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Fifty years of the church on the hill marked by new publication

The fiftieth anniversary of a church would be a significant event in the life of any community but when that anniversary occurs within a parish which cherishes and records its history like none other then the anniversary will be all the more special. And that is certainly the case with the parish of Caragh in the heart of county Kildare which last month celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its church of Our Lady & St. Joseph, distinctive located on a hillside about the village.

Some weeks ago this column looked back to the building of the church and its opening in 1960, a recollection helped greatly by the fine souvenir booklet published at the time to record what was an unusual enough occasion in the Ireland of the late 1950s, the construction of a new parish church.

Future historians of Caragh now have another resource to draw on, a fine souvenir booklet published to record the church’s refurbishment of 2010 which has the added bonus of bringing the story of the parish up to date. The book is introduced by its editor Fr. Jackie O’Connell who links the 1960 and 2010 publications by reproducing some of the former’s text in the new publication. Articles brought forward from the 1960s booklet include one on ‘Caragh Church’ which traces the early Christian foundations in the locality through annals and archaeological studies which identify Downings, Killibegs and Brideschurch (this last name indicating a connection with St. Bridgid) as being among the earliest places of Christian worship. Surveying the fabric of the parish in more modern times the article emphasises the continuity of families through several generations: names with longevity in the parish include Malones, Kellys, Dunnes, Rourkes, Guilfoyles, Swords, Reddys, Ennises, Cookes and Walshes. A survey of names in the modern era would be interesting and no doubt highlight the distinctive influx of the many new families into the area as Caragh, along with many other commuter-belt parishes in Kildare, acquired its share of new estates and bungalows.

A perusal of the contents of the book indicates much of great interest written by local historians expert in their themes. An affectionate portrait of Caragh’s legendary Parish Priest, Fr. Jeremiah Bennett is painted by Kathleen O’Neill and Mary Morrin who recall the strategies mobilised by the energetic pastor to collect funds to build the new church in Caragh which cost £57,000, a considerable sum to collect in the Ireland of the late 1950s when people knew a thing or two about recession. Caragh needed not only a new church but also two new school buildings at Caragh and Prosperous. Carnivals and marquee dances were among his fund-raising initiatives – the marquee dances became famous throughout mid-Kildare and fulfilled a social need too, as the authors relate ‘Many of today’s grannies and granddads met their life partners at these events.’

Other contributors include Sean Byrne who refers to another distinctive Caragh feature – the old one-lane bridge across the Liffey which is considered to be among the oldest on the Liffey still in use and may date from the period between 1450 and 1550. Ger McCarthy draws on his years of study of the Eustace family who at one time were the most influential Catholic family in Kildare. His describes how the Eustaces at Yeomanstown gave shelter to the Dominican friars from Naas who had to abandon their 14th century abbey in Naas with the suppression of the monasteries in 1540. When the penal laws were relaxed in the 1750s the friars resumed teaching and preaching but did not return to Naas; instead they moved to Newbridge and established a humble foundation which was in time to evolve into the present day priory and college.  Mary Ryan tells the story of another legendary priest of the Caragh area – Fr Austin Kinsella and his support to evicted tenants during the Clongorey evictions 1888-92. An article by school principal Danny Challoner shows that an appreciation of their local history is to the fore of the young generation’s education in Caragh. Wonderful school initiatives such as a time capsule for its new building currently being built, and the preservation of classroom books and materials inherited from the old school (vacated 1962) show that the future of local history in Caragh is in safe hands.

The foregoing is just a sample of the riches, textual and photographic in the Caragh church 50th anniversary book. With its publication, and the publication within months of each other last year of two comprehensive histories of the parish,  The Great Book of Caragh and The Real History of Caragh, the parish can claim to be among the best recorded in Co. Kildare if not in the whole of Ireland. Series no: 180

Liam Kenny in his column 'Nothing New Under the Sun' from the Leinster Leader of 10th June 2010 reflects on the new publication on Caragh Church. Our thanks to Liam.  

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