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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Pat Purcell Papers

St. Mary's Church of Ireland.

Church Street. Carlow

Part 1

St. Mary’s Church Image by W. Muldowney c2006
An early postcard of St. Mary’s Parish Church
St. Mary’s Church Image by W. Muldowney c2006

History of
St. Mary’s Parish Church
 Mr. Harry Fennell,


 There was a very ancient Church in Catherlough called St. Mary’s Abbey, founded in 634. There is divided opinion as to its exact location, Dr. Comerford who was an able Historian, claimed that it was in the Hay Market area, near the Town Hall, the Reverend Father Hickey also subscribes to this view; there is also evidence put forward by others, that it was on the side of Castle Hill, in Coal Market. However, as these two places are only a couple of hundred yards apart, both being equal distance from the present St. Mary’s Church, it does not matter very much. The Abbey Church passed into the possession of the Protestant community when the Churches were taken over by order of Queen Elizabeth I. It became the Protestant Parish Church about the year 1562, until it became untenable in the sixteen thirties through decay.

 History of St. Mary’s Parish Church

 When writing a history or paper like this, with so much material available, it is difficult to decide what to include when one is dealing with a period of over three hundred years. It must of necessity be brief, so I shall try to condense it by giving the most interesting items as I find them.

 The Parish of St. Mary’s has in its possession the oldest Vestry Books in Ireland. The Minute Books commence in 1669 and are complete to the present day. The Registers of Baptisms, Marriages and Deaths are complete from 1695. These books are full of information of very great interest.

 The present Church of St. Mary’s is the third on the same site.

St. Mary's Church of Ireland is located in the area of long standing religious importance. In the sixth century St. Croneybeg had her religious cell located in this general area. This church dates from 1727, though the tower and spire, reaching 195 feet were added in 1834. The interior retains its traditional galleries. There are also several monuments including some by Sir Richard Morrison, the important neo-classical architect.

Dean Andrews of Limerick was consecrated Bishop of Leighlin and Ferns in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, on 11th May, 1635, by Launcelot, Archbishop of Dublin. He writes of the state of the Churches in Ireland at this time as being in a most deplorable condition, the Cathedrals in many places destroyed, the Parish Churches unroofed, ruined or unrepaired, the houses left desolate during the wars and confusion of former times. It was about this time that the first of these three Churches was built. It was much smaller than the present one, and was roofed with shingles, this roof seems to have given a lot of worry as they were constantly paying for repairs to it.

 The site was ideally situated on an eminence overlooking the beautiful Norman Castle, which was at this time in perfect condition and garrisoned, also the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey a few hundred yards away outside the Town Wall. It may be of interest at this stage to mention this Western Wall of Catherlough. In the year 1361 Edward III appointed his son Lionel, Duke of Clarence, Lord Lieutenant of the County of Catherlough. Lionel moved the Exchequers to Catherlough and expended a sum of £500 on the building of the Town Wall, portion of this wall was unearthed when digging the foundations for the present Provincial Bank, it ran from somewhere near St. Brigid’s Hospital to the river Burrin. The Church was dedicated to St. Comgall, the Celtic Saint.

At a Vestry Meeting held on the 20th July, 1669, it was pointed out to the members that “a sum of £21-18-0 was still due to Thomas Herbadge for ye building and erecting ye Church at ye first”. It was decided that the above sum be applotted on the Union of Catherlough Parishes, also that ye Churchwardens of each Parish shall take two or three of ye ablest sons in their respective Parishes to aid in the collection of same.

In August, 1669, the Parishes of Urglin, Clonmulsh, Killeshin, Sletty, Shrule, Monksgrange and Painstown were united to Catherlough, Catherlough being the Mother Parish to control the rent.

On 9th October, 1684, Killeshin was given permission to build a gallery in their Church, situated up in the Killeshin Hills.

There was a famous vine growing underneath glass, probably the Church Porch. There are numerous references to this vine, it was known as the Church vine. The following entry dated June 12th, 1685 (275 years ago) appears in the Minute Book. The Vine in the Hotbed Frame requires to have three inches more of fresh mould carefully spread all over the bed in such a manner that the vine will receive no hurt by misplacing, twisting or breaking them, to do with care, let one person hold the branches at one side, rising as many together as convenient, while another spreads the mould the thickness prescribed, pressing it down with a hand, then give about 3 o’clock a pot of water each side, give great air from 7 o’clock till 3 o’clock by rising the sashes seven inches high. If these questions are attended to, no harm will come to them for close confinement. (An unusual entry in a Church Minute Book).

In the year 1686 an interesting item is, the distribution of Christmas benevolence, Widow Jonson 6d., Old Rose 3d., Mark Kelly 2d., Modagh 2d., Grizzle Evans 2d., Connel Doolan 2d., David Moore 2d., Blind Nicholas 3d., Darby 4d., Babbery 3d., the Bellman 1/6. Parishioners in the Jail 4/-. These are only a few of a lengthy list, it shows the value of money at that time.

In 1698 a town Clock was erected in the Belfry, George Acton, Parish Clerk, was allowed 12/- per annum for his care and trouble in looking after the clock.

The first entry for the 18th Century is as follows: on the 11th day of November, 1700, that the sum of £16 be allotted for raising the Churchyard wall, from the French man’s house to the Church 6ft. high. The late Archdeacon Ridgeway thought that this French man must have been the Reverend Benjamin Dallion who died in 1709. His tomb is in the extreme South West corner of the Churchyard, lying North and South, instead of East and West, as all tombs do. He was a Hugenot refugee. The house referred to is known as Miss Kearney’s, now in the possession of Mr. Farrell.

On 14th July, 1701, it was agreed to build a gallery in the Church, one and thirty feet long, rising upwards to the West end, the money to be raised by subscriptions. The Vestry at this time performed all the functions of Local Government in the Parish, under its control, they were responsible for afforestation.

On 14th day of October, 1702, they sent out an order to all the Parishes, to plant a certain number of trees, each holding to plant according to its acreage. I will mention just a few: Little Pollardstown 6, Gallows Hill Farm 10, Mortarstown 12, Crossneen 8.

In 1705 a family named Paull was given permission to build a Burial Vault inside the Church, in their ancient burial place, this latter sentence supports the tradition that this place was the town burial Ground, before these Churches were built. The Doyne family also built a Vault in the Church, they erected a polished marble Tablet with the printing in gold letters.

The Treasurers in 1708 got themselves into a spot of trouble, the Auditors reported “we find the figures altered and defaced in many places, so we cannot certify them as correct”, so we see that embezzlement is not entirely a modern evil.

In 1711 the following were appointed to represent the Parishes:

Catherlough: John Brown, Phillip Bernard, Patrick Wall, Matthew Humprey, Richard Scolly and Thomas Conyers.
Killeshin: Joseph Rouselle, Mark Quigley, Henry Carter, Wm. Hunt.
Sletty: Robert Best, Charles Byrne.
Shrule: Colm Bryan.
Monksgrange: Nicholas Warren.
Clodagh: Thomas Bunbury, John Russell.
Painstown: Arundel Best.

The following items appear in the Parish accounts for the year 1715, paid to the Coroner £1-6-0 for holding two inquests on the bodies of Darby and Edward Byrne, who were “drownded” in ye Barrow while sliding. The Parish Clerk’s spelling and pronunciation was not his strong point.

In the expenses 1722 we find the following entry, paid £1-16-0 for having 105 yards between Mr. Somer’s house and Burrin Bridge, and for improving the water gap for cattle and horses in Water Lane, also one halfpenny for putting a hook on the North Churchyard gate.

July 18th, 1726, the Right Reverend Josiah Hort, Lord Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin, presided at a Vestry Meeting. It was proposed by his Lordship, and passed unanimously that the Parish Church being in a decayed condition, should be pulled down and rebuilt forthwith. His Lordship stated that he already had voluntary subscriptions amounting to £389 for this purpose. It was six years before it was finished in 1732. There was great difficulty in raising enough money to complete the job.

There is only one name in the list for the purchase of pews in the new Church that I am familiar with, Mr. Joseph Fishbourne paid £1-16-0 for No. 36. The Fishbourne family is well known in Killeshin Parish.

This second church must not have been of a very imposing appearance judging by the following extract from the Post Chaise Companion in 1786: “There is also in Carlow the ruins of a very fine Abbey, built about 634, whose founder was buried there, near it is a Protestant Church, this is small and only of indifferent structure”. This is the Church referred to by Dean Swift, after a visit to Carlow, when he penned these lines, “Poor Town, proud people, high Church and low steeple.”

At the Easter Vestry in 1736 a man with the peculiar name of Achilles Columbine was elected as Churchwarden.

At a Meeting held on the 5th October, 1736, the following Resolution was passed: “We, the Ministers and Churchwardens of the Parish duly assembled to present the great road leading from the town of Graigue to the Ford of Monesure in the Queen’s Co. to be repaired by the inhabitants of that Parish, in six days’ labour.” This is the present Castlecomer Road, the Ford was on the little river beyond The Laurels in the townland of Monure. Mr. J. Hammon and Mr. R. Scolly were appointed overseers for the repairing of the road from Carlow to Clogrennane Castle. Mr. Thomas Cooper and Mr. George Houselle, overseers of that part of the Highway leading from Graigue to Killeshin.

The first time the town was referred to as Carlow was in 1721, previous to that it was Catherlough, the City of the Lakes. The Vestry was responsible for all roads in the Parishes under its control.

There was a man named Jacob Coleman on the Vestry in 1732, when the second Church was built,  he was an ancestor of Mr. Bennie Coleman of Dublin Street. This is the oldest family living in the Parish.

In the year 1765 the name Deighton first appeared, Henry Deighton, after whom the Parish Hall is named, was a descendant of his, he was Rector’s Churchwarden that year.

A meeting held on 8th May, 1784, resolved: “That we bind ourselves by voluntary subscriptions to light the town of Carlow, and provide lamps for said purpose,” Signed John Falkiner, D.D., Rector.

June 9th, 1744, Thomas Allen was engaged to lay an earthenware floor two inches and a half thick, throughout the whole Church and entrance, to be made of lime, sand, collum, and blood, to be finished 1st August.

In 1746 a man named John Clarke was appointed at a salary of £5, to discover in the Parish where the large amount of illicit spirits was being manufactured, and to bring the guilty persons to justice. (They were making a drop of poteen on the quiet.) We find at a later date that he failed in his quest, and he reported back to the Vestry, obviously under the influence of alcohol. (I suppose the Moonshiners followed the usual procedure, they gave him a bottle for himself to keep him quiet.)

The register of Baptisms, Marriages and Deaths is interesting, though very difficult to sort out, as the entries are all mixed up together, without any semblance of order. I shall give you the most interesting ones down the centuries. As Carlow was a Garris8on town the records contain many names of soldiers and their families, who were married, baptised or died here. They mostly belonged to Cavalry Regiments, Dragoons, Lancers and Hussars. When going over the burial records for the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, one is struck by the number of children who died under the age of two years, you come across hundreds who only survived a few days, infantile mortality was very high in those days. The following are some of the entries which caught my eye:

December 15th, 1746, buried Tillet, a poor traveller.

1788, Sept. 9th, died the 8th at 1 o’clock in the morning, Captain Jocelyn-Davidson, Esq., aged 78 years, and was taken at so early an hour as 1 o’c. in the morning to be interred beneath the Cedars in the Burial Field at Old Derrig. This is the private burial ground of the Thomas family, late of Belmont, Carlow. This man must have been a relative of that family, as the late Captain Thomas was named Jocelyn Henry Watkins Thomas. I could never find out why the burial took place at such an unearthly hour. Old residents in this district told me that all the funerals to this Graveyard were at night time. Was it some superstition or perhaps some legal clause in Old Deeds?

There are two very pathetic entries in the year 1787, buried Sir Richard Moore, Baronet, he died the 29th ulto. In Carlow Jail, for debt, aged 86.

There is recorded the death of a lady aged 37 years, and the statement is added that she died of a broken heart. After her name is inserted in brackets, see 8th Feby., 1777. On turning back I found the date referred to was her marriage day. It looks like a case of domestic unhappiness.

1777 died Edwardina Alborina Barbarina, youngest daughter of Edward and Eleanor Ramsfork, aged one year. (Surely a case of Ina for short.)

1801, Nov. 17th, died suddenly, whilst at cards at 10 o’clock at night, Mrs. Anne Mitchell.

The following entry appears in the Marriage Register, May 17th, 1780: The Reverend John Falkiner, D.D., Rector of Carlow, was married to Miss Galbraith, eldest daughter of Samuel Galbraith, Esq., of Old Derrig, by the Reverend R. Hobart, Rector of Sletty and Shrule. All those people are buried in the Castle Hill graveyard.

This is how the following entry reads: 15th Sept., 1791, buried Miss Anne Brown of Browne’s Hill, aged 30 years “so I was informed”. (The Parish Clerk must have doubted her age.)

An interesting entry appeared in the baptisms, dated 7th April, 1833, baptised this day, 8 children for Samuel and Sarah Handcock Haughton. When I read this, I thought that this puts the Dione quins in the shade, but on closer examination, I found they were all of different ages. This was about the time that this great Quaker family joined the Church of Ireland.

On 2nd May, 1783, died Mr. Henry Woddle, Merchant, who acquired a large fortune by his dealing, which he bequeathed to several Dublin Hospitals. When he was being buried, in Carlow Graveyard, his remains were several times insulted by an enraged mob on the way to the place of interment, on account of his not considering the poor of that Parish where he made so much money. They laid his coffin down on the street several times, as the cortege approached the Graveyard.

In 1778 a Mr. K. Scragg’s name appears on the Vestry list. This man and his brother had a private School on the corner of Brown Street and College Street, called Scragg’s Academy. He also owned a row of two-roomed thatched houses in Potato market area. It was known at Scragg’s Alley.

Also on the Vestry list in the same year was a Mr. Charles Lance, he was Rector’s Churchwarden, this man was another Hugenot refugee, he was a Brass and Copper Plate worker, he had his premises in Centaur Street.

The quaint way in which the Parish Clerk wrote the entries in the old books is sometimes very amusing. One entry states that a member of the Fitzmaurice family pinched someone’s seat. It is corrected on the next page, where is states he purchased it. The seats all had to be bought, the front ones were the most expensive. In another entry it stated that a Mr. Humphrey sold half of his seat for £1.

At a Vestry Meeting on December 6th, 1827, it was resolved that an application be made to the Board of First Fruits to ascertain if they would advance money for building a new Church in this Parish, the present one being condemned. December 27th: resolved that the Parish do advertise for plans and estimates for building a South wall, widening, roofing the Church, and erecting a new spire. The North wall and most of the East wall were incorporated in the new building. It was passed unanimously at a Meeting held in January, 1828, that the plans of Thomas Cobden be selected pursuant to his estimate.

The Church was re-modeled, widened, a new South wall built, roofed, and a new spire erected in the year 1832. The Contractor was given the old roof for himself. He was a lucky man, for when the shingles were removed he discovered it was lined with sheet copper, a very valuable material at this time. When the Steeplejacks had the spire built they had a platform on top with the large cross ready to be placed into its socket. Colonel Bruen of Oak Park offered to go up and perform the laying ceremony. They took him up in a basket attached to pulleys. He laid the cross all right, but they had to blindfold him to get him down safely.

At a Meeting held in 1832 the following resolution was passed: “That the thanks of the Parish are justly due and are hereby given to William Fishbourne, Esq., for his kindness in giving the Barn situated on the Tullow Road as a Hospital for the reception of patients afflicted with cholera.”

Resolved also: “That the thanks of the Vestry be given to Thomas Edward Byrne, and James Porter, Esq., Surgeons, for their readiness to afford professional assistance when required, also Mr. John Maher for carrying patients to this Hospital.”

Some famous men attended Divine Service in these Churches, notably Dean Swift, who visited the second Church, and stayed with the Rector in the Vicarage, which was the present Public House “Ewing’s” on the corner of Haymarket. Sir John French also attended Divine Service in the present Church, soon after he returned from the Boer War when Military Manoeuvres were held in the vicinity of Carlow.

He was, of course, afterwards Lord French, Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces at the beginning of the 1914-18 War. In Archdeacon Ridgeway’s time the Reverend Canon Hannay, the famous Novelist, who wrote under the nom-de-plume of George A. Birmingham, preached a remarkable sermon at a Harvest Festival Service. I myself heard him, and remember his text. It was, “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun doth his successive journeys run”, the first two lines of that well-known hymn.

Source: Michael Purcell
Transcriber: J. J. Woods c2008

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