Rahan and Lynally
From Rite of Dedication of new Church of St. Colman, Mucklagh. (1979)
The Early Christian Period, 590-1169
It was the relative inaccessability of the great woods of Fircall that attracted the Irish Christian monks to Lynally and Rahan in the first place. To some extent it is proper to attribute the first organised settlement of life in the parish of Rahan to the monks who came with Coleman to found a monastery at Lynally.
He was granted the land, now five miles south of the town of Tullamore, covered then with the great wood that forms part of the parallelogram of thirty miles by twenty five with the Shannon on its west that sustained almost twelve major monasteries. Coleman's monastery was called Lynally or Lann Ela; the name Lann was an English word for special enclosure or monastery which indicates something of the wanderings of St. Coleman before he settles down there. He was a relative of St. Colmcille, helped found or was founder of the monastery of Muckamore at Connor near Belfast - he is called co-founder of that place with St. Macnisi, the patron saint of the diocese of Connor. Coleman finally came back to his native Meath where at Fidh Elo in the land of Fircall a site was given to him by a local prince. It was in the year 590. Coleman was dead by 611 and so his repuutation for sanctity and greatness rests on twenty years work at Lynally.
What was the monastery like? None of the original buildings survive but we can make a reasonable guess that just as the churchs in Europe imitated the prominent and suitable buildings of the pagan cities like the law courts or basilicas, so in Ireland the domestic buildings of the pagan Celts, modified by the peculiar demands of monastic life became the models on which monasteries were built. In a country that was not rocky and had an abundance of wood as Fircall had, the monastery would have been a collection of wooden huts, with a wooden church surrounded by one, two or more ditches with a number of entrances. Reading between the lines of the miraculous lives of St. Coleman that have survived, it is obvious that the most obvious characteristic of the place noticeable by any visotor was its physical poverty. Coleman was consecrated bishop, some say by Colmcille himself about 597 in Iona, and returned to Lynally where he died in 611.
The family of Ua Suanaigh as the almost complete list of coarbs or abbots tell us survived in control at Rahan, variously known as the Muintir Luainimh, Ua Suanaigh or latterly as O'Kelly - they seem to have been the original Fir Ceall or men of the churches - until the time of Mael Mhuadh with whom the O'Molloys first entered history at the beginning of the 11th century (he died in 1019). With almost monotonous regularity the Muintir Luainimh, called Ua Suanaigh by the Annals of Clonmacnois killed chiefs of the O'Molloys at the church of Rahan. In 1139 Muirceardach Ua Maelmhuaidh, lord of Feara Ceall, was burned by them in the church at Rahan; in 1156 Aedh, son of Donnchadh was killed by the Muintir Luainimh at the Island - Inis Mochuda Raithne. The Ua Suanaigh held on however. The last reference in the Annals for the death of a coarb of St. Suanus was in 1205 when Moyle Kieran O'Kelly, described as such, died. In 1227 the final end, one feels, came to the tradition that has stretched back to the 750's; Simon Clifford, a Norman, built a castle on the church lands of Rahan. The Normans only lasted in Fircall for about 100 years but a new age has begun in which Rahan and Lynally, and their churches were to be controlled by the O'Molloy's, and plagued by interminable family feuds about who was to be the lord of Fircall.
The Middle Ages, 1169 - 1557
The middle ages at Lynally and Rahan are the ages of the O'Molloys. No more is heard of the Ua Suanaigh of Rahan after the death of Moyle Kieran O'Kelly in 1205. One can only assume that between then and 1421 when information again becomes available on the churches of Rahan that the family become extinct or were ousted from their position as coarbs or erenaghs of the lands of Rahan and replaced by the branch of the O'Molloys known as the Sliocht Coilin after the first erenagh (died about 1400). Most of the old monastic establishments in Gaelic Ireland were gradually secularised in favour of the families who claimed succession from the founder - the Coarbs - or the families who defacto came to control them - the eneraghs. In general they were tenants of the bishop of the area, whose chief elected by normal Irish practice was confirmed by the bishop, and undertook to pay him rent, and to maintain hospitality for "pilgrims, strangers, and poor travellers". From the family came the clergy who provided divine services in the church or at least the eneraghor chief appointed priests to provide the religious services for the community. By 1421 at Rahan and Lynally that family was O'Molloy. Because the bishop of Meath was in fact always a Norman and because his effective control of his diocese stretched only as far as the limits of Norman control, the eneragh at Rahan was free of episcopal control and obligation in a way few contemporary eneraghs in gaelic areas were.
In the middle ages there was only one parish in that part of the diocese of Meath which now forms the parishes of Eglish, Kilcormac, Rahan, Tullamore, Clara and Tubber. It was centered at Ardnurcher or Horseleap and controlled chapels in the rest of that vast area. The explanation was of course that Ardnurcher was a Norman controlled centre, and division of Meath into parishes was a Norman achievement. The parish was set up by Meiler Fitzhenry, grandson of Henry II, to whom the whole area was granted about 1190 by Hugh de Lacy. He granted the tithes of his parish, though presumably he could not collect them in Fircall, to the priory of Conall in Kildare which he had founded. After the supression of the monasteries in 1639 - 1539 they fell to one Edward Randolfe, then Sir Edward Butler, Sir Nicholas White, the Colley family, Lord Blundell and then the Marquis of Downshire who collected them until the disestablishment of the Anglican Church in 1869. One presumes that Ardnucher claims over such a vast territory did not involve a great awareness of obligation in spiritual affairs. The territory of Fircall it seems could look after itself.
This is precisely what it did. A sign of changing times, a desire in Fircall for normal parish life, and a confidence on O' Molloy's part of his control of ecclesiastical lands and affairs in Fircall, carried a petition to go to Pope Boniface IX before 1417 from " the maior and sanior pars of the inhabitants of the district of Feara Kyeall" representing that "their parish church, St. Davids of Ardnurcher being six English miles away from them, and the country at times much disturbed, they have found it very difficult to go there for divine service, for the reception of the sacraments, the baptism of their children, and the burial of their dead, especially in the cold and rainy season of the year. Therefore they prayed that the chapel of St. Coleman of Lynnela might be seperated from the parish of Ardnurcher, be erected into a parish church and the chapels of Rathin Mochuda, Killeacy, Raoliffen, Habuge, Drumculynd and Eglays, all situated in the same district of Feara Kyeall and belonging to Ardnurcher parish, be limited to it". They claimed there was enough revenue, one presumes from old monastic lands ( as late as 1837 there were over 2000 acres of church lands in Lynally parish while the average acreage of the other parishes in the diocese of Meath was about 100 acres) to support a rector and vicar. Pope Boniface directed the bishop of Termulan (Killaloe ?) and the priors of Durrow and Seir Kieran to investigate the truth of the petition. It was found to be true- the vicar of Ardnurcher had little objection not being in a position to collect church revenues in Fircall and not too anxious to provide religious services in territory foreign and dangerous to himself), and in 1421 Martin V erected Lynally into a parish church, with the other churches as auxiliary chapels. It never had a rector present- he was always the prior of the Norman priory of Connall- but from then on there was a vicar of Fircall.
Again we fall back on buildings as indications of thriving religious life. The beautiful ogee arched windows in the small church at Rahan suggest a 15th century date when the church was rebuilt incorporating a Romanesque doorway. The entire building at Lynally dates from this time as does the finely carved gravestone which is pointed out as covering the grave of St. Coleman himself. It does not seem too speculative to connect the setting up of the new parish with the outbreak of new building activities at Rahan and at Lynally itself.
In 1421 Donald O'Molloy was appointed by Rome as rector of Lynally; in 1428 Oddonis O'Heghyn was appointed because he claimed Donald had never been promoted to priests orders. He obviously never established himself at Lynally for in 1438 Eugene or Huathus O'Molloy was appointed to the benefice vacant by the deprivation of Donald. Again Eugene was never ordained for in 1444 Donald O'Molloy went surety for a contribution of a years income from Lynally as a condition of appointment of one Donald O'Mulligan as vicar. He too did not establish himself for in 1466 Patrick O'Louneym, clerk of Meath, was appointed because of the failure of Eugene O'Molloy to be ordained.
In 1481 Donatus O'Higgin, clerk of Killaloe was appointed but in 1485 Nicholas O'Corrigan of Meath was appointed by privation of Donatus O'Higgin. In 1499 Oddo O'Luamin (could be and Patrick O'Louneyn have been of the old Muintir Luainimh of Lynam stock who had been the coarbs of Ua Suanaigh ?) was appointed rector of Lynally.
In 1536 Gerard Walsh, prior of Ballyboggan in Co. Meath wrote to Paul III for confirmation of his title to Ballyboggan, to the priory of St. Mary's, Lough Sewdy (Ballymore, Co. Westmeath) and the parishes of Clonfadforan and St. Coleman of Lynally to both of which laymen have the right to appoint. He mentions that the acting priests of both parishes, James O'Cleri and Dermot Macmoliny had no canonical title. It seems then that when all the claims and counter claims at Rome were going on since 1421, different people altogether were acting as parish priests at Lynally providing the religious services that kept the faith alive. In 1542 Connagh Contan O' Molloye, scholar, was recognised as vicar of Lynally by Henry the VIII, and in 1551 the new king, Edward VI, recognised Dermot O' Dungan as vicar; he was still vicar in 1586 and was far enough away from the centres of religious changes to be still in the medieval tradition - a priest of the old religion ministering to his people as best he could.
The first changes in Fircall that heralded the end of the middle ages were not religious but social and political - the plantation of Leix and Offaly which while at first not directly affecting Fircall - the O' Molloy's were in fact the Kings allies against the O' Connors of Offaly- introduced a new breed of ambitious, penniless English civil servants who were eventually to be the heirs of the lands of Fircall. It took a century and a half and many great disturbences to loosen the O' Molloy grasp on their traditional homeland, but the process and its result had a profound effect on the religious practice of the area for the new men were for the most part Protestant and introducers of English ways.
Changing Times, 1557-1691
The changing times which brought new landowners to Lynally and Rahan, a new way of life, a new religion and persecution for the old can be traced in the rise to prominance of the Moore family.
The third son of one Thomas Moore, of Beneden in England, also called Thomas arrived as a civil servant in Ireland in the 1540's, poor, talented and eager to better himself. His elder brother came too and founded a fortune on a royal grant of the vast estate of the Cisterian monks at Mellifont near Drogheda, and a family eventually enobled as the Earls of Drogheda. Thomas got land in the Offaly plantation on the condition that "he should not make use of the Breawne or Brehon Law", and use the "English tongue, habit and government". He got Crohan, the O'Connor stronghold and was knighted for his service to the crown. His son bought 1147 acres of Tullamore and Kilcruttin from the O'Molloys in 1604 and various pickings from the Fircall plantation of the reign of James I. By 1638 he had land at Cloonagh and Ballyard and was M.P. for Philipstown (Daingean). His son married the daughter of Charles Lyons of another adventurer family who had the lands of Mucklagh. Their descendent, John of Mucklagh, many years M.P. for the King's County "for firm attachment to the religion and laws of his country and the sucession of the illustrious house of Hanover" was advanced to the peerage as Baron Moore of Tullamore; his son became Earl of Charleville in 1758 to be succeeded by his nephew John Bury whose family has still some stake in Mucklagh and Charleville to this day.
Though the O'Molloys played safe; they were the queen's allies in 1557; M.P.'s in Dublin in1585 and Royal Standard Bearer by 1595: still times were hostile; by 1572 Fircall was incorporated into the King's County; they were refused membership of King James's parliament in 1613 (the excuse was Caolbach O'Molloy's inabillity to speak English) ; and in the Jacobean plantations they lost much of their lands in Rahan and Lynally though the descendants of Sliocht Coilin O'Molloy, sometime erenaghs of the church lands at Rahan and Lynally kept most of their land until 1654. For their part in the Cromwellian and Confederacy wars they lost all their lands in the parish to be restored only to 315 acres in 1666. By the end of the 17th century the senior branch of the family had died out.
All this change brought pressure on the old religion. The various disturbances and uncertainties were compounded at least on paper by the setting up of Anglican parishes in Rahan, Lynally, Killoughy and Eglish in 1638; they were first granted to an Anglican O'Molloy called Neil, but fortunately fell soon to the hands of the Cooke family who were a lot more interested in income from church lands than in preaching the message of the established church and so in spite of all the old faith found little difficulty in surviving.
There are records of the priests of the parish from Dublin and Roman documents. In 1601 a queen's pardon was given to Donogh O'Shanchan "of the Rahin, priest". In 1637 Fergall Duechy of the diocese of Meath (it is hard to make sense sometimes of Roman versions of Irish names) was appionted to Rahan in place of Donald Molloy who died; in 1645 Henry Coghlan was papal vicar of Lynally and was made a notary apostolic by Innocent X. The next mention of a parish priest is in a letter of the local Anglican Vicar, William Coffey (his grave with an interesting inscription is in Lynally churchyard) protesting to his bishop Dopping, (7 January 1689) that "ye priest of our parish, one William Sheil being denied the key of our church of lynally on ye 19th of December last entered therein with.......a dragoone and forcing open the door possessed himself thereof and by getting a new key made continues the possession thereof to himself and celebrates his Masse therein". It was a false dawn, of course; Fr. Sheil had presumed the coming the English throne of a Catholic, James II, had changed things for the better: it was not so; the darkness was to come more dense than ever for another 100 years at Rahan, Lynally and in all Ireland.
The Penal Days, 1691 - 1883
Little record survives today of the penal days in Rahan and Lynally except the complete list of parish priests after Fr. Sheil and, towards the end of the century, vague descriptions of the existence of the Churches where Mass was said. There does exist however a massive Mass rock near Killina which has I.H.S. carved out in 18th century script; near it is St. John's Well which has a traditional patron day. Again on the Charlevlle estate near Mucklagh is another Mass rock not so easily identifiable but having a holy well near it with an unusual dedication - to Christ; its patron day was Corpus Christi.
Again some legends have been handed down particularly about the exploits of one Constantine Molloy, a Catholic yeoman, who when the crowds from Tullamore came to Mucklagh for Mass in 1798 stood outside the chapel door with a loaded gun, seemingly an effective deterrant for the orangemen who had earlier closed the chapel of Tullamore.
Among the parish priests of the unoted parish after Fr. Shiel - Fr. Walsh, Fr. John Murray for which three silver chalices that still remain in the parish were made, for Lynally in 1779 (it will be used at Mass on September 9th 1979) Rahan 1785 and the Island 1785, Fr. James Murray his brother 1786 - 1799, - was one Fr. John O'Hara who came as parish priest in 1799 and died in 1806, and is still acclaimed as a saint - the Saint O'Hara - by local public acclamation as were Carthage, Coleman and Ua Suanaigh before him. His grave in Lynally churchyard is still pointed out, a place of prayer for the people.
The first references to Catholic Churches in Rahan is in bishop Plunket's diary for 1788, "Rahan . . . . . . the site of one chapel to be altered". He does not say which one. By 1810 we know there were three chapels, as now, in Rahan, Mucklagh and the Island.
Modern Times, 1803 - 1979
It can be said with accuracy that modern times began at Rahan in 1803. What happened then was not untypical what was happening in quite a few places in Ireland. A Catholic Dublin merchant family, pushed into trade and fortune by penal laws against Catholics acquiring land, had the ready cash to purchase part of the vast estate, parts of which were in nearly every county in the country, that the good Doctor Petty, Cromwellian surveyor par excellence and collector of land, had left to his family whose head was the Marquis of Landsdown. In the case of the Rahan lands they had been purchased by the family from the planters' families who had been granted them at the plantations. The O'Brien family were generous benefactors of the church even if their reputation as landlords was not above question. The site of the chapel of Rahan was on their land and probably given by them to the parish (the chapel was built before 1817). The present parochial house (built c. 1861) is on what was O'Brien land, and the Presentatiom nuns who still teach at Rahan were invited there by Maria O'Brien who died a nun in the convent in 1827. The college of St. Stanislaus set up by the Jesuits in 1818 at Tullabeg was endowed by the O'Briens and, though it was intended to cater for the upper middle class Catholics as was the sister college at Clongowes Wood, the names of four Jesuit fathers born in the parish given in John Brady's history of the parish, show that Jesuit influence then as later in the Retreat House which the college had become [now a nursing home], having been a novitate for some time, went far beyond the walls of the institution. The chapel at Tullabeg with its Evie Hone windows was, of course, one of the glories of Irish religious art of the twentieth century [sadly these have been removed]. The influence of the Presentation sisters too went far beyond their school. In a letter to bishop Plunkett in 1817 the reverend mother of the convent told him of the school having over 100 pupils a week after it opened and "that a great number of women attend instructions on Sunday after Mass. All appear most attentive and inclined to piety".
Catholic schools were set up in the other areas of the parish. In 1820 one was set up at the Island. In 1832 it has "no glass windows (but) holes in the wall". In 1835 there were six schools in the parish. The boys' school at Rahan became a National school in 1832; that at Mucklagh in 1848 and at the Island in 1849.
The chapel at Mucklagh was built before 1837 when it was described as "a plain building of recent erection". To a plain rectangular building which it was in 1840 a transcept and sacristy have been added since. Some wood from the former chapel of the 18th century stiill survives in an outhouse owned by Mr. Matt Mooney of Lynally. The church was dedicated to Our Lady; the new church will be dedicated to St. Coleman.
The present church at the Island was built by Father Robbins, curate at Rahan from 1834 - 1837; formally dedicated to St. Carthage it is now dedicated to St. Patrick.
Of course the names of the parish priests and curates have survived from this time. One, Fr. Michael Donnellan who died at thirty one years of age in 1830, was buried in Lynally graveyard, a good musician, he is called on his tombstone a grave preacher who made available to his flocks the salvation bearing grace which he himself abundantly drank from himself ": another, Fr. Coghlan, parish priest for one year fell "a victim to the malignant fever which carried off so many in the year 1847". Fr. Colgan, P.P., 1859 - 1878 built the bell tower of the church at Rahan and acquired the parochial house from the O'Brien family. The succeeding parish priests were Fr's. Morgan, 1878 - 1889; Tuite, 1889 - 1892; Woods, 1892 - 1899; Smyth, 1899 - 1917; Flynn, 1917 - 1924; Lynam, 1924 - 1927 (in his person one wonders if the old Muintir Luainimh were back as coarbs of Rahan Ua Suanaigh again); Glynn, 1927; O'Reilly, 1927 - 1935; Judge, 1935 - 1964; Cuffe, 1964 - 1976; Mooney 1976.
1979 will be for future generations a landmark in the history of the united parishes of Rahan and Lynally when the old foundation of St. Coleman once again finds a new form in the church being dedicated on September 9th. It is a time to look forward, of course, but also it is a time to look back to the various churches of the parish - at Lynally and Rahan of the earliest time which have disappeared, to Rahan's church of the 12th century whose magnificent remains pay mute and eloquent tribute to the faith of its builders, to the churches of Lynally, and Rahan of the 15th century, and above all to the modest and small churches of the 18th and 19th centuries two of which are still in use, apt and fitting places for the worship of God at Mass, the celebration of our Christian mysteries which has made holy these places for over 1300 years.
The notes on which this account of the churches of Rahan and Lynally are based were gathered by Fr. Phil Cuffe; they were supplemented by the histories of the parish to be found in Dean Cogan's History of the Diocese of Meath, and in Fr. John Brady's pamphlets on the parishes of Meath, and by information from Fr. Conor McGreevy, P.P., Kilskyre, Matthew Mooney of Lynally, and Liam Cox's history of the O'Molloy's.