Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Drumacoo church - Kilcolgan, Ballinderreen, Co. Galway in the snow. 

Jerome A. Fahey in The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Kilmacduagh (hereafter DoK) (Clodoiri Lurgan Teo, Inverin, Co. Galway: 1986. p33.) writes of the church: 'It is much disfigured by  a pretentious but tasteless mausoleum built against it at its northern side', a biased (the historian Fahey was a parish priest and Vicar General) but reasonable assessment of the structure. the  mausoleum (larger building to the right) was constructed by Arthur French St George of nearby Tyrone around 1830 (check authenticity).

One of the earliest churches in Ireland, it was built sometime around 550 ce. (Fahey DoK. p33).The church is dedicated to St Sairnait (otherwise St Sourney) as is the well to the rear (west) of the remains. This was recently rebuilt by a work crew organised by FAS who took the stones to build it from what was reputedly St Sairnait's cell or 'bed', referred to by Jerome A. Fahey in The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Kilmacduagh

This is taken from:
Jerome A. Fahey in The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Kilmacduagh (hereafter DoK) (Clodoiri Lurgan Teo, Inverin, Co. Galway: 1986. p32/3/4.):

We are expressly told by the same authority that St. Sairnait (St. Sourney) is of the race of Eoghan Aidhne, She was
fourth in descent from Eochaid Breac, father of Eoghan Aidhne.1 She was      
"Daughter of Aedh,
Son of Seneach
Son of Eoghan Aidhne,  
Son of Eochaid Breac,  
Son of Dathy." 

The date of her birth is not given; but by comparing her genealogy with that of St. Colman Mac Duagh, which shall be hereafter given, it will be seen that she stands the same number of degrees from their common ancestor, Eochaid Breac, as does Cobhtach, whose son Conal was great-grand- father of St. Colman Mac Duagh.s Hence it may be fairly assumed that Cobhtach and St. Sourney were contemporaries. And as Cobhtach's father fought in the battle of Claonloch, A.D. 531, we can justly assume that St. Sourney belonged to the middle of the sixth century. She was born of the same princely tribe of which St. Colman was born later in the same century. She is identified by O'Donovan as the same female Saint who is now "corruptly called St. Sourney, to whom there are wells dedicated in the districts of Aidhne, and whose church still stands in ruins in the great island of Aran, in the Bay of Galway." 3 And we are told by O'Flaherty's learned editor that" this church is held in the greatest veneration by the islanders." 4But there is more to commemorate and honour the name of St. Sourney in Aidhne than the holy wells to which O'Donovan refers. St. Sourney's Church may still be seen in a fair state of preservation at Dromacoo, in the present parish of Ballindereen, at a distance of about three miles and a half from Kinvara. 

St. Sourney's Church at Dromacoo is a very interesting ruin.Its low cyclopean doorway in the western gable, and the masonry of a portion of the western gable and northern side wall, attest the great antiquity of that portion of the building.
The rest of the church has clearly undergone many alterations, and is much more modern.The southern doorway is a splendid specimen of decorated Gothic. It is deeply recessed, and consists of several arched memb
ers, which are supported on clustering columns on elaborately wrought capitals. The dentals, owls' heads, and lozenge ornament, with which the ribbed projections of the arches are enriched, are very perfect, considering the lapse of time. Indeed, it is not too much to add that so interesting a specimen of ornate carving is rarely met with amongst our ancient ruins.The eastern gable has a well-wrought double lancet window, one of which is now hidden away in masonry. This was evidently done to suit an alteration in one side wall, by which the original width of the church was reduced. Considering the many alterations which this church has manifestly undergone, it is now impossible to ascertain its original dimensions.At the present time it is an oblong without a. chancel, and measures about 50 feet in length by 20 feet in width. It is much disfigured by a pretentious but. tasteless mausoleum built against it at its northern side.Within the church there are but few monuments more ancient
an the seventeenth century, and those belong to a distinguished and very old family, the Kilkellys, who a little prior
to that
century occupied the neighbouring castle of Cloghballymore, and owned some of the adjoining estates. A portion
of th
e old rude stone altar remains, though much injured.

A little outside the church, and on its southern side, "Leaba Sourney," St. Sourney's Bed, is still pointed out. It stands close to the entrance of the cemetery. It resembles one of those stone cells in which many of our early Saints loved to do penance. It measures about 6 feet in length by 4: in width externally. Its height cannot be easily ascertained, owing to the quantity of rubbish and earth which have accumulated around it. Its stone roof is still nearly perfect. Such, briefly, is the present state of this interesting cell, in which, according to the uniform tradition of the locality, St. Sourney spent a portion of her holy life. Its appearance recalls Harris's description of the anchorite's cell at Foure, County
Westmeath: "He inhabits a small, low cell, so narrow that a tall man can scarce stretch himself at length on the floor." 1

Immediately outside the cemetery enclosure, and on the south side, is a holy well, dedicated to her name. It was
urrounded by a stone enclosure, which is now much ruined. The fountain is filled up with decayed vegetable matter, and
with the stones of the broken enclosure. Moss - grown mounds of great extent, and fragments of broken masonry concealed under a rich growth of mosses, may still be noticed around this interesting church. The religious establishment of which they are the remains, though probably of a much more modern period than that to which St. Sourney belongs, must certainly have been important. There is no doubt that a religious establishment of considerable importance grew np at Dromacoo, and around St. Sourney's Church. So remarkable, indeed, did the establishment become, that the death of its Coarb, in the early part of the thirteenth century, is recorded by our annalists. A Biatach, or house of hospitality, was maintained there, ill which food was always provided for all who came to accept it. Such establishments were numerous in our country in ancient times. It is estimated that at one period there were as many as 2000 such establishments throughout Irela11(1.1 Our annalists record the death of the official in charge of the establishment at Dromacoo, A.D. 1232, in the following words :-" Fachtna O'Halgaith, Coarb of Drom Mochuda, and official of Hy Fiachra, a man who kept a house of hospitality for the learned, and for the relief of the sick and indigent, died." And in another place this institution at Dromacoo is referred to as a house" for the instruction and improvement of the country and the land." 2The church and cell and holy well of St. Sourney are not
he only memorials of that Saint in the parish of Ballindereen. Such is the reverence in which her memory continues to be
held there, that Sonrney is not an uncommon name amongst the females of the district, though, we believe, unknown in
ther parts of Ireland. 

It is deeply to be regretted that the gleanings from history and tradition regarding St. Sourney are so meagre. Yet it
may be hoped that the foregoing notice may prove interesting to many, and that in time the labours of our Celtic scholars
ill throw much more light on her interesting history. Her church in Aranmore, so pointedly referred to both by O'Donovan and O'Flaherty, would, it is probable, show that she too sought this sea-girt sanctuary to study at St. Enda's feet the great science of sanctity. Her example must have strongly influenced her kinsmen. 'Ye shall hereafter have occasion to record a similar connection with" Aran of the Saints" on the part of her holy kinsman, St. Colrnau Mac Duagh. And we shall now refer to St. Foila and her holy brothers, who were St. Sourney's contemporaries and kinsmen, and who no doubt were influenced by her holy life. We find in the Martyrology of Doneqal a St. Sairnait commemoration on the 3rd of May.

  I Customs of Hy Fiachrach, p. 55.                   2 Ibid. pp. 37 and 374.        3 Ibid. p. 37. 4 Iar Connaught, p. 55 ••
I Petrie, Round Towers, p. 116.        1 Four Masters, Connellan ed. 4457.             2 Ibid. O'Donovan's ed.

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