SUNCROFT, PARISH OF – Comerford’s Dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin

by mariocorrigan on February 22, 2007

This parish comprises the old ecclesiastical districts of Ballyshannon, Kilrush, Ballysax, and Carna.
(Bel-Atha-Seanaith,-“the mouth of the ford of Seanath”), or as it was formerly styled, Ballysonan, has a history dating back even to pagan times. Conmael, son of Emer, having been thirty years in the sovereignty of Ireland, fell in the battle of Emania (near Armagh), in A.M.3579. Amongst the battles which he is related to have fought was that of Ucha, which was the ancient name of Ballyshannon. In a passage in the book of Ulster, the name Uchba is found applied to this place. In the year 733, Aedh Allan, King of Ireland, assembled (the forces of )Leath-Chuinn, to proceed into Leinster; and he arrived at Ath-Seanaith. The Leinstermen collected the (greatest) number they were able, to defend his right against him. A fierce battle was fought between them. The king, Aedh Allan himself, went into the battle, and chieftains of the North along with him. The chieftains of Leinster came with there kings into the battle; and bloodily and heroically was the battle fought between them both. Heroes were slaughtered, and bodies were mutilated. Aedh Allan and Aedh, son of Colgan, King of Leinster, met each other (in single combat); and Aedh, son of Colgan, was slain by Aedh Allan. The Leinstermen were killed, slaughtered, cut off, and dreadfully exterminated, in this battle, so that there escaped of them but a small remnant, and a few fugitives. The following were the leaders and chieftains of the Leinstermen who fell, namely: Aedh, son of Colgan, King of Ui-Ceinnsealaigh; Bran Beg, son of Murchadh, the second king who was over the Leinstermen; Fearghus, son of Maenach, and Dubhdacrih, two lords of Fotharta; The son of Ua Ceallaigh; the son of Train; Fiangalach Ua Maeleaithgin; Conall Ua Aithechdai; the four sons of Flann Ua Conghaile; Eladhach Ua Maelaidhir; and many others, whom it would be too tedious to enumerate. The (people of) Leath-Chuinn were joyous after this victory, for they had wreaked their vengeance and their animosity upon the Leinstermen. Nine thousand was the number of them that were slain, as it is said in these verses:-
    From the battle of Uchbhadh the great, in which a havoc of the Fir-Feini (i.e., the farmers) was made,
    There is not known on the fair sandy soil the posterity of any Leinsterman in Ireland.
    Nine thousand there fell in the battle of Uchbhadh with vehemence,
    Of the army of Leinster, sharp-wounding, great the carnage of the Fer Feini
            Aedh Allan cecinit:
            The Aedh in the clay, the king in the church-yard,
           The beloved pure dove, with Ciaran at Cluain (Clonmacnoise)
    Samhthann (a Virgin Saint of Cluain-Bronaigh, whose death is recorded to have taken place in 734) cecinit before the battle:
    If the two Aedhs meet, it will be very difficult to separate them,
    To me it will be grievous if Aedh (son of Colgan) fall by Aedh, son of Fearghab.
In the Annals of Clonmacnoise this battle is noticed at the year 735, as follows: “The battle of Athseanye, on the 14th day of the Kalends of September, was cruelly and bloodily fought upon the O’Neales and Lynstermen, where the two kings, head of the two armies, did so roughly approach one another, as King Hugh Allan, King of Ireland, and Hugh MacColgan, King of Lynster, whereof the one was sore hurt, and lived after; the other, by a deadly blow, lost his head from the shoulders. The O’Neales with their king, behaved themselves so valiantly in the pursuit of their enemies, and killed them so fast in such manner, as they made great heapes in the fields of their carcasses, so as none or very few of the Lynstermen escaped to bring tydings to their friends at home….. This was the greatest slaughter for a long time seen in Ireland.” 
            A branch of the FitzGeralds settled at Ballyshannon, (1) where they erected a strong castle. Pierce FitzGerald of Ballyshannon, in the county of Kildare, Esq., was in Easter term, in the 18th year of the reign of Charles I., indicted and outlawed of high treason. (Inquis. Naas. 30 Dec., 1663. )  The name of Pierce FitzGerald of Ballyshannon, appears in the Commons’ List of the General Assembly of the Confederate Catholics, assembled at Kilkenny, on the 10th January, 1647. This fortress surrendered, after resistance, to Hewson, on 1st of March, 1650. The following documents referring to this event, are taken from “ A contemporary History of affairs in Ireland, 1641-1652,” pp. 309,et seq
JOHN HEWSON, Governor of Dublin, to LENTHALL.
To the right Honourable William Lenthall, Esquire, Speaker of the Parliament of England.
            SIR, – When his Excellency marched from Dublin towards Munster, he left me intrusted with that garrison, myselfe and those lefte with me at that time being sicke. The first party that recovered were sent after the army; to wit, about 800 foot and 200 horse, which fought and beat the enemy upon their march.; some more of these sicke men that were left recovering, and some recruits coming over.
            After I had surprised the strong fort upon the bog of Allin, and taken Castle Martin in the county of Kildare, and placed a garrison therin. About the latter end of December, marched with a party of 1000 horse and foot into the island of Allin, and summoned Kilmaog theirin, but finding it not feazable to storm without guns, I marched to Rabride and Ponsers Grange, and tooke them, and placed and placed two strong garrisons there, which did give me good footing in the county of Kildare, then sent a party and took Kildare, Hertwell, and Cotlingstowne, three useful garrisons in the said county; and provisions being spent returned back to Dublin, there endeavouring to get guns, mortar-peeces, and other necessaries ready to draw forthe againe with all possible speed; in the interim I received propositions from governor and officers in the strong garrison and fort of Ballisonan, the originall whereof I here enclosed present you with all under there owne hands, which being by me totally rejected.
            I marched upon Tuesday, the 26th Feb., with a party of 2000 foot and 1000 horse towards the county of Kildare, and took with me one culverin, and one demi-culverin, and one mortar-piece, the enemy fired their garrisons of Fort of Lease, Blackreath, and the forementioned castle of Kilmaog, in the island of Allin; but I shall easily make it tenable againe, it being very usefull for your service, they also did blow up the castle of Athy, where they had a strong garrison and broke up the bridge.
            Upon the 28th Feb. I marched from the Naas, and about four o’clock with the van of the party I came to Ballysonan, a strong garrison – double works and double moted, full of water one within another, and a mount with a fort upon it, most of the officers with me esteeming the taking of it to be unfeazable. It being late, and I unwilling to lose time, did send in a summons, a copy whereof is here inclosed, and the inclosed answer under the governor’s hand was presently retirned, and the town which was without his works by him burned that night. I caused a battery to be made, and planted the artillery, and made a fort for the security thereof, having intelligence that the Lord of Castlehaven with 4000 horse and foot would come to raise me within two dayes, in which fort I could secure the guns and batter their works, whilst I drew off to fight the enemy if need were, we played our guns and mortar-peece at the fort upon the mount, intending before night to storm it, having ladders and all necessaries ready, but before any breach was made, the governor did send me a paper which is here inclosed, where-unto the inclosed answer was returned, and he treated with me about the surrender, which was concluded accordingly. The articles signed with both our hands herewith in represented unto you.
            And now, Sir, you have without the losse of one man, this strong place and thereby most of the County of Kildare; those garrisons in this county yet remaining, as Castle Dormount and Kilkenny, with others, I hope you shall have a good account thereof speedily, from
                                                Your humble servant,
                                                                        JOH. HEWSON.
Bellisonan, March 3, 1649 (50).
            SIR,- I am now marching the army to reduce that place you possess unto the obedience of the parliament of England, and it being apparent to the world that God is making inquisition in Ireland for the innocent blood, how fare you and those with you may be concerned therein I shall observe by your answer here-unto.
            These are to require you to deliver that place you now possess unto me for the end aforesaid; whatsoever your return here-unto may be, and the effect thereof, my summons will justifie the future proceedings of
                                                                                     Your Servant,
            28 Feb. 1649 (50).                                                                   J. HEWSON.
For the Governor of Bellisonan.
            SIR, – I am now in possession in this place by Authority from my King, how you may demand it by authority of the Parliament of England, I know not; England denying their king, therefore your power I disobey. And for God, my King and Country, will defend this place to the uttermost of my power.
                                                                                          Your Servant,
                28 Febru., 1649   (50)                                                 DUNNO(GH) KELLY.
            For Col. Hewson,
Commander-in-chiefe of the Parliament
party now at the field of Ballisonan.
(Colonel Hewson’s last Summons.)
SIR,- Blood I doe not thirst after, yet so far a soldier, as not to neglect present opportunity, I shall for the end in your letter mentioned send Captain Hewson according to your desire, provided you send one or two fully authorised to treat and conclude, and all to be concluded within halfe an houre, provided also you doe not worke at all to repaire what my guns and mortarpeece have demolished, and to that end that Cap. Hewson may remain in the Mount during that half houre. Sir, I shall be glad if your wisdome prevent what otherwise will unavoidably fall out, though not desired by
                                                                                                 Your servant,
March, 1649 (50).                                                                            J. HEWSON.
SIR,- To avoyed the confusion (sic) of Christian blood, we sent out a drum to demand a parley, my desire for the reasons aforesaid is, that you send in a captaine of yours to treat with us, and we will send forth a captaine of ours who shall demand no more but what is honourable and just, and so Sir, I conclude,
                                                   Your servant,
                                                                                                DONNO(GH) Kelly.
March 1, 1649 (50).         
            Propositions made to the Garrison, which were rejected:-
            We do hereby employ Governor Donno O’Kelly for the delivery of the hereunder propositions to the General of the Parliament’s forces in Ireland:-
            Imprimis. That the party commanding this garrison and fort of Ballysonan, and all other that will adhere to them, are really and willingly to join to the parliament forces, upon such terms as are hereunder written.
            2nd. That a colonel, lieutenant colonel, and a major, besides captains and under-officers, be employed of the said party constantly in the standing army of the parliament’s forces in this kingdom.
            3rd. That in case any such officers do come in, that they may have free liberty to their religion, and two priests admitted and employed to serve the said regiment now intended.
            4th. That neither Taaffe nor Dillon shall be accepted of the Parliament’s party.
            5th. That their estates, wrongfully detained and enjoyed by the said Dillon, Browne, and Taaffe, may be allowed unto them by the State of Parliament.
            6th. That their arrears since May last may be allowed them. This and aforesaid propositions may be granted by the General, Lieutenant-General, Major-General, and Commissioners- General of the Parliament forces of this Kingdom that what these countries assigned to them for their pay are in arrear since their coming to Ballysonan, may be forthwith caused to be paid.
            7th. That this granted, they shall obey any deriving power from the State of Parliament.
                        J. GORDON.                                      CONNOR KELLY.
                       CH. KELLY                                       M. DONNOGH.
           Articles agreed upon, between the Honourable Col. John Hewson of the one part, and Captain Donnagh Kelly, Governor of Bellisanon, in the County of Kildare, of the other part; 1 March, 1649 (50).
            Imprimis-That the said garrison and fort of Bellisanon, shall be immediately delivered with all the ammunition, and provisions therein, except as in the insueing article is agreed upon.
            2. That the said governour, officers, and souldiers, shall continue in the castle until to-morrow morning at ten of the clocke if they please, and then they are to march out of the said castle and forte with a trumpeter for convoy tenne miles if they desire it, or to any of the next Irish garrisons within ten miles as aforesaid, the trumpeter remaining without any prejudice.
           And the said officers are to march with their horses and pistolls, and with their colours flying, and drums beating, and the souldiers with their armes, and matches lighted, and each musketeer one pound of powder with bullet and match pro portionable.
           3. Whatsoever oates and pease shall appear to be in the castle belonging to Miss(tress) FitzGerald, shall be restored to her
           4.  And lastly, for the due performance of the aforesaid articles we have hereunto set our hands, the day and yeare first above written.
                                                                                                   JOHN HEWSON.
                                                                                                   DONNO(GH) KELLY.
           An old drawing of “the strong fort of Ballysonan,” reproduced in the Kilkenny Archaeol. Journal, New Series, Vol. 1., fully justifies the description of it given by Hewson. The first or outer moat was 25 feet wide, with 12 feet of water; the second moat was 40 feet broad. The fortified mount and the church were within the fortress, whilst the town adjoining was surrounded by outworks, and, at one of its two gates a fort, called the Blackcastle, appears. Sir Erasmus D. Burrowes, writing in Kilk. Archaeol. Journal, in March, 1858 (Vol.11., 2nd Series, p.41), say:- “ Last Autumn, I visited the strong fort of Ballysannon. No remains of the castle as seen in the old drawings exist; whatever of it remained at the beginning of the last century, was pulled down by the Annesley family, with which they helped to build a castellated mansion quite close. The immediate defences of the old castle of the unfortunate Pierce Fitzgerald still exist, though somewhat smoothened off by time. The mound is still there covered with trees of some 40 years’ growth, but, strange to say, the remains of the old ash tree so conspicuous in the drawing, can still be traced. I found two lusty scions growing vigorously from the same old hollow root, right in the centre of the mound. There was no rival near the throne of that old stock; it spoke eloquently of the siege, of Cromwell, (Hewson) and his mortars…….The spot where he placed his mortars was not more than some 50 or 60 yards from the castle.”
            The taking of Ballyshannon had an important effect on the campaign. Carte, in Life of Ormonde, thus writes: – “ In Leinster there was scarce a castle or strong house which the husband or wife was not for giving up and receiving conditions from the enemy. Thus Ballysonan and other castles were delivered up to Hewson who was thereby enabled to march with a party from Dublin into the County Kilkenny, where Cromwell joined him at Gowran, which was traitorously given up by the soldiers of the garrison. These successes enabled him to lay siege to Kilkenny.”
            The old parochial Church stood on the site now occupied by the burial ground; of the church, no vestige now remains.
            In 1536, Philip O’Mullaghan was presented by the Bishop of Kildare to the Rectory of Ballysonan. (Mem. Roll. 18 Hen. VIII.) An Inquisition taken at Dublin “die Jovis prox. Post fest. Sec. Nichi. “ 28th Hen. VIII., mentions “ Philippus O’Malaghelen Hibernicus,” as Rector of Ballysonan ; and a Pat. Roll, of about the same date, apud Morrin – records the Presentation of Philip Malaghlin to the perpetual rectory of the Church of St. James the Apostle, of Ballysannan, vacant certo nudo, and in the Kings presentation pro hac vice. From these latter it would appear that O’Mullaghan joined Henry in his schism. 
            In the Aphorismical Discovery, Part 3, p. 32, Willian Garan, Vicar of Ballysonan, anno 1649, is referred to.
(“ the Church of the Wood, “ Joyce.) St, Briga, daughter of Fernadh of the Hy Ercon, with her six sisters, were venerated on the 7th of January. One of her Churches was at Kilrush. It is related of her that she went to St. Patrick to acquaint him of the plots that were laid against his life at Moone. An Abbey was founded at Kilrush about the beginning of the 13th century (Harris assigns its foundation to the 12th century), for Canons Regular of the Order of St. Augustine, by William Mareschal, Earl of Pembroke; this was a cell to the Priory of Carthmel in Lancashire. (Ware) On the suppression, this Abbey with its appurtenances was granted to the Earl of Ormond. (Auditor General.) These possessions are more particularly set forth in a Patent Roll, Sept. 13th, 5 & 6 Philip and Mary, apud Morrin, “The Manor of Kilrush, in the County of Kildare, a castle, a small garden, 6 messuages, 360 acres of arable land, and 11 cottages in Kilrush, parcel of the possessions of the late Prior of Cartmel, in England.” In Dr. MacGeoghegan’s list, we find the chapel of St. Laurence of Kilrush; this probably refers to the chapel of the Augustinian friary. Amongst the parochial churches in the same list is that of Kilurigh, supposed to be that now existing in ruins at Kilrush, attached to which is a burial- ground. At the commencement of the present century, the Parish Priest set about rebuilding the Church of Kilrush, but, after a little time, the work was discontinued.
            In a Return, made in 1766, the names of those resident in the Parish of Kilrush are given; for which, see Vol . I., p. 272.
            A battle was fought in this neighbourhood in 1642, which is thus described by a writer in the Dublin Penny Journal:- “ The land in the neighbourhood of Inch Castle lies remarkably flat, with the exception of two ridges that run nearly parallel northward from the castle, with a marsh lying between. It was in these heights the armies of Ormond and Mountgarrett, in 1642, marched in sight of each other, the evening previous to the battle of Kilrush; that of Ormond on the high grounds of Ardscull, Fontstown, and Kilrush, whilst the rebel army under Mountgarrett, and attended by the Lords Dunboyne and Ikerrin, Roger O’More, Hugh O’Byrne, and other leaders of Leinster, proceeded in the same direction along the heights of Birtown, Ballyndrum, Glasshealy, and Narraghmore. Mountgarrett, having the advantage in numbers, and anxious for battle, out-marched Ormond’s forces, and posted himself on Bull Hill and Kilrush, completely intercepting Ormond’s further progress to Dublin; a general engagement became unavoidable. The left wing of the Irish was broken by the first charge; the right, animated by their leaders, maintained the contest for some time, but eventually fell back on a neighbouring eminence, since called Battlemount; here they broke, fled, and were pursued with great slaughter, across the grounds they had marched over the day before. This victory was considered of such consequence that Ormond was presented by the Irish Government with a jewel, value £50.”   A Rath of considerable dimensions is to be seen at Kilrush.
          The present Protestant Church occupies the site of the old parochial church; of this latter there are now no remains, except a very massive and ancient Baptismal font, round in shape, but rising out of a square base, and measuring nearly three feet each way. The aperture for the escape of the water is in the side. The socket of a cross has also been preserved; it is composed of sandstone, and running round the four sides is an inscription in Roman Capitals without any attempt at a division of the words. It is in Latin, and is a petition to Christian friends to pray for the person in memory of whom the cross was originally set up:-
            Catholics are still interred in the adjoining burial-ground. A Return made in April 1766 (see Vol. I., p 273), gives, in the Parish of Ballysax, 8 Prostestant, and 40 Papist families; and in the Parish of Ballysonan, 6 Protestant, and 24 Papist families. An Inquisition taken at Naas, 21st Oct., 1617, finds Robert Nangle, late of Ballysax, to have been seized in fee of a castle and several messuages in the town and lands of Ballysax. The said Robert died, 15th Nov., 1615. Matthew Nangle, now of Ballysax, is his son and heir, aged 24, and married.
            A grave-yard marks the site of the old parochial Church, but the Church itself has been completely obliterated. The spot is considerably elevated and appears to have been, as its name indicates, a carn or monumental mound, probably anterior to the introduction of Christianity. 
            Near to the parish bounds, in the direction of old Kilcullen, there is an ancient burial- ground called Rathnow. It has been much encroached on-by the high-road on one side, and, on the other, by the modern boundary – wall having been built so as to exclude the greater part of the rath which gives it its name. It is locally supposed to have been the site of a church, but of this there is now no trace.
            On Mr. Morrin’s farm at Martinstown, is an untilled spot, called the Religeen; this must be the site of the “ Capella de Ballevartine” of Dr MacGeoghegan’s list. (See Vol. I. P. 260.) 
            There are several raths on the Curragh, some, at least, of which are sepulchral. A paper in Transactions of the R.I.A .for 1788, states:- “ A short time since, some small tumuli were opened on the Curragh, under which skeletons were found, standing upright, and in their hands, or near them spears with iron heads. In 1788, a sepulchre was found at Calverstown, with a skeleton in a sitting posture, a small urn or basin, of earthenware, beside it.”
            PHELIX COGHLAN is found in the Registry of 1704, residing at Ironhills, aged 47, Parish Priest of Ballyshannon, Ballysax, Kilrush, and Carna, ordained in 1677, in Italy, by Don Jeronyme Gentil, Archbishop of Genoa, and his sureties were Phelim Fox of Newtown, Gent., and Captain Cornelius Coonan of Kilcock. When Father Coghlan died, or by whom he was succeeded, has not been discovered. In a Return made in 1731 (see Vol.I., p. 262 ), it is stated that there was no Mass-house then in Ballyshannon, Ballysax, or Kilrush; but that the Papist resorted a neighbouring parish, where a priest, who took upon himself the name Parish Priest of these parishes, says Mass.
            MICHAEL DUNNE is named in a Return made in 1766 (see Vol.1.,p.272), as P.P.of Kilrush. He died in 1777, and according to the tradition of the locality, was interred in his native place, somewhere in the Queen’s County.
            JOHN LYNCH succeeded; he was a native of the parish of Suncroft. Father Lynch died in 1805, and lies interred in the chapel at Suncroft, to the Epistle side of the High Alter, where a stone marks his grave, bearing the following inscription:- “Here lie the remains of Rev. John Lynch, 28 years Parish Priest. Departed this life the 16th day of February, 1805, aged 56 years. Lord have mercy on his soul. Amen.”
            FATHER ROCHE, newhew of Father Lynch, next had charge of the parish; he resigned after some years, and left for the neighbouring parish of Kilcullen, in the Diocese of Dublin.
            MALACHY MAC MAHON succeeded; in 1821, he accepted the pastoral charge of Clane at the request of Dr. Doyle.
            REV. JOHN DUNNE was appointed to Suncroft. When the parish becoming vacant again towards the end of 1823,
            FATHER MAC MAHON was re-appointed; he died in 1868, and is interred in Suncroft chapel where the altar of St. Joseph has been erected to his memory; an inscription upon it is to the following effect:- “ In memory of the Rev. M. MacMahon, P.P., who died February 18th, 1868, aged 108 years. R.I.P.
            REV. THOMAS CULLEN, who had been Curate in the parish for many years, succeeded as P.P.; he died in less than a year, and lies interred also at Suncroft, where the Alter of the Blessed Virgin has been erected to his memory:- “ In memory of the Rev. T. Cullen, P.P., who died Nov. 30th, 1868, aged 53 years. R.I.P   
            REV. DENIS FLANAGAN, P.P. of Graignamanagh, was translated to Suncroft, in succession to Father Cullen. He died in 1872, and is interred at Suncroft chapel. A tablet there bears the following inscription:- Pray for the soul of Rev. Denis Flanagan, who laboured zealously and faithfully in the Sacred Ministry for 35 years, and was P.P. of Graignamanagh and after-wards of Suncroft, where he died, 31st of October, 1872, aged 59 years.
            REV. THOMAS MAHER succeeded; he died on 31st Oct., 1883, and was succeeded by the
            REV. WILLIAM RANSBOTT, the present Pastor.
 (1) Thomas, 7th Earl of Kildare, is said to have married –1st, Dorothea, daughter of Anthony O’More of Leix, and by her was ancestor of the families of Blackhall, Blackwood, Ballysonan, Rathrone, Tectoghan, etc.

Compiled and edited by Mario Corrigan; typed by Breid and Maria; edited and checked by Niamh McCabe

A history of the Roman Catholic Parish of SUNCROFT by Rev. Comerford, from Collections relating to the Dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin published in 1883.

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