Wednesday, 5 February 2020
Saint John’s Church,
Kilcornan, and a visit
to Saint Brigid’s Well
Two interesting feastdays were marked in the Church Calendar last weekend: Saint Brigid’s Day (1 February) and the Feast of the Presentation (2 February).
Two of us marked Saint Brigid’s Day on Saturday, seeking out Saint Brigid’s Well in a remote dale reached by muddy paths and trails across hilly fields near Kilcornan and Stonehall.
Although there was a sign by the roadside, the pilgrim route was not marked, and we were grateful to other visitors we met along the way for directing our paths and warning us about the muddy and rocky obstacles as we picked our through the fields in our wellie boots.
Kilcornan is 17 km west of Limerick, on the N69 from Limerick to Tralee. The name Kilcornan comes from a sixth century saint, Saint Chúrnan, whose feast is on 6 January. In his Topographical Dictionary (1837), Samuel Lewis notes that the earliest identifiable settlements in Kilcornan were Danish.
The lands changed hands several times during the Tudor era. The Rector of Kilcornan, William Casey, was nominated by James FitzGerald, Earl of Desmond, as the first post-Reformation Bishop of Limerick in 1551. He was deposed by Queen Mary in 1556, but he was restored to the see in 1571.
A large part of the parish was granted to Sir Hardress Waller (1605-1666), MP for Askeaton (1634, 1640), one of the regicides who signed the death warrant of Charles I in 1649. The parish also includes Curraghchase, the ancestral home of Aubrey de Vere and the Hunt family.
For generations, the Roman Catholic parish was usually known as Stonehall, although the names Castletown and Kilcornan were also used.
An 18th century church in Stonehall served the Roman Catholic parishioners until 1828 when, in an unusual gesture of generosity, the local landlord John Waller (1763-1836) donated a site for a new church and paid for its building. The church in Kilcornan is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist whose feast is on 24 June.
The Church of Ireland parish church in Kilcornan is a Board of First Fruits church, designed by the architect James Pain and built in 1831. Local tradition says the two churches were designed by the same architect.
The Roman Catholic parish church was built in 1828, when the parish was still known as Stonehall. The date, 24 June, was the parish holiday until Father Patrick Condon ended this tradition while he was parish priest (1896-1917).
Saint John’s Church, Kilcornan, is a small stone building. The porch was added in the 1950s and the windows in the porch were donated by Kathleen O’Connell in memory of John and Brigid Kennedy and her brother Dan.
Inside the church on the right, there is a mosaic of Christ donated by the Sheahan family. The altars are to the memory of John Ranahan who died on 26 August 1954.
A large Crucifix hangs above the altar, with a statue of the Sacred Heart to the left, and a statue of the Virgin Mary on the right.
At the top of the nave, stained glass windows depict Saint John the Baptist (left), the patron of the church, in memory of a Mrs Chapman, and Saint Patrick (right), the patron of Ireland, in memory of Father Micheál Ó hAodha, former parish priest (1925-1930), who died in 1934.
Two smaller stained-glass images in windows the centre of the nave, depicting Saint Brigid and Saint Columcille, were donated by Mary O’Donoghue. These two saints are patrons of Ireland, alongside Saint Patrick, but also link the church with Saint Brigid’s Well, which is within the parish.
The large gallery covers almost half the nave area. A stained-glass window in the gallery depicting the Crucifixion is in memory of Michael McKnight who died in 1936.
Father Timothy Foley, first Parish Priest of the church (1827-1849), is buried in the church before the altar. Two other parish priests are buried in the churchyard: Father Patrick Condon (1896-1917), and Father Stephen Culhane, who died on Easter Day 1920.
The parish was known as Stonehall until 1961, when Canon Bluet changed the name to Kilcornan.