The Parish of Kilrush (Cill Rois) in Co. Wexford takes its name from the ancient church built there many centuries ago and known from its situation as the church of the wood or copse. There is no town land of the name in the parish. It has been said that the original patron saint was St. Colman, but whether this be correct or not, by the thirteenth century the dedication of the parish church was to St. Brigid. This church was situated in the old cemetery where the present Church of Ireland now stands in the town land of Ballynaberney.
The first post reformation church for the Roman Catholic community in Kilrush was in Knockaree, in what is now the old cemetery. Local tradition says that the ground was a common before being used for church and school. This church was burned down on march 15th 1799. Fr. Mark Barry P.P. rebuilt it in 1802-1803 and it remained in use until in 1843. Fr. John French P.P. commenced the task of building a permanent church on the same site. He died in the following year and the building was completed by his brother Canon French P.P. before his death in 1854. This church remained in use until replaced by the present structure in 1969.
Kilrush was one of the areas which suffered greatly in the 1798 Insurrection. There are many records of atrocities committed in the parish before and during 1798. The north Cork Militia based in Carnew and the Newtownbarry Militia forces waged a campaign of terror, burning homes and committing many atrocities in the area from before the general uprising. This continued despite a pledge of loyalty signed by Fr. Aidan Murphy and of his parishioners on 28th February 1798.
Descriptions from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837
KILRUSH, a parish, in the barony of SCARAWALSH, county of WEXFORD, and province of LEINSTER, adjoining the post-town of Newtownbarry, and containing 2731 inhabitants. This parish comprises 11,036 statute acres of land generally fertile; but with the exception of some pebble limestone, manure is scarce, and limestone is brought from the county of Carlow. It is watered by the river Slaney, over which are two stone bridges, one connecting it with Newtownbarry, and the other crossing the river at Clohamon.
The principal seats are Ballynapark, that of G. Browne, Esq.; Clohamon Lodge, of N. Browne, Esq.; Ballyrankin, of Major Devereux; and Newlands, of the Rev. W. Hore, all pleasantly situated on the banks of the Slaney. Part of the demesne of Woodfield, the beautiful seat of Lord Farnham, is also in this parish. Clohamon is a neat and thriving village of recent origin, and the population is chiefly employed in the large flour and cotton-mills of Mr. William Lewis, from the latter of which are produced on an average about 200 pieces weekly.
The living is a rectory, in the diocese of Ferns, forming the corps of the prebend of Kilrush in Ferns cathedral, and in the patronage of the Bishop: the tithes amount to £694. 3. 1. The church is a small plain edifice, and has recently been repaired by a grant of £262 from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.
In the R. C. divisions it is the head of a union or district, including this parish and that part of Carnew which is in the county of Wexford, and containing chapels at Kilrush and Askamore; the former is a neat modern building; attached to which are a residence for the priest and a school. About 150 children are educated in two public schools, to one of which the rector contributes £10, and to the other Grogan Morgan, Esq., £2, annually.
The land league was founded in 1879 by Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell was its first president. The following year a branch was established in Bunclody, catering for Kilrush, Kilmyshall, Castledockrell and Marshalstown.
The principal organiser in the district was Gregory Murphy of Ballinaberney who became vice president of the branch. The land league was suppressed by proclamation in 1881, but in 1882 Parnell founded the Irish National League in its place. The Kilrush branch was known as the Parnell's Cross and Clohamon Branch. Through the influence of Gregory Murphy, the cross-roads at Kilrush was named "Parnell's Cross".
The church is sited in beautiful surroundings on an elevated site donated by a kind parishioner. It is set in the foothills of the Black Stairs Mountains and looks across at a lovely view of Mount Leinster.
The soft, domed effect of the building, as seen from the outside, is meant to reflect the rounded granite hills which form its background. This will become more pronounced as the copper roof weathers to soft green. The church is octagonal in shape and was designed by Albert Lennon. The St Brigid's Cross motif is seen in the stained glass and other ornamentation. The alter is a large block of Mount Leinster granite. The foundation stone was laid in March 1969 by Bishop Herlihy who eight months later, solemnly blessed and dedicated the church on Sunday 23rd November 1969. The church was build by P. Furlong & Sons Bunclody.
The church was designed to implement fully the liturgical objectives of the second Vatican Council. The only decoration to the simple lines of walls and ceilings are the stations of the cross originally in the old church but altered to suit the new surroundings. A new bungalow type Parochial House was erected at the same time as the church.
The old church in Askamore was burned in 1799, being replaced in 1804 by the present church which like the parish church in Kilrush, is dedicated to St Brigid. It is a T-shaped building with round arched windows and doors. The oldest stained glass window dates from 1932, as do the stations of the cross. The outdoor bell was erected that same year.
A major renovation was undertaken in 1989 under the direction of Albert Lennon. A new granite alter was erected and new tabernacles were installed in the church and a new prayer chapel. Five engraved windows representing the four evangelists and St. Brigid were presented by families in the parish, and parishioners also presented new seats. The church was re-opened on 16th June 1989. The same year, a grotto was erected in the church grounds in memory of the dead interred in that part of the cemetery where headstones had earlier been taken up to facilitate access to the church.
Two tablets commemorate two priests whose remains lie in the church, Rev John Breen (1877-1889) & Rev James Doyle who died 27th November 1910 and who had been living in retirement in Askamore. A plaque gives the names of all the priests who served in Askamore, beginning with Rev. Michael Kennedy (1748-1779).
St. Brigid was born in AD 450 in Faughart, near Dundalk in Co. Louth. Her father, Dubhthach, was a pagan chieftain of Leinster and her mother, Broicsech, was a Christian. It was thought that Brigid's mother was born in Portugal but was kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland to work as a slave, just like St. Patrick was. Brigid's father named her after one of the most powerful goddesses of the pagan religion - the goddess of fire, whose manifestations were song, craftsmanship, and poetry, which the Irish considered the flame of knowledge. He kept Brigid and her mother as slaves even though he was a wealthy man. Brigid spent her earlier life cooking, cleaning, washing and feeding the animals on her father's farm.
She lived during the time of St. Patrick and was inspired by his preachings and she became a Christian. When Brigid turned eighteen, she stopped working for her father. Brigid's father wanted her to find a husband but Brigid had decided that she would spend her life working for God by looking after poor, sick and elderly people. Legend says that she prayed that her beauty would be taken away from her so no one would seek her hand in marriage; her prayer was granted. Brigid's charity angered her father because he thought she was being too generous to the poor. When she finally gave away his jewel-encrusted sword to a leper, her father realised that she would be best suited to the religious life. Brigid finally got her wish and entered the convent. She received her veil from St. Macaille and made her vows to dedicate her life to God. Legend also says that Brigid regained her beauty after making her vows and that God made her more beautiful than ever. News of Brigid's good works spread and soon many young girls from all over the country joined her in the convent. Brigid founded many convents all over Ireland; the most famous one was in Co. Kildare. It is said that this convent was built beside an oak tree where the town of Kildare now stands. Around 470 she also founded a double monastery, for nuns and monks, in Kildare. As Abbess of this foundation she wielded considerable power, but was a very wise and prudent superior. The Abbey of Kildare became one of the most prestigious monasteries in Ireland, and was famous throughout Christian Europe.
St. Brigid also founded a school of art, including metal work and illumination, over which St. Conleth presided. In the scriptorium of the monastery, the famous illuminated manuscript the Book of Kildare was created.
St. Brigid died in AD 525 at the age of 75 and was buried in a tomb before the High Altar of her Abbey church. After some time, her remains were exhumed and transferred to Downpatrick to rest with the two other patron saints of Ireland, St. Patrick and St. Columcille. Her skull was extracted and brought to Lisbon, Portugal by two Irish noblemen, and it remains there to this day St. Brigid is the female patron saint of Ireland. She is also known as Muire na nGael or Mary of the Gael which means Our Lady of the Irish. Her feast day is the 1st of February which is the first day of Spring in Ireland.
Making a St. Brigid's cross is one of the traditional rituals in Ireland to celebrate the beginning of early spring, 1st February. The crosses are made of rushes that are pulled rather than cut. They are hung by the door and in the rafters to protect the house from fire and evil. According to tradition a new cross is made each St Brigid's Day, and the old one is burned to keep fire from the house. Many homes have several crosses preserved in the ceiling the oldest blackened by many years of hearth fires. Some believe that keeping a cross in the ceiling or roof is a good way to preserve the home from fire which was always a major threat in houses with thatch and wood roofs. St. Brigid and her cross are linked together by the story that she wove this form of cross at the death bed of either her father or a pagan lord, who upon hearing what the cross meant, asked to be baptised.
One version goes as follows: "A pagan chieftain from the neighborhood of Kildare was dying. Christians in his household sent for Brigid to talk to him about Christ. When she arrived the chieftain was raving. As it was impossible to instruct this delirious man, hopes for his conversion seemed doubtful. Brigid sat down at his bedside and began consoling him. As was customary, the dirt floor was strewn with rushes both for warmth and cleanliness. Brigid stooped down and started to weave them into a cross, fastening the points together. The sick man asked what she was doing. She began to explain the cross, and as she talked his delirium quieted and he questioned her with growing interest. Through her weaving, he converted and was baptised at the point of death. Since then the cross of rushes has been venerated in Ireland."
St. Brigid went to the King of Leinster to ask for land to build a convent. She told the king that the place where she stood was the perfect place for a convent. It was beside a forest where they could collect firewood. There was also a lake nearby that would provide water and the land was fertile. The king laughed at her and refused to give her any land. Brigid prayed to God and asked him to soften the king's heart. Then she smiled at the king and said "will you give me as much land as my cloak will cover?" The king thought that she was joking and because Brigid's cloak was so small he knew that it would only cover a very small piece of land. The king agreed and Brigid spread her cloak on the ground. She asked her four friends to hold a corner of the cloak and walk in opposite directions. The four friends walked north, south, east and west. The cloak grew immediately and began to cover many acres of land. The king was astonished and he realised that she had been blessed by God. The king fell to the ground and knelt before Brigid and promised her and her friends money, food and supplies. Soon afterwards, the king became a Christian and also started to help the poor. Brigid's miracle of the cloak was the first of many miracles that she worked for the people of Ireland.
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