15 April 2021

Saint Mary’s, a Gothic
Revival parish church in
the heart of Pallaskenry

Saint Mary’s Church, Pallaskenry, Co Limerick, was built in 1863 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Saint Mary’s Church, Pallaskenry, Co Limerick, is a well-designed and attractive Roman Catholic parish church in the centre of the village. The church, which I visited last weekend, was built in 1863 to replace an earlier church at Whiteforge, and the site of the church was donated by Gerard O’Shea, Jim Nolan and the Ward brothers.

Saint Mary’s is a stone-built nave-and-chancel church with attractive Gothic details, especially in the doorway, and with a well-worked hood-moulding and carved date-stone. A Mr T Sheehan was the architect.

The doorway of Saint Mary’s Church has a well-worked hood-moulding and carved date-stone (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The fa├žade displays of fine stone craftwork and the door surround and other carved elements are of artistic interest, along with the elaborate stone tracery windows and stained glass.

This gable-fronted, double-height church has a five-bay nave, a single-bay chancel at the east end, a single-storey sacristy and a recent extension at the south side.

The carved datestone above the west door of Saint Mary’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The west door has a double-leaf timber battened door and overlight, and above the hood-moulding is a carved keystone with the date 1863. A pointed arch opening in the north wall has a double-leaf timber battened door, and a carved limestone hexagonal panel above with a cross motif carved in relief.

Inside, the church has a double height nave, with a fine open ceiling and a soaring Gothic arch framing the chancel with its tall, three-light window above the altar. The interior features include hammer-beam trusses to the ceiling, timber pews, plastered walls and a timber porch with flanking confessionals.

Inside Saint Mary’s Church, facing the altar and the East end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The stained-glass windows above the altar depict a variety of scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary and include Saint Joachim and Saint Anne.

The marble floor in the chancel area has mosaic panels with symbols of the four evangelists and fleur-de-lis and cross motifs. The tabernacle was donated by the architect.

Inside Saint Mary’s Church, looking towards the west end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The stained-glass windows on the north side include windows donated by Canon Wallace in 1945, and a window depicting Saint James and Saint John that was a gift of Father John Bourke, parish priest of Pallaskenry for almost 28 years, who was responsible for refurbishing the church.

The stained-glass windows on the south side of the church include gifts from Father John Bourke, including one depicting the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, and Canon Wallace.

The East Window in Saint Mary’s Church depicts scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

A plaque on the north wall commemorates Flight Lieutenant Ted Sheehy of Shannongrove, who was killed in action in December 1944 and who is buried in the churchyard at Saint Mary’s Church of Ireland parish church in Askeaton.

Another memorial on the north wall commemorates the former parish priest Fatther John Bourke.

Saint James and Saint John in a stained-glass window in Saint Mary’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

In the grounds of the church, the metal bell tower has pitched roof, and there are carved limestone Celtic crosses, statues, a grotto and the graves of previous parish priests. There is a statue of Saint Brigid to the left (north), and a statue of Saint Anne to the right (south).

The tall Celtic cross in the grounds has abstract decorative motifs on its shaft. This is a mission cross commemorating a mission preached in Pallaskenry by the Redemptorists in 1877.

The marble floor in the chancel area has mosaic panels with symbols of the four evangelists (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
58, the Comerford Chapel, Ballybur Castle

The vaulted bedroom on the third floor of Ballybur Castle was the private chapel of the Comerford family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs 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 of churches with close associations with my family and ancestors. My photographs this morning (15 April 2021) are from Ballybur Castle, Co Kilkenny, and the former private chapel of the Comerford family.

Balllybur Castle, Co Kilkenny … the 16th century ancestral home of the Comerford family (Patrick Comerford)

Ballybur Castle, Cuffesgrange, half-way between Kilkenny and Callan, was bought in 1970s by the late Frank Gray and his family, and has been lovingly restored since then.

I first visited Ballybur Castle in 1969, when it was the home of the two elderly Marnell sisters. They lived on the ground floor as everything above them became less and less inhabitable, and the castle was in a sad state of steady disrepair and decay. Nicholas Marnell put it up for sale in 1979, and it was bought by Frank and Aifric Gray for £20,000.

Ballybur Castle is a typical fortified house built to protect the surrounding countryside against rival factions, and to watch traffic from New Ross and Clonmel to Kilkenny on behalf of the Butlers of Ormonde. The castle is a five-storey keep measuring 38 ft by 30 ft at the base and it stands 65 ft tall.

Richard Comerford ‘Senior’ (ca 1462-ca 1532) came into possession of Ballybur, Co Kilkenny, in the early 16th century, when he married Ellen Freny (or French), daughter and co-heir of Patrick fitzFulk Freny. Richard ‘Roe’ Comerford inherited Ballybur ca 1532; his identity has been conflated with that of Judge Richard Comberford of Lichfield and Comberford, who was claimed as the direct ancestor of the Comerfords of Co Kilkenny. Tradition says Ballybur Castle was built in 1588 by their descendant, Richard ‘fitzThomas’ Comerford (1564-1637).

Richard Comerford and his wife and Mary were commemorated by a wayside cross and an altar tomb. The remaining base of the wayside cross was later inserted in the masonry of the north-west corner of the parish church in Cuffesgrange, near Ballybur Castle, in 1869 by the Kilkenny historians John Hogan of Ormond House, and William Healy, and the Carlow historian, Dr Michael Comerford.

Peeping from the balcony beside the chapel down into the dining room (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Ballybur Castle was inherited in 1637 by John Comerford, who hosted Cardinal Rinucinni in Ballybur Castle in 1645 during the Confederation of Kilkenny. The family’s former private chapel is now a bedroom on the third floor. It is said that Cardinal Rinucinni said Mass here when he stayed at the castle. From a small balcony on this floor, you can peep through a narrow doorway down into the dining room.

During his visit, Cardinal Rinuccini presented his rosary beads to John Comerford. They were presented to the Kilkenny Archaeological society by Father Edmund Langton-Hayburn (1916-2006) and are kept in Rothe House.

The fourth and top floor was once the ‘state apartment’ and is now a baronial-style drawing room, with an exposed oak beamed ceiling and a stone fireplace. Off this room, a secret room has a deep floorshaft that was used as a ‘priests’ hole’ for hiding visiting priests after the Reformation or to keep prisoners.

My Comerford ancestors lived in the castle until 1654, when John Comerford was forced to leave during the Cromwellian era. He never recovered Ballybur Castle or his estates after the Caroline Restoration, despite appeals to his wife’s cousin, the Duke of Ormonde.

Ballybur was acquired by Brian Mansergh in the Cromwellian era. The castle passed from the Manserghs to the Deignan family and later to the Marnell family, who lived there until the mid-1970s.

A smaller flight of stairs leads up to the ramparts, and on clear days I have had views that stretch as far as Mount Leinster and Slievenamon.

The surviving fraction of the wayside cross dedicated to Richard and Mary Comerford inserted in the north-west corner of Grange Church by William Carrigan and Michael Comerford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 3: 31-36 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 31 ‘The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. 34 He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.’

There has always been a warm welcome from the Gray family at Ballybur Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (15 April 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for all students who have had their learning patterns affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Climbing the stairs to the chapel in Ballybur Castle (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