THE OLD CHURCHES OF THE ARDCLOUGH AREA by Martin Kelly
On the occasion of the opening of the new church to serve the people of the Arclough area it is interesting to remember some of the old churches that catered for the needs of the people in the area in former times. (1) The church of Lyons. (2) The church of Oughterard. (3) The church of Castledillon. (4) The church of Castlewarden. (5) The church of Clonoughlis.
THE CHURCH OF LYONS
In pre Norman times the Lyons area was one of the most important places in Leinster since it was the home of the Ui Donnchda family that provided several Kings of Leinster over a period of 300 years. *
It was also the site of a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin but also known as the church of the Daughters of the King. This church was the centre of a parish that comprised the present townlands of Ardclough, Commons, Dangen, Kearneystown, Lyons, Pluckstown and Skeagh.
During the Norman invasion the Ui Donnchda of Lyons supported the invaders and retained much of their property. Soon afterwards, the Tyrrell family came into the possession of Lyons to be succeded about the year 1400 by the Aylmer family who were to remain in possession of the property for about 400 years.
The period after 1500 was to bring many changes to the Lyons area. After 1540 its church was taken from the Catholic population and transferred to the care of the Protestant authorities who did not have a congregation to support it. It may have been at this time that the parish of Lyons was united with the nearby parish of Oughterard. Following the outbreak of the 1641 rebellion the whole Lyons area, including the castle near the church, was devastated by an army under the Duke of Ormonde. George Aylmer who was the owner of Lyons, in a difficult situation, tried to please everyone. He declared himself a Protestant to the authorities but it was known that he was a friend of the Catholic rebels and had gone to mass with them. He was also reported to have raised his children as Catholics and to have died a Catholic himself.
A descendant of this man, Michael Aylmer who seems to have been the first builder of the present house at Lyons, incurred some very big debts and sold his property to the Lawless family in 1796.
Valentine Lawless the 2nd Lord Cloncurry made many improvements on the house and estate at Lyons. He elected to be buried in the ruins of Lyons church, part of which he converted into a mauseleum, members of the Lawless family were buried in the church until recent times.
The Catholic population of the Lyons area having lost their regular church were forced to attend services in private houses and in small mass houses and chapels. There was a mass house in Lyons in 1714 and one in the townland of Pluckstown around 1800.
In the 1700 period Fr. Cullen, who resided in Lyons, was P.P. of Lyons, Oughterard and Kill as well as other local areas. He was succeeded by a Fr. Doyle whose family had a farm in the present Lyons Estate and who is buried in Kill.
In the early 1800’s the Catholic authorities decided to erect a regular chapel in the Lyons area and they selected a site in the townland of Ardclough beside the newly completed Grand Canal.
The cemetery around Lyons church continued to be the burial place of people of the locality until recent times. The oldest headstone there belongs to Edmond Moore and his son James who died in 1693. Among their present day descendents are William Moore of Confey near Leixlip and James Moore of Reeves.
The church in Lyons is at present in a reasonable state of repair and there are traces of repair work that had been carried out at various times. In the walls surrounding the cemetery there were, until recent years, two large carved stones. One of these was stolen and the other was removed to Lyons House for safety.
THE CHURCH OF OUGHTERARD
It is probable that the summit of Oughterard Hill from which one can see a great area of the surrounding countryside was a place of religious and military importance since mankind first appeared in the locality. In early christian times there seems to have been a convent of nuns in Oughterard, this religious settlement like others was the subject of attacks by norse raiders from the 800 period when the Round Tower was build there as a defensive measure. Sometime around 1,000 AD the religious settlement became the site of a Parish Church that catered for the people of the townlands of Bishops Court, Blackhill, Boston, Castlewarden, Huttonhead, Oughterard, Quinnsboro and Tuckmilltown.
Following the Norman conquest of 1170 the Castlewarden area became the property of the Hereford family. In 1210, a member of that family gave the care of the church of Oughterard to the newly founded monastery of St. Thomas in Dublin. The Herefords were succeeded in Oughterard by the Pippards and by the Ormonde family of the Kilkenny area. In 1540 the church of Oughterard as well as all other Catholic churches in the area were transferred to the care of the Protestant church authorities. In 1609 it was reported that some repairs were carried out on Oughterard church. It is probable however that it suffered further destruction in the rebellion of 1641 when houses, mills, churches and other buildings over a wide area of Kildare were destroyed. It was at that time that the castle of Oughterard, which was probably built in the early part of the 14th century, was also destroyed and left in its present ruinous state.
While the church of Oughterard was destroyed the surrounding cemetery has remained in constant use. Arthur Guinness, the founder of the famous brewery was buried there in 1780. His mother was a member of the local Reid family that had been settled in the Castlewarden area since 1641, also buried in the cemetery are members of the Woulfe, Bruton and Kennedy families who were prominent land owners in the locality until recent times.
The church ruins themselves are the best preserved and most impressive of all the church ruins in the Ardclough area. Part of the church is covered with a stone roof that was a feature of old Irish buildings. A stone stair-way, beside the church, leads onto the roof. There were probably rooms here in which the priest lived when the church was in use. The ruins occupy the summit of Oughterard Hill with one eye on the plains of Kildare and the other on the hilly land along the Dublin and Wicklow borders.
THE CHURCH OF CASTLEDILLON
It must come as a surprise to people to know that the church of Castledillon has no connection with a castle or with the Dillon family. The area got is name from a Holy man named lolann who in early Christian times withdrew to a wild place called a disert. The place later became know as Disert lolann, later corrupted to Castledillon. lolann’s original religious foundation became about the year 1,000 AD the site of a parish church that served an area covered by the present townlands of Wheatfield, Tippertown, Friarstown and Castledillon. Sometime about 1200 AD the care of Castledillon church was given to the community of St. Wolstans and the connection between the monastery and that area is retained in the name of the townland of Friarstown.
Castledillon church was in use in 1540 when all such churches were transferred to the ownership of the authorities of the Protestant faith. It probably fell into ruin for want of a congregation to support it. The graveyard was used for burials for some time after I 540, there is a solitary headstone there to Mr. Spellacy who died in 1717. No trace of the church exists and until recently the graveyard was being grazed as part of the nearby field. The graveyard also. held a large flat stone that had been broken into two pieces. The stone probably dates from the time when St. Wolston’s monastery had the care of the church. Among the most interesting families associated with the Castledillon parish was the Tipper family of Tipperstown.
THE CHURCH OF CASTLEWARDEN
When one stands near Oughterard and looks towards the Dual Carriageway, one must notice the beautiful valley of land that lies there. Most of this valley is in the townland of Castlewarden and here in ancient times there was a church. In 1247 the owner of the Oughterard area agreed that the tithes lands and rents of the churches of Oughterard and Castlewarden were the sole right of the Abbot of St. Thomas’s Priory in Dublin. Henceforth it was presumably the duty of the Abbot to supply priests for the churches of Oughterard and Castlewarden, and in return draw the revenues that went with the churches.
In the 1540 period the Priory of St. Thomas in Dublin was suppressed by the Government of Henry VIII and its possessions were confiscated. Among its possessions are mentioned then the churches of Oughterard and Castlewarden. Stephen Creman, was at that date, the Vicar of both churches and it was stated that the Chancel of the church of Castlewarden was then in need of repair. Shortly afterwards this church, like others in this area, was turned over to the authorities of the Protestant church which did not have enough members to keep it open or in repair.
Presumably the church in Castlewarden was in a ruinious condition by the 1600’s and some time after this its stones were taken away to build houses and walls in the locality. Thus, in time, while no church was to be seen the tradition regarding its existence lingered on among the people of the area.
THE CHURCH OF CLONOUGHLIS
The large townland of Clonoughlis lies bet ween the hill of Lyons and the Grand Canal. It must have been the site of an early religious foundation and burial ground, for the name “Clonoughlis” is derived from the old Irish term Cluan Eaglais or the meadow of the church. When parishes were formed in this country about one thousand years ago, Clonoughlis with the nearby townland of Ballycommon may have been formed into a separate parish. By 1600 however these townlands were part of the parish of Oughterard where there is still visible, the ruin of a large church and round tower. It is probable that after the 1600 period the church of Clonoughlis itself was in a ruinous state. Since that time the stones of the church have been removed for various purposes so that all that remains of it at present is a slightly raised area showing where the walls once stood.
Nothing can illustrate better the love of old traditions by the Irish people, than the manner in which the people of the Clonoughlis area have continued to use their burial ground long after the church had fallen into decay. It formed the last resting place of the small population that was settled there following the construction of the Grand Canal after 1800.
At the end of the last century the graveyard was enclosed by a strong iron railing by Lord Cloncurry of Lyons then the landlord of the Lyons-Clonoughlis area.
At present the enclosed area is covered with bushes and trees and the railing is damaged in several places. All over the area are small upright stones marking the burial places of local families. Also there are over a dozen headstones, some dating back to the early I 700’s others erected as late as the 1960’s.