The History of Kilmurry Church
By D. STEWART
The Parish Church of Kilmurry
HISTORY OF THE EARLY CHURCH
For close on a thousand years, Church has replaced Church on the site where now stands the modern Church of Kilmurry. The original Celtic chapel was first named after some Munster saint, probably Mo-chuaroch, but under Norman influence the dedication was changed to a favourite saint of their own, namely St. Mary Magdalen. Gilbertus, the first Bishop of Limerick of whom we have authentic information, in the year 1106/7 summoned a Synod at Rathbreasil. This Synod divided Ireland into twenty-four Dioceses of nearly equal size, and the boundaries of the Limerick Dioceses remain, to great extent, the same to the present day. Gilbertus as well as being the first Bishop was also Papal Legate, and it was the Danish Church that established the first Bishops of Dublin, Waterford and Limerick. They owed allegiance to Rome, not to the Celtic Church of Ireland and were used as levers to uproot the Celtic Church who owed no allegiance to Rome. About the year 1194 Donal O’Brien founded the Chapter of St. Mary’s Cathedral, and under the Foundation Deed he gave for the sustenance of the Canons of the Cathedral “. . . . all the dues of Cotheann outside the city, and the Churches of St. Mary Magdalen and of St. Martin, with everything pertaining to them . . . .” Myler FitzHenry’s Inquisition of 1201 (vide the Black Book of Limerick) establishes beyond doubt that this Church of St. Mary Magdalen was the Church of Kilmurry.
In the adjacent townland of Kilbane there is a holy well dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen, which at one time was much resorted to by pilgrims for the cure of sore eyes and other complaints, and it is an interesting fact that the date of the dedication of the Church and the date on which the well is “visited” is the same – the 22nd day of July.
DISPUTES WITH THE PRIOR OF ATHISSEL
The deBurgos were extensive landholders in the Parish of Kilmurry, and the benefice of St. Mary Magdalen was in their granting. Being also founders of the Athissel Monastery (near Golden in County Tipperary), they authorised the Prior there to present the living of Kilmurry to whom he willed. In the year 1251 the Bishop of Limerick disputed a nomination made by the Prior. In 1253 news of the dispute came to the ears of Pope Innocent IV who commissioned the Bishop and other dignitaries of Cloyne to try and settle it. No final decision was come to after many months, and finally the judges ordered the temporary sequestration of Kilmurry. There was an appeal and the case was due to go before the Bishops of Waterford and Ferns when an agreement was arrived at and ultimately Kilmurry went to the Prior of Athissel. From 1251 to 1273 the fray was carried on by Bishop Robert of Emly and Limerick, who commenced canonical proceedings against the Prior for the recovery of the Church.
For several generations disputes and appeals followed in rapid succession. In 1325 Ade de Gouly and Richard Pierpoint were involved in a suit about Kilmurry which Gouly’s great-grandfather, Regin Le Flemyng, held: and again in 1474 one John O’Griffin, a priest of Killaloe, bound himself to the Apostolic Chamber in the name of Dermod Ytynacanthy, priest of Limerick Dioceses, for the fruits unduly received by the said Dermod for some years from the perpetual vicarage of the parochial church of St. Mary Magdalen.
THE CROMWELLIAN SETTLEMENT
Under the Act for the Settlement of Ireland, towns, church lands and tithes were all reserved by the Puritan Parliament for their own purposes. All Church dignitaries were removed from office. The Parish of Kilmurry suffered with the rest and the greater part of the lands were granted to the famous Hollowblades Company. What became of the actual church building is mere conjecture, but it must have survived, only to become a total ruin during the Sieges of 1690 and 1691, due to it being in close proximity to the Williamite Camp.
The landlord, Colonel Kilner Brazier, seems to have taken on the responsibility for having the church rebuilt, and, failing to obtain any money for that purpose either from the Rector (the Rev. Lloyd), or the Bishop of Limerick (Thomas Smyth), he turned to the Roman Catholic Parish Priest, Rev. Father Bryan O’Donnell, on whom he levied £60. Father O’Donnell did not feel bound to call upon his parishioners to contribute this sum, with the result that Col. Brazier sent him several threatening letters. These letters are fully reported by Lenihan. Unfortunately, they are undated, but in all probability they belong to the first and second decades of the 18th century. This demand by Col. Brazier upon Father O’Donnell was not by any means extraordinary when one remembers that from the Union up to the year 1831 there was a tax (called Church Cess) levied in Vestry Meetings upon Roman Catholics for cleaning the church, ringing the bells, washing the Minister’s surplice, etc. It continued down to the year 1831 when the organised resistance to the collection of tithes became so effective and so terrible that they were not paid except where a composition had been made and agreements had been adopted. The Church Temporalities Bill (July 1834) abolished the Church Cess. The Glebe House at Kilmurry was erected in 1790.
UNION WITH DERRYGALVIN
In the year 1792 Kilmurry and Derrygalvin were episcopally united. Derrygalvin was a parish to the south of Kilmurry, but there are now no remains of the church except some fragments in the small burial ground in the townland of Ballysimon.
THE CHURCH IS RE-BUILT
Between the years 1810 and 1812 a new church with a spire was built, again on the former site, with the assistance of a loan of £580 from the Board of the First Fruits. On the night of November of the same year, however, a very heavy gale from the South West did much damage and the Church was nearly destroyed by lightning. The Rev. Henry Ievers Ingram, Rector, had the Church repaired at his own expense. REV. CHARLES WARD
In 1861 when the Rev. Charles Ward was appointed Rector of Kilmurry he found the Church in a sad state of repair, and the churchyard in a terrible condition. He closed the Church altogether for over a year while repairs were being carried out, and the “Limerick Chronicle” of 15th March, 1866, announcing the re-opening of the Church, gave the following description of what had been done.
“. . . . . . It has been thoroughly fitted up inside, a new vestry room built, the aisles and side porch beautifully tiled, the entire edifice newly painted, so that in fact Kilmurry Church is now a fitting temple wherein to worship God. It is one of the neatest ecclesiastical structures in the dioceses.”
In 1872 new windows were installed and in the following year further improvements included a very chaste and handsome East window.
The Parish Church of Kilmurry now entered upon the most prosperous period of its history. Surrounded on all sides by the beautiful homes of wealthy merchants from the City of Limerick, no appeal for funds ever went unanswered and subscriptions for repairs came from such varied places as Ennis, London, Belfast, Cork, Edgbaston, and once a five pound note came from “Old Buffer” Madras Army!
LINK WITH LORD EDWARD FITZGERALD
In Plassy House, a lovely Georgian mansion nearby, there lived for a time Sir Guy Campbell, whose wife was Pamela, daughter of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. In the Churchyard is the grave of their infant son, John, and the stone thereon, reads:-
To the Memory of John
The Infant son of
Guy Campbell, Bart.
Pamela, his wife.
Died at Plassy
4th Feb. 1828
Another stone nearby, bearing the date 1824, has a number of sculptures on it representing the Gospel story of Christ’s betrayal – the cock, the scourge, thirty pieces of silver, etc.
ARCHDEACON RICHARD ROSS-LEWIN
Also in the Churchyard is a stone erected by relatives and parishioners to the memory of Richard Sargint Ross-Lewin, Archdeacon and poet (1886 -1921). He is remembered in the Parish still, and his slim volumes of poetry are treasured in many a household in the County of Limerick. He not only loved this Parish of Kilmurry dearly, but proved by his poetry and kindliness to be, par excellence, a lover of all nature.
In 1950 a general appeal for funds was sent to members of the congregation and their friends, an appeal which was generously answered. Some £350 was forthcoming, and much needed repairs were carried out to the Church tower. The interior was redecorated, and electric light and heating installed.
So Kilmurry stands today as a memorial to the devotion and generosity of the Celt, the Dane, the Norseman, and members of the Church of Ireland. All these have worshipped within its walls, and something of their worship remains here still. It is holy ground.
“Remember we, by Shannon stream, in vain the waters glide, Of mercy blest and hope and rest, if we unheeding stand and dreaming by the river’s bank, the fertilizing tide That bringeth peace and happiness to all on earth beside Yet leaves our hearts a wilderness – a dry and barren land”.