09 March 2021

Three churches and one
churchyard at Kilkeedy,
near Clarina, Co Limerick

The early 19th century church at Kilkeedy stands on the site of a mediaeval church and beside a later Victorian Gothic revival church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

The church site at Kilkeedy, just north of Clarina in Co Limerick, is the site of not just one, or even two churches, but of three churches and a churchyard with the graves and vaults of many local families.

The remains of the mediaeval church were incorporated into an early 19th century church, built in 1813, and this in turn was replaced by a Gothic-style Victorian church, built in 1868 – although this too has been closed for over half a century and has been converted into a private family home.

I had missed these three churches during an earlier visit to Carrigogunnell Castle nearby and was delighted to find them during a walk in bright spring sunshine.

The earliest building is now only fragmentary and appears to be aligned north-south. This seems to indicate it may not have been part of the main mediaeval church, and that the site of the mediaeval church is now occupied by the early 19th century church.

The 19th century church at Kilkeedy, seen from the south, in the midst of the churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The church site is a rectangular area, measuring about 43m north to south and 68m east to west, and enclosed by a stone wall with an entrance gate and stile in the west wall. There is a modern graveyard extension to the south and east.

The first church on the site is said to have been founded by a monk or saint known as Caeide or Caeide, who is said to have given his name to the site and who is mentioned in many documents, including the Annals of the Four Masters in 1599.

Some sources say the feast date of Caeide was on 3 March, but other sources say the later mediaeval church was dedicated to Saint Simon and Saint Jude (28 October).

The east end of Kilkeedy church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Part of the mediaeval church survives like a north wing of the early 19th century building. It measures 8.85 m (29 ft) north to south and 5.5m (18 ft) east to west, and a fragment to the east also remains.

he east wall has a defaced window, while the west wall has a door that is arched inside with flags and with cut stone outside.

The Limerick historian and archaelogist Thomas Johnson Westropp (1860-1922), who was from nearby Patrickswell, suggests the small building at the north side of the church was a ‘priest’s dwelling.’

Two mediaeval heads are incorporated into the west wall of the early 19th century church, in the north-west angle (left) and the south-west angle (right) (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Other mediaeval features survive in two mediaeval heads incorporated into the west wall of the early 19th century church.

One of these heads is incorporated into external face of west wall, close to the south-west angle, the other into the west wall, close to the north-west angle. These heads may have been taken from mediaeval church ruins and incorporated into the west gable when the church was being built in 1813.

The north-west head is a carved sandstone head with oval-shaped eyes, grooved cheeks and an open mouth with a broken nose and small ears. The grooving of the cheeks along with the open mouth gives the face a grotesque appearance. The surface of the head displays a lot of weathering with flaking visible around the mouth and along the sides of the head.

The south-west head is a carved stone head with oval-shaped eyes, a long angular nose and large protruding ears.

At the east end of the early 19th century church there is another section of wall that was part of the mediaeval structure too.

Kilkeedy Church from the north-west, with the Monsell chapel on the north side (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The earliest reference to a church on this side is in 1201 when it was known as Kelliedun in 1201. It was referred to as Kilkid or Kylkyde in 1302, when Thomas de Burgo held the vicarage. The first priests of the parish are recorded in 1329, when John de Preston was rector and vicar of ‘Kilkide.’ The right to present a vicar had lapsed to the Pope by 1369.

By 1410, it was noted that the church in Keilchidy was dedicated to Saint Simon and Saint Jude. By the early 15th century, the Priors of Athassell, Co Tipperary, were the Rectors Kilkydy. This continued until the time of the Reformation, and Athassell, along with Kilkeedy and its other rectories, were granted to G Moore in 1578.

The church was in good repair at the visitation in 1615, when it had a thatched roof. William Cecil Pery, who was Vicar of Kilkeedy in 1755-1758, later became Bishop of Limerick (1784-1794). However, the church at Kilkeedy may have been little more than a ruin by 1779.

A new glebehouse, now known as Vermont House, was built in 1792, with aid of a gift of £100 from the Board of First Fruits. At the time, the glebe extended to 44 acres. The Church of Ireland parish church was then rebuilt in 1813 with a grant of £660 from the Board of First Fruits on the site of the earlier church.

The church was a neat building, with a square tower and octagonal spire. At the time, the parish was a rectory and vicarage, in the alternate patronage of the Crown and the Bishop of Limerick, and the Revd Richard Dickson was the rector for almost seven decades from 1799 to 1867.

Inside Kilkeedy Church, facing the east end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The church, which no longer has a roof, was built with a three-stage square-plan tower at the west end and a four-bay nave. The tower has a hexagonal limestone spire and crenellations at the corners. The walls are of rubble limestone with cut-stone stringcourses on the tower and a cut limestone eaves course at the nave.

The north-west block attached to the church was adapted as the Monsell family mausoleum.

There is a tradition about Kilkeedy graveyard that on the way to a burial the coffin is laid on the wall outside the church and the mourners get to their knees and pray before continuing into the graveyard. This custom is said to date from Penal times.

The churchyard includes tombs of the Copper family of Copperhill and the Monsell family of Lord Emly, and the vault of the Massey family of Lord Clarina dated 1865. Earlier headstones include those of Danl. O’Brien (April 1700) and Laurence Madden, who died on 21 August 1748, aged 48.

The Victorian Gothic revival church, designed by James Edward Rogers, seen from the tower of the earlier church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Revd Richard Dickson was the Rector for almost seven decades until he died in 1867. He was succeeded by the Revd John Mullock Maguire (1810-1876), whose wife Anne Jane was a sister of the hymnwriter Cecil Frances Alexander.

A year later, the neighbouring church dedicated to Saint Philip and Saint James was built in 1868 to replace the earlier church. It was designed in the Early English style by the architect James Edward Rogers (1838-1896). This church had a three-bay nave and a south porch, a one-bay chancel with a vestry on the north side and a bellcote on the south side of the west gable.

Rogers also designed a numberof Church of Ireland parish churches, including Kenure Church, Rush, Saint Mary’s Church, Howth, and Holmpatrick Church, Skerries, Co Dublin; Kilfergus Church, Glin, Co Limerick; Omagh, Co Tyrone; and Kilcock, Co Kildare; as well as Saint Bartholomew’s Vicarage, Ballsbridge, and he extended the parish church in Croom, Co Limerick. His secular buildings include the Caledonian Fire and Life Insurance Company at No 31 Dame Street, Dublin.

The architect and artist James Edward Rogers was born in Dublin in 1838 and went to Guildford Grammar School before matriculating at Trinity College Dublin in 1855. He then became a pupil of Sir Thomas Newenham Deane’s partner, Benjamin Woodward, while Woodward was working on the Oxford Museum.

Rogers visited the site at Oxford on more than one occasion, and befriended two leading Pre-Raphaelites, William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. At the time, they were decorating Woodward’s debating hall at the Oxford Union with scenes from Arthurian legends, and the three went ‘hunting in the parish churches on Sunday evenings to find a Guinevere.’

When Woodward was dying from tuberculosis, he spent the winter of 1859 in Madeira. Rogers went to meet him in Algiers or the South of France in the early spring of 1860. He was later described by his lifelong friend, Sir John Pentland Mahaffy (1839-1919), as ‘Woodward’s favourite pupil.’

After Woodward’s death in May 1861, Rogers remained for only a short period with the Deanes. He graduated BA from TCD in 1861 and may have set up his own architectural practice in 1862. By 1863, he was working from his father’s home at 20 Upper Mount Street.

He was elected a fellow of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (FRIAI) in 1864, and by then he was working from an office at 205 Great Brunswick Street. His first important commission was the Carmichael School of Medicine in North Brunswick Street, Dublin, in 1864.

From 1865, Rogers was living in Cambridge Road, Rathmines, and he was the architect to the Diocese of Meath until the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869. By 1870, Rogers had moved to 179 Great Brunswick Street, where his friends James Franklin Fuller and William Stirling also had their offices. Most of his recorded work was in connection with the Church of Ireland, and at this time he designed or worked on churches in Dublin and the west of Ireland.

The church designed by James Edward Rogers in 1868 is now a private house (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Rogers’s abiding interests were drawing and painting in watercolours rather than architecture. He exhibited at the Exhibition of Fine and Ornamental Arts in Dublin in 1861 and at the Royal Hibernian Academy from 1870 on. He was elected an associate of the RHA in 1871.

He published two picture books of nursery rhymes, Ridicula Rediviva (1869) and Mores Ridiculi (1871). He also provided illustrations for the second edition of The Fairy Book (Macmillan, 1870), and for Present Pastimes of Merrie England (Cassell, 1873).

Rogers was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (FRIBA) in 1874, proposed by James Franklin Fuller, James Joseph McCarthy and Thomas Newenham Deane. But Rogers resigned as FRIAI in October 1874 and moved to London in 1876. He does not appear to have practised as an architect there, and he resigned as FRIBA in 1877. He continued to exhibit his paintings at the Royal Hibernian Academy until he died. He also exhibited at the Royal Academy, at the Irish Exhibition in London, and at exhibitions of the Dublin Sketching Club and the Dublin Art Club.

Many of his paintings are of subjects in Holland and Germany. Rogers and his friend, the Revd John Pentland Mahaffy, future Provost of TCD, published Sketches from a tour through Holland and Germany in 1889. He also illustrated Troubadour-Land: A Ramble in Provence and Languedoc (1891) by the historian and hymn-writer, the Revd Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924), who is best remembered for hymns such as ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ and ‘Now the Day Is Over.’

Rogers lived at 35 Fitzroy Road, Regent’s Park, from 1894 until he died in London on 18 February 1896.

A gravestone in the churchyard at Kilkeedy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Revd James William Forster Hudson (1861-1900), who was Rector of Kilkeedy from 1895, was shot by a parishioner in a fit of temper and died on 29 May 1900. His successor, Canon Thomas Abbott, was later Rector of Askeaton (1915-1929). George Hill Swain (1870-1954), Rector of Kilkeedy in 1911-1913, later became Dean of Limerick (1929-1954).

Kilkeedy parish was united with Kilcornan from 1954 to 1958, then with Saint Michael’s, Limerick, from 1958, and with the Saint Mary’s Cathedral Group in 1967-1970. The church at Kilkeedy designed by Rogers closed and sold ca 1970, and was converted to a private dwelling.

In recent years, local people raised £14,500 from their own resources, the Church of Ireland, West Limerick Resources, FAS and local businesses to restore the early 19th century church at Kilkeedy and the graveyard as a site of archaeological importance.

The restoration work was a five-year project. When ivy was removed from the steeple of the old church, it was in a dangerous state, needing specialist treatment. The steeplejacks found 15 ft of stonework had to be removed, numbered and replaced.

Inside Kilkeedy Church, looking towards the west end and the tower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

On the advice of Duchas, no sandblasting, power hosing or use of chemical agents was allowed in cleaning the headstones. Roots and tree stumps could not be dug out and rubble mounds could only be removed under the supervision of an archaeologist. The ground level was not to be disturbed, and professional landscapers could not use mechanical equipment.

Cement-based mortar was forbidden in restoring the spire and parapets. The original stone had to be used where possible and the work was recorded in photographs.

Setbacks included the theft of an 18th-century headstone, the incorrect rebuilding of a vault wall and window and the inappropriate use of cement mortar.

The rediscovery of the two mediaeval carved stone heads on the church was a bonus, along with architectural fragments believed to come from an earlier church on the site.

The north side of Kilkeedy Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
21, Friends’ Metting House, Tokyo

The Quaker Meeting House in Tokyo … I went to church here as a student in Tokyo in 1979 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent and Easter this year, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, a photograph of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

This week I am offering photographs from seven churches that have connections with my education. My photographs this morning (9 March 2021) are from Friends’ Meeting House in Tokyo.

In 1979, while I was still in my 20s and a journalist on the Foreign Desk of The IrishTimes, the editor, Douglas Gageby, secured a fellowship for me through the Fondation Journalistes en Europe (Paris) and Nihon Shimbum Kyokai (the Japanese Newspaper Publishers Association) that allowed me to spend a full term in Tokyo, from May to August, studying journalism and economics. I stayed in the Asia Bunka Kaikan, a student hostel in Tokyo. Each Sunday, two of us crossed the city and went to church in the Quaker meeting house.

Matthew 18: 21-35 (NRSVA):

21 Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ 22 Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

23 ‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” 29 Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (9 March 2021) prays:

Let us pray for all countries that depend on tourism for a healthy economy, and which have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Quaker Meeting House in Tokyo provided a warm welcome in 1979 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org