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Ardenew Church and Graveyard


Ardenew Church and GraveyardArdenew Church and Graveyard

Ardenew Church ruins and graveyard are situated in the Rathmolyon end of the parish, on the right-hand side of the road from Tanderagee crossroads to the New Line road.  Access to the graveyard is via a boreen, and across land owned at present by Colm O’Connor.


In 1999, Dair Ríoga Local History Group members first visited the graveyard on the fourth Sunday of July, not realizing at the time that this was a significant date in the pagan calendar, as it was on this Sunday that people traditionally walked to the highest point in their locality, looked down at the maturing crops and collected ripe berries and fruits (at the present time, one of the best known climbs on this Sunday is to the top of Croagh Patrick).  A favourite berry collected was the fraughan; hence this Sunday is called Fraughan Sunday.  The group, accompanied by local men, Mattie and Michael Higgins discovered that the graveyard was completely overgrown with ash, elder, nettles, scotch and briars and that the gable wall of a church was barely visible through ivy.  Mattie enlightened the group with much background information on the area.  The Kennedys of Rathcore had owned the surrounding land.  Some members of the family had been buried in Ardenew and part of the Kennedy headstone is still in the graveyard.  Mattie’s father had worked for them and he recalled walking cattle from Ardenew to other land owned by the Kennedys at Trim.  He recalled the last funeral in Ardenew, when a horse drawn hearse was used, and there was danger of the coffin falling off the hearse in the very rough field.


Dair Ríoga decided to restore the graveyard, and the entire group, with help from locals and family members worked on the project on many Sundays during the autumn of 1999 and the spring of 2000.  The entrance gate to the field in which the graveyard is situated, was cleared, as it was impassable due to briars and nettles.  Also cleared was the entrance gate to the graveyard itself, which was equally impassable.  The overgrowth in the graveyard was cleared; ivy on the wall of the church was nipped at the bud in the hope that the heavy umbrella of ivy would decay through time; the perimeter wall was cleared of ivy.  Gerry Brew and his son Declan removed a large, dangerous ash tree, and the perimeter wall was rebuilt where the tree had damaged the stonework.  Colm O’Connor collected the resulting considerable debris and disposed of it.  Michael Higgins re-hung the entrance gate.


All headstones were left in their original locations and all inscriptions were noted.  Initially, it was thought that the stones on the ground were lying at random, but in the course of time, it became apparent that they were in relatively straight lines and were marking the heads of grave mounds.  It was noted that the centre of the site is raised and it appears that the fallen ruins of the church are collected there.  Inspection revealed some very interesting stones, which have been shown to an archaeologist who gave his report, details of which are as follows:


The Octagonal Stone

This is by far the most exciting of the four stones discovered.  It dates from the later medieval era - probably between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries.  It is made from sandstone, which is not an indigenous rock in the local area.  It is octagonal in shape and shows evidence of the mason’s chisel markings along its side, but from having been in the ground for so many years, these markings have been almost completely obliterated. 


Originally when the stones were discovered, the group believed this stone to be a stoup (as used in modern churches to hold holy water).  It is, however, actually the base of a much more elaborate baptismal font.  As it is self-draining, it allowed for ceremonial baptism to be performed: water was poured over the individual and then allowed to drain away through the octagonal stone.  The shape is very important - the octagon has an extremely early origin dating right back to the advent of Christianity.  There is even the belief that it may have been an original pagan symbol that was assimilated into the Christian faith.  A lot of the earlier churches in the Mediterranean lands had octagonal baptismal chambers attached to the church and were used solely for Baptism, which was a very important sacrament in the early Church.  Perhaps this tradition explains why the octagonal stone was so well carved and decorated in comparison to the rest of the find.  The age of the stone and the fact that it is not a native rock of the area, together with the distinctive shape, seem to point to a very significant find.