St Michaels Kill
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The Church of St. Michael, Kill

 

St Michael's Church, KillSt Michael's Church, Kill

Kill is the abbreviated form of Killballyporter, which according to the Ordnance Survey Field Name Book of 1835/1836 means Coill a Bhealaigh and translates to The wood of the way or the pass.[1]  It is interesting to note that Kill in this case is not taken to mean Cill as in church but Coill meaning wood, and so it seems clear that Killballyporter was not an ancient Christian site.  Most probably, the presence of a chapel in the townland dates from the early eighteenth century.

 

It is not known exactly when the church, known to one and all as Kill Chapel, was built but according to local tradition, it was originally a thatched mud wall barn with a clay floor and did not appear to be a church at all, as it lacked seats and had sheaves of corn stacked around its sides.  Local people recall hearing stories, that in times of trouble for the Church, the sacred vessels were hidden among the sheaves.  Folklore suggests that it was known as Hanbury’s barn and that the owner made it available to the priest and got his workmen to leave it ready for Mass.  This original barn, it is believed, later formed the section of the church known as the women’s aisle.

 

In 1703, a local man, Francis Cusack of Killballyporter bequeathed twenty pounds to the Roman Catholic poor of the parish and fifteen pounds to the Roman Catholic clergy, to pray for his soul and his executors.[2]

 

In 1733, the Protestant Bishop of Meath, Welbore Ellis recorded that there was a priest and a Mass house serving four hundred Popish families in the Rathmolyon area.[3]

 

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Meath, Dr. Patrick J. Plunkett visited the parish on many occasions between 1780 and 1820 and recorded in his diaries, observations on these visitations.  On his first visit, he administered the Sacrament of Confirmation to thirteen children in the parish.[4]   In the vast majority of his comments he referred to the parish as Rathmullian but in 1782, he identified it as Kill.[5]   It seems likely that this chapel at Kill was the one always visited by him, as the old Roman Catholic Church in Rathmolyon village had been out of use for centuries.  There is neither record nor folklore to suggest that another church existed anywhere else in the Rathmolyon area, and so it may be presumed that the chapel in use at the time was the one at Kill and that this was the same Mass house site, identified by Bishop Ellis in 1733. 

 

Quite clearly over the years, the chapel had deteriorated into poor condition, but on August 6, 1788, Dr. Plunkett noted that it had been repaired.[6]   On his visitation on June 17, 1800, he complimented the people on further improvements.[7]  His note on his visit on May 26, 1801 was:

The flock complimented on a change for the better; on the decent condition of the chapel; and on the singing introduced since last visitation.[8]

 

It has been interpreted by some that William Larkin’s map of 1812 shows a T-shaped church at Killballyporter.[9]  This interpretation may be incorrect, as the legends that explain the symbols used on the map do not identify the building in question as a church at all and furthermore, the symbol is not in the correct position on the map in order to represent Kill Chapel.  This may have been an error on the part of the surveyor or cartographer or it may be that the symbol has been wrongly interpreted.  A 1798 Fowler Estate map shows that Kill Chapel was a rectangular building situated on thirty-three perches.[10]

 


St Michael's Church, KillSt Michael's Church, Kill

The historian Fr. John Brady writing about the chapel in the mid-1930s stated that an old man who died a few years ago remembered it being slated and within memory it had a clay floor and lacked seats.[11]   Another man, James Cassins who was born in 1853/54 and lived at Cherryvalley, Rathmolyon is recorded as saying that Fr. Ennis put a new roof on the chapel in 1853.[12] 

 

The historian Dean Cogan stated that Fr. John Masterson, who was parish priest from 1857 until 1878 had beautified his chapels.[13]  Although Fr. Masterson was alive and ministering in Kill when Dean Cogan was publishing his research in 1867, no information is recorded regarding the work done by Fr. Masterson on the chapel.  It is unlikely, however, that he carried out any substantial renovations, as local information would lead to the belief that Kill Chapel remained as a mud wall barn until at least 1883.  A number of local recollections bear this out.  Patrick Brady who was born in 1860 (and was the grandfather of Paddy Brady who currently resides at Rathflesk) used tell the story of how when he was a young boy, he and other children used to put their feet in the naturally developed indentations in the clay floor of the chapel.  Also, it is known that the Harnan family came to Rathmolyon in 1878 and Jimmy Harnan (who died in May 2004) recalled hearing his grandmother Ann say, that at the age of twenty-five when she came to the area, Kill Chapel was just the women’s end.

 

During his ten-year term as parish priest from 1878 to 1888, it is known that Fr. Hugh Behan, P.P. renovated the chapel.[14]   It is likely that it was at this time that the enlarged re-construction took place.  It is said that a local man, Walter Keeffe who was born in 1841 (he was the grandfather of the late Watty Keeffe, Rathmolyon) and was a carpenter by trade, was approached by the parish priest regarding extending the chapel.  It is believed that the expansion was to incorporate the small barn into a larger T-shaped building, with the barn forming part of one of the transepts in the enlarged chapel.  Walter was asked to work on the extension and was also asked for the names of men with skills who were available for work in the parish.  It is believed that Tracey and Ennis men from the locality worked on the building.  Whilst Walter also carried out work on the building, it was two brothers whose names are not available, who put up the wooden ceiling.  This was tongued and grooved pitch pine, with a carved wooden coving, which was stencilled with a green and gold design.  The extended and renovated chapel was dedicated to St. Michael and accommodated approximately three hundred people.

 

The Fowler Estate (Rahinston) supplied a sawmill for the cutting of the timber on site.  The Murray family of Tanderagee Estate contributed towards the cost of the work, as also did the Duc de Stacpoole.  His involvement helps to date the extension.  As the Duc did not marry into the MacEvoy family at Tobertynan until 1883, it is unlikely that he would have been residing in the area before then and subsequently improbable that he would have made a contribution to the church fund prior to that.  As it is said locally that the contribution from the Duc bought most of the timber required, it is most likely that the work on extending the chapel did not commence until, at the earliest, 1883.

 

Some years later, John Dunne, Enfield and formerly of Cloneycurry, died on June 21, 1894 and in his will, bequeathed £100 for the erection of a marble altar in the chapel.[15]  Another member of the Dunne family, Denis from the Hill, Cloneycurry, died in 1909 and left £50 towards the erection of a new bell at the chapel.[16] 

 

In 1931, Alphonsus Johnston, a painter and decorator from Tullamore renovated the exterior of the chapel and decorated the interior.[17]   During the course of the work, a door and a window were discovered in a mud wall in part of the building.  The door had clearly the appearance of being an entrance door to a farmyard barn and this discovery gave further proof of the original use of the building.  In 1940, a new boiler for heating the chapel was installed and in 1955, it was decided to carry out some necessary repairs in order to maintain the chapel in reasonable condition until a new church was built.[18]  

 

A clear description of the chapel is recalled by many people.  The exterior walls of the chapel were dashed with lime and small gravel and were supported by cut-stone buttresses.  On the roof, there were terracotta ridge tiles and also a cote, which housed a statue of the Blessed Virgin.  The chapel bell, which was suspended from an iron frame, was situated at the rear of the chapel, near the stables and boiler house.  In 1917, it was moved to the front of the newly opened cemetery across the road from the chapel.  A spear-pointed iron railing, mounted on a low wall and two matching full-sized gates formed the boundary between the chapel and the public roadway. 


 

Inteior of St. Michael's Church, KillInteior of St. Michael's Church, Kill

The décor and fittings of the interior of the chapel are also well remembered by many people.  The interior had plain plaster walls with red deal wainscoting to dado-rail height on the lower section.  As the congregation faced the main altar, to the right of what was known as the men’s end, was a side altar dedicated to the Sacred Heart.  The side altar to the left was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and a statue of Our Lady had a halo of lights around the head.  Two other statues stood in the transepts.  To the left was St. Michael the Archangel.  The other statue was of St. Joseph and the Child Jesus and a brass plaque at the base bore the inscription Pray for the deceased relatives of Mrs. Dunne, Little Johnstown.  Behind a wooden, arched altar rail, which had matching gates, hung a white linen cloth.  This cloth had to be turned up and over the rail top by the altar boys prior to the distribution of Holy Communion.

 

Placed on either side of the main aisle were two paraffin oil lamps, which were used to provide lighting in the chapel, prior to its electrification on August 26, 1954.  These lamps were made of brass and extended from wall brackets on swivelled arms that supported pink glass bowls. 

 

The T-shaped chapel had three galleries with a separate staircase leading to each one.  The largest gallery was known as the sanctuary gallery and a number of families in the parish contributed towards the cost of seating thereon.  The gallery over the women’s aisle was known as the de Stacpoole gallery and was used by that family and by the choir.  The third gallery was over the men’s aisle.

 

Above and behind the main altar was a triple panelled stained glass window depicting the Holy Ghost descending upon the Holy Family.  To either side of this window were two other stained glass windows and along the nave were a number of plain glass arched windows.  At the end of the nave was a long narrow stained glass window dedicated to the memory of Fr. Patrick Kiernan, who served as curate from 1912 to 1919.

 

The baptismal font was in a railed off area at the rear of the men’s aisle.  Freestanding marble holy water fonts were positioned at each door.  Each was dated 1908 and the largest one bore the inscription:  Pray for the souls of Very Rev. Hugh Behan, Very Rev. Patrick Cantwell and Very Rev. Hugh McEntee.  The other two had inscriptions: Pray for the Soul of Christopher McMahon and Pray for the Soul of James Harnan.  The McMahon family lived in the Trammon area and the Harnan family lived in Rathmolyon village.

 

The entrance to the vestry was at the men’s aisle end, to the right of the sanctuary.  At the back of the chapel and under the sanctuary gallery was a partitioned off area where the altar boys robed for Mass.  Under the staircase to this gallery was a storage area for the crib and other religious artefacts.  People entered the chapel through a door to the central aisle and through two doors to each of the transepts.  A solid fuel-burning furnace provided heating.

 

Situated at the rear of the chapel were large open stables for the housing of horses or ponies and traps during Church services.  A mass concrete wall at the back of the building and steel pillars at the front, supported a slated roof.  Each stable was sufficiently large to accommodate both horse and trap.  A large ring fixed to the back wall, facilitated the tying up of the horse when stabled.  The stables were individually numbered and allocated to a particular person for their exclusive use or by someone designated by them.

 

Parishioners who wished to avail of the stabling facilities contributed towards the cost of the building.  Around 1915/16, Christy O’Loughlin of Clegarrow (the father of the late Christy of Ballinderrin) submitted an estimate for the renovation and slating of the stables.  Having underestimated the cost, he approached the parish priest to re-negotiate the deal but Fr. Thomas Gilsenan felt that they should stand by the agreed price.  In order to honour his commitment, Christy asked his wife Brigid to go to the Ulster Bank in Trim to raise a loan in order to complete the work.  Whilst Christy suffered a financial loss, the handsome stabling, which existed for many years, was testament to his fine workmanship.

 


Baptismal Font in St. Michael's Church, KillBaptismal Font in St. Michael's Church, Kill

On the opening of the new church in Rathmolyon on July 14, 1968, Kill Chapel was closed and subsequently most of the furniture and artefacts were dispersed.  On its deconsecration, all of the sacred vessels were transferred to Rathmolyon Church.  The baptismal font and the three holy water fonts were transferred for use in the new church.  The statues of Our Lady and St. Joseph with the Child Jesus were also moved there.  The statue of the Sacred Heart was stored in the vestry of the new church, whilst the statue of St. Michael the Archangel was taken to Kill National School.  One of the oil lamps was later converted for use as a sanctuary lamp in Enfield Oratory.  Most of the seats were sold for £1 each.  Three of them were placed around the shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes in the wood at Tobertynan.  At the request of the former curate of the parish, Fr. Timothy Buckley, the large stained glass window was taken down in sections by Sean Quinn and moved to Fr. Buckley’s new parish in Castletown-Kilpatrick.  His intention was to remove the lead and re-use the glass.  Some of the marble from the altar was later used in Jordanstown Church.  The statue of Our Lady that once stood on the roof of the chapel was at a later stage rescued from a pile of rubble at the rear of the chapel by Caffrey Farrell, who restored it and enclosed it in a glass case for protection.  It is now in the possession and care of his family.

 Killl Graveyard, across road from old Kill ChurchKilll Graveyard, across road from old Kill Church

For a period after its closure, Kill Chapel was used as a community hall before being sold into private ownership, with a sale of agreement with the new owner, Michael McHugh being signed on February 17, 1973.  As no deeds were available, it was necessary for the Church to establish title and prove long possession or as is otherwise known, squatters’ rights.  Locally born solicitor Michael Regan, of the legal firm Regan, McEntee and Partners, Trim, had sworn affidavits signed by local people who were of extraordinary character and probity.  Michael Ennis who lived within a stone’s throw of the chapel and William (Billy) McGrath, whose mother had taken care of the chapel for many years, gave testimony that for time immemorial, Kill Chapel had been used as a place of worship by priests and people.  The sale marked a final chapter in the history of Kill Chapel.

 

In his sermon at the opening of the new church in Rathmolyon in 1968, locally born priest Fr. P.J. Regan spoke of the chapel and said:

Through such loving care by Priest and people, the old Church down in the valley was maintained serviceable, neat and clean for the past 200 years.[19]



Sources:

[1] Beryl F.E. Moore, M.B., M.A., Rathmolyon, County Library, Navan, 1972, p.1.

[2] Olive C. Curran, History of the Diocese of Meath 1860-1993, Criterion Press, 1995, Volume II, pp. 453, 454.

[3] Rev. John Brady, A Short History of the Parishes of the Diocese of Meath 1867-1937, p. 188.

[4] Rev. Anthony Cogan, The Diocese of Meath, Ancient and Modern, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 1992, Volume II, p. 182.

[5] ibid., Volume II, p. 187.

[6] ibid., Volume II, p. 207.

[7] ibid., Volume III, p. 310. 

[8] ibid., Volume III, p. 316.

[9] A map of the county of Meath in the province of Leinster in Ireland, William Larkin, 1812.

[10] Fowler Estate map No. 18, National Library, Dublin.

[11] Brady, op. cit., p. 188.

[12] Chronicon of Enfield Parish.

[13] Cogan, op. cit., p. 382.

[15] Laura Watson (Dunne), Harlockstown, Dunboyne.

[16] ibid.

[17]Chronicon of Enfield Parish.

[18] ibid.

[19] Meath Chronicle Saturday, July 20, 1968.

Census of Ireland 1901, National Archives, Dublin.

Tithe Applotment books, 1825, County Library, Navan.

Valuation of tenements, parish of Rathmolyon, Griffiths Valuation, 1854.

 

Gratitude is extended to the following local people for their assistance in compiling the information in this article: Vincent Grehan, the late Christy O’Loughlin, Betty Maguire, Michael Higgins, the late Mattie Higgins, Packy Maguire, Billy Carey, Oliver Cooney, Paddy Farrell, Bernadette Kenny, Michael Heffernan, John Greville, Ted Greville, the late Jimmy Harnan, Anne Mooney, Michael Regan, Sean Quinn, Jimmy Dunne, John Brady, Ann Sweeny, Pat Reynolds (Melia) and Kit Loughlin.