03 October 2020

Two parish churches by
the shore at Templenoe
on the Ring of Kerry

The pebble shoreline below Old Templenoe Church, Co Kerry, has panoramic views of the Bay of Kenmare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020; click on images for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

On the road from Kenmare to Sneem earlier this week, two of us stopped briefly at Templenoe (An Teampall Nua, ‘the new church’) to see the small, pebbly beaches, the piers and the old church ruins and the former Church of Ireland parish church.

Templenoe is on the coast of Kenmare Bay, about 6 or 7 km west of Kenmare, and we found it by instinct, not having any plans to stop at this point on the Ring of Kerry.

Templenoe is known to sports fans for the Spillane brothers, Pat, Mick and Tom, who played football for Kerry, or perhaps for the Ring of Kerry golf club. But this is also a place of scenic charm and tranquillity, above the north shore of Kenmare Bay and below the Mangerton Mountains and MacGillycuddy’s Reeks.

The first church at Templenoe, between Kenmare and Sneem, Co Kerry, dates from 1092 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The name Templenoe (An Teampall Nua) means ‘The New Church,’ and this in turn refers to a church that was new when it was built in the 11th century and is now a ruin in the grounds of Old Templenoe Cemetery.

The mediaeval church dates back to 1092, and other sites of ecclesiastical interest in the area include a holy well in Dromore, various mass rocks, and the former Church of Ireland parish church.

Nearby are the ruins of the ancient castle of Dunkerron, once the chief seat of the O Sullivan Mór.

The church was also known as Killinane church of Glebe, Glandiche or Templum Novum.

All that survives of the early mediaeval church in Templenoe is the arched door on the south side (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The lists of rectors and vicars of Templenoe, the priests who served this church, date from the mid-14th century.

All that survives of the early mediaeval church today is the arched door on the south side. The ruined church that stands today replaced the earlier church and was built ca 1450 by Cor, grandson of Macarius, of the sliocht Mac Crah, a branch of the O Sullivan Mór family who also built and lived at nearby Cappanacuss Castle.

Some time later, Donal O’Sega or O’Shea was removed as Vicar of Templenoe in 1464, when he was reported to have committed simony by giving goods to a parishioner to induce the patrons to appoint him to the parish.

Inside Old Templenoe Church, looking east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Two priests who are buried here were said to be holy men. Later, some local people removed their bones and took them home as relics and to use for cures. It is now thought their grave was then sealed at the south-east corner of the church ruins.

However, there is a gap in the names of priests who served the parish from the late 15th century, through the Reformation period, until the beginning of the 17th century, when Edward Graine or Granie was appointed rector in 1629.

Later rectors were also rectors of the neighbouring parishes of Kenmare and/or Kilcrohane (Sneem), although the parish nominally maintained a separate identity until the second half of the 19th century.

The Revd Thomas Orpen, who was rector in 1727-1767, was the ancestor of a family well-known for bishops, clergy and artists.

The Revd Fitzgerald Tisdall, who was rector briefly in 1808-1809, had previously been a magistrate in Co Cork and had commanded a yeomanry corps against the French invasion at Crookhaven in 1798. He was murdered at Priest’s Leap, near Kenmare, on Easter Day, 26 March 1809.

The piscina inside the ruins of Old Templenoe Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The oldest marked gravestone in the churchyard today survives from 1782.

It is said that 40 burials took place in Templenoe churchyard on one day alone at the height of the Great Famine in the year 1847.

The church ruins stand above a pebble shoreline with panoramic views of the Bay of Kenmare.

The Revd Charles Peter Thomas, who was the curate in Kenmare and Templenoe, died of Famine fever in Kenmare on 26 June 1847.

A new Church of Ireland parish church was built in Templenoe in 1816 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Meanwhile, a new Church of Ireland parish church was built for the parish in 1816, about 1 km west of the ancient church. It cost of £700 to build, with £100 donated by John Mahony of Dromore Castle, who also gave the site, and the remaining £600 as a gift from the Board of First Fruits.

At the time, the Rector of Kilcrohane (Sneem) and Templenoe was Canon Mountiford Longfield (1768-1850). He was the father of Judge Mountiford Longfield, Professor of Political Economy and Professor of Feudal and English Law in Trinity College Dublin, Privy Councillor and Judge of the Landed Estates Court.

The Revd Denis Mahony, who was the curate in the mid-1820s, was a son of John Mahony of Dromore Castle, and a grandson of Edward Day of Beaufort, Archdeacon of Ardfert (1782-1808).

Samuel Lewis noted in 1837 that the church ‘is fitted up with teak wood from the wreck of a vessel.’

Canon Arthur Vincent Watson, who was the Rector of Kilcrohane and Templenoe in 1850-1872, was regarded as ‘very eccentric’ and prone to ‘fits of madness.’ He was forced to retire in 1872, but he continued to live in Kenmare. During one ‘mad fit,’ he shot his wife, and ended his days in a criminal lunatic asylum. His life is recalled by Robert Graves in To Return to All That.

Templenoe parish was united to Kenmare and Kilcrohane (Sneem) in 1874. This parish church was renovated in 1880 with internal alterations designed by the architect Joseph Welland, the installation of new pews, and the addition of a chancel.
The church closed in 1987.

Templenoe parish was united to Kenmare and Kilcrohane (Sneem) in 1874 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

This former Church of Ireland parish church was renovated in 1993 as ‘The Vestry’ restaurant, and is now available to rent through Airbnb, with big open plan spaces, high-end furniture, double wood-burning stove and a 70 ft living room.

The graveyard beside the church was in use until 1985 and has a number of cut-stone markers that are unfortunately overgrown and impossible to read.

The graves in the churchyard include the Revd John Nash (1802-1888), the Revd Thomas Talbot; Canon Aylmer Richard Armstrong (1887-1965), an army chaplain during World War I and Rector of Kenmare and Templenoe (1924-1959); and the Very Revd Charles Maurice Gray-Stack (1912-1985), Rector of Kenmare and Templenoe (1961-1985) and Dean of Ardfert (1966-1985) – he was my predecessor as Precentor of Limerick (1963-1966) and Prebendary of Ballycahane (1962-1963).

A narrow road below the church and the churchyard leads down to another small, pebble cove with yet more scenic views of the Bay of Kenmare.

The pebble cove beneath Templenoe Church, with scenic views of the Bay of Kenmare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Town planning, bridges
and pretty cottages on
the streets of Kenmare

The pretty terrace of colourful Victorian cottages at Emmet Place in Kenmare, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020; click on images for full-screen viewing)

Patrick Comerford

My recent summer ‘Road Trip’ began in Kenmare in south Co Kerry, at the beginning of the Ring of Kerry, and it seemed inevitable that I would return to Kenmare, with a visit earlier this week to see some of the buildings I had missed at the end of summer.

Kenmare’s name in Irish, An Neidín, means ‘the little nest.’ But the town only developed after it was granted to Sir William Petty in 1656 as payment for completing the Down Survey, mapping Ireland. Petty laid out a new town in 1670, and although the town was attacked in 1685, Kenmare was re-established and became a thriving coaching town on the route between Killarney and Bantry.

The names of the main streets that form a triangle at the centre of the town reflect the formative role played in Kenmare by the Petty-Fitzmaurice family. Their family titles include Marquess of Lansdowne, Earl of Shelburne and Earl of Kerry, and they have given those names to many streets and places in Dublin, in Calne in Wiltshire, and in Kenmare.

The Lansdowne emblems on a cottage on Market Street in Kenmare, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

I was staying overnight at the ‘Tom Crean Base Camp’ at the top of Main Street in Kenmare. Main Street was originally known as William Street, named after William Petty-Fitzmaurice (1737-1805), 1st Marquis of Lansdowne. As Lord Shelburne, he was the British Prime Minister in 1782-1783. In 1775, he renamed Nedeen as Kenmare and laid out the town in the triangular-pattern it retains to this day, was laid out.

Henry Street in Kenmare was named after his second son, Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice (1780-1863), 3rd Marquis of Lansdowne and British Chancellor and Home Secretary. Shelbourne Street also takes its name from one of the family titles, although the title originated in Co Wexford.

When I visited Kenmare a few weeks earlier, at the end of summer, I had walked around the town, and visited its two parish churches and a former convent. But when I returned earlier this week, I found the Lansdowne legacy in many buildings, including the old courthouse, which now houses the local heritage, and the former Market House, now converted into offices and shopfronts.

The former Market House is said to have been designed by Sir Charles Barry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The former Market House on the corner of the Square and Market Street, facing the Fair Green, is a three-storey Classical style building designed by renowned English architect Sir Charles Barry (1795-1860) for the 3rd Marquis of Lansdowne. Barry’s best-known work is the Houses of Parliament or Palace of Westminster.

The Market House has a three-bay double-height arcade on the ground floor with round-headed openings and moulded archivolts and square-headed windows on the first floor.

The nine-bay side of the Market House on Market Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

There is a single-bay, two-storey side elevation on the north-west, and a nine-bay, two-storey lower return at the south-west with round-headed openings at the ground floor.

The clock on the first floor of the façade bears the date 1840.

Behind the Market House, Market Street was once known as Pound Lane because the town’s animal pound was located there. During the 19th century, many of the town tradesmen in Kenmare, such as leatherworkers, blacksmiths and tinsmiths, moved into the area.

A colourful cottage at Emmet Place on Market Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

In the second half of the 19th century, the Lansdowne Estate built a number of rows of attractive cottages in this area. Some of these cottages are decorated with simplified variations on the heraldic logos of Lord Lansdowne, with coronets, the letter ‘L’ and the dates 1874.

Emmet Place on Market Street is a group of terraced, three-bay, single-storey houses with half-dormer attics. They were built ca 1880, with single-bay single-storey gabled projecting porches at the centre of each façade.

In my imagination, these houses could be straight out of Trumpington or Grantchester.

A large number of the houses on Emmet Place and Parnell Place retain many original features (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

A large number of these houses retain many of their original features, including projecting gabled porches with scalloped bargeboards and timber boarded doors.

There are pitched slate roofs, clay ridge tiles, gabled half-dormers and projecting gabled porches with scalloped bargeboards, eaves fascia boards, rendered brick chimneystacks, multiple-paned timber casements and to replacement windows.

Around the corner in Parnell Place, a similar group of terraced, three-bay, single-storey houses have half-dormer attics, built at the same time and in the same style of pretty Victorian cottages.

The change of street names to Emmet Place and Parnell Place, and neighbouring Davitt Place, in this part of the town in the early 20th century was symbolic of the rise of nationalist politics in the Kenmare area.

The Kenmare Stone Circle dates back to the Bronze Age (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Market Street leads up to the Kenmare Stone Circle. This is the largest stone circle in south-west Ireland, where about 100 examples can be found. Stone circles were built during the Bronze Age (2200 to 550 BC) for ritual and ceremonial purposes. Some studies indicate they were once oriented on certain solar and lunar events, such as the position of the sun on the horizon on a solstice.

The Kenmare Stone Circle may be oriented on the setting sun, and it may date back 3,000 years. This is the only such monument so close to a town centre in Ireland. Although it is known locally as the ‘Druid’s Circle,’ its original use or purpose remains unknown. Some speculate it may have served a ritual purpose, others that it was used as primitive calendar or a burial site.

The monument consists of 15 stones in a circular form, with a centre stone that appears to be a burial monument of the type known as a Boulder Burial. These are rarely found outside south-west Ireland.

The rock used to make the circle is greenstone and brownstone. But this is not found locally and had to be brought from several miles away.

Cromwell’s Bridge … the meaning of its name and its origins are lost in the mists of time (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Back down in Market Street, a lane behind Emmet’s Place leads through back gardens and allotments, across a foot bridge over the Finnihy River, and upstream to Cromwell Court and Cromwell’s Bridge.

The antiquity of this hand-crafted bridge is unknown. One account claims it was built by Franciscan friars in the seventh century – but the Franciscans were not founded by Saint Francis until the 13th century.

Local lore believes it was built by Augustinian friars in the 11th century, although the Augustinians first came to Ireland with the Normans, and their first house in Ireland was founded in Dublin ca 1280.

This narrow bridge possibly had walls of earth and stone, although little evidence now remains.

The Finnihy River is tidal, and this may have necessitated the exaggerated arch of the bridge, which stands almost 6 metres above the average water levels in the river.

One thing is certain: its name has no association with Oliver Cromwell: although Sir William Petty, who first conceived of laying out a new town in Kenmare, had surveyed and mapped Ireland during the Cromwellian era, Cromwell himself never came to Kenmare.

Instead, the name of Cromwell’s Bridge is believed to be a corruption of the Irish word cromeal, meaning a moustache, because its shape.

A pretty cottage on Emmet Place, behind the Market House in Kenmare, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)