Graveyard recording at Newcastle

This week I  headed along to  another historic graveyard at Middlequarter,  Newcastle, Co. Tipperary.  The old graveyard at Newcastle  along with the graveyards at Molough, Shanrahan and Tubrid, are  currently being recorded by local community groups trained by Historic Graves (

The Medieval Church and graveyard at Middlequarter, Newcastle, image taken from Bing maps

Newcastle graveyard  is located close  to  the Anglo-Norman castle which gives its name to the area.  The remains of the castle consist of a  hall house with a vaulted roof, a tower and a bawn. The castle  is strategically located  on the banks of the River Suir close to the fording point .  The castle  is  part of a group  of 12th -13th castles  built in a line along foothills  of the Knockmealdown mountains. This  area was the  frontier  between the Anglo-Norman territory and the Gaelic territory of the Déises . Newcastle was in the control of the Prendergast family from the 13th to the 17th century, it then  passed into the hands of  the Perry’s family.

View of Newcastle castle from the nearby graveyard

The historic graveyard  surrounds  a 12th /13th century church, which functioned as the medieval parish/manorial church .

The medieval church at Newcastle

Newcastle church is one of the largest medieval parish churches in the surrounding area, being 29m  in length and 10m in width. Any past dedication to a saint has long been forgotten and today the church is simply known as the old church.

Southern doorway of the church

The church is entered through two ornate doorways  at the west end of the church, located in the  north and south wall.  The south doorway is simpler in design with a moulded surround. The north doorway is slightly taller and has roll and fillet-mouldings with traces of hood- moulding over the apex of the door. Both doors are directly opposite each other.

The North doorway of the church at Newcastle

There is no evidence of an internal division   between the chancel and the nave within the church, nor is there any traces of a choir.

The east gable  of the church is now partially collapsed. Luckily the Ordnance Survey Letters of 1840 provide the following decription

Its east window is in the pointed style and constructed of brownish sandstone chiselled… 6 feet in height and 1 foot 8 inches in width. It is divided into two compartments the stone which separates them has been removed (O’Flanagan 1930 Vol.1,  22)

View from window at NE end of the church

The  Ordnance Survey letters also state that ‘ the church was burnt by a Prendergast who lived in Curraghcloney Castle’  (O’Flanagan 1930, vol. 1, 23).  However today  many   local people tell the tale, that it was Cromwell  who burned the church .

Volunteers recording gravestones at Newcastle

The graveyard  has a mixture of 18th , 19th and 20th century graves, including some very recent ones. In total there are  204  grave markers in  the graveyard.

Volunteers recording a gravestone

It is difficult to decide which gravestones to include here  as there are so many interesting ones. The stone below was carved in  1755  to commemorate the death of Denis Morison.

A simple gravestone dating to 1755

Some of the early gravestones have lovely decoration. The  stone below depicts the crucifixion scene and a stone by the same mason has been identified in Shanrahan & Tullaghmelan graveyards.

Crucifixion imagery on the gravestone of Daniel Long of Neddins died 1817

The interior of the  church is packed with approximately 60 burials. At the east end are three unusual  burials. A chest tomb sits in the NE corner of the church. The  inscription of the tomb is worn away and impossible to read.  O’ Hallian  in his book Tales from the Deise  gives the following   account of the inscription

Here lyeth the body of Jeffry Prendergast of Mullough in the county of Tipperary who served in Flanders as Captain under the Great Duke of Marlbourugh, from  whom he had the honour of reciting public thanks for his services at the siege of Ayr in 1710. Died 1713. he was an affectionate husband and tender father, in friendship steady and sincere; to all beneath him courteous, truly just and therefore universally esteemed and beloved. He lived under the influence of religion and died cheerfully supported by it the  27th day of March in the 64th year of his life.

Chest tomb of Jeffery Prendergast

John Burke’s A Genealogical and Heraldic History of Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies….. records that Jeffrey’s father Thomas Prendergast, esq was born in 1614 and married Elinor the sister of Walter the 11th Earl of Ormond. The text also says  Thomas died in 1725, aged 111 years ‘as appears on his tombstone at Newcastle, near Clonmel’.  Once the survey is complete if the tombstone commemorating Thomas survives I am sure the volunteers will uncover it.  I would wonder if he was not interred with his son Jeffery.

Beside the Prendergast tomb are two grave slabs which I recorded as part of a project for  college in 1998.  The  inscription on slabs have  deteriorated since  I last visited here. One  has a motif of  a horse standing on its hind legs in an oval frame. This is the grave of Samuel Hobson sq of Muckridge,  who died in 1782.  The second slab records the burial of ‘Lieu Henry Prendergast of Mulough’ and his wife who died in 1776 , along with  their a coat of arms.

Crest on the Prendergast grave slab

© Louise Nugent 2012


Hallinan, M, 1996. Tales from the Deise: an anthology on the history and heritage of Newcastle, the Nire Valley, and especially the Parish of Newcastle and Four-Mile-Water. Dublin: Kincora Press.

O’ Flanagan, Rev. M. (compiler) 1930. Letters containing information relative to the antiquities of the county of Tipperary collected during the progress of the Ordnance  Survey in 1840. 3 Vols. Bray: Typescript.

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

  dioceses. Cork: Cork University Press.

Mass Rock in the Knockmealdown Mountains

View from the Mass Rock facing towards Newcastle

View from the Mass Rock facing towards Newcastle

In between the rain showers  I visited  a mass rock  in the Knockmealdown mountains with my uncle Eddie Prendergast. This rock was used by priests to say mass in the “penal times” and is located 2-3 miles outside of Newcastle village in Co. Tipperary. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries a series of laws known as  ‘Penal Laws’ were passed by the Irish parliament to force Catholics to conform to the established Anglican Church. These laws prevented Catholics from holding elected office, purchasing land, or owning property worth more than 5 pounds. Catholics were also barred from legal worship and the laws forced the practice of the Catholic religion underground.


Mass Rock, located beside stream

Mass was often celebrated in open air places in the countryside in isolated places with good views of the surround landscape. Large rocks were often used as alters. The Newcastle mass rock is a large rock outcrop of sandstone, located within a valley beside a fast flowing stream.  A rope has been placed across the stream to helps people cross safely.


Rope bridge across stream at Mass Rock

The rock is known locally as cnoicín aifrin/little hill of the mass rock. According to Tales of the Deise it is associated with Knockanaffrin a mass rock in the Nier Valley. Priests on the run supposedly came from Knockanaffrin in the Commeragh Mountains here to Newcastle before heading on to Cork and Kerry. The site was rediscovered in the 1970’s by a local man called William Morrisey and shortly afterwards the present tradition of annual mass began (pers. comm. Eddie Prendergast). Mass is  held here annually by local people in the summer months.

I first visited the  rock in 1999.  At the time the site consisted of a large rock outcrop with a memorial plaque  dedicated to Mr Morrisey and a modern granite block with a cross, inserted into the outcrop used as an alter. A number of jam jars were scattered around the rock (possibly to collect water from the stream). Rosary beads and ribbons were tied to the surrounding heather.

This visit  I noticed a few changes, such as the addition of a large statue of the Blessed Virgin and a new memorial plaque dedicated to the memory of late Father Hallinan who often said mass here.

Statue of the Blessed Virgin at Mass Rock

Statue of the Blessed Virgin at Mass Rock

Another unusual new feature was a small statue of a pigeon or dove is found on top of the rock.

Statue of a dove

Statue of a dove

I am hoping to return for the annual mass in August and take  some more photos.

Molough Abbey Co. Tipperary

The sleepy Augustinian Nunnery at Molough just outside of  Newcastle was a hive of activity today. A historical and archaeological  tour of the abbey  took place as part of the annual Éigse festival.

Talk at Molough Abbey, Newcastle

Talk at Molough Abbey, Newcastle

Despite the  rain a large crowd still turned out. Breda Ryan talked about the history of the nunnery and I gave a tour of the the site.

Carved doorway in south wall of  church at Molough Abbey

Carved doorway in south wall of church at Molough Abbey

The monastery was dedicated to St Brigid and was founded in the early medieval period by the daughters of the King of the Deise.  It appears to have been re-founded in the early part of the later medieval period. The present remains consist of a 13th century church, a cloister and two domestic buildings on the  east and west side of the cloister.

View of cloister on the north side of the church

View of cloister on the north side of the church

The church  has a number or single light sandstone windows and a beautiful  15th century carved limestone doorway.  There are traces of painted plaster work in the  east window of the south wall. The paint is orange/reddish colour with black horizontal lines which appears to trying to imitate ashlar masonry.

Section of painted plaster in the south-east window of church

Section of painted plaster in the south-east window of church