January 05, 2007

Civil War Memories and Anecdotes

Paddy Sheehan, Newbridge
            The Sheehans were well known for their involvement locally in the pivotal events of the periods of 1916, the War of Independence and the Civil War. They not only kept documentary material relating to the period but because of their involvement and the involvement of other family members and acquaintances they have a fantastic local knowledge that they have willingly and generously shared with all and sundry. Paddy Sheehan was able recently to share some interesting anecdotes regarding Kildare Town in this troubled period which I would like to include here as a means of preserving them for the record.
            When lieutenant Wogan-Browne was killed in Kildare in February 1922 the local I.R.A. took those responsible into their custody. Those who had carried out the deed were themselves I.R.A. men but it seems that they had acted without the sanction of the I.R.A. (This may mean that the intended robbery was not sanctioned or the use of deadly force was not sanctioned). The three men were taken to Moran’s of Ballysax and housed there until a decision was made regarding punishment (official sources said that the men were eventually released without trial). While there, they escaped and left the locality. Apparently those guarding them were much relieved because they knew the men and did not want to be faced with the possibility of delivering them up or shooting them. According to Paddy Sheehan the men made their way out of the County, (possibly to Athlone) and joined the Free State Army, which was at that very moment scouring the countryside for them.
             When the local men were executed on the Curragh in 1922 they were buried there until they were re-interred at Grey Abbey in 1924. At the graveside a volley was fired by the I.R.A. and immediately all hell broke loose. ‘Plain Clothes men’ and soldiers rushed towards the grave and were confronted by friends and relatives of the deceased men, many of them women. The guns were never recovered and no arrests were made. Seemingly, many of the women brought umbrellas that day and the revolvers were hidden quickly in the umbrellas and never found.
            One account of the incident can be found in the Leinster Leader which says that after the burials the crowd went to Suncroft to the burial of Leo Dowling. According to Paddy Sheehan, they were met (although he seems to think it may have happened a day or two after the internments at Grey Abbey) by the local priest who warned them that a machine-gun had been positioned overlooking the graveyard and beseeched them not to fire a volley at the graveside as this would provoke a bloody response.
            Local tradition has it that the bodies were not allowed into the Church in Kildare but were waked in the Court-house. Newspaper reports and other accounts say they were waked in the Town Hall. Paddy Sheehan recounted that this happened also with the body of Thomas Behan in Rathangan. It may indeed have been official policy at the time.
            In 1935 a Republican monument was unveiled on the Market Square in Kildare to the memory of the executed men and a fiery oration was delivered on the occasion by Fr. Michael Flanagan. It seems that as the appointed time for the unveiling was approaching there was no sign of Fr. Flanagan and Paddy Sheehan and his brother got the idea that maybe he had disembarked in Newbridge because his visit was arranged with the help of the Sheehans and the correspondence was done through Newbridge. They hurriedly sped back to Newbridge and found Fr. Flanagan awaiting pick up at the side of the road. It seems he was mightily relieved when they introduced themselves for he had been a little uneasy to see a car hurtling along at high speed, screech to a stop nearby and some tall men in overcoats step down quickly to approach him! He was delivered safely, and in time, to his appointment in Kildare Town.
[these anecdotes are the result of conversations with Paddy Sheehan, in Sheehans Shop and on the phone, in Sep./Oct. 2005 – Mario Corrigan]

Below:- Photograph of Paddy Sheehan in Sheehan's Shoemakers shop in Newbridge - holding a cast-iron RIC sign from the old Constabulary Barracks in Newbridge. On the table is a folder of Sinn Fein Dail Court Reports - copies of these reports are now in Newbridge Library. My thanks to James Durney for the photograph.

P Sheehan.JPG



An article on events relating to 1922 and the Civil War from the Grey Abbey Conservation Project's book, 'Church of the Oak,' in memory of Paddy Sheehan of Newbridge who passed away shortly after it was published. My thanks to Paddy for his generosity and time.

Posted by mariocorrigan at 09:56 PM

December 12, 2006


The Restoration of St. Brigid’s Cathedral

 A note by

Mario Corrigan

  By the mid-nineteenth century the ruinous condition of St. Brigid’s Cathedral was a matter of grave concern and in 1871 a decision was made to investigate the possibility of restoring the once great edifice to its former glory. The architect George Street who was supervising the restoration of Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin was approached and he submitted a report, dated 31October, 1871 on the condition of the Cathedral. The Report was printed and circulated with illustrations showing the ruins of the Cathedral and a design for the restoration. While subscriptions were slowly gathered and the cost eventually exceeded Street’s initial estimate, work began in 1875 but was abandoned in 1881. The second phase began in 1890 and the Cathedral was re-opened in 1896. As it stands today it is difficult to visualise the physical ruins that existed at that time and the reprinting of Street’s Report makes interesting reading. It also reminds us of what can be achieved and should serve to spur us to action to see the fallen north boundary wall of the Cathedral rebuilt.




HAVING been requested to examine the Cathedral at Kildare, and to report on the present state of the fabric, and on the steps which it might be necessary to take in order to effect a proper Restoration of it, I have lately visited and made a careful inspection of it.
            This ancient Cathedral appears to have been built in the early part of the thirteenth century. It was a simple Cross Church, without aisles, but with – apparently – a Chapel of some kind opening out of the Eastern side of the South Transept. A Tower rose above the intersection of the arms of the cross; whilst a noble Round Tower stood, and still stands, not far from the Western end of the Nave.
            The state of the fabric at present is this:-
            The Choir is the only part still roofed and used for service. It is fitted up for use as a Cathedral Choir, with seats for the parishioners in the centre.
            Its architectural character is of the poorest description; but it is probable, I think, that the side walls (especially the Northern one) are old, though modernized in all their architectural features. The roof is not in good condition, but is concealed from view by an internal flat and plastered ceiling.
            The rest of the Church is in ruins. The South Transept and the Nave have lost their roofs, but almost all their other architectural features still remain, either intact or in such a state as to make their restoration a matter of no difficulty. The Southern Elevation of the South Transept is one of great simplicity and of good character and proportion. Its window is a well-designed triplet, simple externally, but with shafts and mouldings internally. The side walls of the Nave present a very remarkable design. The windows are simple lancets, separated from each other by buttresses. Between these buttresses bold arches are formed, nearly on a face with the front of the buttresses, and with a narrow space between them and the front of the wall. The effect of this arrangement is to throw a very bold shadow over the window, and to produce a most picturesque effect. But the reason for it is not clear. It looks somewhat as if the men who were building had more acquaintance with military than with ecclesiastical architecture, and as though the defence of the Church from hostile attack was a chief motive in this part of the design – a part which, to me at least, is novel. Whatever the history of the design may be, this at any rate is certain, that the effect of it is very striking and picturesque.
            The West End of the Nave is destroyed, and its place occupied by a modern wall. It probably had a window either of five or of three lights, generally similar in detail to the window in the gable of the South Transept.
            The North Transept has been entirely destroyed, some part of it within a few years, when a new Tower was built in the angle between it and the Choir. This Tower is a poor erection, and most awkwardly placed, just behind the ruins of the noble Central Tower. The Central Tower is a mere wreck; one side only – the South – is fairly perfect; the whole of the rest of it has been destroyed. It is a work of fine design and proportion, not very lofty, but, in its complete state, so large as to give a good deal of the dignity of a Cathedral to what might otherwise have looked somewhat too much like a Parish Church.
            There are various other fragments of great architectural and antiquarian interest in this building; among them I may notice some fine encaustic tiles, and several fine monuments, with sculpture on the sides or slabs.
            Having given this general description of the character of the fabric, it remains for me to indicate what would, in my judgement, be the first steps that should be taken towards its repair and restoration. There appears to be only one course that I can properly recommend. I should advise that for the present the Choir should not be disturbed; it can be rendered weather-tight, and safe for use, and would serve for use of the congregation until such time as some portion of the old building could be put into fit state for their use. I should then propose to take in hand the exact and careful restoration of the whole of the ancient portion of the Cathedral. This would involve repairs of Stonework, re-erection of the Roofs, and flooring of the Nave and Transepts, and the removal of the modern Tower, and the restoration of the old one. Ample authority exists for the whole of this work, so that it might really be a work of restoration, in the best sense of the word. It might easily, if necessary, be divided under three or four heads, e.g., (1) the Nave, (2) South Transept, (3) North Transept, (4) Central Tower – and such a division would not in any way affect the safe progress of the works. When so much of the work had been done, I should propose to remove all the Fittings from the Choir, &c., to fit up the Eastern part of the Nave for the purpose of Divine Service. And then, if means existed , or whenever they could be obtained, the removal of the Choir might well follow. But even if it were never done, the restoration of the part which is now in ruins is a work which may be well recommended, not only from a religious, but equally from an historical point of view.
            A few years more, and what now remains of this interesting Church may have become a thing of the past. Each winter’s rain and frost help to disintegrate the fabric of the walls, and that which is possible now may not be possible ere long.
            I estimate the cost of the work I have recommended at the following sums:-
(1.) Nave … … … … … … … … … ₤1, 650
(2.) South Transept   … … … … …     450
(3.) North   do.            … … … … …   1, 400
(4.) Central Tower      … … … … …   1, 500 – Total, ₤5,000
The amount is not large; but the work is of simple description, very free from ornament, and the cost is therefore moderate when one compares it with the size of the building.
                14, CAVENDISH PLACE, LONDON, W.,
                                                October 31, 1871.





The original Report on the condition of Kildare Cathedral by George Street in 1871, prior to its restoration - reprinted from CHURCH OF THE OAK; a contribution to the history of Kildare Town, published by The Grey Abbey Conservation Project.

Posted by mariocorrigan at 10:00 PM


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St. Brigid
Kildare, the Monastic City
The Norman Invasion
The Abbeys of Kildare
The Fitzgeralds
The 1798 Rebellion and the Gibbet Rath Massacre
Poverty in Kildare
The military in Kildare
The Coffee House and the Racing Lodges
The National Stud – the first 50 years
The creation of the Japanese Gardens
Recollections of Hospital Street and Blind Lane
Kildare during the Irish Civil War – 1922
The Market House – Kildare Town Heritage Centre
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Posted by mariocorrigan at 09:19 PM

December 06, 2006

The White Abbey; the first 600 years!

600 Years of the Carmelites in Kildare Town,
White Abbey, 1290 – 1890 A.D.
Mario Corrigan
The original White Abbey or St. Mary’s Priory, was founded according to most sources around 1290 A.D. by William de Vescy, Lord of Kildare. It was founded as a Carmelite Friary and became known as the White Abbey after the colour of the habits of the Carmelite Friars. There is very little documentary evidence relating to Kildare. William Feys a friar from Kildare a was accused in 1310 of breaking into a chest of valuables from ‘a stone house of the friars’ and stealing 15 marks of silver. Kildare was the friary most famously associated with David O’Buge, a native friar, who was Provincial of the Order between 1321 (possibly 1320) and 1324. He probably died sometime before 1327 and was buried at Kildare. A man of great learning he was described as ‘the light, mirror and splendour of the Irish nation.’ Another famous learned Carmelite, Ralph Kelly, who reputedly began his studies at Kildare, became the first Irish Procurator General of the Order. He was also appointed Archbishop of Cashel. He died in 1361. Supposedly some of the valuables from the Silken Thomas castle at Maynooth were deposited in the friary at Kildare before the capture of the castle in 1535.
It was surrendered by the Prior to the Crown during the reformation on 3 April 1539 and at that time consisted of a church and belfry, dormitory, hall, two chambers etc. Most of the buildings were burnt in May 1540 by the O’Connor’s of Offaly and when an extent was made in November of that year all that remained was the church and a messuage that the Friars used as a hall. They recommended that the church could be thrown down, its value being 20 shillings but that the messuage containing a garden and a small close, containing one acre could be retained for use by a farmer, its value being 20 pence. There were 4 acres of arable land and 1 acre of waste land valued at 4 shillings, in the possession of David MacThomas and another messuage rented for 2 shillings and customs – 1 weeding day, 1 reaping day and 1 hen worth 5 pence. The total of the extent was 8 shillings 1 pence. One source says it was granted to William Dickson but elsewhere it is stated that it was granted to David Sutton of Tully in 1543 although initially, at the time of the extent, it may have become the property of Gerald Sutton.
Apparently the Carmelites returned to Kildare around 1710 and a rectangular building is apparent from the early maps of Kildare in 1757 to 1817. However the Friary is shown as a ruin by Austin Cooper, the famous sketcher of Irish Antiquities, in 1790. This building was still in existence in 1847 but later demolished. There is a record of a Carmelite, Fr. William Duane, at Kildare making a will in April 1790 whereby he endowed his brothers and nephews with 1 shilling each and left his remaining goods to two other Carmelites Rev. Augustine Gormican and Rev. John Nilan, his executors. Fr. Farrell, a Carmelite friar, was killed at the Gibbet Rath on 29 May 1798, apparently trying to secure the safety of people gathered on the Curragh Plain. His grave has been kept for generations by the local people and is clearly marked. The Prior, Fr. Healy, was actually hanged near the gate of the White Abbey by the yeomen during the Rebellion but was cut down by his housekeeper and survived.
Fr. Patrick O’Farrell of White Abbey was Provincial of the Order in 1813. In his will of 1817 which showed him to be a man of some means he mentioned the freehold lease of lands at White Abbey he had obtained from Thomas Kelly Esq. Fr. O’Farrell was probably dead by 1818. Michael Hughes may have been the only Carmelite (Prior?) in Kildare in 1819 but because of differences with the Bishop Dr. Doyle it appears he may have been suspended and left the diocese for London shortly after, returning in 1827. However he was reaffirmed in 1823 as Prior at Kildare and apparently James McCormack and Malachy Monahan were friars. With the passing of Catholic Emancipation in 1829 the regular religious had to register and this was done by Fr. Hughes of White Abbey.
During the Tithe War of the 1830’s there appears to have been only one friar at Kildare while in 1840 the Prior was still Fr. Michael Hughes and Fr. Scally was a friar. There is a mention in this year that Fr. Hughes had built a new convent there by this time. While Fr. Hughes retained the deeds at White Abbey he was superseded by 1842 as Prior by Patrick Parr who was 38 years of age. Parr attended the Provincial Chapter of 1843 and was elected Superior of Kildare.  He was again elected as Prior at the Chapter of 1846 where a case of perjury was brought against Michael Hughes for information relating to the ownership of a field near White Abbey but the result was in his favour. John Carr, Licentiate from Louvain who was 15 years professed was elected prior at the Chapter of 1849. Parr was still at Kildare (16 years professed). Kildare had again only two Carmelite priests in 1850. It appears that Parr was back in charge in 1852 but had been transferred to Kinsale by the end of 1855.
            By 1868 at least there appears to have been a school at Kildare maintained by the Friars. (according to the Parochial School Returns of 1824 there was a school (at least 5 others) in existence in the Town from 1817 under the supervision of Denis Murphy the house being given free of rent by the convent of this town and this may refer to the White Abbey although it accommodated both boys and girls and in 1871 the Chapter makes reference to a school for boys). John Elias Bartley Prior of Kildare attended the Provincial Chapter of 1871 (being 17 years professed) as did Fr. John Eliseus Whitley aged 29 years (being professed 10). Bartley was re-elected as prior of Kildare. At this Chapter it seems there is reference to the school in Kildare having 300 boys. In 1872 one of the three priests at Kildare was moved to Dublin owing it seems to a shortage of priests but this was rectified and by June 1874 there were once again three Carmelites at Kildare. In December 1874 Fr. John B. Daly was teaching more than 50 pupils in the school in Kildare which differs considerably from the earlier reference. This school was apparently closed soon after the De La Salle Brothers opened their school in Kildare Town in 1884. John Elias Bartley was elected Provincial of the Order at the 1875 Chapter and Terence Dominic Sheridan was elected prior of Kildare. It was noted in the annual visitation of 1876 that Kildare was completely free of debt. Sheridan was re-elected at the Chapter of 1878 and again it was noted Kildare was free of debt.
Nicholas Albert Staples was elected Prior in 1881. By order of the local Government Board the White Abbey Graveyard was closed in 1882 on sanitary grounds amid much local disgruntlement. In November of that year some prosecutions were secured at the Kildare Petty Sessions against persons who had engaged in ‘illegal’ burials.
 Fr. Staples was re-elected prior at the Provincial Chapter of 1884 and on the 8 December of that year the work on the new Church at White Abbey was begun and the first stone, placed by Robert Cassidy of Monasterevin, was blessed in 1885. The dedication ceremony and official opening was held in 1889. The church was erected with the help of public subscriptions by Fr. Staples, at a cost of £3,500, the architect was William Hague F.R.I.A.I of Dublin and the builder John Harris of Monasterevin. Harris it appears went into liquidation and the work was completed under the supervision of Prior Staples who even went to America to raise funds. The last mass to be held in the old church was held in 1887, in which year Fr. Staples was once again elected prior of Kildare.
According to the Kildare Observer of 30 March 1889 the dedication ceremonies began at 11 o’clock on Monday 25 March and were presided over by Dr. Lynch, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin assisted by his Coadjutor, Rev. Dr. Comerford. At one point the article lists Fr. Staples in attendance later says he was unable to attend, being ‘far away upon the sea.’ Some of the work had yet to be done, such as the extension of the spire, but the beauty of the church was apparent to the large crowds who attended the ceremony. Built in the Gothic style it was cruciform in shape, the total length of the church described as 112 feet, the width of the nave 32 feet and that of the transepts 26 feet; the walls being 27 feet high. The walls were constructed of dark limestone in contrast to the fine grey granite used in the dressings while the internal ceilings were boarded in highly varnished pitch pine. Wicklow granite and local stone from Boston, Rathangan were used in the building of the church which eventually would have a tapering spire rising to 104 ft. The high altar and sanctuary floor etc. were of marble, the altar being a gift of Mr. Cassidy of Monasterevin and the altar rails a gift of Mrs. Kavanagh. The three beautiful windows were donated by Mr. Richard Bolger, Dublin, Mr. M. Lee, J. P., Kildare and Mr. William Staples, Naas – they were manufactured by Messrs William Martin, Son and Co. of St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin. Above the main door, the Rose Window is of special interest with its representation of the prophet Elijah who is regarded as the spiritual father of the Carmelites.
In celebration of the sixth centenary in 1890 the town was thronged with visitors by rail and road and many gathered at the railway station to greet arriving Carmelites from the church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Whitefriars St., Dublin. A huge procession with banners made its way to the church where Fr. Moore an ex-Provincial of the Order preached a sermon on the devotion to Our Lady.
According to the An Tostal Programme of Kildare from 1953, ‘The Cemetery adjoining the Church has four ancient carvings in the wall. The first two are probably from the eleventh century and show the Gryphon, the animal symbolising Mercy. The other two are scenes from the Passion of Our Lord, the Ecce Homo and the Crucifixion. These carvings were once in the Grey Abbey, and were removed here for preservation.’ The Urban Archaeology Survey states however that by the 1970’s at least they had been removed to the internal north transept wall of the church. They are identified by the Survey as being mostly 16th century tomb panels some of which may resemble other fragments within Kildare Cathedral. At least three are said to have come from the Grey Abbey (the Survey probably relies here on the evidence of Rev. Denis Murphy in his article on Kildare in the Journal of the Kildare Archaeological Society).
[It must be acknowledged that while various sources were consulted the article relies heavily on the book on The Irish Carmelites by Peter O’Dwyer, published by the Carmelites , Dublin 1988.]

An article from the Grey Abbey Conservation Project's new book CHURCH OF THE OAK, on the White Abbey from 1290-1890.

Posted by mariocorrigan at 01:01 AM