05 May 2021
Saint Patrick’s, Ahane, is
a Co Limerick ‘island parish’
in the Diocese of Killaloe
On the way to visit the Clare Glens at the end of last week, I stopped in the mall village of Ahane in east Co Limerick to see Ahane Barracks, which was supposedly built to protect Sir Richard Bourke, and to visit Saint Patrick’s Church, Ahane, built at the same time on a site donated by Sir Richard Bourke.
Ahane is 3 km south-east of Castleconnell, Co Limerick, and together they form one parish, often referred to as an ‘island parish’ because this is the only parish in Co Limerick that is in the Diocese of Killaloe. The parish is in a triangular pocket in north-east Limerick, between Co Clare and Cp Tipperary.
Tradition says Saint Patrick visited Castleconnell and blessed the people of Clare from that side of the River Shannon River. He is also said to have foretold Saint Senan’s arrival in the area. Saint Senan, the son of a druid whose family was converted to Christianity, continued Saint Patrick’s work among the people of Stradbally and from there Chistianity spread, to Killinagarriff or present-day Ahane.
Killinagarriff was described by Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary (1837) as a parish partly in the Barony of Owney and Arra, Co Tipperary, and partly in the Barony of Clanwilliam, Co Limerick.
The name Killinagarriff means ‘the little church of the rough place.’ Local lore says the first church was built there in the ninth century by the Ryan clan from Carlow, who also built churches in Kilvulane (present-day Ballymackeogh), Kilmastola, Killoscully, and Kilnarath.
The early church in Killinagarriff was said to have been built of small and large stones cemented with lime and sand mortar. The west gable had a small belfry built of cut limestone. It was said to be so small that only women could worship inside the church, with the men standing outside the church door.
Tradition says that when Inchiquin’s parliamentarian forces attacked the church during the Cromwellian wars, a Father Ryan, fled with the sacred vessels and the bells and threw them into the river, where they were swept away in a flash flood, never to be found again. It is believed locally that a Father Heffernan celebrated the last Mass there in 1648.
However, Lewis says it was a Church of Ireland parish church that was destroyed in the war of 1641. It was rebuilt and continued as the parish church, but by 1837 it had fallen into ruin. The church ruins are surrounded by a graveyard.
Local people in Ardvarna later set up a ‘Mass Rock’ that was used by the people of Ahane until 1758. Permission to build a Roman Catholic church in Ahane was given in 1750, and a mud and wattle ‘Mass House’ was erected near Biddiford in 1758.
Saint Patrick’s Church replaced this ‘Mass House’ and was described by Lewis in 1837 as a new church. The church was built by the parish priest, Father Crotty, on a site donated by Sir Richard Bourke. As with Saint Joseph’s Church in Castleconnell, there was much local involvement in building the church. A builder named Coughlan from the Mardyke in Limerick erected the church.
The arch surrounding the west door came from the 13th century Franciscan Abbey in Quin, Co Clare. It is said three men went with horses and carts, stayed overnight and returned the next day with the arch, which remains a prominent feature to this day.
Francis Speight, a local politician, donated the timber and supplied the slates. The building project was interrupted when ‘The Big Wind’ caused damage in 1839, blowing down half the roof. However, work resumed, stones for the church came from a local limestone quarry at Ballyvarra owned by Paddy Maher, and the Howley family of Richhill donated the bell, said to have come from India.
The original altar was a wooden structure, surrounded by a timber altar rail. Inside the railings were two seats, one on either side of the altar, one for the Howley family and one for the Graham family.
In previous years, the church had three rows of pews; two side rows of small seats and a row of large seating in the middle, with pews ‘owned’ by various families in the parish. A similar practice existed in Saint Joseph’s Church, Castleconnell.
The Nevin family of Mountshannon donated the wood carved Stations of the Cross in the church. They were originally intended for a convent chapel in Bonn. Nevin bought them in New York in 1906 and donated them to the church in Ahane to commemorate his daughter. The Nevin family also donated a statue of Saint Teresa.
Three major renovations took place in Saint Patrick’s Church within the past century. The renovations under Canon Patrick Devaney, who died in 1940, are recalled in a plaque erected to his memory. The new roof and repairs were designed by the Limerick architect Edward Francis Ryan, who practised from 88 O’Connell Street (1939) and 24 Upper Mallow Street (1941).
While the church was being renovated, Mass was celebrated in the old schoolhouse in Ahane.
Further renovations were carried out in the late 1960s following the liturgical changes introduced by Vatican II, and in 1977 under the parish priest, Father John Cooney. The renovations in 1977 were designed by a local architect, PJ Leyden. They cost £45,000, and the chief contractor was Michael Cusack.
During these changes, a new altar and sacristy were added, and ‘a considerable donation’ was given towards the cost of the organ. During these renovations, once again, Mass was celebrated in the school in Ahane.
When Bishop Michael Harty rededicated Saint Patrick’s Church, he referred to the ‘island parish of Ahane,’ for Castleconnell and Ahane form one parish, and this is the only parish in Co Limerick within the Diocese of Killaloe.
A storm on Christmas Eve 1997 blew the cross to the ground, and it was replaced with a Cross bought in Co Roscommon. Dan Richardson, who died on 15 December 1998, bequeathed bells to the church.