To what should I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

22 Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said to them, 24 ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us”, then in reply he will say to you, “I do not know where you come from.” 26 Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” 27 But he will say, “I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!” 28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. 29 Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.’

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ 32 He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”.’

A prayer for today:

A prayer today from the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG, United Society Partners in the Gospel:

Let us pray for all people who are suffering from hunger, poverty, discrimination and neglect, that they may find their way out of their predicaments.

Tomorrow: Luke 14.

Yesterday: Luke 12.

‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem … How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings’ … (Luke 13: 34) … ‘The Holy City’, by Thetis Blacker in the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine, Limehouse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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