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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.