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The History and Topography of the County of Clare by James Frost

Part I. Topography of Thomond Chapter 10. Ui Toirdhealbhaigh

Killaloe parish; Cathedral church of Killaloe; Original church of St. Molua standing on a small island in the Shannon; Duirteach adjoining Cathedral; Site of the palace of Brian Boroimhe; Description of Brian’s royal feasts; Extracts from the Annalists relating to Kincora and the town of Killaloe; Cragliath

A church existed at Killaloe from the date of the foundation of Christianity. It was renewed from time to time, [37] and in 1160 the present cathedral was erected by Donald O’Brien, king of Limerick. It is a plain building, with a low central tower, and a fine east window. In a corner of the nave is a doorway of greater antiquity. By some authorities it is said to have belonged to the church erected by Brian Boroimhe. Others believe it to be the tomb of Murrogh his son.

It is built into the wall and closed up at the back. Its ornamentation, closely resembling that of Cormac’s chapel at Cashel, is of a highly elaborate character. In the recess which it forms is found a flag with an ancient Irish cross inscribed, supposed to cover the remains of Turlogh, grandson of Brian. There is much reason to regret that more care has not been employed in dealing with the interior of the cathedral of Killaloe. The walls are covered with stucco, which without doubt, conceals many characteristic features of the early workmanship; the chancel arch is closed up by an unsightly organ loft or gallery; one of the transepts is wholly closed up and converted into a vestry, and the level of the floor is several feet higher than it was in the olden time. No ancient tomb or monument of any interest, save the one above referred to, is to be found in the church.

About a furlong from the cathedral, on a small island in the Shannon, is seen a little ruined church, evidently of very great antiquity. Petrie conjectured that it was the original church of St. Molua.[38]

Immediately on the north side of the cathedral stands a stone-roofed church or duirtheach, not unlike St. Columbkill’s house at Kells, or St. Kevin’s kitchen at Glendalough. It measures on the outside 36 feet 4 inches in length, and 25 in breadth. In the west end is a door, rounded at top, and ornamented in the style called Irish Romanesque architecture. The roof is very sharp and entirely of stone. Attached to the east end of the duirteach must have stood another building, because on the east gable is seen the marks left by the roof of a structure of somewhat smaller size. Some think it was the choir, and others that it was an edifice of much greater antiquity than that which now remains.[39]

On the summit of the hill, above the bridge of Killaloe, and almost on the site now occupied by the Catholic church and by the neighbouring houses, stood the royal palace of Kincora. It is needless to say that no vestige of it remains to our time. It must have extended from the church to the edge of the hill over the Shannon, because its name signifies the “Head of the Weir.” It was first erected by Brian Boroimhe, and for a century it continued to be the chief place of residence of his descendants. The poet MacLiag describes how he happened to be at Ceann Coradh on one occasion when Brian’s tribute of cows from Leinster and Ulster was being driven home; that he went out from the Court to look at them, and that he returned again and said to Brian “Here comes Erin’s tribute of cows to thee,” whereupon MacLiag gave the name of Boroimhe to the town and plain—a name signifying a multitude of cows either paid as tribute by, or carried off as prey from an enemy. It is not unlikely that Brian himself received the name of Boroimhe, or of the “Tribute of cows” for the first time on this occasion. MacLiag then proceeds to give an account of the numbers of cattle and of other articles of consumption sent in as tribute to Kincora. If that recital had not been confirmed by the positive statement of other authorities of unimpeachable authenticity it would be scarcely credible. For instance, the Danes of Dublin supplied one hundred and fifty butts of wine; Burren and Corcomore, 2,000 cattle, 1,000 sheep, and 1,000 cloaks; Corcabaskin East and West, 2,000 head of cattle. He then describes the order in which royal and noble guests of Brian sat around him at table in the great hall of the palace. A description of the similar ceremonial, as it had previously existed in the royal palace of Tara while that place continued to be the residence of the kings of Ireland, is given from earlier sources, and it fully confirms MacLiag’s picture.[40] Brian himself, we are told, sat at the head, with the king of Connaught on his right hand, and the king of West Ulster on his left; the king of Tir-Eoghan opposite to him. At the door, on the side nearest to Brian, was placed the king of Leinster; and on the further side Donogh, the monarch’s son. Seated beside Malachy, king of Meath, Murrogh, the eldest son of Brian, sat with his back to his father, with Aengus, the son of Carrach, a valiant prince of Meath, on his right hand and the king of Tir-Conaill on his left. This position of Murrogh would seem to imply that Brian occupied a chair elevated above the other seats in the hall. Teige, son of the monarch, sat with Teige O’Kelly, king of Ui Maine, at the end or side opposite to the door, at Brian’s right hand; and Maelruanaigh, chief of the Ui Fiachra, in South Connaught, sat on Teige’s right hand.[41] In the Annals of the Four Masters and other records, several references are made to the palace of Ceann-Coradh, and to the town and church of Killaloe. These I shall give here:—

“A.D. 1011. Many fortresses were erected by Brian; among these the Caher of Ceann-Coradh.—Four Masters.
A.D. 1012. MacMaine, son of Cosgrach, Coarb of Killaloe, died.
A.D. 1016. The Connaughtmen plundered and demolished Ceann Coradh and Killaloe.—Idem.
A.D. 1028. Teige, son of Eochaidh, Airchinneach of Killaloe, died.—Idem.
A.D. 1065. Murrogh, son of Donogh O’Brien, stormed the palace of Turlogh O’Brien at Ceann-Coradh, and slew many people.—Ann. Inisfallen.
A.D. 1061. An army was led by Hugh O’Connor (Ghabhearnaigh) to Ceann-Coradh, and he demolished the fortress and weir, and destroyed the enclosing wall of the well, and eat its two salmons, and also burned Killaloe.—Four Masters.
A.D. 1080. Killaloe was burned.—Ann. Inisfallen.
A.D. 1084. Killaloe, Tomgraney, and Moynoe were burned by the Connaughtmen.—Four Masters.
A.D. 1086. Turlogh O’Brien, king of Ireland, died at Ceann-Coradh, and was buried at Killaloe.—Idem. and Ann. Inisfallen.
A.D. 1088. Donald, son of MacLoghlen, king of Ireland, broke down and demolished Ceann-Coradh.—Four Masters.
A.D. 1096. Ceann-Coradh was rebuilt by Murtogh O’Brien.—Idem.
A.D. 1107. Ceann-Coradh was ruined by lightning immediately after Easter in this year, and sixty puncheons of mead and beer destroyed.—Idem.
A.D. 1116. Killaloe, with its church was burned by Turlogh O’Connor. He levelled Boromha,[42] burned Ceann-Coradh, and killed many persons. He took many cows and prisoners, but these latter he restored to God and St. Flannán. In two years afterwards he hurled Ceann-Coradh into the Shannon ‘both stone and wood.’—Idem.
A.D. 1125. Kennedy O’Conaing Airchinneach of Killaloe died.—Idem.
A.D. 1141. Killaloe was burned.—Idem.
A.D. 1154. Killaloe was burned.—Idem.
A.D. 1160. Ceann-Coradh was burned.—Idem.
A.D. 1170. The O’Kellys of Ui Maine destroyed the wooden bridge, and burned the church.—Four Mast. Ann. Inisfallen.
A.D. 1559. Donogh Oge, son of Donogh, son of Nicholas O’Grady, archdeacon of Killaloe, died. He was a lord in church and state.—Ann. Four Masters.

About a mile northwards from Killaloe, and rising over the road as you go towards Tomgraney is the rocky mountain of Cragliath, far famed, in Irish story, and well known as the habitation of Aoibheal, the banshee of Munster and of the Dalcassians. Her palace is shown in a wild glen of the mountain, from which rises a peak forty feet high, and most romantic in appearance. A well, called after the fairy, springs from the side of the hill. She has been celebrated in verse by several Irish poets. In Cragliath also is found the site of Grianán Lachtna, which according to the Annals of the MacBruodins, was built as a place of residence by Lachtna, the brother of Brian Boroimhe in 953. It is well called Grianán (the sunny) from its southern site and from the noble prospect it commands. In the northern part of the townland of Cragliath is a field called Park-na-neach (of the horses) where, it is said, Brian Boroimhe kept his horses. Only one castle existed in the parish, namely, that of Killaloe, long since demolished, and owned in 1580 by Donogh MacNamara.