MAY 2004

By J.J.Hughes
(illustrations refer only to the building characteristics discussed, from different irish sites; none of clonamery church itself)

The small oratories and churches erected in the early centuries of Christianity in Ireland are architecturally humble, but they have a special interest. They were evolved, unlike those of Western Europe in the same period, in almost entire inadvertance of Roman building traditions. The use of mortar and the knowledge of the round arch, for instance, must have come to Ireland from the continent.

Entrance to Glendalough Lara, the ancient Wicklow monastic site, demonstrates the 'round arch

Early Irish churches were very simple buildings, simple character structures with no divisions into nave and chancel. The most unusual proportion is the short oblong, that in which the length is seldom greater than one-and-a-half times the breadth.The general style of masonry unwrought or roughly dressed stones not laid in regular courses.many stones are of a massive size not often found in modern masonry. There was indeed a strong preference for such stones in particular, but by no means always, in the lower parts of walls and around an entrance door way as at Clonamery.

Glendalough Lara example
The building characteristically observable in Clonamery is the 'batter' or slightly inward sloping walls.The earth or mud-built cottages - survivals of a fast vanishing, an old and practical tradition - are also examples. In Ireland there are many buildings of dry stone and the technique of any stone fence or wall building still lives on. Stability in such structures is still sought and obtained by 'battering', which gives a measure of security against the slipping or spreading of the stonework.

The 'battering in the case of Clonamery is subtle - a matter of but a few inches in the height of the walls. In part it is barely perceptible.Though adopted for practical reasons in the first place. the 'batter' seems to have been retained in later works as a grace. The batter is very conspicuous in the round towers and without it they would lack all grace and something in the sense of stability.

The 'battering' on the west wall of this church is on the inside instead of the outside, a most unusual feature.
The sloping doorway was erected to harmonise with the 'battered' walls of the church. A cross in relief - called 'pattee' in heraldry - is chisselled over the ornamental moulding around the door. from this descendst to left and right across the top of the door and down the sides to the ground, a scroll or border, also in relief. In this door the large stones are exceedingly well wrought and fitted, giving to the opening permanence and massiveness, even a degree of majesty.


The ancient parish of this church was a small one consisting of five townlands only and is now united to Inistioge. There is some doubt as to the meaning of the word Clonamery and as to the identity of the patron saint. Canon Carrigan states the true patron is a local saint of the name of Broonahawn. Also he suggest that the name of this place was the Plain of Ainmire - a less likely interpretation being the lawn or meadow of the Ridge.

Cluain - a meadow, pastureland, a plain between two woods, a watershed- Dinneen
mearog or meirin - small as of little finger - Dinneen
Broonahawn: bruinne - the verge, the brink
/ bruinnim - I well forth
/ huat -whitethorn tree
/ heing - a call - Dinneen

The patronage of the Church of Cloone must be assigned not to St. Brendan, whose name and fame are celebrated in all our martyrologies, but to St. Broonahawn, whose name survives only in the traditions of this locality. His pattern day was held on the 16th May, but I am sorry to state that his Holy Well was destroyed over 100 years ago. I am told its remains are quite close to another road leading to the Quay at Clonamery
The gable over the entrance is a reconstruction built of small rubble, which contrasts strongly with the large stones of the wall below. A relieving arch has been worked over the doorway and over this there is a plain roughly built window. The gable terminates in a bell-cote with space for two small bells - one contained the sanctus bell, and the other the bell for calling the people to prayer, which was a custom in the early church.
There is another window in the south-wall near the east end. It is now closed by a monumental tablet inserted in 1860. It is said that the dressings had disappeared before the tablet was erected. In the north wall the only feature is a doorway; it is three feet eleven inches wide and suggests a doorway long built-up. Possibly an opening into a side building rather than an external doorway. No trace, however, remains of any such building.
The chancel is built of small slatey flag-stones and is bonded to the nave at one point only in each wall; the walls being two feet four inches in thickness. The southwall contains a doorway and a window, the doorway is roundheaded - six feet two inches in height and two feet four inches wide, rebated and sprayed internally.

In the east wall at the north side is a doorway which opens into the sacristy or mortuary chapel; this doorway is partially destroyed and its dimensions are uncertain. This sacristy is lighted by a window looking east. The walls are not bonded to those of the chancel.
Several curved or shaped stones have been found near the church, the most interesting being a pillar-stone of early date. It was found in the graveyard outside. It is formed of greenish slate-rock and bears three crosses and two circular hollows or cup-marks. First a cup, two-and-a-half inches in diameter and finally below this a simple cross in relief. the combination of cross and cup-marks has been found in monuments in the district immediately south of Dublin, but not apparently elsewhere. It is therefore of interest, to meet one so far away, in southern Kilkenny.
A small 18thCentury tombstone is mentioned bt Carrigan. This is from the chisel of a stone-cutter named Darby O'Brien of Rathpatrick, who florished during the first quarter of the 18thCentury. It bears a cross and border in relief, also the inscription : "Here lyeth the body of Silvester Wh(it)e" The name is White, two of the letters, which are in relief, having been sealed off.
It seems curious that this church, though of the most remote antiquity, and possessed of so much interest, has been altogether overlooked by the careful and laborious Petrie in his great work on early Irish ecclesiastical architecture.
On some of the single chamber churchs chancels were added at a period subsequent to their erection. The date of the first appearance in Ireland of this type of church is a matter of doubt. It has been suggested that it was in the 11thCentury at the earliest ; that it may be a logical result of the Reform movement which gained impetus about the beginning of the 12thCentury. Possibly the change points to a steady increase inpopulation bringing with it larger congregations and and increased necessity for marked differentation between the space for the people and the sanctuary. It seems not unreasonable to assume that the earliest churches with severed nave and chancel may belong to the 10thCentury and that the addition of chancels to single chamber churches has an equal antiquity.
Traditions states that the church continued in use till 1691, when Edward Fitzgerald of Cloone Castle fell in the Battle of Aughrim.

The Mermaid

Up the river is a townland one time owned by the Dobbyn family and forfeited in 1653. Under date 1118 the Four Masters record that a mermaid was taken bu the fishermen in the Weir. Inside the perimeter walls of Inistioge Church is an effigy of a mermaid, probably from the cloister of the Monastry that once stood in Inistioge, likely to commemorate the incident.


Thr Irish Church speedily developed monastic centres not only evangelistic but also educational in purpose. Frome these settlements went forth those missionaries, teachers and servites to Britain and the Continent who are still remembered in places remothe from the homeland. The monastic centres of the early Irish Church were very similar to those of the earliest monastic centres of Syria and Egypt. That is to say, associations of monks, each dwelling under self-imposed discipline in seperate cells grouped with others around the church.
The most austere among Irish holy men sought even greater isolation as hermits and built their cells and oratories in relatively inaccessible and often inhospitable places. a constant feature of these early hermitages and monastries, small or large, was its enclosure; an encircling rampart of earth and stone. This was as necessary to a Monastry as to a farmhous of the times and, for the hermit, it served also to shut out everything but the heavens from his sight and thoughts.

In hagiographical literature there are numerous references to the gifts of forts or duns given to the Church by newly converted Chiefs of the tribes. An erroneous impression exists that this work was carried on by greybeards, but we have only to look around at the amount of laborious work involved, even in the remains of the buildings here today, to appreciate that this work was carried out by young and virile men. In early centuries life was stronger and religion was more of a driving force in the life of the ordinary man.

Survivors of stone architecture of early Christian times are the beehive huts of clochans. They were built upon the castle principle; a structural method of great antiquity, first practised in Ireland, as far as we can judge, by the Bronze Age builders of the great passage graves of Newgrange. In the typical clochan the corbel principle is well applied. Each course of stonework was laid without mortar and nearly horizontally, overhanging by small measure the course below. As it rised the building gradually narrows until its arch can be closed by a single slab and the dome then be finished by more stones to secure it closer in position and complete the beehive outline.

One of these clochans was fourteen feet in diameter, the other eleven. There is a tradition here that a monastry existed at this spot in ancient times. Should this have reference to some period anterior to the 13thCentury, when the Church of Cloon became prebendal, it is no doubt correct. It is plain no monastry could have existed after this.

Mr.J.J.Hughes prepared this paper to be read to the Kilkenny Archaeological Society and Billy Kirwan, Inistioge's local historian, again, as of nearly all the articles printed in The Handstand of Inistioge history, provided me with this text.

Kilkenny people, I am sure, have often heard of the poetess, Mary Tighe. She spent many days in walks on the opposite side of the river from Clonamery Church, communing with nature. Few poets have achieved such rapid fame on so slender an output. Her single volume of verse, Psyche, was published in 1801, and atonce ran into numerous editions. It was translated into French and pirated in America. Thomas More, who incidentally resided close to here for some time, addressed a poem to the author called "To Miss Tighe On Reading Her Psyche" Literary critics in England hailed it as a work of genius, today it is almost forgotten.
Miss Tighe who was the daughter of a Church of Ireland clergyman, the Librarian of Marsh's Library, Dublin, married her cousin Henry Tighe. Her married life was unhappy and her health suffered in consequence. She died in 1810 at the early age of 37. As a girl her beauty and talents made her the centre of attraction at the Viceregal Court, and she had the distinction of having her portrait painted by Romney.
the Banim brothers laid the scenes of some of their novels in the woods opposite Clonmaery Church. the literary partnership of John and Michael Banim was a happy and fruitful one, and of the volumes which they published Michael could claim a little more than half ! The two best, "Crohoore of the Billhook" and "Father Connell" were his.

It could be that Mary Tighe entitled her poetry collection after Keats' poem "Psyche"