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A Survey of Monuments of Archaeological and Historical Interest in the Barony of Bunratty Lower, Co. Clare by William Gerrard Ryan

Part 1: Commentary: Pre-Reformation church and monastic sites: Post-Norman Church/Monastic Sites

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries we find a period of quite active Church construction and reconstruction. As stated previously some of the Norman sites were altered (notably Tomfinlough) while a number of new sites were built (e.g. Feenagh, Crughaun, Drumline, etc.). Some sites seem also to have gone out of use during this period. There is no evidence to suggest further work at Kilmurry, while at Ballysheen, as stated previously, if such work was undertaken it must have been of a very limited form.

Of the newly constructed sites Feenagh is particularly interesting with its well preserved pointed cutstone door and window of ogee nature (site catalogue 2.23 to 2.29). At Tomfinlough (Stage 3) some fifteenth century features are also present, notably in the limestone east window (Photo 5, Site catalogue 2.95). Other sites date, based on the style of their cutstone windows and doors, to the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In this group we can include Kilconry (Site catalogue 2.30 to 2.35) and Crughaun (Site catalogue 2.50 to 2.54). A number of other Churches may also date to this period, e.g. Drumline (Site Catalogue 2.19 to 2.22), Kilfintinan (Site catalogue 2.46 to 2.49), Kilquane (Site catalogue 2.76 to 2.80) and perhaps Kilmaleery (Site catalogue 2.64 to 2.68).

A late sixteenth century example of a well preserved Church may be seen at Cratloemoyle, within a short distance of the Tower House (site catalogue 2.55 to 2.63). Most writers argue that this site, without a graveyard, was a Chapel associated with the nearby defensive site rather than a medieval Parish Church.

Apart from Churches there are two other ecclesiastical sites in the Barony, dating to this post-Norman period.

A Dominican Priory is said to have existed near Sixmilebridge. The site of this Priory which was connected with the Dominicans of Limerick City, is now unknown (Frost, 1893, 63; Westropp, 1900, 152; Gleeson, 1962, 277). It is said by these writers to have closed in 1641.

The ruins of a Friary existed in the grounds of Cratloe Woods House until about 1860 when they were levelled. The order of Monks connected with this site is however unknown (Frost, 1893, 13).

What, therefore, can be said of post-Norman Church sites in the Barony? Firstly there are a number of quite well preserved examples, notably at Feenagh, Bunratty and Cratloemoyle. Using these, and the previously listed similar dating sites, we can see that Churches were rectangular in plan and in all cases with the longer walls facing east-west. Internal measurements are quite close – from 22 metres east-west at Bunratty, 20 metres at Kilconry, 19 metres at Cratloemoyle and 16 ½ metres at Feenagh. Measurements north-south were also between the various sites – Bunratty = 8 metres, Cratloemoyle = 6 ½ metres, Feenagh = 6 ½ metres and Kilconry = 5 ½ metres.

Another similarity related to the position of the main entrance usually a rounded or pointed cutstone door (site catalogue 2.98). In four principal sites where it could be clearly identified it was always on the south wall, between the centre of this wall and its junction with the west wall, e.g. at Bunratty (Site catalogue 2.6), Feenagh (Site catalogue 2.24) Kilconry (Site catalogue 2.31) and Cratloemoyle (Site catalogue 2.56).

The number and positions of the windows is also interesting. In the four previously listed sites only one (Bunratty) has a window in the north wall, with only one site (Cratloemoyle) having a window in the west wall. However the four sites have a window in both the south and east walls. (Bunratty is somewhat of an exception here as it has three windows in the south wall). The positioning of the windows to the east and south may be related to the availability of light. The actual cutstone windows are of ogee form (site catalogue 2.98) though they vary from the somewhat simple early examples (e.g. Feenagh: Photo 3, site catalogue 2.28) to elaborate later examples (Bunratty: Photo 3 and 6, site catalogue 2.11 and 2.13). The principal features of the door and window types are discussed in more detail in the site catalogue and many photographs are used to illustrate the text.

Finally the only example of Hiberno-Romanesque carving in the Barony may be seen in the three stone heads at Tomfinlough (Fenloe). These were associated with the now levelled Saint Luchtighern’s Oratory originally built in the early sixth century. These carvings are illustrated in the site catalogue (Photo 8; page 2.97) and reference is made to them by many writers, including O’Donovan (1839, 77-8), Westropp (1900, 150), Davies (1948, 100), Harbison (1972, 6) and O’Brien (1978, 5-6).