Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

St. Fortiarnán’s Church
Killoughternane. Co. Carlow


Killoughternane – Cill Uchtarnáin –

Church of Fortiarnán (Fortchern)

St. Fortiarnán’s church (In ruins)

A monastery was founded here by St Fortchern, bishop and one of the three smiths of St Patrick. He choose this spot, at the foot of Mount Leinster, for its isolation and beauty in the 5th century. His feast day is 11th October.

“To this retreat as to a school of sanctity and wisdom”, writes Colgan, “there came many seeking instruction in literature and virtue, who in after times, were eminent for their piety and learning, amongst whom, to the great lustre of this school, St Fortchern merited to have as his disciple St Finnian of Clonard a native of the district about Mt Leinster, who was subsequently the instructor of the greatest Saints of Ireland, and spiritual father of three thousand monks”.

St Finnian is said to have been a native of Myshall.

So from the earliest time Killoughternane was famous as a centre of learning and remained so for almost a thousand years thereafter. The only ancient building now visible is the ruined 10th c Oratory, marked with an OPW (Office of Public Works) plaque. This small church is very similar to another of same date in this parish at Augha. Within the ruin is piscina (stone basin with drain hole usually beside the altar to receive water used in purifying the chalice etc).

In the field on opposite side of road may be seen the Holy Well & grotto, with a modern altar in front. Mass is celebrated here every year in July. An inscribed stone in front of the Oratory was erected by a local committee to mark the recent millennium. According to local people mass was said in Penal Law times in the woods which cloak nearby Knockscur hill.

In the 19th century a silver chalice and paten was discovered, wrapped in a linen cloth and embedded in the mud of the holy well. The inscription states that the chalice was made for Fr John Lucar in 1595. It is likely that these articles belonged to the priest of that name who said mass at the penal altar nearby.

Our survey of the site in 2001 found the earliest traces of monastic buildings to be (a chapel and three support buildings) under the road. The buildings were rectangular, timber framed with clay/wattle walls and thatched roof. The monastic site occupied the area each side of the coach road around Killoughternane Cross. The coach road constructed in the 19th century required that a large volume of clay be excavated and subsequently transferred to the top of the field nearby. This accumulation of clay had a detrimental effect on our readings in that area.

Prior to construction of the Oratory (now in ruins) there stood an earlier timber framed church dated to the 8th c. This building was of the same length but considerably wider. Our survey also revealed that beneath the oratory is a Neolithic burial. A total of twenty five buildings were found in all at Killoughternane.

Attached to the Oratory ruin is a plaque with the following bilingual inscription.

“In this church the men of Leinster venerated its founder, St Fortchern who was also the teacher of St Finnian of Clonard”.

The oratory has antae or projecting sidewalls and also has a round headed window.  It was probably built in the 10th or 11th century. There is a square baptismal font inside the church.

The monastery boasted a round tower which once stood 21 paces NW of the Oratory E wall. The tower at 96’ in height dominated the local landscape until struck by lightning in the 13th c.

At the beginning of the second millennium a major expansion of facilities occurred viz a large stone church with roof of wood shingles, an infirmary, a dormitory and classrooms The last group of stone buildings were constructed in the 14th c ie lecture hall, a washroom and a residence.

The present landowner (O’Connell) is of the opinion that Killoughternane could have been used as a retreat centre for a large monastery or monasteries in the area.

An alternative explanation is that the monastery functioned as a residential college i.e. to train seminarians and or lay students.

Text Source:

Image Source: Carlow – trails of the saints

Please report any images or broken links which do not open to

The information contained within the pages of this web site is provided solely for the purpose of sharing with others researching their ancestors in Ireland.
© 2001 Ireland Genealogy Projects, IGP TM  By Pre-emptive Copyright - All rights reserved