Killoughternane – Cill Uchtarnáin – Church
of Fortiarnán (Fortchern)
- St. Fortiarnán’s church (In ruins)
A monastery was founded here by St Fortchern,
bishop and one of the three smiths of St Patrick. He choose this
spot, at the foot of Mount Leinster, for its isolation and beauty in
the 5th century. His feast day is 11th October.
“To this retreat as to a school of sanctity and
wisdom”, writes Colgan, “there came many seeking instruction in
literature and virtue, who in after times, were eminent for their
piety and learning, amongst whom, to the great lustre of this
school, St Fortchern merited to have as his disciple St Finnian of
Clonard a native of the district about Mt Leinster, who was
subsequently the instructor of the greatest Saints of Ireland, and
spiritual father of three thousand monks”.
St Finnian is said to have been a native of
So from the earliest time Killoughternane was
famous as a centre of learning and remained so for almost a thousand
years thereafter. The only ancient building now visible is the
ruined 10th c Oratory, marked with an OPW (Office of Public Works)
plaque. This small church is very similar to another of same date in
this parish at Augha. Within the ruin is piscina (stone basin with
drain hole usually beside the altar to receive water used in
purifying the chalice etc).
In the field on opposite side of road may be
seen the Holy Well & grotto, with a modern altar in front. Mass is
celebrated here every year in July. An inscribed stone in front of
the Oratory was erected by a local committee to mark the recent
millennium. According to local people mass was said in Penal Law
times in the woods which cloak nearby Knockscur hill.
In the 19th century a silver chalice and paten
was discovered, wrapped in a linen cloth and embedded in the mud of
the holy well. The inscription states that the chalice was made for
Fr John Lucar in 1595. It is likely that these articles belonged to
the priest of that name who said mass at the penal altar nearby.
survey of the site in 2001 found the earliest traces of monastic
buildings to be (a chapel and three support buildings) under the
road. The buildings were rectangular, timber framed with clay/wattle
walls and thatched roof. The monastic site occupied the area each
side of the coach road around Killoughternane Cross. The coach road
constructed in the 19th century required that a large volume of clay
be excavated and subsequently transferred to the top of the field
nearby. This accumulation of clay had a detrimental effect on our
readings in that area.
Prior to construction of the Oratory (now in
ruins) there stood an earlier timber framed church dated to the 8th
c. This building was of the same length but considerably wider. Our
survey also revealed that beneath the oratory is a Neolithic burial.
A total of twenty five buildings were found in all at
Attached to the Oratory ruin is a plaque with
the following bilingual inscription.
“In this church the men
of Leinster venerated its founder, St Fortchern who was also the
teacher of St Finnian of Clonard”.
The oratory has antae or projecting sidewalls
and also has a round headed window. It was probably built in the
10th or 11th century. There is a square baptismal font inside the
monastery boasted a round tower which once stood 21 paces NW of the
Oratory E wall. The tower at 96’ in height dominated the local
landscape until struck by lightning in the 13th c.
At the beginning of the second millennium a
major expansion of facilities occurred viz a large stone church with
roof of wood shingles, an infirmary, a dormitory and classrooms The
last group of stone buildings were constructed in the 14th c ie
lecture hall, a washroom and a residence.
The present landowner (O’Connell) is of the
opinion that Killoughternane could have been used as a retreat
centre for a large monastery or monasteries in the area.
An alternative explanation is that the
monastery functioned as a residential college i.e. to train
seminarians and or lay students.
Text Source: http://glasnost.itcarlow.ie/~feeleyjm/monastery/killoughternane.pdf
Carlow – trails of the saints
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