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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

St. Clare's Church

Part 1

Eaglais n. Clair agus Clochar n. Clair

St. Clare’s Church, Graiguecullen

St. Clare’s Church, Graiguecullen c.1960's postcard
from Lorraine Ryan
The marvellous story of St. Clare’s Church, Graiguecullen, may be told. It is a symbol of the new era that has dawned for the people of Ireland: it marks the passing of a Protestant ascendancy and the coming of our Catholic people into their own.

Its history had its origin in an election, the fiercely fought Carlow election of 1841. Colonel Bruen, the local landlord, a good and generous man, was the Protestant candidate. The Catholics were represented by young Daniel O’Connell, son of the Liberator himself: he stood for repeal of the Union, reform of the land laws, secret ballot, and fair representation in Parliament

The excitement before and during the election was intense, Bruen was a born fighter and had a good backing. On the Catholic side was the gigantic figure of the Liberator backed by the priests and their flocks. Chief among his supporters was a man who was ever ready to give battle for Catholic truth and Catholic rights:

Fr. James Maher, PP. of Graigue. It was this zealous priest who marshalled his people to the polling station on the days of the election; and his influence was more powerful than the regiments of troops who stood by and held the crowd in check when it was feared that the town would be burned if the result was not favourable to the Catholics. The result was indeed a disappointment. Many, intimidated by the power of the landlords, voted for Bruen who was elected by a majority of nine votes.

Immediately after this the gentry of South Tipperary formed a committee to make a presentation to Colonel Bruen. A large sum of money was collected. Bruen, who was a traveller and a lover of architecture, chose that their gift to him should be used to build a church on his estate, near Carlow. St. Anne’s Church on the Athy Road was accordingly built, mostly at the Colonel’s own expense. It was a beautiful structure in Gothic architecture, complete with a graceful tower and slender spire, lovely windows, carvings in stone of saints, gargoyles - all the ornaments of Gothic.

For some years Protestant service was held in this Church until gradually the congregation dwindled and it was closed. Then there was this curious situation: a beautiful church on the Carlow side of the river with no congregation while at the Laois side, in the parish of Carlow-Graigue, was a wretched Church with a huge congregation; the one was Protestant, the other Catholic. Who would have dreamed thirty years before, that not only would the memorial church pass into the possession of Catholics but that it would be actually taken across the river by the people of Graigue?

In 1893 when Mother Seraphine and her four companions came to Graigue, she saw that St. Fiacc’s parish church was a poor building and was overcrowded. She resolved to beg and collect for a new convent and a more worthy church. From the convent garden she could see the spire of St. Anne’s church. She learned it was out of use and empty. Rosary in hand she used to gaze at the spire. “I’m knocking that spire; each Hail Mary is a bullet,” she used to say. At length her ammunition won the day.

It must have caused surprise in 1925 when it was announced that Fr. Michael Bolger, P.P. of Graigue, had bought the church at a nominal price from Mr. Bruen. The actual task of transferring it to Graigue fell to the lot of Fr. Fogarty, successor to Fr. Bolger.

This is the laying of the corner stone at St Clares on the 7th June, the Feast of Corpus Christi, 1928The colossal undertaking could not have fallen into more capable hands. With the gift of organisation, Fr. Fogarty showed also a deep appreciation of all that was beautiful in the original structure and he determined that, while enlarging the Church for the needs of his flock, he would preserve and reproduce all the beautiful features of the former building, the windows, doors, arches and roof. Under the guidance of Messer. Foley and Sullivan, architects, this was accomplished.

The foundation stone of the Church of St. Clare was laid on 7th June, the Feast of Corpus Christi, 1928 and in the following year when Ireland was celebrating the centenary of Catholic Emancipation, the new Church was opened and dedicated by Most Rev Dr Cullen on Sunday, 13 October, in the presence of a large congregation. Adjoining the Poor Clare Convent, the Church stands to-day, complete, stately an eloquent monument of the ultimate triumph, through many failures, of people’s patience and steadfast striving in the cause of religion.


8th  December 1900

On Tuesday the 4th inst., the interesting and impressive ceremony of the consecration of a new bell took place at St Clare’s Abbey, Carlow-Graigue, Carlow.

The bell which is the gift of Mrs Blake, wife of the late John Aioysius Blake, M.P. for Carlow, and from the well known bell foundry of Mr M. Byrne of James’ Street, Dublin, was solemnly blessed according to the Pontifical Roman Rite by the Most Rev Dr Foley, Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin, assisted by the Very Rev Dean Brophy of Carlow College, Very Rev George Byrne PP, Graigue and the Rev Patrick Campion CC, Graigue.

As the extern chapel is not yet completed, the ceremony was of a strictly private character, no visitors being admitted.

Dating from the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th, the bell will be rung to summon the community at 5 o’clock a.m., for Divine Office (Prime and Terce), at 6 am. for the Angelus, at 7.20 a.m. for mass, at 12 o’clock for the Angelus, for Vespers at 4 o’clock, at 6 p.m. for the Angelus, at 7 p.m. for Divine Office and at 11 o’clock when the sisters rise for Matins and Lauds.

This article appeared in Fiacc's Folk 1997/98

(Previously published in ''The Parish of KILLESHIN, Graiguecullen'. by P.MacSuibhne. 1972.)

Part 2

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