28 November 2020
The mediaeval church and
graveyard at Morgans,
west of Askeaton
Morgans North and Morgans South are paired townlands about 3 or 4 km west of Askeaton, on both sides of the main road to Foynes. Some of the families living there seem to have been rehoused from Aughinish Island when the bauxite refinery was built there.
Two us walked from Askeaton to Morgans on Friday afternoon (27 November 2020) in search of the old church ruins associated with a mediaeval parish and legends of a monk-saint said to have been a contemporary of Saint Patrick and with a local man who died on board the Titanic.
Today, the church ruins stand in the middle of graveyard known as Mount Pleasant. The name Morgans may be derived from the Irish Muingeadain, meaning a ‘maritime spot.’ However, local lore tells of a monk named Muirdeabhair the Wise of Disert, who built his hut and oratory beside a spring that had been blessed by Saint Patrick and where Saint Patrick baptised.
This legend identifies the monk with ‘Muirdeabhair the Wise of Diseart’ or ‘Muirdeabhra in Ṹi Conaill Gabhra,’ named in the Martyrology of Donegal. The Feilire or Calendar of Aengus refers to him as a ‘Synod diadera.’
Ṹi Conaill Gabhra was an ancient petty kingdom in what is now West Limerick, including the modern baronies of Upper and Lower Connelloe, Shanid and Glenquin.
The Irish word Disert indicates a lonely or uninhabited area. Deisert Muirdeabhra is said to refer to the lonely uninhabited area of Muirdeabhair.
A variation of Muirdeabhair is said to be Murigeadán, and so, it is said, the neighbouring twin townlands of Muirgeadán Thuaidh and Muirgeadán Theas are known today as Morgans North and Morgans South. The feast day of Saint Muirdeabhair or Saint Morgan was on 3 November.
The ruins of Morgans or Dysert church are within the old churchyard or cemetery now known as Mount Pleasant. The name Mount Pleasant was brought by the Sands family from Newtownsands or Moyvane, near Tarbert, Co Kerry, to Morgans and applied to a hillock at the back of their home, where the Keane family live today.
The church and graveyard in the townland of Morgans North are opposite the Gouldings Fertiliser plant in Morgans South. The site is in a level pasture, about 50 metres north of the public road, and we reached it across a pathway that crosses the edge of a field.
This is an elliptical, almost rectangular, site, measing about 60 metres from east to west and about 45 metres from north to south, with a rounded west end, and enclosed by low stone wall. In the north-west section of the site is the ruin of the late medieval parish church of Morgans or Dysert.
Another local legend says the church was built in the 15th century by two sisters, although their names are not remembered.
In later times, the Franciscans of Askeaton Abbey are said to have ministered to the parish and church in Morgans.
In post-Reformation times, Morgans was a parish within the Askeaton parish, and the Rectors and Vicars of Askeaton were also appointed to Morgans, along with the neighbouring parishes of Toomdeely and Lismakeera.
A family burial vault for the Sands family has been built against outside face of east wall, at the north end.
The graveyard has been cleared of overgrowth and most of the graves dates from the 19th and early 20th century, with some more recent burials. Some of the families are from Aughinish Island, others are from Askeaton, and some are from as far away as Foynes.
I could not find the earliest headstones, said to date from 1785, in memory of a W Casey, aged 46, and from 1817. Another, earlier grave, associated with the Dundon family, dates from 1824, and the lettering has been reworked, but it shows earlier influences, including an image of the Crucifixion, and symbols that include the 30 pieces of silver, a scourge, a cockerel, pliers, and a ladder for the deposition.
A Walsh family grave that seems to be crowned by an obelisk is inscribed:
Beneath this Irish cross
commemorate her many virtues
by her loving husband
Michael Walsh of Foynes
lie the remains of Mary
who for over 20 years was
his devoted and fond wife
She left a large young family
who have great reason to mourn
the loss of her motherly care
She was generous kind
and charitable to all
Died Sep[temb]er 30th 1872 aged 38 y[ea]rs
May her soul rest in peace.
I was confused until I looked at the base of the gravestone and found shattered fragments of the former cross scatted in the grass.
Another grave, near the boundary wall, recalls Pat Reilly from Toomdeely who ‘was lost in Titanic 14th April 1912 aged 30 years.’
In the Roman Catholic Diocese of Limerick, Mount Pleasant graveyard is close to the boundaries of the parishes of both Shanagolden, Robertstown and of Foynes and of Askeaton and Ballysteen.
In a corner of the former churchyard, a recently-erected enclosed altar seems to be still in use on occasions.