CARAGH AND DOWNINGS, PARISH OF – Comerford’s “Dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin”

by niamh mccabe on July 14, 2006

         THE name, Caragh, may be derived from Carha, which signifies “a Pillar-Stone;” or from Carhoo, “a quarter.” The Vicarages of Kerogh, and of Donys, alias Downings, appear in the Taxation made, temp. Henry VIII. There are no traces of any ancient or mediaeval church in the vicinity of Caragh; but, very probably the present graveyard, in which the Protestant Church heretofore stood, occupies the ancient site. The Chapel of the penal times certainly stood hard by, part of the walls of which form the boundary of the present Church plot. In the Report made Nov. 4th, 1731 (see Vol. 1., p. 264), it is stated that “There is a large Mass-house within a few yards of the Church of Carogh, and another large one close upon the high road in the Parish of Downings, within less than two miles of the other;-the former repaired, and the latter built since 1st year of George I. Many Fryars come to preach in them. There is a popish school constantly kept in the Mass-house of Carogh. Besides this there is a private Popish Chapel in the house at Yeomanstown, said to be served by a person whose name I do not know. There is a house in Captain Eustace’s land of Yeomanstown, which goes by the name of the Fryary of Carogh, and has usually been said to be inhabited by Fryars. How many are now in it I cannot certainly tell.” The position of this Friary may still be traced in the grounds of Yeomanstown, beside the Liffey. The walls have quite disappeared, but old persons still living recollect the ruins. A grove hard by, called Willis’s wood, is said to have been planted by a Father Willis, of the Friary. It is probable that the Friars referred to were members of the Dominican Order, who appear never to have deserted the neighbourhood of their former house at Naas, and that, from this place they migrated to Newbridge, when, in 1756, it was determined to revive the Convent, under Father Hugh Reynolds as Prior. Tradition tells that, in the last century, a hermit named Shannon settled on the side of the river, directly opposite the Yeomanstown Friary; and the spot where he constantly knelt in prayer, his face turned towards the ruins, is pointed out, with the marks of his knees still indented in the sward.
In the graveyard adjoining the Catholic Church at Caragh, a former Pastor of the parish lies interred; his tombstone bears the following inscription:-“Here lyeth the Rev. Father Christopher Nuny, who serv’d this Parish devoutly 41 years. Died Nov. ye 9th, in the 78th year of his age, 1765.” Inside the Church three successive P.P.’s are buried, to whom mural tablets have been raised. “Here lieth the body of the Rev. Anthony Higgins, Parish Priest of Caragh and Downings for upwards of 40 years. He died 6 February, 1831, aged 92 years.”-“This Tablet has been erected by the Parishioners of Caragh and Downings, to testify their esteem of the late Revd. Mathew Tierney, who zealously discharged the duties of Parish Priest for a period of 26 years.”-“Of your charity, pray for the soul of the Rev. Denis Muldowney, who died on the 26h day of June, 1875. He was, for over 18 years, the Pastor of Caragh and Downings, and was loved and respected by the parishioner, who erected this monument to his memory. May he rest in peace. Amen.”
Father Clowry, Curate of this parish, is also interred here: “Have mercy, O Lord, on the soul of Rev. Patrick Clowry, who died August 27th, 1883. The High Altar was erected to his memory by the parishioners and Mr. Jeremiah Clowry.”

Here are the ruins of an old Church, measuring, according to Father O’ Hanlon (Lives I.S.S. 2, p. 564.) 42 ½ feet by 16. Tradition states that this Church occupies the site of the cell of St. Farnan, whose feast occurs in the Irish Calendar on the 15th of February. This saint flourished in the sixth century, and was descended from King Niall of the Nine Hostages. Beside the ancient cemetery is the Well of St. Farnan; and it possesses-so the local story goes-the valuable property, imparted to it by the blessing of the Saint, that those who drank of it never afterwards have any relish for intoxicating drinks. The Dun from which this place probably takes its name (Dooneens, “the little fort,”) may still be seen a short distance from the village of Prosperous, on the left of the road to Caragh. The only doubt about its being so arises from the fact that, instead of being small, it, on the contrary, is one of considerable dimensions. An Inquisition taken at Naas, 30th December, 1663, finds “that the town and lands of Downings, in the Co. Kildare, 176 acres, were, on the 23rd October, 1641, in the possession of William Wogan, of Downings, who was, in hillary tearme, in the 17th year of the raigne of Charles I., indicted and outlawed of high treason, whereby all the premises became forfeited to the said King, and were held from him, in custodiam, by the Lord of Kingstowne.”
(i.e., “The little Church or Wood.”)-The Knights Hospitallers had a Commandery here (Ware) of which we have no farther account (Archdall).
In Chancery Rolls (Morrin, Vol. 1, p. 321), we find a lease made by Sir John Rawson, Knight, Prior of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, and his brethren, to Nicholas Stanyhurst, of Dublin, of the Priory of Kylbegge, in the County of Kildare; to hold for 41 years, at a rent of £10 a year, payable at the Chapter-house of Kilmainham; and finding a Chaplain to perform divine service at the Parish Church of Kylbegge. June 20th, 1538.
An old Church in ruins stands here, surrounded by an extensive and still-used graveyard. The Church appears to have measured 64 feet by 18. The east and west gables, and portions of the side walls remain. In the east gable there is a small double-lancet window, and a belfry stands on the west gable. There are no remarkable monumental inscriptions here. A curiously-carved, octagonal, Baptismal font, with the escape orifice on one side, formerly belonging to this place, has been removed to the new Church at Prosperous. In the Martyrology of Tallaght, “Cronan Cille Bicci” is calendared at the 21st of February; and, in that of Donegal, “Cronan of Cill Beg” is given at the same date. There are no means for ascertaining whether or not these entries refer to this place. Very many of our Irish Saints bore the name of Cronan; and Kilbeg is a name common to many places throughout the kingdom.
An Inquisition, taken at Naas, 9th January, 1636, finds that William Dongan, of the City of Dublin, was seized-amongst many other places in the Co. Kildare-in the manor town and lands of Kilbegge, one house, ten messuages, and 180 acres, and of the annual tithes issuing out of the Parish of Killbegge, in the County aforesaid.

The remains of a small old Church are at this place. The east gable and part of the south wall are standing. There is a small Gothic window in the gable; a recess for cruets, etc., beside the place where the altar stood, and also a sedilium for the officiating priest. The dimensions of the Church are 24 feet by 12 ½. An old, rude, granite Baptismal font, formerly belonging to this place, was removed to Naas about 35 years ago, and is now in the garden attached to the parochial house. There are no monuments in the small graveyard attached. It would appear that this was a chapel belonging to the Commandery of Killibegs. A Grant from the King to John Eustace, Gent., dated 15th of May, 1st of James I., conveys to him the altarages, oblations, and profits of the Parish Church or Rectory of St. Bride, near Osbertstown, rent £2; parcel of the estate of the late Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem. 
A.D. 1178. William FitzAndelm, in the presence of Cardinal Vivian, and of Laurence, the Archbishop of Dublin, gave on the King’s part, to the Abbey of St. Thomas the Martyr, Dublin, a carrucate of land in Dunovere (Dunore) with a mill and meadow, and all its appurtenances, in frankalmoign for the souls of Geoffry, Earl of Anjou, father to the King, his mother the Empress, and all his ancestors, and for the Kings himself and his sons.-Witnesses, Eugene, Bishop of Meath, Nehemiah, Bishop of Kildare, and Augustine, Bishop of Waterford. It is not known whether this Dunore, or another nearer Dublin, be the one here indicated.
A Patent Roll, April 6th, 4th of Edward VI., records Livery of the possessions of John FirzGerald to James FitzGerald of Donnowere, his brother and heir, for a fine of £6 13s. 4d.
It was from here that the young Gerald, afterwards Earl of Kildare, was carried away by Thomas Leverous, afterwards Bishop of Kildare. (See Vol. I., 24.) This event is thus quaintly related by Hollinshed:-“When Thomas and his uncles were taken, his second brother on the father his side, named Girald Fitzgirald (who after in the reigne of queene Marie restored to the earledome of Kildare, in which honour as yet he liveth) being at that time somewhat past twelve, and not full thirteene yeares of age, laie sicke of the small pocks in the countie of Kildare, at a towne named Donoare, then in the occupation of Girald Fitzgirald. Thomas Levrouse, who was the child his schoolmaster, and after became bishop of Kildare, mistrusting upon the apprehension of Thomas and his uncles, that all went not currant, wrapt the yoong patient as tenderlie as he could, and had him conveied in a cleefe with all speed to Ophalie, where sojourning for a short space with his sister the ladie Marie Fitzgirald, untill he had recovered his perfect health, his schoolmaster carried him to Odonel his countrie, where making his aboad for a quarter of a yeare, he travelled to Obren his countrie in Mountster, and having there remained for halfe a year, he repaired to his aunt the ladie Elenor Fitzgirald, who then kept in MacCartie Reagh hir late husband his territories. This noble woman was at that time a widow, alwaies kknowne and accounted of each man that was acquainted with hir conversation of life for a paragon of liberalitie and kinknesse, in all hir actions vertuous and godlie, and also in a good quarell rather stout than stiffe. To hir was Odoneil an importunate suiter. And though at sundrie times before she seemed to shake him off, yet considering the distresse of hir young innocent nephue, how he was forced to wander in pilgrimwise from house to house, eschuing the punishment that others deserved, smarted in his tender yeares with adversitie before he was of discretion to injoie anie prosperitie, she began to incline to hir wooer his request, to the end hir nephue should have beene the better by his countenance shouldered, and in fine indented to espouse him; with this caveat or proviso, that he should safelie shield and protect the said yoong gentleman in his calamitie. This condition agreed upon, she rode with hir nephue to Odoneil his countrie, and there had him safelie kept for the space of a yeare. But shortlie after, the gentlewoman either by some secret friend informed, or of wisedome gathering that hir late married husband intended some treacherie, had hir nephue disguised, storing him like a liberall and bountifull aunt with seven score porteguses, not only in valuar, but also in the selfe same coine, incontinentlie shipped him secretlie in a Britons vessel of saint Malouse, betaking him to God and to their charge that accompanied him, to wit, master Levrouse and Robert Walsh sometime servant to his father the earle. The ladie Elenor having thus to hir contentation bestowed his nephue, she expostulated verie sharplie with Odoneil as touching his villanie, protesting that the onlie cause of hir match with him proceeded of an especiall care to have her nephue countenanced: and now that he was out of his lash that minded to have betraied him, he should well understand, that as the feare of his danger mooved hir to annere to such a clownish curmudgen so the assurance of his safetie should cause hir to sequester hirselfe from so butcherlie a cutthrote, that would be like a pelting mercenarie match, hired to sell or betraie the innocent bloud of his nephue by affinitie, and hirs by consanguinite. And in this wise trussing up bag and baggage, she forsooke Odoneil and returned to hir countrie. The passengers with a prosperous gale arrived at saint Malouse, which notified to the governor of Britaine named monsieur de Chastean Brian, he sent for the yoong Fitzgirald, gave him verie hartie interteinement during one moneths space. In the meane season the governour posted a messenger to the court of France, advertising the king of the arrivall of this gentleman, who presentlie caused him to be sent for, and had him put to the Dolphine named Henrie, who after became King of France. Sir John Wallop (who was then the English ambassadour) understanding the cause of the Irish fugitive his repaire to France, demanded him of the French King, according to the new made league betweene both the princes: which was, that none should keepe the other his subject within his dominion, contrarie to either of their willes; adding further, that the boie was brother to one who of late, notorious for his rebellion in Ireland, was executed at London. To this answered the king, first that the ambassadour had no commission from his Prince to demand him, and upon his majestie his letter he should know more of his mind: secondlie that he did not deteine him, but the Dolphin staied him: lastlie, that how grievouslie soever his brother offended, he was well assured that the sillie boie neither was or could be a traitor, and therefore there rested no cause whie the ambassadour should in such wise crave him; not doubting that although he were delivered to his king, yet he would not so far swarve from the extreame rigor of justice, as to imbrue his hands in the innocent his bloud for the offense that his brother had perpetrated. Maister Wallop hereupon addressed his letters to England, specifieing unto the councell the French Kings answer. And in the meantime the young Fitzgirald having an inkling of the ambassadour his motion, fled secretlie to Flanders, scantilie reaching to Valencie, when James Sherelocke, one of maister Wallop his men, did not onlie pursue him, but also did overtake him as sojourned in the said towne. 

Whereupon maister Levrouse, and such as accompanied the child, stept to the governour of Valencie, complaining that one Sherelocke, a sneaking spie, like a pikethanke promoting varlet, did dog their master from place to place, and presentlie pursued him to the towne: and therefore they besaught the governour, not to leave such apparent villanie unpunished, in that he was willing to betraie not onelie a guiltlesse child, but also his owne countriman, who rather ought for his innocencie to be pitied, than for the desert of others so egerlie to be pursued. The governour upon this complaint sore incensed, sent in all hast for Sherelocke, had him suddenlie examined, and finding him unable to color his lewd practise with anie warrantable defense, he laid him up by the heeles, rewarding his hot pursute with cold interteinment, and so remained in gaole, until the young Fitzgirald requiting the prisoner his unnaturall crueltie with undeserved courtesie, humblie besought the governour to set him at libertie. This brunt escaped, Fitzgirald travelled to Bruxels, where the emperour kept his court. Doctor Pates being ambassador in the lowe countries, demanded Fitzgirald of the emperour on his master the King of Englands behalfe. The emperour having answered that he had not to deal with the boie, and for ought that he knew was not minded to make anie great abode in that countrie, sent him to the bishop of Liege, allowing him for his pension an hundred crownes monethlie. The bishop interteined him varie honorablie, had him placed in an abbeie of moonks, and was so careful of his safetie, that if anie person suspected had travelled within the circuit of his gleebe, he should be streictlie examined whither he would, or from whense he came, or upon what occasion he travelled that waie. Having in this wise remained at Liege for halfe a yere, the cardinall Poole (Fitzgirald his kinsman) sent for him to Rome. Whereupon the gentleman as well with the emperor his licence, as with surrendering his pension, travelled to Italie, where the cardinall would not admit him to his companie until he had attained to some knowledge in the Italian toong. Wherefore allowing him an annuitie of three hundred crownes, he placed him with the bishop of Verona, and the cardinall of Mantua, and after with the duke of Mantua. Levrouse in the meane while was admitted through the cardinall Poole his procurement, to be one of the English house in Rome, called Saint Thomas his hospital. Robert Walsh upon his master repaire to Italie returned to Ireland. Fitzgirald having continued with the cardinall, and the duke of Mantua, a yeare and a halfe, was sent for by the cardinall Poole to Rome, at which time the duke of Mantua gave him for an annuall pension 300 crownes. The cardinall greatlie rejoised in his kinsman, had him carefullie trained up in his house, interlacing with such discretion his learning and studies with exercises of activitie, as he should not be after accounted of the learned for an ignorant idiot, nor taken of active gintlemen for a dead and dumpish meacocke. If he had committed anie fault, the cardinall would secretlie command his tutors to correct him, and all that notwithstanding, he would in presence dandle the boie, as though he were not privie to his punishment; and upon his complaint made, he used to checke Fitzgirald his master openlie for chastising so serevelie his prettie darling. In this wise he rested three yeares together in the cardinall his house, and by that time having stept so far in years (for he was pricking fast upon nineteene) as he began to know himselfe, the cardinall put him to his choise, either to continue his learning, or by travelling his adventures abrode. The young stripling (as usuallie kind dooth creepe) rather of nature addicted to valiantnes than wedded to bookishnesse, choosed to be a traveller: and presentlie with the cardinall his licence repaired to Naples, where falling acquaintance with Knights of the Rhodes, he accompanied them to Malta, from thense he sailed to Tripolie ( a fort appertaining to the aforesaid order, coasting upon Barbarie) and there he abode six weeks with Mounbrison, a commander of the Rhodes, who had the charge of that hold. At that time the knights served valiantlie against the Turks and miscreants, spoiled and sacked their villages and townes that laie neere the water side, took diverse of them prisoners and after sold them to the christians for bondslaves. The yoong Fitsgirald returned with a rich bootie to Malta, from thense to Rome, having spent in this voiage fullie one yeare. Proud was the cardinall to heare of his prosperous exploits; and for his further advancement he inhansed his pension of three hundred crownes to three hundred pounds, over and above three hundred crownes that the duke of Mantua allowed him. Shortlie after he preferred him to the service of the duke of Florence, named Cosmo, with whom he continued maister of his horsse three yeares, having also of the duke three hundred duckets for a yearelie pension during life, or until he were restored; in like maner as the cardinall Poole and the duke of Mantua in their annuities had granted him. During the time he was in service with the duke of Florence, he travelled to Rome a shrouing, of set purpose to be merrie; and as he rode on hunting with cardinall Ferneise the pope his nephue, it happened that in chasing the bucke he fell into a pit nine and twentie fathams deepe, and in the fall forsaking his horsse within two fathams of the bottom, he tooke hold of two or three roots, gripping them fast, until his arms were so wearie as he could hang no longer in that paine. Wherefore betaking himselfe to God, he let go his gripe by little and little and fell softlie on his horsse that in the bottom the pit laie starke dead, and there he stood up to the ancles in water for the space of three hours.  When the chase was ended, an exceeding good greihound of his named Grifhound, not finding his maister in the companie, followed his tract untill he came to the pit, and from thense would not depart but stood at the brim incessantlie howling. The cardinall Farneise and his traine missing Firzgirald, made towards the dog, and surveing the place, they were verelie persuaded that the gentleman was squised to death. Having therefore posted his servants in hast to a village hard by Rome (named Trecappan) for ropes and other necessaries, he caused one of the companie to glide in a basket downe to the bottome of the hole. Fitzgirald revived with his presence, and willing to be remooved from so darkesome a dongeon to the open aire, besought the other to lend him his roome, whereupon he was haled up in the basket: as well to the generall admiration of the whole companie as to the singular gratulation of the cardinall and his friends, rendering most hartie thankes unto God his divine majestie, for protecting the gentleman with his guerdon.”
A fine Gothic Church, with nave, aisles, and chancel, has been erected here, about fifteen years ago. A Parliamentary Return, made in 1731, refers to a large Mass-house close upon the high-road in the parish of Downings, within less than two miles of that of Caragh. The vestiges of this chapel remained up to some twenty years back, in Dermot Kirwin’s yard, in Goatstown.
Dr. Doyle, writing to a friend during his visitation of the diocese in May, 1823, thus refers to this locality:-“I came yesterday through a large part of the Bog of Allen, where a colony chiefly of Connaught people, have dug out habitations from the immense cliffs of turf, where fire and water seem to be the only elements given them for subsistence; yet they are healthful, and seemed to be blessed with a numerous progeny. Supported by some invisible food, and clothed by the hand of nature, they are like the sparrow and the bird of prey, fed by that Providence which neglects nothing it has made. A little removed from the extremity of the bog stands the town of Prosperous, proclaiming by its appearance the impropriety of its name, yet having an excellent chapel and a most ingenious population, who surpass their neighbours in intelligence, and are not inferior to them in virtue. They are all cotton-weavers, and for the last year or eighteen months have laid aside their combinations and regulated their temporal and spiritual concerns by some written directions which I then gave them. They were quite happy to see me, and the joy was reciprocal. I discoursed with them on the articles of the Creed, and found them highly edified by the new lights which seemed to be let in upon them.” (Life, Vol. I., P.242.)
Lewis (Top. Dict) thus writes of Prosperous:-“This place, which is situated near the Grand Canal, owes its origin to Mr. Robert Brooke, who, towards the close of the last century, expended a large fortune in attempting to establish the cotton manufacture here. In less than three years a town, consisting of 200 houses, was built, and establishments were completed for all the various branches of that manufacture, including the printing of linen and cotton goods, and also for making the requisite machinery connected with the works; and from the flattering prospect of success which grew from the attempt, the town rather prematurely derived its name. In pursuing this object, however, that gentleman exceeded the limit of his own private fortune, and upon application to parliament obtained a grant of £25,000; but in 1786, having again occasion to apply to parliament for assistance, his petition was rejected, and the works consequently were discontinued. Upon this occasion 1,400 looms were thrown out of employment, and every other branch of the manufacture, together with the making of the requisite machinery, ceased. Though the undertaking was never revived, still the manufacture was continued on a very limited scale till 1798, when during the disturbances of that year, a party of the insurgents attacked the town and surprised a party of the king’s troops, whom they put to the sword. Since that period the town has gradually declined in importance, and is at present little more than a pile of ruins; a very few weavers still find some employment, but its situation in a low and marshy spot, surrounded by bogs, and without water-power, affords neither advantages for the establishment of works of importance, nor reasonable hope of its revival. There is a small thatched Roman Catholic chapel here.” This was written in 1837.
A return made 11th April, 1766, by Rev. Simon Digby, (Protestant) Rector of Bridechurch, and Vicar of Caragh and Downings, supplies interesting statistics respecting these localities. (See Vol. I., p. 273)
All remains of the old parochial Church have completely disappeared; the site is marked by a still-used burial-ground, in which the only noteworthy object is a small, massive, stone-roofed building, 12 feet long by 6 wide, and arched inside. It appears to have been intended originally for a burial-vault or mausoleum, but to have been subsequently used as a place in which those employed in watching corpses sought shelter; accommodating it to whose use, a fireplace was added. Mr. W. M. Hennessy identifies Ladytown as most probably the Ballenamnamatha of Dr. MacGeoghegan’s list of churches (Vol. I., p. 259), which name signifies “Good woman’s town.” Here it will be proper to say, in connection with the list of churches referred to, that many of the identifications there noted, are due to this gentleman. This acknowledgement would have been made sooner but that the writer was, at the time, unaware of the fact. At Ladytown stood Allen’s Court, the residence of Lord Allen, the materials of which have been used in the erection of a modern dwelling-house hard-by.
Beside the Liffey is the burial-ground thus named; it was heretofore the site of a Church, as we learn from the list of Dr. MacGeoghegan, in which it appears as “Capella de Ballybarry, in Decanatu Claonensi.”
In the registry of Irish Parish Priests, anno 1704. there are two named as possessing parochial authority in this parish:-
1. JAMES FITZGERALD, residing at Landenstown aged 49, P.P. of Bride’s-church and Killibegs, ordained in 1679, at Frayne, Co. Meath, by Patrick Tyrrell, Bishop of Clogher, and his sureties were Laurence Toleg of Naas, innkeeper, and Christopher Moore of the same, innkeeper.
2. RICHARD POWER, residing at Denore, aged 49, P.P. of Caragh, ordained in 1679, at Cadiz, Spain, by John Deisla, Bishop of Cadiz, and his sureties were Captain Miler Hussey of Ladytown, and James Miler of Naas, merchant.
The next Parish Priest of whom we hear was FATHER NUNY. He succeeded to the charge of the parish in 1724, and died 9th November, 1765, aged 78.-(See Epitaph at Caragh)
FATHER DENIS BURNE succeeded. He is named in return of 1766, above referred to. Father Byrne appears to have died about the year 1790, as is shown by the epitaph of his successor.
FATHER ANTHONY HIGGINS succeeded, and died, 6th. Feb. 1831, having been P.P. of Caragh and Downings upwards of 40 years. (Monument at Caragh.)
REV. MATTHEW TIERNEY was the next P.P. He presided over the parish for 26 years, and died 20th December, 1857. (Monument at Caragh)
REV. DENIS MULLOWNEY succeeded; he died 26th of June, 1875, and is buried at Caragh.
The present respected P.P., REV. AUGUSTINE KINSELLA, succeeded.

A transcript of Rev. M. Comerford’s 1883 History of the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin, relating to the R.C. Parish of Caragh and Downings.

[Compiled by Mario Corrigan; typed by Breid Kelly and Maria O’Reilly; edited by Niamh Mc Cabe]

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