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).

A new book recalls student
and staff memories
and history at Maynooth

A new book being launched this evening celebrates the 225th anniversary of Maynooth

Patrick Comerford

It is almost 33 years to the day since I was conferred with the degree BD/STB at Maynooth on 19 November 1987. The degree came after three years studying at Kimmage Manor and was conferred by Cardinal Tomás O Fiaich, Chancellor of the Pontifical University, in the name of Pope John Paul II.

I was a memorable day for the six students from Kimmage Manor: two Redemptorists, one Spiritan and one former Spiritan, myself and a friend who is now a leading television journalist. I was the only member of the Church of Ireland in this small group, and Cardinal O Fiaich recognised me from my years of activism in CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

The Redemptorist theologian Professor Brendan McConvery, who had lectured on New Testament studies, presented us. It was a memorable day because the cardinal also chose that day to give an interview with RTÉ News, strongly hinting that he favoured the ordination of women to the priesthood. He died within three years.

It is a day that I recall in one of my contributions to a book that is being launched in Maynooth this evening (17 November 2020). We Remember Maynooth: A College across Four Centuries is edited by Salvador Ryan and John-Paul Sheridan, and is published by Messenger Publishing.

Maynooth College was founded in 1795 and has a singular place in the history of the Irish Church, and of the Church globally. At first it was as a small seminary with 30 students and 10 professors, most of them refugees fleeing the French Revolution.

Maynooth has been the subject of riots in the streets of London and has played host to kings and popes. Its buildings by AWN Pugin and JJ McCarthy have created a beautiful university campus that rivals many colleges in Cambridge and Oxford. The chapel is among the highest free-standing structures in Ireland.

Maynooth expanded rapidly, becoming a Pontifical University, a constituent college of the National University of Ireland and, at one time, the largest seminary in world. It has educated many thousands of students and led the way in many branches of the arts and sciences.

Maynooth has a large number of alumni, found across all sectors of society internationally, and it is a tapestry of rich memories.

This sumptuously-illustrated book of more than 500 pages is a contribution to that rich tapestry. It includes pen pictures, personal reminiscences and sketches on aspects of the college’s life and history.

The contributors have all been associated with Maynooth in many different spheres, either as students or staff, and in many cases both. Some have offered images of their time at Maynooth; others, portraits of characters and personalities they encountered there. These pages are historical vignettes, part history, part folk history, part aide-mémoire to celebrate Maynooth on its 225th anniversary.

The contributors include current and former faculty and alumni, among them Eamon Martin, Mary O’Rourke, Frank McGuinness, Susan McKenna-Lawlor and Liam Lawton.

They include representatives of both Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth and Maynooth University. The contributions from former students and staff of the Theology Faculty and the National Seminary are joined by those from Celtic Studies, French, German, English, History, Mathematics, Experimental Physics, Music, Sociology, Ancient Classics, Anthropology, and from the Library staff.

It is a delight to be part of this book being launched in Maynooth this evening. My first essay looks at the history of Saint Mary’s Church, the Church of Ireland parish in Maynooth that abuts the college grounds: Saint Mary’s, The Parish Church that Looks Like Part of the College (pp 36-38).

My second essay recalls the day I received my degree at Maynooth: A ‘day in the sun’ in mid-November 1987 with RTÉ and the Cardinal (pp 363-365).

Dr Salvador Ryan has been Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, since 2008, and we have collaborated on many of his previous books. He has published widely in the areas of popular religion and ritual from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, in academic journals and edited book collections. He lives with his family and lives in Thurles, Co Tipperary.

Dr John-Paul Sheridan is a priest of the Diocese of Ferns. He joined the staff at Saint Patrick's College Maynooth as Education Programmes Coordinator and now lectures in Religious Educations and Catechesis, Liturgy and Children and Systematic Theology.

We Remember Maynooth: A College across Four Centuries, edited by Salvador Ryan and John-Paul Sheridan (Dublin: Messenger Publishing, 2020, 512 pp, hb, ISBN 9781788122634, €50).