Kilronan medieval church & holy well at Glebe, Co Waterford.

A few days ago, I visited one of County Waterford’s hidden treasures, the medieval  parish church of Kilronan.  I am in the process of doing some historical research into this site but  here are some of my initial  observations.

DSCF2555

Kilronan medieval parish church at Glebe, Co. Waterford.

Location

Kilronan church is located in the townland of Glebe,   in the barony of Glenihery, close to the Tipperary Waterford country boundary. It is a short drive from the town of Clonmel (c. 6km), just off the  Dungarvan-Clonmel near the crossroads at Kilmanahan.  This area is in the diocese of Waterford and Lismore, which came in to existence in the later medieval period following the amalgamation of  the dioceses of Waterford, Lismore and Ardmore .

kilronan

Map showing Kilronan church and holy well taken from Bing maps.

Placename

The name  Kilronan or Cill Rónáin means the Church of Ronan which suggests there was an early medieval church of some sort in the area.   There are several saints called Ronan listed in the early medieval calendars of  Irish saints, however there is no way of knowing which of them was connected to this area.   There is no trace of an early medieval church at the site or anywhere else in the parish. The diocesan system in Ireland came into being in the 12th century and the present  church was built after the 12th century,  it may be possible it was built on an earlier church. The townland name Glebe, refer’s to church land. Glebe  land  was used to support the parish priest.  According the  Ordnance Survey Letters of the 1840’s the church  was remodeled in the 15th century, when it and the parish were re-dedicated to St Laurence.

The Church

Kilronan church  sits  in a rectangular graveyard with  gravestones range from  late 1700’s to modern times.   19th century farm buildings are built  against the church on the north and west side. It is surprising that there has been little academic discussion of Kilronan as it has some very unusual  and interesting architectural features.

East gable and south wall of Kilronan church

East and south wall of Kilronan church

As you can see from the photo above a  layer of very thick  ivy  covers much of the  walls of the church.  It is difficult to accurately date the church as it is so over grown but it is mentioned in a document written by Pope Nicholas’s   in 1291, which suggests it was constructed prior to the late 13th century. The original building was altered   in the 15th century  and  a number of  new windows and a door  were added.

The church is built of sandstone and is entered through a door at the west end of the south wall.  The door way is a lovely 15th  century hooded  moulded doorway. If you look closely at the photo you can see the  door way was inserted into an earlier larger doorway.

Doorway in the south wall of the church

Doorway in the south wall of Kilronan church

It is difficult to see all the windows with the ivy. Rev. P.  Power, the former head of Archaeology at UCC, writing in 1938 counted 6 windows and suggest there was at least one more.  I noticed  two window (one blocked) on the  west side of the doorway, and a twin-light, cusped ogee-headed window at the east end of the south wall. There is a blocked windows in the north wall. All the windows have very wide embrasures.

Kilronan windows

Photo of the ogee head window at the east end of the south wall in 1938 (Power 1938, 63)

The largest  and most elaborate window  is found in east  wall of the church. It is a  three lights window with switch line tracery. Today it is  covered in ivy so  below is a photo of the east wall and window taken in 1938.

Image of east wall of church taken in 1938

Image of east wall of church taken in 1938 (Power 1938, 63).

The church has a simple rectangular plan, the interior it is now filled  with 18th and 19th century burials and heavy vegetation growth. There is no evidence of any internal division between the chancel and nave.

View of east wall of church

View of east wall of church

The Archaeological Inventory of   Co. Waterford  noted there was  ‘ traces of rood-screen sockets towards the E end of the long walls’ .  In the south-east corner of the church,  the  ivy free sections of the wall shows the upper courses leaning inwards which may suggest evidence of  vaulting.

Power noted that notable individual details is the evidence of a former double roof; this is voussoirs of the inner vault plainly visible on the south side (interior) of the building. No doubt there was, as in Cormac’s Chapel, a chamber for lodging of the priest, above the barrel vault, and in this connection, note the putlog beside the entrance door, clearly the door way  was fastened from within, i.e., the ecclesiastic lived in the church.

If Power is correct then the priest live within the church  above a vaulted ceiling.  In medieval times the priest  often lived at or in the church,  in accommodation above the west and sometime the east end of the church,  in an upper story apartment  or in accommodation attached to one side of the gable end of the church, or in residential towers attached to the church (Birmingham 2006, 169).  Less commonly the priest could live in a free-standing house were also used (ibid.). The use of vaulting is not unheard of in creating an upper floor for the priest residence  and examples of vaulted medieval parish churches are found at Kilbride Co. Offaly,  Gallon and Raffony, Co Cavan & Leighmore Co Tipperary (ibid., 173-174).

DSCF2515

Piscina in the east wall of Kilronan church

The east wall of the church is the least affected by ivy which is fortuitous as some of the  churches most interesting features are located within this wall. At the south end is a piscina,  a recess with a shallow basin used to  wash the communion vessels. The upper section of the Kilronan piscina has an elaborate trefoil-head, a shelf  and the basin  has an   incised petal  design.

Modern memorial cross inserted into aumbry in east wall

Modern memorial cross inserted into aumbry in east wall

At the north side of the main east window  a modern memorial cross has been inserted into one of several   aumbry that are found within the church.  An aumbry is  a fancy word for a  cupboard. There is a small pointed finely cut sandstone door way which leads into a tiny room (dims. 2.03m x 0.85m) that is built into the east wall.

DSCF2525

The room is tiny, a stone seat is built against the north wall  and aumbry (cupboard) is found in the eastern corner of the south wall. The room is roofed with flat lintels and  small square window is found in the center of the east wall.  This is a very unusual feature which I have not found at any other church perhaps the  closest parallel  I can find is  Okyle church and anchorite cell.  I am very curious as to what the function of this room.  It is a tiny room  so would an anchorite be able to stay here ? Does it have a penitential purpose?  I plan to look into this further and I will keep you posted on my findings.

Holy Well

Close to the church c.  60-70 m away   is lovely looking holy well.  The well is  a  semi circular superstructure with a large brick cross on top.

Kilronan Holy Well

Kilronan Holy Well

The  Ordnance Survey Letters of 1840  do not record   any saint associated with the well  nor does Power writing in the early 20th century.  It is always simply referred to as the ‘Holy Well’. According to Power the holy well was venerated up to the 1930’s but he gives no further information. The stagnant water within the well suggests is no longer visited.

I would love to hear from anyone who  knows any history of the well or its traditions and I will come back to Kilronan again and share any new findings on its history and architecture.

© Louise Nugent 2013

References

Birmingham. H. 2006, ‘Priests’ residences in later medieval Ireland’, in Fitzpatrick, E. & Gillespie, R. (ed.) The Parish in Medieval and Early Modern Ireland.Dublin: Four Courts Press, 168-185.

O’ Flanagan, Rev. M. (Complier) 1929. Letters containing information relative to the   

  antiquities of the county of Waterford collected during the progress of the

  Ordnance Survey in 1841. Bray: Typescript.

Moore, M. 1999. Archaeological Inventory of County Waterford. Dublin: Stationery

Office.

Power, Rev. P. 1937. Waterford and Lismore; a compendious history of the united

  dioceses. Cork: Cork University Press.

Power, P. 1938. ‘Some Old Churches of Decies’, JRSAI, Vol. 8, 55-68.

Advertisements

11 comments on “Kilronan medieval church & holy well at Glebe, Co Waterford.

  1. Another great post – thanks! Wouldn’t it be great if the march of the ivy could be stopped?

  2. Niamh Mernagh says:

    My grandmother Mary Connolly nee Munday was born nearby in Russeltown.She said that the well was venerated for the cure of rhumatism and it was visited I think into the 1950s.

    • Niamh thank you so much for that information. That is really interesting and thank you so much for getting in touch and sharing the info . I will check out the national school essays to see if I can find out any more the next time Im up in Dublin and will let you know what I find out.

  3. Ben Guiry says:

    The small Doorway in the East-Wall of Kilronan Church was the entrance to an Anchorite Cell, the Anchorite Monks never left the confines of the Church, and were regarded with great Veneration, they spent most of there time within the Anchorite Cell praying,,,,, opposite where the Anchorite Monk sat within the tiny Cell there was an Aumbrey, and within this Aumbrey was kept a relic of great veneration, to which the Anchorite Monk prayed Constantly, these Anchorite Monks usually slept in the Barrel Vault within the Roof of the Church, if one were to take a stroll around the back of the East-Wall of Kilronan Church, one can still espy the small opening through which the Anchorite Monk gave his adjudication, to those on a platform outside, when his council was sought on matters of Dispute, by local Nobility, such as local Chieftans, or later Norman Knights.,,,,, the old Well across the road from Kilronan Church, was called by the old people, the Well of the Eels, as it was considered to be a portent of good fortune, if one espied an eel swimming in the well, which on occasion one can, as they burrow through from the nearby stream, its horrid stone canopy was only erected in living memory, and the Well before this time was fairly open with just a small field-stone outer wall, to keep Animals out, and prevent them from soiling the Holy Water.

  4. M says:

    I have a very tatty book called The History of Ireland by John D’Alton concentrating on The Barony of Boyle dated 1845. Happy to send it to you if it would be of interest.

  5. Steve Keogh says:

    I learned of and began search of my Gibbons, Gough (Goff) and Garvin ancestry only this week. Our Gibbons family’s story was published here that “They lived in Kilmacomma, County Waterford, Ireland, in the Comeragh Mountains. John Gibbons died prior to 1845 and was buried at St. Ronan’s Cemetery. The cemetery surrounds the ruins of an ancient stone Church of St. Ronan, destroyed by Cromwell. Other relatives – Gibbons, Gough and Garvins are also interred here. His wife Margaret Goff (or Gough), was born near the same place, in 1790.” Widowed, Margaret Gough Gibbons and her 8 children eventually made it to Tennessee sometime after 1847. Our Garvin relatives made it here as well. Hope you find this of interest. Please pass along to those families if you know them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s