Parish of Mountrath
Source: Rev M Comerford" Collections relating to the Dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin" Vol. 3 (1886)
The ancient and proper name of this parish is Clonenagh. Formerly the now distinct Parishes of Raheen and Ballyfin were comprised in the united Parishes of Clonenagh and Clonagheen.
This place - the name of which, Claineidhniach, signifies Latibulum hederosum, "the Ivied retreat," - is remarkable for the celebrated monastery which was founded here by St. Fintan, about the year 548. - (Lanigan). This saint was born about the year 525; the place of his nativity is doubtful, beyond the fact that it was named Cluain. This, Colgan, in one passage, supposes to be Cluain-mic-Trein, i.e., the present New Ross; but elsewhere, he states it to be Clonkeen in Leix, and this latter appears to be now the generally received opinion. The parents of this saint were named Gabhren and Findadh, the latter is conjectured by Colgan to have been a sister of St. Lewis of Coolbanagher. On the 17th of February the Feilire of Aengus records, "The Feast of Finntan, the prayerful, of vast Cluain-Ednich;" and the Gloss in the Leabhar Breac, and the Martyrology of Donegal, on the same day, add:- Fiontain, son of Gaibhreine, son of Corcran, son of Eochaidh, son of Bresal, son of Den.- Here he and (St.) Brigid meet (in their pedigrees), Abbot of Cluain-eidhniach in Laoighis (Leix). Great was the abstinence of this holy Fiontain, as is evidenced from this verse (of Aengus)-
A very ancient vellum book
. . states that Fiontain of Cluain-eidhniach, chief of the monks of Erin,
in his manners and life resembled Benedictus, head of the monks of Europe.
St. Fintan received his early
education from a holy priest by whom he was baptized. Whilst yet a boy,
he was visited by St. Columbkille, who, on that occasion, foretold St.
Fintan's future distinguished career. When he arrived at man's estate,
he entered the Monastery of Tir-da-glass (now Terryglass, Co. Tipperary),
where St. Columba, son of Crimthain then presided over a famous school.
Having passed a novitiate here, he and two, some say three, companions,
being anxious to find a retired place where they might devote themselves
to the service of God, consulted St. Columba, and, accompanied by him,
they came to Clonenagh. Here, it is said, St. Fintan and his companions
passed a year, but, finding their solitude greatly broken in upon, they
determined to abandon the place, and directed their course to the Slieve
Bloom mountains, again accompanied by St. Columba; this saint, looking
back upon Clonenagh, saw a multitude of angels hovering over it. His disciples
seeing him sorrowful, asked the cause; the saint replied: Because I see
the place we have left filled with the angels of God, and these angels
unceasingly minister between it and heaven. One of us, he added, should
return and abide there for the future. Whereupon Fintan said: Whomsoever,
O Father, you direct to return, he will instantly obey. Columba replied:
Go you in peace to that spot, O holy youth, and the Lord be with you.
It has been divinely revealed that for you it shall be the place of your
resurrection. St. Fintan accordingly retraced his steps to Clonenagh and
established himself there; this was about the year 548. Great numbers
flocked to this place to serve God under the guidance of our saint, amongst
whom was St. Com-gall, afterwards the founder of the famous Monastery
of Bangor, who passed some years under his direction.- (Ussher). The discipline
observed at Clonenagh was very rigorous; the fasting and abstinence were
so severe that St. Canice of Aghaboe and other holy men remonstrated with
St. Fintan on the subject. Yielding to their representations, he relaxed
the rigour of his rule in favour of his community, but, himself, adhered
to his former mode of life. An incident related in his Life respecting
an application of a holy bishop Brandubh, to be permitted to join his
community - which has been already given (see Agha, Parish of Bagnalstown),
reveals the austerity practised at Clonenagh. Finding his end approaching,
St. Fintan assembled his monks and named Fintan Maeldubh as his successor.
ANNALS OF CLONENAGH
A.D. 548. (circa) the monastery
By some this Fintan is said
to have been the immediate successor of the great St. Fintan; but it is
evident, that this passage really refers to the first St. Fintan. The
difference in dates is no strong argument to the contrary, as in those
old Annals the chronology is frequently inaccurate, the apparent discrepancy
in St. Fintan being called in one place the son of Gabbren, and in another,
the son of Echach is explained by his being called the son of Gabbren,
from his immediate progenitor, and the son of Echach, from his great-grandfather.
This was a custom among the Irish, who distinguished families by O or
Hua, i.e. grandson or a descendant, and by Mac, i.e. son or descendant.
A.D. 625. St. Fintan Maeldubh,
second Abbot of Clonenagh, died on the 20th of October.
A.D. 638. St. Fintan Munna, Abbot, died on the 21st October. The Mart, of Donegal has the following passage in reference to him:- "Munna, Bishop and Abbot of Clonenagh in Leix. Fionntain was another name for Munna. Tulchan was the name of his father. Two hundred and thirty was the number of the monks in his convent. And it was Mochua, son of Lonan, that cured him of the leprosy which he had from the beginning. He was of the race of Connall Gulban, son of Niall; Fedhelm, daughter of Maine, was his mother. It was of him this testimony was given:-
A very ancient book states that Munna, the son of Tulchan, was in his habits and life, like unto Job the patient."
A.D. 639. St. Gobban, who founded the monastery of Old Leighlin, and afterwards resigned it to St. Laserian, retiring in 632 to Killamery in Ossory, died this year and was interred at Clonenagh. His feast was observed on the 6th of December. "Gobban's feast, a shout of thousands, with a train of great martyrdom, angelic wall, abbot of virginity, lucid descendant of Lane." (Feil. Aeng.) The Gloss in Leab. Br. and entry in Mart. Donegal state that 'in Clonenagh are Gobban's relics.'"
The next Abbot was St. Aedhan, son of Concradh; he died on the 21st of November.
A.D. 650. Mohsacra, Abbot of Clonenagh, and of Tigh-sacra (" Sacra's house," Saggard) in the vicinity of Tamlacht, (Tallaght) and of Fionn-mhagh in Fothart, (Query, Fenagh?) died on the 3rd of March (Mart. Donegal). Another Saint of the same name is calendared at 8th of January; this saint, who flourished at a later date, was, according to Fr. O'Hanlon, more probably the Abbot of Clonenagh.
685. Died, Ossein, Abbot of Clonenagh.- (Four Masters.)
767. St. Maelaithgen, Abbot of Clonenagh, died.- (Do.) His feast was observed on the 21st of October. Amongst the disciples of this saint, at Clonenagh, was the famous St. Aengus, surnamed the Culdee.* Another Aengus, who wrote the life of this saint in elegant metre, states that Aengus the Culdee studied from boyhood in the Monastery of Clonenagh. The Mart. Donegal, at the 11th of March, thus refers to St. Aengus: - "Aenghus-na-heblen, bishop, who is called Aenghus Celé-de. It is he that composed the Feiliré. He is of the race of Irial, son of Connall Cearnach; and it was at Cluain-eidhnech, on the bank of the Eoir (the Nore), in Laoighis, he was fostered; he read his psalms first, and he was afterwards buried, according to this verse, which is in the poem which begins-
St. Aengus retired from Clonenagh
to a place in the present parish of Maryborough, which from him, has since
been called Disert Aengus, or Enos, where he built himself a cell. See
Chapter on Parish of Maryborough.
838. The Danes destroyed this
Abbey. - (M'Geoghegan.)
* Dr. Todd - Introduction to
Martyrology of Donegal, thus describes the Feiliré, and the Martyrology
of Tallaght:- Feilire of Aengus Ceile De. "Four lines in rhyme are
devoted to each day of the year, and the author has imposed on himself
the task of introducing into those four lines the names of the saints
commemorated on that day. The copy of this work preserved in the library
of the Royal Irish Academy, and a still more perfect copy in the Bodleian
Library, Oxford, are accompanied by a copious interlinear gloss and scholia,
containing some very curious legends and traditions, which throw great
light on the ancient state of religion and of society in Ireland down
to the eleventh century."
Here begins the Martyrology
of Aengus Mac Oiblean and Maolruain.
866. The Abbot Laictene died.
1007. Tuathal O'Connor, successor
of Fintan (Abbot of Clonenagh), died .- (Id.)
Two other stones mark the graves of priests, bearing the following inscriptions: -
On the roadside, the well of St. Fintan is pointed out. It does not, it is said, occupy its original site, which was in the adjoining field; the owner of this field contrived to divert the spring to the place it occupies at present. An old tree, opposite the well, is popularly supposed to be connected with it. In some cavities in the trunk, water is said to be, at all times, found, to which healing properties are ascribed.
The Monastery of Clonenagh
ranked amongst the distinguished seats of learning in the kingdom, in
early Christian times. It was called the Gallican school (Gael., i.e.,
a foreigner) from the great number of foreigners who resorted thither,
particularly from Gaul (Brenan 1, p. 104.) Amongst the Lost Books of Erin
is the Leabhar Cluana-eidhniech, or Book of Clonenagh. This work, the
compilation of the monks of Clonenagh, was extant when Dr. Geoffry Keating
wrote his History of Ireland, early in the 17th century. He refers to
it as amongst the books "that are to be seen at this day," and
he quotes many passages from it in the course of his work. Father O'Hanlon
gives reasons for thinking that this precious historical treasure was
at one time preserved in the library of Ballyfin house, and consequently
that it may still exist. - (Lives of Irish, SS., 2. p. 591.)
This place, called also Moynrath, or the fort in the bog, became, in the beginning of the seventeenth century, the property of Sir Charles Coote, who, although the surrounding country was then in a wild state and overspread with woods, laid the foundation of the present town In 1628 Sir Charles obtained for the inhabitants a grant of two weekly markets and two fairs, and established a very extensive linen and fustian manufactory, which, in the year 1641, together with much of his other property here, was destroyed. His son Charles regained the castle and estate of Mountrath, with other large possessions, and, at the Restoration, was created Earl of Mountrath, which title, on the decease of Charles Henry, the 7th Earl, in 1802, became extinct. Newpark, adjoining the town, was the residence of the Earl of Mountrath. In 1831 the town contained 429 houses; iron was made and wrought here till the neighbouring woods were consumed for fuel. The Post Chaise Companion, published in 1805, states that "Near Mountrath is an extensive bank containing, or rather, formed of excellent iron ore, within a few feet of the surface; here an iron and metal foundry has been established and wrought some years since with great success; but at present, from the scarcity of charcoal, on the destruction of the neighbouring woods, the furnaces are seldom employed; it is much to be regretted that such a valuable manufacture should be discontinued on the above account, as the country abounds with bogs, and charred turf might probably be substituted in the place of charcoal for most purposes." Lewis (Top. Dict.), writing in 1836, says -
In the latter portion of the
last, and the beginning of the present century, Orangeism was rampant
in the town of Mountrath, and the Catholics were subjected to constant
insults and acts of violence from the dominant faction. In every lease
granted on the. Castlecoote estate, on which the town was built, a clause
was inserted prohibiting the letting, selling, or bestowal of ground for
the purpose of erecting a Catholic Church. In consequence of this prohibition,
the humble place of worship, used by the Catholics, stood upon a sand-bank,
beside a tributary of the river Nore, at a place called "The Brook,"
just outside the town. Some of the old inhabitants remember to see men
occupied in teeming water out of the chapel on Saturday evenings, in order
that the people might be enabled to assemble there for Mass next day.
About the year 1794, Dr. Delany, Bishop of the Diocese, who held Mountrath
as a mensal parish, determined, if possible, to build a church for the
parishioners. The Lord Castlecoote of the day was as much opposed as his
predecessors had been, to the erection of Catholic places of worship.
After commending the cause to Heaven by public devotions, the bishop made
application for a site to a Mr. Hawkesworth, agent to Lord Castlecoote.
This gentleman gave Dr. Delany a plot of ground, then in his own possession,
and shortly after, through his influence with the proprietor, procured
a lease for ever of it, as a site for a Catholic church. *
*The Annals of the Order of St. Brigid, from which some of the foregoing details have been taken, add - " It may not be out of place to say that Dr. Delany became intimate with this family; in her last illness, Mrs. Hawkesworth became a Catholic. In the presence of her daughters and her son, who was a Protestant clergyman, she requested of Mr. Hawkesworth to have the Parish Priest sent for. They were thunderstruck at her request, which, however, was complied with, and the priest had free access to her while she lived."
On the 18th of April, 1809, the Convent of St. Brigid, at Mountrath, was founded, three sisters proceeding thither from the mother house at Tullow (Annals of Order). Soon after, the Monastery of St. Patrick was established. Both convent and monastery have now large communities, chiefly employed in carrying on the great work of Catholic education. At present the Sisters are engaged in erecting a fine imposing building for the accommodation of their numerous resident pupils.
The church, erected by Dr. Delany, proved defective in the foundation; in consequence of this, the Rev. James Dunne, PP., came to the determination of building a new church. The work was begun soon after his appointment to the charge of the parish in 1857, and he had the consolation of seeing it completed before his death in 1867. The extraordinary exertions made by Brother John, of the Mountrath Monastery, mainly contributed to the success of the undertaking. This zealous religious travelled through a great portion of North America, Australia, New Zealand, and California, soliciting alms for the purpose; his exertions resulted in his being enabled to transmit the large sum of £4,000, over and above his expenses. The new church of Mountrath is one of the finest parochial churches in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin. Several priests were interred in the former church; through the pious care of a recent pastor, the preservation of the inscribed tablets which marked their last resting places, has been secured by their being set in the wall of the new church. They are as follows:-
"To the memory of the
Very Rev. M. P. Malone, Parish Priest for some time of Tinryland, afterwards
of Mountrath, Notary Apostolic and Penitentiary for the Diocese of Kildare
and Leighlin. He died in the fifty-third year of his age, on the 18th
of October, 1835. For twenty-two years he discharged with zeal, disinterestedness,
and ability, the arduous duties of his sacred calling. In him the poor
found a friend, the prodigal a forgiving father, the afflicted a comforter,
the oppressed an advocate, his country an honest patriot, and religion
a priest of true piety. Requiescat in pace."
SUCCESSION OF PASTORS
REV. JAMES DWIGAN was appointed, in April, 1690, P.P. of the united Parishes of Clonenagh and Cloneheen. In the Registry of 1704, he is stated to reside at Downe, in the west division of the barony of Maryborough; was then aged about 50; was ordained in 1677, in Garriricken, by James Phelan, Bishop of Ossory, and his two sureties were Patrick Kinin, of Roskelton, Gent., and Henry Brereton, of Coppanarragh, Gent. Father Duigan died in 1712; this we learn from the epitaph of his successor,
REV. EDMUND CORCORAN, who is stated to have been P.P. 35 years, and to have died on the 8th December, 1747. - (Buried at Cremogue).
REV. DENIS LABOR was the succeeding Parish Priest; he died, March 26th, 1762, and is interred at Clonenagh.
REV. JOHN LALOR succeeded; he died Feb. 15th, 1770, and was buried at Cremogue.
THE VENERABLE LAURENCE COLLETON, Archdeacon of Leighlin, was the succeeding P.P. He died in September, 1788, and is buried at Clonenagh.
Mountrath then became a mensal parish. Dr. Delany, the Bishop, partly resided there. The first Administrator of whom there is any tradition was named ROCHE; perhaps he is the priest of that name who became P.P. of Suncroft, County Kildare, in 1805. The next Administrator was
FATHER DUANE, who died in 1808, by illness brought on in consequence of the attack made upon his house by the Orange-men. - Vide Supra.
The next Administrator was FATHER MALONE, afterwards P.P.
THE REV. FRANCIS Haly, afterwards Bishop of the Diocese, served as Administrator for ten years, and was succeeded by FATHER MALONE, appointed P. P. of Mountrath, on the division of the parish by Dr. Doyle, in 1820; he died in 1835, and was succeeded by
THE REV. THOMAS NOLAN, who died in 1844.
The next P.P. was the REV. PATRICK FITZPATRICK, who died September 16th, 1857.
THE REV. JAMES DUNNE succeeded; he died March 29th, 1867.
THE REV. MARTIN NOWLAN was the next P.P. in succession; he was translated to Newbridge in 1870, and was succeeded by
THE Rev. ANDREW M'DONALD. Father M'Donald died in November, 1880, and was succeeded by
THE REV. ANDREW PHELAN. In August, 1884, Father Phelan became P.P. of Maryborough, and Vicar-Forane. He was succeeded by
THE REV. EDWARD BRENNAN, the present pastor.
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