17 November 2020

Ruins of lost mediaeval
church in Dunmoylan
with links to ‘Old Abbey’

The ruins of Dunmoylan Church near Shanagolden, Co Limerick … part of the south wall is all that survives (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

After almost four years, I am still getting lost as I try to find my way around the labyrinthine small roads and side roads in this parish in west Limerick. I have tried to find the ruins of the ‘Old Abbey’, near Shanagolden, a number of times, and on my least search I ended up instead at the ruined mediaeval church at Dunmoylan.

Dunmoylan was a mediaeval and civil parish in the Barony of Shanid, Co Limerick, and the church there was recorded as early as 1291. The church belonged to the nuns of ‘Old Abbey’ or Monastery of Saint Catherine near Shanagolden.

All that remains of the church is the south wall. Some stones that were once part of the building lie around the site. Westropp measured the foundations of the church as 42 ft by 18 ft.

At the rear of the church ruin, a circular dún can be made out, suggesting an early church site with boundaries defined by the earthen works that give their name to this place.

Only one pre-Reformation Vicar of Dunmoylan is recorded: Roderick O’Longscyg or O’Longseyg was vicar in 1425-1426, when he was also Vicar of Iniscahan in the Diocese of Killaloe.

Even after the Reformation, the succession of priests in the Church of Ireland parish of Dunmoylan is uncertain. To add to the confusion, two different lists, with different names, survive for this parish for over a century and a half, between the 1680s and the 1740s.

Many of these vicars also held a number of other, neighbouring parishes at the same time, including Castlerobert, Kilbradran, Kilfergus (Glin), Kilmoylan, Kilscannel, Loughill, Shanagolden and Cloncoragh, indicating they probably never lived in the parish, but collected the tithes to supplement their incomes without even trying to provide Sunday services.

For example, Canon Eliezer Gonne (1644-1714) was the Vicar of Dunmoylan in 1687-1714 while, at the same time, he was a Prebendary of Killybegs and Rector of Headford in the Diocese of Tuam, and rector or vicar of at least six other parishes in the Diocese of Limerick.

The Revd Barry Hartwell (1684-1741), who is listed as the vicar in 1715-1741, was, at the same time, a Vicar Choral in Lismore Cathedral, Co Waterford, and the rector of two parishes in the Diocese of Cloyne and one in the Diocese of Cork, while his successor, Sir Robert Pinsent (1706-1781), also held appointments in the dioceses of Derry and Cork at the same time.

The Revd John Graves (1751-1820), who was Vicar of Dunmoylan along with Castlerobert, Kilfinane and Darragh, until he died in 1820, was succeeded by his son, the Revd James William Graves (1784-1865), who later became Rector of Nantenan.

The last recorded Vicar of Dunmoylan was Canon William Maunsell in 1827-1860. But by then, Dunmoylan was a mere sinecure, there were no tithes to collect. At the same time, he was the Vicar of Saint John’s, Limerick (1832-1837) and Rector and Vicar of Kilmurry, Limerick (1837-1860). When he died at Kilmurry Glebe in 1860, the parish of Dunmoylan was absorbed into Shanagolden.

The church grounds may have continued to be used as a burial ground for a short time. Near the church was Tobbereendowney Holy Well, the ‘well of the king of Sunday.’

Dunmoylan castle was recorded as early as 1299. Although the castle site was said to be across the road and 300 metres south of the church ruins, the precise location has long been forgotten, and by 1840 no one in the area could remember any of the walls standing or who had last lived there.

The Morgan family, which was of Welsh descent, was living in Co Limerick by the mid-17th century, and a number of family members were clergymen in the Church of Ireland over many generations.

James Morgan was living at Dunmoylan Manor in the late 17th and early 18th century, and he was the agent of Chichester Phillips for the Earl of Cork’s lands around Askeaton.

His son, the Revd William Morgan, who was born at Dunmoylan in 1680, was the Vicar of Abbeyfeale, while his grandson, Canon Allen Morgan (1700-1763), was Prebendary of Tipperkevin and then of Saint Audeon’s in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. Another grandson, John Morgan of Dunmoylan, married Mary Hodges of Shanagolden, a cousin of George Hodges of Old Abbey.

Their son, George Morgan, was living at Old Abbey by 1814. John Morgan of Park, Shanagolden, owned 342 acres in Co Limerick in the 1870s.

Other members of the family included Canon Hamilton Morgan, chaplain of the King’s Hospital, Dublin (1766-1784) and Prebendary of Dunlavin in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin (1788-1799); and the Very Allen Morgan (1761-1830), chaplain of the King’s Hospital, Dublin (1784-1830) and Dean of Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe (1828-1830).

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