Very Rev. John Dowley

Very Rev. John Dowley

Very Rev. John Dowley was appointed to Dunhill/Fenor on January 3, 1875. He built the Parochial House in Dunhill, Dunhill Church, the Teacher’s Residence in Fenor, and Fenor Church.
He died on March 21, 1894, in his 68th year and the 45th year of his Sacred Ministry after nineteen years in this parish. He is buried in Dunhill Churchyard. His family home was in Seskin, Carrick-on-Suir, where the tombstone of the Dowley family still lies in Carrickbeg.

Fr. Dowley’s sister Catherine married Michael Fitzgerald of Ballyvalican, Portlaw. Her daughter, Joanna O’Donnell (nee Fitzgerald) Ballycahane, Portlaw, was the grandmother of Kathleen Fitzgerald (Mrs. Eddie Fitzgerald) Ballybellon, Fenor. Fr. Dowley’s grandniece and grandnephew are Josie and Willie Fitzgerald, Kilmovee, Portlaw.

Dunhill Church Fenor Church

The Second Millennium

The Second Millennium

by Sorcha Hartley

One thousand years ago, the population of the entire country was approximately 500,000. Many of these people lived in or near the towns, which had been established by the Norsemen during the previous century. Rural areas like our own parish were sparsely populated. Ireland has been described at the dawn of the last millennium, as a land full of woods, bogs and lakes. Wild pigs were common. Woods and mountains contained large numbers of red deer as well as wolves, which made it necessary for the livestock to be brought in at night, into bawns [bawn or badhún: the defensive wall surrounding an Irish tower house] or enclosures, or else into the dwelling houses themselves. Hedges and fences were very rare, and in most areas, enclosed fields seem to have been almost unknown.
The view which one now sees from Dunhill castle differs a great deal from that which must have been enjoyed by the Barons of Dunhill. These were the descendants of Sir Robert le Poher, who accompanied Henry II when he landed at Crooke, near Passage East, on the 17th October, 1171.

Our own parish of Dunhill and Fenor corresponds to the three ancient parishes of Dunhill, Reisk and Islandkeane, which were united over 300 years ago. This is a maritime parish and was, up to the beginning of the 20th century, a breac Gaeltacht. It covers an area of 13,679 acres and had a population of 952 at a parish census taken in April 1974.
Each of the three ancient parishes had its own pre-Reformation church, the ruins of which are still standing today. At least nine early Celtic church sites have been found and identified in the parish – Kilfarrassey, Ballylenane, Killown, Killsteague, Kilcannon, Smoor, Ballydermody, Ballyphillip, and Kilcarton.

The ancient parish church of Dunhill, situated about 300 yards to the west of Dunhill Castle, was of considerable size. It was erected about the beginning of the 13th century to replace the small Celtic churches in the area. The east gable of the church still stands, densely covered with ivy.

During the penal times, the people of our parish, in company with the majority of the Irish population, had to endure the hardships and rigours of religious persecution. At that time the church of the parish was a thatched chapel, which stood at Cappagh, on the townland of Shanaclune. This chapel at Cappagh was demolished in 1798, and replaced by another thatched chapel on the site of the present church. After a short time this, in turn, was replaced by the slate-roofed church, which served the parish until 1883.

During the years of the great famine, Fr. Michael Walsh was parish priest of our parish. In 1857, just a few years after the famine, the women of the parish gave their jewellery to be made into a beautiful golden chalice in thanksgiving for having survived this dreadful ordeal. This is the chalice which Fr. Purcell will use during our Mass today.

The building of our present church here at Dunhill commenced on March 1, 1883. This church was built outside the walls of the previous church.

Islandkane Church The ruin of the old parish church at Islandkane stands within its ancient cemetery. The total length of this small, ancient church was only 56 ft. Some of the stones from this church were removed and used in the building of Newtown House near Tramore. A silver chalice, which bears the inscription ‘The gift of Mr. Robert Power to the Parish of Island Kane in the County of Waterford, the 17th of April 1742’ is now kept in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Fenor.
The church at Fenor was erected in 1893 on the site of the previous church. The old church at Fenor was a thatched chapel and was under the patronage of Our Lady’s Nativity.

Nothing now remains of the walls of the parish church at Reisk except the middle gable. This church is very old and incorporated an archway built by the Normans, probably about the year 1200, much later than the rest of the church. In any case Reisk was a church of more than ordinary importance and was one of the largest in the Barony. A silver chalice inscribed ‘The gift of Mr. Geoffrey Hearn and Mrs. Margaret Hearn to the parish of Reisk’ is now kept here in Dunhill church.

Dún Aill, one of the three villages in the Parish of Dunhill and Fenor, derives its name from the ancient fortress, or Dún, which was situated on the rock where the castle now stands, commanding a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside.
During the first half of the 20th century, John Williams described some of the principal surroundings of Dunhill Castle and the story of the siege of the castle, in verse.

Reisk Church (2)

The Ancient Church at Reisk

by Mgr. Michael Olden
From the book “Fenor – It’s Facts, Faces, and Folklore, 1894-1994.”

The following article is an edited version of the excellent talk given by Rt. Rev. Monsignor Michael Olden on August 25th 1993 in the ancient churchyard at Reisk. The talk was to mark the occasion of the first Mass to be celebrated on this historic site since it was restored by voluntary labour during the early months of that year.
Monsignor Olden kindly gave his permission to allow his lecture to be published at this time so, as far as possible, we will use his own words but, as we have put his talk in chronological order it will lose some of the intimacy and smoothness which made the talk on that lovely autumn evening so memorable.

In the following extract Monsignor Olden deals with the early history of the area:

“Back in pre-history, pre-Christian Reisk was an uncommonly interesting place, with strong pagan connections. In the parish of Reisk there are place names like Ardnahoe which means the Ridge of the Grave (the grave, of course, was pre-Christian). In Ballybrunnack there is a field called the Breagáns, or the Place of the Cairn (there is a cairn on the hill there). Páirc-a-Leasa is the Field of the Lios and in Ballymote there is a fine pillar-stone about ten feet high. In Ballinclough (the Place of Stone) there is a remarkable dallán on Mr. Crotty’s farm. There is a field called Bán-a-Liagán (the Field of the Pillar-stone) and in Ballyvellan there were two or three pillar-stones, one with ogham inscriptions. In Carrickvaraghan there is a field called Bán-a-Leacht and that means the Field of the Cairn. In Matthewstown there is a very interesting grave called Leaba-Thomáis-Mhic Chaba or Thomas McCabe’s Grave. There is a grave on Inis Meán (Aran Island) with the same name. Historians consider that this must have been part of an old folk-story, and it is strange that the name appears here in Reisk.”

Monsignor Olden then dealt with the coming of Christianity to the area:

“We do indeed stand in a historic but also a holy place. This would have been an important religious site even before Patrician Christianity reached the area. It is almost certain that Christianity was preached here before St. Patrick arrived in Ireland in 432 AD. This part of Ireland, the Southeast, was relatively close to Wales and England, and we know that they had Christianity at least one hundred years before we had. Contact between Southeast Ireland and Southwest Britain was widespread so it is easy to see how the new religion would take root in this region long before it became common in the rest of Ireland. And it is interesting that Dunhill had, as its Patron Saint, the Welsh Saint David. St. Declan’s interest would also have been felt in this part of Ireland.”

The speaker then gave his views and understanding of the church ruins as they remain today:

Church arch“When we look at the Church building we see that it is a remarkably large one for its time. It is 68 feet long and 19 feet wide and would have been a rectangular building without transepts. One of the peculiarities of the church is the arch in the middle. This is an interesting feature and was built by the Normans. The habit at that time was to divide the ordinary people from the sanctuary or choir. That arch was erected around the year 1200 AD or slightly later (much later than the rest of the church). In fact, there is evidence to show that the present ruins are not those of the first church on the site. If you walk down around the present walls you will see the signs of the primitive foundation which probably dates from the 7th or 8th century. Also, near the gate, there is a bullán (water font). It is a very unusual cone-shaped stone with a hole in the bottom and would have been used to dispose of water used during the Mass. It was once ornamented with carving but this is now eroded. This font is a very early one and probably dates from the 8th or 9th century. Inserted into the arch in the church is a stone from the older building with a primitive face looking towards the altar.”

Other very early church sites in the parish of Reisk were also mentioned by Monsignor olden:

“In the ancient parish of Reisk there are many other old church sites. In Meehan’s in Ballydarmody there was a cill (a small church) and in Ballyphilip there was a cillín. In Kilcarton, by the lake, there was also an ancient church, while over in Cloonfada there is a rock called Carraig a’ Shagairt (the Priest’s Rock ). So, within this area are many sites that bear witness to the Influence of Christianity.”

The fact that Reisk lies in Power Territory was also mentioned:

“This is also Power country and their greatest stronghold was at Dunhill. The Le Poer family came over in the 12th century and the area is still strongly identified with the Powers. Place names like Ballyphilip, Ballymorris and Matthewstown are all associated with that family. Matthew, Philip and Maurice being all Power names.

Monsignor Olden then discussed the importance of Reisk in early Church history:

Reisk was recognised as a parish unit well before the year 1200 AD. Indeed when the Crusaders were trying to recapture the Holy places from the Infidels, Pope Nicholas imposed a tax on every parish in the Christian world to defray the cost. On the Taxation Lists from the year 1291 it is recorded that a levy of £6 was imposed on the Rector of Reisk and £4 on the Vicar. Whether they paid or not is another matter! In 1685, when James Fennel was P.P. here, Reisk was considered one of the important parishes of the Diocese of Waterford. A report of Bishop Brennan says that there are 28 parishes in Waterford but that only five of them have parish priests and one of these was Reisk, which gives an idea of its importance.

Monsignor Olden gave a short account of the earliest priests who served in this old parish:

“The earliest priest that was known of was Father Quilty P P in 1588. This was not long after the Reformation. We also know of four priests who are buried here in this churchyard. There is a Rev. James Fennel who died on August 28th, 1747, aged 89 years. Beside him lie the remains of Rev. Maurice Walshe who died on September 8th, 1778, aged 80 years. Then, in the choir of the church there is a stone to the memory of Rev. Maurice Ahearne, who died on June 12th, 1763, aged 49 years. There is another stone erected to the memory of Rev. John Meeney who died on June 27th, 1800. The inscription on his tomb says, ‘The prayers of the widow and orphan and the blessings of this flock constitute his monument.’ The Rev. James Fennell, who died in 1747, was ordained in the Butler Castle of Rehill in the parish of Ballylooby. He was ordained by Dr. John Brennan who was a famous bishop of the time and who was a close friend of Oliver Plunkett. His brother, Fr. John Fennel, was also a P.P. of this parish. They both lived at Carrickavantry and were believed to be natives of the area.”

The speaker then drew attention to the well-known O’Sullivan tomb in the churchyard:

O'Sullevan tomb “This is the unusual connection of this graveyard with the O’Sullivan-Béara of West Cork. The reason for this connection is difficult to understand. The O’Sullivan mansion stood at Bán a’ Halla (the Field of the Hall) in Ballylegget. The inscription on the O’Sullivan tomb says, ‘Here lies the body of James O’Sullivan, son of Robert O’Sullivan of Ballylegget, who died on April 26th, 1736, aged 21 years.”

Monsignor Olden’s talk concluded as follows:

“I’m very happy to be here in this sacred and ancient place. Indeed, I have personal reasons because I believe that Reisk churchyard is on Dunphy land and I was baptised a long time ago by Fr. Tom Dunphy from this very place. I hadn’t seen the churchyard before it was cleaned and I must say that it is a tribute to Fr. Purcell and to the many others who helped to bring it back to its present state. It is a living memorial, to inspire us on our faith-pilgrimage through life. Now that it is renovated, it is a place you might well come to on a Sunday evening to sit and look at the graves, say a prayer and remember, not just the architecture or the tombs, but remember that the dead are with God, and that we, in looking to them for inspiration and help, are doing a sacred and holy thing. You are surely on ancient and holy ground here, and from it may there come the inspiration for all of us to journey a bit more firmly, a bit more steadily, on our pilgrim way through life.”

Reisk Church (1)

Reiske Church by the late Frank Power
from the book “Historical Dunhill Landmarks (1988).”Reiske Church dates from the 14th century and all that remains now are the west wall and graveyard. In 1302 this church paid 10s [ ten shillings ] in tax on a valuation of 100s (Calendar of Documents). This well-preserved arched doorway stands in the church wall, and there are some tombstones within the original floor area. The cemetery was used for burials up to the 1960s. There is a well-kept grave with an inscribed stone slab to the O’Sullivan family of Bally-Leggat. This family was related to the famous Ó’Súilleabháin Béara from Co. Cork. There are other interesting designs on some tombstones. At the entrance to the cemetery stands a stone holy water font called a “bullán”. For many years a pattern was held each year in the field to the north of the church.

Reisk notice
Reisk Notice
Entrance gate
Entrance gate
Church arch
Church Arch

Loughdeheen and Sean Chill

Loughdeheen Castle or Monastery

by the late Frank Power
from the book “Historical Dunhill Landmarks (1988).”

This large building is on the land of Jack Walsh and is about one hundred yards from the road in the townland of Lougdeheen. This was a two-storeyed building with some castle-like features. The walls are seven feet thick in some parts and narrow slits are built into the walls throughout the building. Two thirds of the ground floor area have an arched ceiling, like that at Dunhill Castle. The other section of the ground floor area has two arched doorways opposite each other and measuring about eight feet by seven feet wide. The origin of this solidly-built structure has been the subject for speculation among those who have studied it. The north-eastern corner has an unusual feature where a skilfully-built stone-lined shaft goes from the first floor to the ground. This has been described as a medieval-style toilet. A similar type of shaft has been found at Dunhill Castle but is outside the building and set into the ground about fifteen feet.

This ruin has been described, also, as a monastery. In a survey carried out in 1539/40 called “Extents of Irish Monastic Possessions”, William Wyse of Waterford paid 13s 4d for the lease of 120 acres of confiscated monastic land at Loughdeheen. The suppression of the monasteries by Henry VIII led to widespread selling and leasing of their lands. The architecture of Loughdeheen Castle/Monastery suggests that it may have been the property of the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, who inherited the possessions of Knights Templar when they were banned. In his history of the “Knights Templar”, Stephen Howarth wrote, “their houses and castles were the strongest and safest known”. In the history of the family of le Poer, Redmond refers to Maurice le Poer as being a Knight of the Hospitallers, in 1370 A.D.

Sean Chill (Old Church)

by the late Frank Power
from the book “Historical Dunhill Landmarks (1988).”

This old church ruin stands about one mile from the first turn right on the return from Loughdeheen Castle. It is situated one hundred yards from Mick Melvey’s house. This is older and more primitive than the ruined churches at Reiske and Dunhill Castle. This ancient site contains the outline of a building, two graves, one marked with an upright stone. A man-made well can be seen close by. Local man, Bill Keane, was one of those who assisted Prof. Cannon Patrick Power when he was surveying this site. Before the 14th century the Diocese of Waterford was separate from the Lismore diocese. The boundary ran through Portlaw, Ballyduff, and into this parish by the west side of Raheen, Ballycraddock, Killown, and along by the river to Annestown. This church was in the Waterford diocese at the time.

Fenor Church History

The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Fenor

by Tom Nolan
from the book “Fenor – It’s Facts, Faces, and Folklore, 1894-1994.”

The late 19th century was a time of extensive church building all over Ireland. The days of the old thatch-roofed chapels of the 18th century were well gone but the buildings that had replaced them were very much in need of repair or restoration by the 1880s and 1890s. The horrors of the Famine years were fading from the people’s minds and a certain prosperity was in evidence all over the country. Farmers were beginning to gain ownership of the land and there was work in plenty for the labourers.

One of the best-known architects of the period was Walter G. Doolin, whose work on churches took him over a large area of Munster, Leinster and Connaught. In spite of the fact that a lot of building was taking place, it was not an easy time for architects to show their skill and originality. Very few “green field” sites were to be had and, in most cases, an old church already existed, so restoration or enlargement was the problem that faced the builder.

Doolin’s first official visit to Dunhill-Fenor was in 1881 when he was responsible for the building of the Parochial House in Dunhill and the Teacher’s Residence in Fenor. For these two projects Rev. Fr. John Dowley held a collection in both sections of the parish. A sum of £402 was realised. Strangely enough, the tenders for the residence survive among Doolin’s papers and they were as follows:

£300 Timothy O’Brien, Tramore
£240 James Hunt
£250 Matthew Flynn
£187 George Nowlan
£150 Edmond Crotty
We may assume that Crotty got the building contract.

In 1883 Doolin was completing the rebuilding of the church in Kilgobnet and, at the same time, he was completing the plans for the new church in Dunhill. Work began in March of that year and the church opened on August 15th, 1884. Collections to clear the debt on the church continued until 1891, during which time a cess (a kind of tax) of 3 pence in the pound was levied on the parishioners. By 1892 the debt was cleared and, in 1893, Fr. Dowley began collections for the church in Fenor.

Fenor church plan

As far as we know, there is no photograph or drawing of the Fenor church as it was in 1893 when Doolin arrived again in the parish at the invitation of Fr. Dowley. Somewhere among the architect’s papers there must be a plan showing the old building but, up till now, it has not been discovered.
In 1893 the church in Fenor was a building slightly shorter than the present one. It would have stretched from the present main door to the pillars supporting the arches of the transept: this means it would have measured 67 feet long by 23 feet wide, internally. It may be assumed that a sacristy was at the rear of the church. The building was rectangular in shape, which means that transepts or aisles did not exist. A rough estimation would say that there was seating for 250 people.

Fr. Dowley would have drawn attention to the fact that the church was too small for his congregation which had increased during the previous years (there were almost two hundred pupils in the school at the time), that the roof needed to be replaced, and a more impressive building was called for. Doolin’s survey of the building revealed that the walls were sound and could be retained and that the enlargement would take place at the east (altar) of the church. Plans were prepared and tenders invited for the work. The successful bid was received from Mr. George Nowlan of Waterford – the same man who had built Dunhill church ten years previously. Unlike Dunhill, all local documents dealing with Fenor are missing so there is no definite idea what the work cost.

Doolin was always happy with the exposed stonework in Dunhill church and hoped to repeat it in Fenor. However, when the old walls were cleared of the plaster and dashing, he was disappointed to discover that the stonework, while sound, was not visibly good enough to be left exposed. he therefore ordered that, when finished, the whole building, old and new, would be plastered and pebble-dashed.

Doolin was a very busy man. In 1890 he was engaged on the church in Aherlow. In 1892 he was working on both Leighlinbridge and Borrisoleigh, but he had work in progress in Fenor in 1893. As the old church would have to be unroofed, the problem of a venue for Sunday Mass would have to be solved. It is possible that the school could be used (it stood in the present car park) but I was told, many years ago, by Mr. Richard Flynn, RIP, who was ten years old at the time, that a temporary chapel was erected in what is now Mr. John Cheasty’s lawn.

Having removed the roof, George Nowlan now concentrated on the east end. The old altar was removed and then the end wall was demolished. The side walls, north and south, were shortened by approximately 14 feet. Having cleared and levelled the area, the two new transepts were built, each 16 feet back from the position of the original east end. Quite a lot of work had to be done on the west end (main door) as a large opening had to be made for the impressive present doorway and for the windows overhead. (It is even possible that the entire gable was removed because Doolin’s sketch drawing of the proposed church shows a beautiful bell tower on the apex of the east wall and this would entail strengthening the gable to support it.) The most complicated operation was the erection of the beautiful double Roman arch openings into the transepts . The arches spring partly from the old walls, partly from the new walls, and are supported in the centre by a very graceful pillar.

Having roughly finished the building of the walls, Doolin and Nowlan then came face to face with a serious “labour” problem. To relieve the overall greyness of the restored church, the architect decided to enclose the windows, doors, gable and corners with the red terracotta blocks that we see there today. This material – called Ruabon brick – was imported from Ruabon in central Wales. Whether the local workers objected to imported material or whether they were nervous of working with unaccustomed brick, they refused to touch it. The material lay on the quay in Waterford for a long period, with no one willing to cart it out to Fenor. We would like to know how the problem was solved but we can be sure that Fr. Dowley must have said a few well-chosen words!! Eventually the problem was solved, the material was delivered to the site, and work progressed.

Limestone corbels were inserted in the walls above window level to help support the roof which is a simple but beautiful piece of construction. To allow for extra seating, a very substantial gallery was installed over the main door, and it also is an impressive piece of wood-working.

A new sacristy was added to the east end and it was so constructed as to merge in with the overall appearance of the church. Windows and Stations of the Cross were donated by parishioners as were also some of the pews. The restored church was so completely different from the original that even the old name “The Church of Our Lady’s Nativity” was changed to “The Church of the Immaculate Conception”.

The church was ready for use in late 1894 and the saddest fact is that the man who did most to create it, namely Fr. Dowley, never saw it completed. He died early in 1894. Although in use, many small jobs still remained to be done. For example, the fine Hiberno-Romanesque main door was not completed until after 1897 at least, as the lovely piece of sculpture in the arch was donated by the Crotty family in memory of a person who died in 1897.

Of all the churches that Doolin restored and enlarged, he always had a special love for Fenor. He regarded it as one of his most successful works. He freely admitted flaws that were visible in some of his previous buildings. Kilgobnet, restored in 1883, was described as “much improved” but the darkness of the nave is often commented on. In Dunhill, he departed from his love of the Roman (round) arch and tried a new idea – a somewhat flat arch. Doolin admitted that it was not a happy choice, and he never used it again. In Leighlinbridge, he allowed the new chancel to be too long so the altar is hidden from the congregation in the transepts. In Fenor, he remembered these mistakes and built a church full of light, which is regarded as a gem by many experts.

An Afterthought

Doolin’s sketch of the proposed church in Fenor shows a beautiful bell tower on the apex of the west gable. This was never built and, instead, a cross of Ruabon terracotta was erected. In the 1960s this cross was shattered by lightning and was replaced by a fibreglass cross which is still there. I wonder would the bell tower, with its chain to the ground, have survived the lightning strike? Perhaps to celebrate some future anniversary of our lovely church, the bell tower might be placed over the fine main door to complete the work as Doolin foresaw it 101 years ago.
[The picture on the left shows the present fibreglass cross on the apex of the west gable. On the right is a picture of the cross on the south gable, which is original.]

Donors of the Stations of the Cross

The present Stations of the Cross are originals which were installed very soon after the church was restored, and the donors are as follows, beginning with the first station:

  1. Pray for the donor, the Rev. William Brown P.P.
  2. In memory of the relations of Robert Phelan, Islandkeane
  3. (The donor’s name-plate is missing.) [ Pray for the Mulcahy Family, Fenor ]
  4. In memory of James Curran and his wife Margaret, Ballyscanlon.
  5. In memory of John Phelan, Caher, and his children.
  6. In memory of James Gough, Ballygarron, and his wife Mary.
  7. In memory of the parents and relations of Robert and Catherine Rockett, Islandtarsney.
  8. In memory of Ellen, wife of Patrick Foran, Whitefield.
  9. In memory of James Beresford, Woodstown, and his son, Henry.
  10. In memory of Michael McNamara, Caher.
  11. In memory of Ellen Flynn, daughter of Margaret Flynn, Ballygarron.
  12. Pray for the members of the Purgatorial Society.
  13. In memory of John Hannigan, Ballinclough.
  14. In honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, from the children of the Fenor Schools.

The Donors of the Windows

The large, stained-glass windows over the altar bear the following inscription:
“Pray for the Rev. John Dowley P.P. at whose cost this window was erected. He built the churches of Dunhill and Fenor. A.D. 1883 – 1894”.

This shows that they were installed when the church was restored. All the other windows were replaced within the last 50 years. The donors of these replacement windows (beginning with the north transept, continuing down the nave, and finishing in the south transept, are as follows:

  1. In memory of the Walsh family, Moonamellagh.
  2. In memory of Joseph Flynn and the Flynn family, Moonamellagh.
  3. In loving memory of Robert Phelan and Margaret (nee Shanahan) Phelan, Islandkeane.
  4. Presented by James and Mary B. Power, Islandtarsney, in memory of their deceased parents.
  5. Presented by Maurice and John Clancy and Mary O’Sullivan in memory of their deceased parents.
  6. Presented by John Kiely in memory of his wife Mary Kiely.
  7. Presented by James and Josephine Gough in memory of their deceased parents.
  8. Presented by Ellen Hanley in memory of her parents Patrick and Margaret.
  9. In memory of John Hearne of Kilfarrissey.
  10. In memory of William and Anne Mulcahy, Fenor.
  11. In memory of Bartholomew and Bridget Aylward, Waterford.
  12. Presented by members of the Purgatorial Society.
  13. In memory of John and Nano Meehan.
  14. Presented by Martin Curran, in memory of Johanna Lonergan and her son, James.
  15. Presented by Mary O’Keeffe in memory of her husband Edmund O’Keeffe.
  16. In memory of Richard Hartley.
  17. In memory of John Flynn, Ballyadam and of his deceased wife and family.
  18. Presented by Edmund Phelan, Caher, in memory of his parents, Edmund and Agnes Phelan.
  19. Presented by John and Mary Molloy.
  20. Presented by Stephen Murphy, Woodstown, in memory of his parents, Thomas and Bridgid and his brother John Murphy.

Dunhill History (2)

My Own Place

by Sorcha Hartley
[Selected extracts]

If the true wealth of a parish, like a nation, lies in its most valuable commodity, its people, then Dunhill is rich indeed. Rich − not in the numerical greatness of its sons and daughters, as it is one of the smallest parishes, population-wise, in the diocese, but rather in their greatness of spirit.

Though well endowed with archaeological antiquities and historic ruins, of interest both to tourist and student alike, it is rather the strong sense of community spirit which permeates throughout its people, that makes the most vivid impression.

What might be termed curiosity, coupled with a desire to find out more about the history of the parish, sent me delving back through the ages to find that the origin of the name Dún Ail lies in the dim and distant past. Dún Ail – the dún or fort on the rock – refers to the ancient dún which may have been erected as far back as the Bronze Age, extending from 2,000 B.C. to 500 B.C. A dún was generally constructed as the dwelling place of a chieftain and promontory forts of this type were not as common as the ‘lios’, examples of which can be seen in the townlands of Ballydermody, Ardnahoe and Kilcannon. The dún from which Dún Ail derives its name was situated on the rocky promontory where the picturesque ruins of the once imposing Norman castle now stand.

Division line
The ancient parish church of Dunhill is in a state of great dilapidation and lies about 300 yards to the west of Dunhill castle. This church – of some considerable size – was erected about the beginning of the 13th century and was built to replace the small Celtic churches in the area. Some of these early Celtic church sites have been located and identified. Among them are sites at Killown, Killsteague, Kilcannon, Ballylenane, Ballyphilip, Ballydermody, and Smoor. During excavations in the graveyard adjoining the old parish church some years ago, the figure of a female head carved in stone was found. As this figure was crowned with a coronet, it is thought to represent the brave Countess Giles, who lost her life in her unsuccessful attempt to hold her fortress against Cromwell.

During the penal times the church of the parish was a thatched chapel which stood at Cappagh in the townland of Shanaclune, less than half a mile from the present church. In 1798, the parish priest, Rev. John Meaney, had this chapel demolished. No trace of it now remains. About 20 yards along the road from here was a public house known as “Pade’s”. The men of the parish congregated there each Sunday morning sometime before Mass was due to start, and passed the time gossiping and playing cards. The parish priest, a very understanding man by all accounts, looked in on his way to say Mass to remind the lads that he was about to start the ceremonies. “Right, Father” was the usual response, “we’ll be with you now as soon as we finish the rubber”. Pade and his Sunday morning customers who once lived and worked in Dunhill have long gone to their eternal reward, and this popular meeting place is no more.

Division line
Following the demolition of the church at Cappagh, a thatched church was built on the site of the present parish church. This in turn was replaced by a slate-roofed church which served the parish until 1883. Rev. John Joy, who became parish priest in 1861, left a vivid memory. He was a man with rigid views on morals and was regarded by his parishioners as a saint. His special abominations were “fashions in women’s dress, luxury in living, and all games, recreations, occupations, or places that he deemed occasions of sin to his people. When he died in 1875 a considerable sum of money had already been collected for the erection of a new parish church. His successor, Rev. John Dowley, built the parochial house instead! However, by many fund-raising activities, including levies on his parishioners and appeals to emigrants, Fr. Dowley succeeded in raising sufficient money to commence the building of the present parish church on the 1st of March 1883.

This church was built inside the walls of the previous church and is dedicated to the Sacred Heart. The architect was a Mr. Doolin and the builder was George Nolan of Waterford. A great deal of local voluntary labour was used. Many of the parishioners travelled to the city with their horses and carts in order to draw home the materials required for the building. Fr. Dowley celebrated the first Mass on the new main altar – which cost £100 – on the 15th August 1884. Some years later Fr. Dowley also built the Church of the Immaculate Conception at the Fenor side of the parish. He was apparently a well-respected man as the inscription on his tombstone tells us that he was “a holy and exemplary priest, a zealous and prudent pastor, a hospitable and helpful friend, generous and benevolent to all”.

Division line
The River Ann rises about six miles inland in the townland of Glen and flows southwards past the castle. Local folklore tells us of the Lady Ann who threw herself from the rocky promontory and was believed to have been named for Queen Anne. In 1836 lead mines were worked in the vicinity. Here also, in the “big house”, lived the local landlord. In 1822 the landlord of the time, Rev. John Bury Pallister, built the church of St. John the Baptist in the village. About this time there were no less than five pubs in the village whereas, at the present time, it is one of the few villages in the country without any “local”. The old Protestant School in Annestown was closed at the beginning of the present century because of lack of pupils. Five years later it was reopened but only remained open for one year.

Division line
A further example of the wonderful community spirit of the people of the parish is the Lourdes Grotto in the village of Dunhill. The grotto was designed by the late Michael Shalloe of Tramore and was the gift of the Dunhill Ladies Catering Committee to the parish. This, also, was built with the help of local voluntary labour. Let the passer-by pause momentarily at this shrine and offer a silent prayer for peace. Peace – the desperate need of all the people in our beautiful and ravaged country today.

Dunhill History (1)

Historical Dunhill Landmarks

by the late Frank Power
from the book “Historical Dunhill Landmarks (1988).”

Dunhill Church and Village

This church stands in a prominent position above the village. It was erected by Fr. Dowley P.P. in 1884. It is the third church to have been built on this site. In 1798 the first structure was erected after an old building in the townland of Shanaclune was abandoned. The second church was built in 1820. The contractor’s fee for the building of the new church in 1884 was £2,276. A building fund was set up to finance the project. The main source for this was the local population. Every parish priest and curate in the diocese gave £2 and £1 each, respectively. Many items were donated, including seats, stations of the cross, windows, altars, and statues. The main altar cost £100 and the two side altars cost £50 each. It was decided not to demolish the old belfry, which was built in 1820, and this is still used for occasions such as funerals.

The people of the parish celebrated the centenary of the church in 1984. In the years preceding this, extensive renovations were carried out under the direction of Fr. G. Purcell P.P. The parochial house at Ballyphilip was built shortly before the new church, in c.1881.

The village is typical of the many similar ones throughout the country. It comprises a primary school, a parish hall, and Harney’s public house and shop. The parish hall was built about 1850 and was a primary school until 1945 when the present school was opened. Two new classrooms were added to this in 1988. Adjoining the parish hall are squash courts which are the property of Dunhill Squash Club. This club was founded in the early 1970s and was one of the first rural squash clubs to be formed in the country. Of the four thatched dwellings which stood in the village for a number of generations, two still exist and are still occupied. In 1967, Dunhill Village was the focus of attention of many international media people when the widow of the late President Kennedy attended a play at the parish hall.

Ballyleen Mass Rock

This is situated on the farm of Geoff Cheasty and survives from the penal days of the 17th and 18th centuries. Mass was celebrated in this secluded place as priests were forbidden to use their churches following the English government’s attempt to replace the Catholic religion with the Protestant religion. The Mass rock stands on high ground from where a clear view of the surrounding countryside could be got. It is surrounded by a small enclosed area measuring about thirty yards by twenty yards.

The Medieval Church Ruin

Three hundred yards west from Dunhill Castle stands the ruin of a medieval Catholic church and graveyard. This church dates from the 14th century and was destroyed by the Cromwellian forces at the time of the attack on Dunhill Castle. Portions of the eastern and western walls are still to be seen. In the western wall stands an arched doorway. A large section of the stone stairway which led to the choir can be seen on the ground near the arched doorway. This building measured sixty feet by twenty-four feet, and the choir measured twenty-seven feet by eighteen feet.

In the cemetery stand some tombstones which date from the 18th century. A Mass path once ran northwards from this place. One of the earliest references to a church at Dunhill is in the British Government’s Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland for the years 1302 to 1307. A record of taxation shows Dunhill Church and Vicarage (the area which the church served) valued at £101 13s 8d. Out of this value, 21s 4½d was due in tax.

Annestown Church

The Church in Annestown

St. John The Baptist Church

by the late Frank Power
from the book “Historical Dunhill Landmarks (1988).”

A protestant church was built in the village in 1822 and was replaced in 1850 by the building which exists today. The village had a Protestant school for much of the 19th century and, for a time, at the beginning of the 20th century. The R.I.C. had a barracks in the village until 1922 when the 26-county Irish Free State was formed. These are now used as a dwelling house. This seaside village now has a restaurant, a shop, and Seaview Celtic Football Club.

A Sense of Place


(These are the notes used by Monsignor Michael Olden when delivering a talk on Sunday 14th October 2012 at the Seaview Celtic Clubhouse, Annestown, Co. Waterford on the occasion of a Gathering of Parish Volunteers from the parish of Dunhill and Fenor. The talk may be heard by clicking on the loudspeaker icons distributed throughout the notes.)


I will begin with an extract from a beautiful introduction to a favourite book which I often consult, Sacred Places of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Most Peaceful and Powerful Destinations. The book is published by the National Geographic Society (2008). The Quotation is from the introduction of the Editor-in-chief, Keith Bellows.
“I am in southern India, sitting before a wizened man who cannot be younger than 80. He has spent an hour examining my eyes, my feet, my hands, my breath and, as he says, my spirit. ‘You need work to balance your body and your mind – and your intentions’. This happened six years ago. I didn’t understand what he was talking about. I do now. Our world is so busy and full of duty. So full of commitments, to-do lists, traffic jams, lost time, and the endless cycle of balancing home, work, and self. Yet, as life’s pace has quickened and become more complex, we yearn for something deeper, more transformative, more reflective. Something that sl-o-o-ows us down, gives us pause. Allows us to collect our thoughts so the body and mind can catch up. Our essential spirit drives us to tap the sacred – the forces, symbols, icons, and beliefs that have touched and guided humankind for centuries. You could say that the goal is inner peace – a talisman against the complexity of modern times.
“Sacred Places of a Lifetime brings together the ideas of the mind and the ground beneath your feet. It’s a book not about spirituality or religion, but about those places that channel the wisdom of the ages, of far-flung cultures and unique perspectives. This book explores the new magic – magnetic destinations that have the power to change and move you. To alter your view of the world and your life. To empower you to commune with the forces of nature and the rhythms of the body. Travel is more than a journey of paces and spaces. It should also move your spirit. As I reflect back on my visit to India, I realise my journey has just begun. You can start yours here”.


It might be of interest that, of the 500 places dealt with in this large book, six Irish places are chosen as particularly significant:
The Book of Kells; Croagh Patrick; Newgrange; St. Brigid’s Well, Kildare; St. Patrick’s Footsteps (Croagh Patrick, Lough Derg, Downpatrick); Skellig Michael.


As I see it, you are gathered here in Annestown this afternoon to reflect on the community, the parish community of which you are members and in which you are actively involved. This involvement goes much further and deeper than just working for the Church. I like to think of the Church not as buildings nor territory but as the Christian spirit at work in the general community.

Most of you, I am sure, are involved in many community organisations. In fact this parish is very acknowledged and highly regarded as one in which there is a strong sense of community. One thinks of the G.A.A. and other sporting organisations, the business park in Dunhill and the many groups and events which are connected with it, farming groups, and many others.


The church is not meant to be just another organisation. Neither should it ever be, or attempt to be, a controlling organisation. It should be a spiritual agent, an animator, a gentle force for a lot of good amongst the people. I think your late pastor, Fr. Gerry Purcell, saw the church in this light. He did not try to control. He sometimes might mention, gently, some need. And he had a kind of delightful charm with a touch of helplessness built into it that quietly inspired people to come together and co-operate with each other in some endeavour or other. I never saw him so touched as when he returned from hospital after a serious illness and found that, in his absence, good people had come together and had had the walks around his house in Fenor tarmacademed so that he could stroll with ease during his convalescence. The Church, I believe, should never be narrow or churchy (in the bad sense of that word) or competitive. It should think much more about its gentle influence on the world than about its power as an organisation.


When I look back over my growing up as a Catholic, I don’t find myself remembering great sermons that might have been delivered at Mass on Sundays, but I do remember people – people, lay and clergy, who were sincere and faith-filled, and fine examples of Christian living.

As you ponder on your own role, personal and community, in the Church of this parish you should try to bear in mind that there were always people here who had a spiritual inclination. Such people were here before ever there was a church or before ever there was Christianity. We in this new millennium should be reaching back and building upon this rich legacy of spirituality which has been handed down for thousands of years.
olden-01The Church, the community which follows Christ in a special way, should be respectful towards the ancient spirituality and the sacred places which we have inherited. There may be people in this area who never go to Mass and perhaps do not believe in the Church. But they may be spiritual people. The term ‘practising Catholic’ is sometimes an overused term and far too narrow in the way it is applied. There could be Mass-goers who are less spiritual than people who do not attend Mass. Of course, we should be delighted if the entire population of the parish could come together to worship every Sunday but we should never be dismissive or negative about those who do not join us. We should gently try to influence them but never dragoon or coerce them. Like us they may be legatees of the ancient spirituality, signs of which may be found in practically every field of our parish.


The history of any parish is never simple. The present parish of Dunhill and Fenor would be about 250 years old. Before that time there were three parishes: Dunhill, Reiske, and lslandikane. There were no parishes at all before about 1,200 A.D. but there were many churches and their names and, sometimes, their ruins are with us still.
Dunhill church had three earlier churches before the present church. They were called Cappagh which simply means a plot of land. It was the land on which the churches were built. Two of them were on a plot beside where the present church is, the third was located near the castle. The present church was built in 1884. The ancient parish of Dunhill had as its patron St. David of Wales. This south-eastern part of Ireland is very near Wales and was influenced by Wales in its early Christian times.
Reiske, meaning Swamp or Morass, had quite a large church building whose ruins can still be seen in the old cemetery. Clearly there must have been a sizeable population in Reiske.
Islandikane, meaning O’Kane’s Island, later became Fenor which means the ‘Whitish Plain’. The O’Kanes were one of the minor families of the Deise tribe. The old ruined church stands in the ancient cemetery. The land attached to Reiske was impropriated to the Knights Templar who, in medieval times, had a preceptory in Killure.


Between the three parish churches just mentioned there were at least nine earlier old Celtic churches in this area:

Kilfarrassy St. Fergus’s Church. There were ten SS. Fergus in the old Irish
martyrologies or lists of saints.
Ballylenane Lenane’s Homestead. The name is connected with the Welsh word ‘Sant’.
Killone Church of Eoghan. Eoghan was brother of St. Colmcille.
Killsteage Church of Steage. There was a village and a church here.
Kilcannon Church of St. Conan. No remains of the old church but there are places
such as An tSeana Sráid, Bán a’tSagairt, Bannsa (Glebe).
Smoor ‘Rubbish’ or ‘Embers’. Old church site here.
Ballydermody Diarmaid’s Home. Old church site.
Ballyphilip Cillín. Ancient graveyard and church.
Kilcarton Carton’s Church.
Carraig a’tSagairt In Clonfada.

Modern Dunhill and Fenor Parish is composed of a very interesting group of ancient churches which probably go back to the early days of Christianity in this area of Ireland. And Christianity reaches back a very long way here. St. Patrick did not come to this area, probably for the reason that he did not need to. Christianity was here before Patrick’s time.
He himself came to Ireland from Wales where there was a strong Christian presence going back to the times of the Roman Empire. Wales and the southeast of Ireland were closely connected through shipping and trade – sometimes, indeed, slave-trade. Patrick himself came to Ireland as a young lad as a slave. Later in life he came as a bishop and spread the Gospel throughout much of Ireland.
St. Declan of Ardmore was the leading Christian influence in this part of the country. He was a member of one of the leading families of the Deise. From his monastery in Ardmore monks, presumably, came to places such as modern Dunhill and Fenor and ministered as priests in the various churches which we have mentioned. In fact, according to references in an early Life of St. Declan written in Latin, called the Vita Deglani, his nephew was St. MacLiag. MacLiag’s church was on a headland near Carbally, just up the sea shore from Clocharnach. The ruin of this church can still be seen. When Declan came to die in Ardmore he sent for his nephew MacLiag to come and anoint him in preparation for death.
The Irish church was composed of monasteries such as Ardmore and Lismore until the twelfth century when dioceses were set up and, a bit later, the dioceses were divided into parishes. Where modern Dunhill and Fenor are at present is very interesting because there are two dioceses involved. Fenor is in Waterford diocese, Dunhill is in Lismore diocese.
The modern boundaries are as follows:

Waterford: Portlaw (in part), Ballyduff (in part), Butlerstown, Fenor.
Lismore: Portlaw (in part), Ballyduff (in part), Dunhill.


Balllybrunnock ‘Bán an Bhreagáin’ (Field of the Effigy), a large cairn of stones on top of a hill. Burial site.
Ballymote So-called from a circular mott close to which stands a slender and graceful pillar-stone, probably marking the grave of a pre-Christian chieftain.
Ballynaclough ‘Homestead of the Stone’. A remarkable dallan close to Crotty’s home. It seems to have been inscribed. Probably a burial place.
Ballyvellon ‘Mellon’s Homestead’. A number of fine pillar stones, one of them with an ogham inscription (the early writing on stone): Cumni Maci Macoi Fagulfi ‘Remember the son of the son of Fagulf’ – clearly a chieftain’s grave.
Matthewstown A dolmen, pre-Christian grave called ‘Leaba Thomáis Mhic Cába’. A similar grave with the same name is to be found on Inis Meadhan in the Aran Islands. Probably relates to some ancient story or saga.
Carrigvarahane ‘The Rock of the Tow’. Nearby is ‘Bán a’Leacht’ Field of the Stone monument – where someone is buried.
Ballynageeragh ‘Village of the Kerry Men’. A fine dolmen grave here.
Ballynagorkkagh ‘Village of the Cork Men’. Perhaps a little village where a Cork family lived.
Ardnahoe ‘High Place of the Graves’. A Pre-Christian graveyard where there is a Cromlech
Caher Cathair (Stone Fort). Where there is a field called the ‘Ulsterman’s Field’ Bán an Ultaigh.


Islandtarsney ‘Sráidín’ (littlestreet).
Whitefield ‘Seana Shráid’ (old street).
Ballybregin ‘Seana Shráid’ (old street).
Ballylenane ‘Seana Shráid’ (old street).
Kilsteague ‘Bán na Sráide’ (field of the street).
Kilcannon ‘An tSeana Shráid’ (the old village).
Ballybrunnock ‘Barra na Sráide’ (summit of the street).


Ballylenane ‘Tobar na Speile’ well of the scythe.
Ballyleen ‘Tobar na Caillighe’ well of the witch.
Benvoy ‘Tobar na gCocán well of the straws.
Castlecraddock ‘Martin’s Well’ pattern used to be held here.
Killone ‘Tobar na Lárach Baine’ well of the white mare.
Killsteague ‘Tobar Mhic Chéin’ well of the son of Cian.
Ballyscanlan ‘Tobar a’Chomharta’ well of the signal.
Ballybrunnock ‘Tobar na Reidhe’ well of the untilled mountain place.
Carraigvarahane ‘Cúil an Uisce’ corner of the water.
Clonfada ‘Tobar a’tSrutháin’ well of the little stream.