The name ‘Shanrahan’ is no longer
remembered as a civil parish or a Church of Ireland parish
in south-west Tipperary, the parish now being referred to by
its Catholic name ‘Clogheen and Burncourt’.
It includes the ancient parish of Ballysheehan.
However the name is still remembered as the name of a
townland and the cemetery within that townland.
This cemetery which is situated about one kilometre
west of Clogheen still serves as the parish cemetery for the
community of Clogheen and district. This report is the result of a survey of that cemetery with
particular attention being paid to the ruins of the medieval
parish church of Shanrahan contained therein. The graveyard
also includes scant remains of a fifteenth century castle,
the tomb of martyred parish priest, Fr. Nicholas Sheehy,
and the burial vault of
landlord O’Callaghan family – later Lords
The graveyard is situated to the north of, and at the
foot of, a peak of the Knockmealdown mountain range,
Knockshanahullion. This 652 metre peak (Discovery Series Map # 74)) was more
anciently known as Slieve gCua and appears as such in
Cromwellian records. (Civil
Survey 1654) The River Duag
which runs right beside the cemetery and lends itself to the
peaceful ambience of the place is a tributary of the River
Tar and ultimately of the River Suir. A bridge over the
river at this point was repaired as part of famine relief
work in 1847 (O’Riordan 1995, 44) The
road across the bridge and running southwards over
the mountain to Araglin and Lismore is said to be as ancient
as the more renowned Rian Bó Padraig which is further to
surrounding landscape, described by geographers as bocage,
much of enclosed fields and field fences.
Across the river to the south the fields soon
give way to forestry plantation in the care of Coillte while
to the north the land rises less steeply to the east-west running
Clogheen/Mitchelstown road and continues on
across the valley to the Galtee mountains some six
miles away. The
land in the vicinity is given over almost entirely to
grassland due to the cold clayey nature of the soil in the
wall on the east side of the cemetery measures 130 metres in
length. The greatest width is 75 metres. A large area at the
south side of the cemetery which contains modern graves is a
relatively recent extension.
The river Duag forms
the boundary to the south but the ground of the cemetery is
raised well above the river and enclosed behind a stone
built wall. An internal pathway encompasses the entire
the northeast an farmyard and disused farmhouse detract from
the overall tranquillity here. An area of ground to the west of the graveyard serves,
nowadays, as a car park.
An attractive stone stile on the west wall beneath a
grove of mature Scots Pine trees offers access from the car
park. To the north of the stile a blocked up entrance to the
site was noted. (These
piers may simply be reinforcing piers.)
At this west and north/west side one is struck by the
arc which is formed by the wall leading one to believe that
this may be a site of great antiquity.
However, apart from this arc there is no evidence
that the site was ever enclosed by a circular wall or
the entrance gate on the north wall a pair of handsome iron
gates are supported by well built sandstone piers.
Barely decipherable date
and initials reading ‘R.G. 1835’ were noted on
the top of the west pier.
A small plaque dated 1991 reminds visitors that Fr.
Nicholas Sheehy is still remembered by the local community.
the graveyard and within twenty metres of the entrance the
pathway passes beneath the tower of the ruined church.
This medieval parish church has undergone at least
three phases of construction and reconstruction, finally
being abandoned in the early nineteenth century by the
Protestant Established Church community which it then
served. It now lies broken and roofless but enough is preserved
for the student of archaeology to be able to decipher the
various stages it has gone through.
A plan of the church is offered with this report and
will augment the description given here.
The original building appears to have been
a small rectangular structure measuring 9.5 metres by
6metres . This
portion of the building, which subsequently became the
chancel of the most recent church, is of uncoursed sandstone
and limestone rubble and lime mortar construction. The north
wall is almost entirely destroyed but enough remains to get
measurements. A pronounced batter is evident on the original
sections that remain. By
probing beneath the ivy on the internal west wall it was
possible to make out the blocked up original entrance.
This became more obvious when access was gained to
the tower through a window with the aid of a step ladder.
The entrance is more discernible from inside the
blocked doorway on the north side of the tower gave access
to this doorway. The
tower itself has been added in two distinct phases.
It is debateable as to whether or not the tower was
part of the original building but at some point in its
history its upper windows were blocked up and five or six
metres added to its height. The top of the tower has
pseudo-battlements topped with coping stones. These are
perfectly preserved on the west side but are in various
states of disrepair on the other three sides. The lower centre-pointed window of the tower, on the west
side, measures 87cm wide and is approximately two metres
high. The tower windows, which were blocked up, are now
visible because the lime-mortar rendering has all but
windows which are evident on the west and north sides are
round headed of segmental
arch construction. The
sandstone voissoirs are cut but not finely dressed.
The newer and higher windows, again on the west and
north, are of fine ashlar construction, the lower part of
these windows, up to the spring of the arch, being built
with ashlar quoins. These
windows are pointed. The
south side of the tower was, in its most recent phase, faced
with weather slating. The wall of the tower is 70cms in
Sheela na Gig adorns the west wall of the tower, but this is
dealt with in the attached article from the Tipperary
Historical Journal which was written by this student
following the finding of another Sheela-na-Gig on this
church while conducting this survey.
walk around the church reveals some interesting detail.
At the south west corner of the building the quoins
are clearly stones that have been incorporated from another
upwards, as they appear in the photograph (not included with
this copy), quoin number
three - one of four limestone quoins at this point -
is the most obvious reused stone. The lower portion of the west face of this stone has a finely
cut chamfer and chamfer stop.
A possible source of these stones was the fifteenth
century castle at this site.
A ruined tower of this castle is dealt with below.
It will be noted that just above the two metre
ranging pole and on the south facing wall the quoin is a
sandstone voissoir and again is most likely from the old
castle. Two one
metre wide splayed windows on the south side of the church
were blocked up at some point. The walls of the church are,
on average, 75 cms thick and are of uncoursed split
limestone and sandstone rubble.
Some water rolled sandstone boulders are also
mixture of stone reflects the geology of the area with the
sandstone mountains to the south and the limestone valley
floor to the north. The
mortar is lime mortar made with what appears to be screened
river gravel. The nave at the east side of the church which
measures 5.60m by 4m appears to be a later addition and its
addition to the original church necessitated the
construction of a chancel arch of sandstone.
(Photo # 5) The
nave is narrower than the original building and the stones
are not keyed into the original walls.
The walls of the nave are retained to their original
height and carefully chosen but uncut sandstone coping
stones are still in situ.
most recent entrance seems to have been in the east wall.
metre opening had a round arch of brick construction.
The brick is of a light red colour.
It wasn’t possible to get a measurement of a full
brick. The Sheela na Gig which is dealt with in the attachment to
this report is on the south corner of the east wall almost
at ground level. Inside
the nave an aumbrey is noted at ground level on the south
wall at 52 inches from the east wall. It measures 40cm wide
and 35 in height and 30 cms in depth. Without removing soil and debris it is impossible to get a
more accurate measurement of height.
(Photo # 6) The
chancel arch, as already noted, is of sandstone voissoirs
and measures almost three metres in width.
north wall of the chancel is broken down and it is difficult
to decide if there was a door or window here at one time.
A small buttress exists to a height
of 60cms at the west end of the north wall.
Four metres futher to the east an anomoly exists.
It has been represented on the attached plan as a
buttress but, on reflection,
its size makes this seem improbable.
There is no sign of an opening here and the structure
is solidly packed with stone.
It remains to a height of
Burke in his History of Clonmel (1907, 436) records that at
a General Session of Assize in Clonmel
in 1663, Robert Thornhill, a gentleman, late of
Castlegrace, was charged that he had, with force of arms,
destroyed the roof of the Church of All Saints at Shanrahan
and taken the timbers and other material away for his own
use. Thornhill was found not guilty but nevertheless, he was bound
to the peace.
(1907, 328) states
that Shanrahan is a place of some historical importance as
the possible original see of St. Cataldus, afterwards bishop
of Tarantum in
further states that the ruined church while dating from
centuries after Cataldus is “occupying doubtless
the site of the original foundation”.
O’Donovan was less enthusiastic in his O.S.
Letters (1840, 16) :
site of the original church of Shanrahan is occupied by the
of a Protestant church of no great age and which is not
attention of the antiquarian.”
He goes on to say that the neighbourhood was
very barren in antiquities.
It would have been impossible for O’Donovan to have
known that beneath the plaster rendering of the church lay
the evidence for the earlier medieval church .
have taken place over the years in the old church.
A plaque on the outside of the south wall states that
this is the burial place of the Everards of Lisheenanoul.
source for the history of
is Fr. John Everard, who was parish priest of
Clogheen in the early years of the twentieth century.
Fr. Everard’s article in the Journal of the Cork
Historical and Archaeological society
was written from sources that were subsequently
destroyed during the civil war burning of the Four Courts.
Everard states that the Castle was built by the Earl
of Desmond in 1453. He
further states that the Castle was at one time, in the
seventeenth century, a favourite residence of
Sir Richard Everard.
This is the same Sir Richard Everard who was
prominent in the Confederation of Kilkenny and whose
Burncourt Castle was destroyed during the Cromwellian
campaign in Ireland. However, the Civil Survey of Ireland notes that
Shanrahan Castle was, at the time of compilation of
the survey, a ruinous old stump. (Civil Survey 1654, 350).
This would appear to cast doubt on the accuracy of
Fr, Everard’s assertion. It is difficult to reconcile the
‘ruinous old stump’ description with the fact that
Richard had recently lived there!
O’Donovan describes the castle thus:
the south of this [church] is a fragment of a military round
of rude masonry and about forty feet in height.
It is said
be a part of a large castle, the walls of which some
are still visible, but no idea can be formed of the original
of the building.” (1840,17)
that remains of the castle today is an ivy covered tower
approximately 15 metres in height. A north south measurement
of the tower was noted at 3.36metres with a projection of
broken wall attached on the north side measuring 2.20m.
This wall measures 1.25 in thickness.
It is D shaped rather than circular.
The presence of the remains of a fallen tower at a
mere 5 metres from the standing tower might indicate that
this was a small rectangular castle with towers at two or
Both towers were constructed of uncoursed
sandstone rubble with some split limestone rubble. The mortar is lime mortar with river gravel.
A pronounced batter was noted on both the upright and
the fallen tower.
Everard also gives us an idea of why the
castle remains are so scant.
He asserts that the stone was removed by
‘vandals’ to build farmsteads locally.
In light of this assertion it is interesting to note
that a stone in the North wall of the cemetery and bounding
the farmyard, shows definite sign of having had a previous
use. (Photo #
of the field fences of the neighboring farm are constructed
of stone of a type superior to that which one might expect
in a field fence in this locality.
It is interesting that Fr. John Everard is
buried at the foot of the castle tower.
1766 Fr. Nicholas Sheehy was hanged in Clonmel after a
rigged trial. This
was the era of the Whiteboys
who struck fear into the heart of the Landed
Fr. Sheehy was sympathetic to Whiteboy ideals and so
became a marked man. He
had been charged with murder even though no body had ever
been produced. Following his execution his head was severed
from his body and wasn’t buried with the rest of his
remains until twenty years later.
Those remains are interred in an altar tomb of
limestone between the Castle and the Church in Shanrahan.
(Photo #8) The
tomb itself is
joined to the tomb of a Fr. Gleeson who was Fr. Sheehy’s
predecessor in Clogheen.
In 1898 the local community erected a plaque on the
tomb and a railing around it.
The railing was supplied by this student’s great
#9) The plaque was supplied by the noted Tipperary
stonecutters Brackens of Templemore.
To the west of the Church stands the burial vault of
the O’Callaghan landlord family, later Lords Lismore. Here
in a cellar lie the remains of successive members of that
family whose residence was at Shanbally Castle.
The building is of fine ashlar limestone
construction. The building is said to date from the late
eighteenth century. Inside
the building a large marble plaque on the south wall is in
photograph (#10) is included below.
A sketch plan of the building is also included below.
Two limestone centre pointed windows on the west wall
measure 70cm in width and 1.42m in height . The original
louvred timber slats have been replaced by iron bars.
An iron gate guards the limestone centre pointed
entrance. The 30cm limestone is finely cut with a chamfer at
both sides of the architrave.
The slate roof is still in perfect condition as is
the plaster ceiling. Stone slabs line the floor of the
trapdoor gives access to the burials below.
Oral tradition has it that Fr. Sheehy hid in this
vault during the days that he was on the run from the
‘gentry’ of South
Tipperary during the eighteenth century.
Surprisingly, given the antiquity of the place,
no medieval grave slabs are present here.
One of the oldest gravestones is that of John White
and his wife. It is a plain rectangular slab of slate. It
‘Here lieth the body of John White and wife
who died March 25, 1741.
As with other graveyards this graveyard at
Shanrahan mirrors societal divisions in death as in life.
One section of the cemetery was, from the late
eighteenth century to the early twentieth century, set apart
for the wealthier Protestant community.
Here one reads the names of mill owners, doctors,
officials, merchants and military men from Clogheen’s
eighteenth century military barracks. One of the first
gravestones one sees on entering is to the memory of
Constable Hatton of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Men and
women and a few children with English names seem out of
place here until one considers Clogheen’s history.
That same history is also reflected in the number of
Stones marking the parents of people from the United States
of America. Parish
Priests from Philadlephia and New Zealand erected stones to
their parents in the early part of this century.
A recent plaque commemorates the memory of thirteen
children from the local Hogan family who emigrated in the
nineteenth century. It
was erected by members of the VanLoan and DeFalco family, a
sure sign of the cultural diversity which greeted the
emigrants of the last century as it does today.
Here also in Shanrahan is the grave of
Lord Sackville of Knole in Kent, England, who died in
spent the last years of his life in Clogheen his wish was to
be buried here. A
few metres away lie the remains of the poor Irish whose
graves are marked with simple stones.
There are no Irish language inscriptions here.
And so, in modern times, the archaeologist visitor to
Shanrahan can reflect on the tradition of an early
ecclesiastical settlement in Shanrahan, ponder the ruins of
a medieval parish church with its two Sheela-na-Gigs, and
regret the destruction of a fifteenth century castle.
Here, too, one can contemplate the ironies of life
that sees, in death, the coming together of Lords and
peasants, beggars and Ladies, English and Irish, Catholic