Church and chancell down – the state of parish churches in South East Cork, 1615

Cloyne sth side

The Cathedral Church of St Colman in Cloyne was closed to the Reformed Church until the death of Sir John FitzEdmund FitzGerald, Dean of Cloyne, in 1612. He was a Catholic and the Established Church only gained entry on his death, with the appointment of a new Dean, Thomas Winter.

Some time between July 15th and August 25th, 1615, a Royal Visitation of the dioceses of Cork, Cloyne and Ross took place to ascertain the condition of the parish churches and the status of each parish. The Visitation was ordered by the government in Dublin with a view to assessing with total accuracy the actual progress in imposing the reformed religion on Ireland. Where England, Wales and Scotland had accepted their respective reformations, Ireland proved more contentious.

William Lyon of Chester was the bishop of the three dioceses at the time. An avowed Protestant, he deplored the idolatry of the native Irish and the Old English families that clung to their ancestral religion. Lyon proposed to the government that the only solution to the obstinacy of the Irish in their religious preference was to, literally, exterminate all the Catholic clergy whenever and wherever they were discovered or identified. The government, perhaps lacking the machinery to do this, or more likely to avoid stirring up an expensive rebellion, declined to follow Lyon’s advice in this matter.

The final report of the Visitors must have made for grim reading for the bishops and divines of the Established Church – many parish churches were in ruins or only partially intact. Worse still, many parishes were impropriate (the Latin word appropriata is used to indicate this). That is the tithes were held by a layman (who might be a Catholic) who also held the patronage of the parish – it was the patron’s duty to appoint a minister or priest.  Naturally, a Catholic patron might decline to appoint a minister of the Reformed Church.

Fitzgerald Tomb Cloyne

Tomb of Sir John FitzEdmund FitzGerald of Ballymaloe, Dean of Cloyne. Located in the north transept of the cathedral this was the work of an English sculptor who also executed the tomb of  Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork, in St Mary’s Collegiate Church in Youghal.

The frequent repetition of the phrase ‘church and chancell down‘ indicates either the deliberate destruction of the church during the wars under Elizabeth I, or simple neglect by the incumbent minister and the parishioners. It should be noted that the medieval practice of imposing the cost of maintaining the church on the parish and the maintenance of the chancel (roof and all the liturgical furnishings) on the Rector was still evident, even though few of the medieval churches displayed any external evidence of division into nave and chancel. The separation of nave and chancel was usually only visible in interior of the church.

This survey is taken from Michael A Murphy’s article ‘The Royal Visitation of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, and the College of Youghal’ published in the journal Archivium Hibernicum, vol 2 (1913). Murphy covers all three dioceses, but this post will only examine the rural deanery of Imokilly. It should be noted that Murphy made some mistakes – his Kilmachin is actually Kilmahon (modern Shanagarry) and NOT Kilmaclenine, as he suggests. Note that the tithes of a parish were usually divided between a Rector (the actual parish priest) who got perhaps two thirds of the income and a Vicar (representing an absentee proprietor of the living) who got about a third of the tithe. A curate was given a small stipend from the Rector or Vicar who appointed him, the rest of his income coming from payments for performing parish services like baptisms, marriages and burials. Pluralism (holding several benefices/livings/curacies was commonplace because the tithes from Irish parishes rarely provided sufficient income. The term benefice or living are virtually interchangeable – it refers to the effective proprietor of the tithes.

The Cathedral of St Colman in Cloyne. Dean, Thomas Winter MA. (Winter was a pluralist, being Treasurer of Cashel and Precentor of Waterford and Lismore until 1614. He appointed to Cloyne in 1612, following the death of Sir John Fitzedmund Fitzgerald of Ballymaloe, a Catholic who kept Cathedral closed to ministes of the Reformed Chuch. Winter died on 25th August 1615.) Income valued at £20 per annum. No house for the Dean. All the church intruded upon by Sir John Fitz Garrett (Fitzgerald). It appears that three years after the death of Sir John Fitzgerald, the Dean and Chapter still didn’t have full access to all of the Cathedral in Cloyne!

The Precentor was Alexander Gough, a reading minister of over eighty years of age. (He didn’t have license to preach, but he was permitted to read published sermons.) Value of his office: £4 per annum. By right of office he held Kilcredan, near modern Ballmacoda, valued at 30 shillings. This church and its chancel were down (ruinous) in 1615. (Kilcredan was later rebuilt by Sir Robert Tynte of Youghal.)

Youghal (St Mary’s Collegiate Church, or the College of Youghal). The Guardian was Richard Boyle, minister and preacher. He was a relative of the Richard Boyle who became the richest man in Ireland and Earl of Cork. Value: £200. Church and chancel were in good condition. This was the richest and largest parish church in the diocese.

Garryvoe was a Rectory. Previously held by the Abbot of Chore (Midleton) but now held impropriate by the estate of Sir John Fitzgerald. The medieval church and chancel was intact and well kept at this time.  No rector named, but the vicarage was held by the College of Youghal (see above). William Wood was the minister and preacher appointed by the vicar.

Garryvoe Church

Garryvoe Church is a ruined late medieval single-cell structure (the internal divisions being invisible on the exterior). It is entirely typical of the rural parish churches built in Ireland in the 1400s. Many of these buildings continued to serve into the 17th century but others were in ruins by 1615.

Bohillane was a Rectory without any vicarate. Thomas Wilson was the minister and preacher. Value: £3 per annum. ‘Church and chancell down.’ A poor parish usually served by clergy attached to other parishes or vicarates.

Killmachin or Kilmahon (now Shanagarry) was Rectory previously held by the Abbot of Chore (Midleton) but now impropriate to Sir John Fitzgerald. Value: £5 p.a. ‘Church and chancell in decay.’ The vicar Thomas Wentmore served the cure.

Ballygourney* was a Rectory held by the Abbey of Chore (Midleton). This parish corresponds with the civil parish of Ballintemple or Churchtown South. The Vicar was John Hall, minister and preacher, and Bachelor of Theology. Value: £5 p.a. Church and chancell down. It is interesting that the Abbey of Chore is still mentioned as holding the tithes despite the fact that it was dissolved in 1543. However, the new landlord would have retained the tithes attached to the former abbey as part of the estate. Until 1612, Sir John FitzEdmund FitzGerald of Ballymaloe was the landlord of Corabbey (Midleton) and thus, in 1615, his son and heir held the tithes of this particular parish.

Inchie alias Ninsh (modern Inch) was a Rectory held by Degorius (Gregorius?) Hawkes, a reading minister who served the cure. Hawkes also held the vicarage, valued at £10. The church and chancel were down and Hawkes was admonished to repair them.

Agfadda (or Aghada) was a Rectory with the church and chancel ‘well slated.’  Hawkes (see above) was the vicar and served the cure. Value:£10.

Corkbegg (Corkbeg) was a Rectory impropriated by Sir John Fitzgerald.. Vicar: William Thomas. Value: £6. Wentmore (see Kilmahon) served as curate. Church and chancel in good repair and slated.

Rostellan was a Rectory, impropriated to Sir John Fitzgerald. The Vicar was Anthony Kingsmell, minister and preacher, who served the cure. Value: £3. Church and chancel down.

Capella de Rath alias Garrenefeke (modern Garranekinnefeake) was a rectory. The Vicarate was sequestered to the rectory because there was no income. No information on the church the site of which is still extant but was replaced by Holy Trinity Church in East Ferry in the later 19th century.

Capella Roberti (Templerobin on Great Island) was a Rectory held by the Augustinian Abbey of Bridgetown, near Mallow. Vicarate was vacant. Value: (detail missing). Bishop has been admonished to appoint a minister.  Church and chancel up. (An intact church yet no clergy to serve the parish…Bishop Lyons was letting matters slip!)  Great Island is now part of the Barony of Barrymore, but then it was attached to the Deanery and Barony of Imokilly.

Moysagh  (Mogeesha) was a Rectory impropriate to Sir John Fitzgerald. The Vicar was Arthur Kingsmell (see Rostellan). Value: £5. Church well, chancel down.

Castrochorie (Ballincurra, probably including Chore, now Midleton) was a Rectory formerly held by the Prior of All Hallows in Dublin (site of Trinity College). The Vicarage was vacant and usurped by Sir John Fitzgerald. No curate. Walls up of both church and chancel. This refers to the medieval church that still stands in the graveyard of Ballinacurra. There is no mention of the parish of Corabbey suggesting that the Abbey of Chore (Midleton) was in complete ruin and that the two parishes had been reunited for the first time since 1180. The usurpation by Fitzgerald can be explained by his possession of Corabbey since 1583.

Ballinacorra Church interior

Ballinacurra Church was one of the oldest parish churches (before 1180?) and became the parish church of the newly reunified parishes of Castra Chore and Abbey Chore when the latter parish was suppressed before 1615, presumably on account of the destruction of the Abbey of Chore (Midleton) during the Elizabethan wars  In the early 17th century A number of larger windows were inserted into Ballinacurra church to allow the incumbent clergyman to read the Prayerbook during services.

Inchinabackey (now Churchtown North, two miles east of Midleton) was a Rectory previously held by All Hallows in Dublin. Sir John Fitzgerald had impropriated or usurped it, and the vicarage. Church up. There was neither vicar nor curate. The ruins of the church, clearly a classic 15th century structure, can still be visited in graveyard beside the N25.

Ballymartery (or Ballymartyr, alias Ballyoughtera, now Castlemartyr) was also a Rectory held by the Priory of All Hallows but was now usurped by Sir John Fitzgerald. The Vicar was William Thomas (see Corkbeg) and Thomas Wentmore (see Kilmahon) served as curate. Value: £6. Church and chancel ‘roofed not covered.’ This parish possessed one of the largest parish churches in the diocese, the ruins of which are still extant. The reference to the roof suggests that the timbers of the roof were present but there was no covering of slate, lead or thatch. This church was the burial place of the Fitzgeralds of Imokilly who lived in the adjacent tower house of Castlemartyr.

Magely (Mogeely) was a Rectory formerly held by the Abbot of Chore (Midleton) and held in 1615 by Sir John Fitzgerald. Church and chancel were in ruins. No value given. The vicarage was vacant and usurped by Fitzgerald. There was no curate.

Capella de Dangidonovan (Dangandonovan) was a Rectory held by the Prior of Glassearge (?) but in 1615 held by Thomas Fitzgerald. No value given, Church and chancel down. No curate.

Killogh (Killeagh) was attached to the College of Youghal and the cure was served by Dean Boyle. ‘Church and chancell up and furnished.’

Cahirultan was a Prebend and Rectory held by William Thomas (see Corkbeg). Value £6. No curate. Admonished to provide a curate. Church and chancel ‘repayred cum libris’ (furnished with the correct liturgical books). A prebend was a cathedral stall, so the Rector of Cahirultan also served the Cathedral.

Kilcredan was a Prebend and also a Rectory and was held by Alexander Gough. Church and chancell downe. Value: £3. No curate. The Vicarage belonged to the College of Youghal, William Wood served the cure.

Kilcredan church

The present ruined church at Kilcredan was built in the 1630s by Sir Robert Tynte as the first purpose-built Protestant church in East Cork. The large windows are the result of a later remodelling but it is certain that this simple building had quite large windows when first built. It stands on the site of the ruinous church described in 1615.

Killuradonoge (Kilmacdonoge, now essentially Ballymacoda) was a Prebend held by Manass (Manus?) Marshall, BA and preacher. Value: £24. Church and chancel down. Cure served by Alexander Gough.

Titeskin was a Rectory held by John Twinbrooks, BA and reading minister. Value: £4. Church and chancel down.  Twinbrooks was also the vicar, and he served the cure. This is a wonderful example of an impoverished clergyman making ends meet by economising in his impoverished living.

Clonmell was a Rectory and Prebend attached to the Economy of the Cathedral Chapter.of Cloyne. Valued earlier. Church and chancel in decay. The cure was sometimes served by Israel Taylor. Rector admonished to provide more diligent cure. The Vicar was the same Israel Taylor. Clonmel was the parish that covered the western half of Great Island – Cobh stands in this parish. Templerobin covered the eastern part of the Great Island.

  • Correction: Ballygourney parish was previously incorrectly identified by my. This has now been corrected in this post and there is a separate blog post on the subject.

Decade of Bicentenaries? New churches expressing Irish Catholic hopes after 1800.

Interior Shanagarry church.

The intimate interior of Shanagarry church. It seems likely that this church originally ended in a blank wall with the altar in front of it, the arch and chancel being added later as funds were raised. The roof was originally an open timber structure.

We in Ireland are currently involved in the Decade of Centenaries – an all-Ireland initiative to commemorate the events that happened in Ireland from 1912 to 1922. The events being commemorated include the Home Rule Bill of 1912, the foundation of the Ulster and Irish Volunteers, the outbreak and course of World War I, the Easter Rising, the partition of Ireland into two political units, the War of Independence (Troubles), and the Anglo Irish Treaty of 1921, with the arrival of effective dominion status in the Irish Free State in 1922.

But I wonder if we have also forgotten to look back a further century to the early 1800s.  In 1801 the Irish Parliament ceased to exist and a smaller group of MPs had to speak for Ireland in the Westminster Parliament. Hopes were raised during the run-up to the Act of Union that Catholics would be given political rights – a natural follow through of the gradual removal of restrictions on Catholic worship, land ownership, education, and entry to both the legal and medical professions.

What Catholics wanted was the right to be represented on the local government bodies, to become magistrates and to stand for election to Parliament.  Furthermore, the fact that Britain (and, therefore, Ireland) was involved in a major war against Napoleon’s French Empire weighed heavily on the minds of political figures in both Britain and Ireland.  How could the Crown ensure the loyalty of Irish Catholics, who until the French Revolution had looked to France for support?  One way was to bring the Catholic clergy onside.  The savage violence of the Revolutionaries in France against the Church had already alarmed the clergy in Ireland.  Cleverly, the (Protestant) government in Ireland (with the support of the British government) had founded a seminary for the education of catholic clergy and laymen in Maynooth in 1795, supporting it with an annual grant.  The effect was gratifyingly immediate for the government – the Catholic hierarchy condemned the 1798 Rebellions and supported the Act of Union in 1800.

The prospect of Catholic Emancipation reached fever pitch by 1815 – but somehow the government found reason to go back on its promises until Daniel O’Connell threw down the gauntlet in 1828.  Meanwhile Catholics in Ireland felt they could do something for themselves about their standing in the community – they began to either rebuild their chapels or build many more new chapels to cater for a rapidly increasing population.

Cratloe Church

The tiny country church of Cratloe in County Clare, perfectly preserved and beautifully restored. A rare national treasure by any standard, and a very rare survival. It was begun in 1791 (nave and chancel) and extended in 1806 (transepts, seen here) and incorporates a medieval doorway brought from elsewhere. Daniel O’Connell gave a speech to crowd here during his 1828 election campaign.

Cratloe Gallery

The interior of Cratloe Church shows the simple design with open timber roof and galleries. The T-shaped plan of Cratloe allowed for the installation of THREE galleries! They were a nightmare to restore given that people are much taller now. Such interiors were usually heavily embellished later in the nineteenth century.

In 1808, Dr John Milner, Catholic Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District in England (effectively Catholic Bishop of Birmingham), visited Ireland for the opening of St Anne’s and St Mary’s Church in Shandon – now the North Cathedral in Cork (the south Cathedral is St Fin Barre’s Anglican Cathedral by William Burges).  Milner was an early advocate of the gothic revival style in church architecture for Catholics deeming it an original Catholic style.  Now a fine church had been built in Youghal in the 1796.  This showed early gothic revival features like pointed arches, but it also included a very ‘Protestant’ feature – galleries going around three sides of the interior.  The galleries were necessary to accommodate an increasing population.  Youghal boasted the finest Catholic church in the diocese of Cloyne for many decades thereafter.

St Mary's Catholic Church Youghal

St Mary’s Catholic Church in Youghal founded 1796 as the finest Catholic church in the diocese of Cloyne. Only a few hundred yards from the Anglican St Mary’s Collegiate Church, which is a medieval foundation. The tower seen here was apparantly once topped by a spire of timber and lead, but it blew down in a storm.

St Mary's Catholic Church interior

The interior of St Mary’s in Youghal showing early Gothic revival pointed arches and the galleries which give the place the atmosphere of a Wren church in London, or a Congregational church in New England.

The church in Youghal was an exception.  Smaller communities were also replacing run-down chapels.  This year, 2014, saw two bicentenaries celebrated in neighbouring parishes.  The small village of Ladysbridge is part of the parish of Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge.  In 1814, the Catholics were given land by the Protestant Henry Boyle, 3rd Earl of Shannon, who lived nearby in Castlemartyr House (now a luxury hotel!).  Lord Shannon’s gift of land and funds was to facilitate the provision of a place of worship for Catholics in Ladysbridge. A generous landlord could be a boost to the local Catholics but a difficult landlord could be very troublesome indeed.  In Midleton the landlord refused to allow the building of a Catholic chapel within the town until the 1890s!

The design of Youghal church seems to have been used as a template for Ladysbridge church for there were galleries on three sides of the interior.  The simple basic design was typical of the type of church that Catholics were building at this period – the urgent need was for solid structures to accommodate a rapidly increasing population, decorative embellishment was a secondary consideration.


The simple shape of Ladysbridge church is typical of the type of architecture used before the Famine in Ireland. However the walls and gables were raised a few feet in the 1958 refurbishment. There was once an external staircase leading to the internal gallery.

Following a visitation in 1828, Bishop Michael Collins (no, not THAT Michael Collins!) left a description of Ladysbridge church.  He said it measured ’80 by 36 feet’, and that it was ‘commodious well built and covered with Welsh slate, (some chapels still had thatch it seems).  The church had ‘an excellent and tasteful altar and a well-executed gallery,’ and it only lacked one detail: ‘it wants only to be ceiled’ – which proves that the roof was of open work timber at the time.  The bishop summarised that Ladys Bridge (as he called it) was ‘the best country chapel I have seen in the Diocese of Cloyne hitherto.’


Ladysbridge interior

The 1958 renovations stripped Ladysbridge church of the side galleries. The three altars and mosaic shown in the picture were all products of the 1958 refurbishment. The original decoration was much simpler, and the roof was of open timber work.

In those days, the parish of Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge included the village of Shanagarry.  This was a place with associations to William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania.  In 1814, Fr O’Neill managed to acquire land there to build a second church, which still survives with little alteration.  Fortunately O’Neill already had a functioning chapel in Ballymacoda.  In the 1830s the old civil parish of Kilmahon (Shanagarry) was transferred from the parish of Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge to the parish of Cloyne.

Shanagarry Church

Shanagarry church is much closer to the original appearance of Ladysbridge. Indeed the two churches may have been built by the same team of craftsmen.

The irony of the situation is that the Parish Priest of Ballymacoda, Ladysbridge and Shanagarry was Fr Peter O’Neill, a man who had been tried, condemned and whipped in Youghal for concealing information on subversion from the authorities.  He may or may not have been given this information in confession.  Shipped off to New South Wales and Norfolk Island, O’Neill was only the third Catholic priest to inhabit Australia.  However he was rapidly reprieved by a worried and embarrassed government – they needed the clergy to calm an angry Catholic populace.  It is possible that Lord Shannon was trying to placate his Catholic tenantry by offering land for building a chapel.  In the late 1950s the church in Ladysbridge was heavily rebuilt and redecorated.

Today, Saturday 29th November 2014, the neighbouring parish of Cloyne begins the celebrations of the building of its Catholic church in 1815.  This building still functions, although it underwent several changes.  The interior seems to be a design by Michael O’Riordan, an architect who became a Presentation Brother in Cork.  O’Riordan designed several churches in the dioceses of Cork, Cloyne and Ross.

St Colman's Church, Cloyne

Sadly, the original exterior of Cloyne church was severely ‘modernised’ in the late 20th century, giving it a very bizarre appearance indeed.

Cloyne church repainted interior

The gothic revival exterior of Cloyne hides a fine classical interior  The reredos motif seen here seems to be the work of Brother Michael O’Riordan – seemingly a reworking of the 1830s. Exactly the same motif was used in nearby Ballintotis church.

It has been estimated that between 1800 and 1850 (more accurately 1796 and 1846) about a hundred churches and chapels were rebuilt or newly built in the mostly rural diocese of Cloyne  Surely a testament to the strong religious devotion of the Catholics of the period.  Most of these churches were quite small ,including the now vanished chapel of St John in Midleton in this.  Several of these buildings were replaced after 1850 in a more convincing gothic revival style, although Midleton had to wait until 1894-96 for a huge new church to be constructed.

Part of the Catholic revival at the period included the provision of proper parish registers.  Parish registers were already in use for several decades from the middle of the eighteenth century, but many were judged to be inadequate during later episcopal visitations (essentially inspections by the bishop).  Older registers often contained baptisms, marriages and sometime burials all mixed up together in the same volume.  It seems that most of the older registers were lost or even discarded when new registers were introduced. Also bear in mind that the storage conditions for such registers was often poor until decent churches were built. As you can imagine, the losses of the older registers remains a source of deep regret to Irish genealogists.

Further reading on

Ireland Before the Famine: 1798-1848

King Dan: The Rise of Daniel O’Connell 1775 – 1829

The Decade of Centenaries can be followed here:

Note: I used the word chapel instead of church to describe Catholic places of worship before 1850 because that was the general use at the time, and because few of them had a cemetery attached, churches were in the hands of the Established Anglican Church of Ireland, and these usually had a collegiate cemetery attached for use by the whole population.