Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Land of Saints

(Previously published in ''The Parish of KILLESHIN, Graiguecullen'. by P.MacSuibhne. 1972.)

Killeshin Old Church, School and new church. Co. Laois c.1829
Source: OSI Maps

Killeshin Land of Saints

Early in the sixth century St. Diarmuid founded a monastery at Killeshin. His feast was 8 July. St. Comgan who succeeded him as Abbot died before 570. His feast was 27 February. He was a native of Thomond and a nephew of the great St. Columcille, the first exile from Erin and patron of all our Irish exiles. Columcille was noted for his passionate love of Ireland. As an exile in Scotland he suffered from an intense heart longing. "A grey eye looks back at Eire," he said. "If I should die, it will be from love of the Gael." St. Nainnidh, whose feast occurs 2 June also lived in Killeshin. St. Mugen, Abbot of Killeshin in the sixth century was the teacher of St. Lazerian, founder and first bishop of Leighlin. Lazerian came to school here. The names of the Abbots of Killeshin are recorded down to 1082 A.D. In 1041

Killeshin was plundered and its Oratory demolished. In 1077 Killeshin with its yew trees was burned. The remains of the ancient church with its beautiful Romanesque doorway probably date from this period. The days of persecution came and for 300 years Mass was no longer allowed. Two places in Killeshin are pointed out where Mass used to be said in secret in penal days. At the end of the 18th century came the dawn of a better day when Mass-houses and chapels were allowed to be built. In 1818 Fr. Michael McDonald the curate and a native of Ballon parish set about building the church of the Holy Cross, Killeshin. He was encouraged by Fr. James Doyle professor at Carlow College and future bishop of the diocese. In 1823 the feeble old P.P. died. When the new P.P. was appointed Dr. Doyle detached the district of Sletty from Arles parish and added it to Killeshin.

Topography of Sliabh Mairge

The barony of Sliabh Mairge in the extreme south east of Laois contains upwards of 35,500 acres. The eastern district is a rich and beautiful portion of the valley of the Barrow and the parallel vale of the Fuiseog rivulet, but the middle and western districts are a series of uplands so fused into one another as to form a tumulated tableau of 500 to 1000 feet of elevation above sea-level. Most of the uplands are of coal formation, and have seams or beds of coal of such position and thickness as to be profitably mined in recent times and constitute an important part of the Leinster coalfield.

From the western banks of the Barrow, near Graigcullen, the ground slopes upward rather steeply to Cill Uissean old church close to which a picturesque cave, covered with thick micaceous grits is to be seen. In that direction the mountain road ascends towards the coal district of Tolerton and Newtown. When viewed from a .distance the general appearance of this region is that of a very steep ridge of high land running in a direct line for many miles and rising to an elevation of 800 to 1000 feet above its base, and apparently flat on its summit. When viewed from the eminence itself it resembles a great barren table-land rising precipitately above a flat and highly cultivated country. The Coal Fields of this elevated district lie chiefly in the south east part, and extend into Co. Kilkenny. The picturesque cave near the Romanesque Church and the Blessed Well was the Saints' Grotto where they lived and prayed.

The views from the heights above Cill Uissen of the fertile and well-wooded valley around Carlow, backed by the range of the Wicklow mountains with their culminating centrepiece Lug Na Coille - is particularly beautiful. From the northern slopes of the Sliabh Mairge range, the view over a vast country presents an enchanting prospect, while its diversity in lines of walled demesnes and hedgerow enclosures around numerous farmhouses and cottages is particularly charming. The distant summits of the Wicklow mountains form a fitting background to this grand scene of hill and dale, of emerald fields and rich cornlands; and the winding, fishful, storied Barrow flows by ruined keep and broken towers and the modern spires of the ancient town.

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