The earliest history available for this area dates back to mid sixteen hundreds when Walter and Philip Newtown, originally Lanceshire, England came to Ireland in 1688, settled in Busherstown about the time the seat of Busherstown was established – a considerable acreage of land was being divided into lots which encouraged many English to travel to our shores in pursuit of property. Dunleckney, Kildrenagh, Upton, Fenagh, Lumclone and Kilconnor were the properties; these areas would have been highly cultivated land. Bruen’s, Oakpark, had very quickly taken over Kildrenagh, Beresfords claimed Fenagh while Charles Watson settled in Ballydarton, later making his way eventually to Kilconnor. Meantime Watson built a Quaker Meeting House in Kilconnor, the remains of which may still be seen. Newton married into the Bagnal family in Dunleckney.
Small families were now having to make a meager livelihood from the marshy land left to them, poverty was ripe, the landlords had come and taken over, the workers were only called” the hewers of wood and drawers of water”, they had no say in their own land. However they survived and many of the family names may be seen on the local register, while little is known of the landlords.
About 1854 an order of monks settled in lower Kildrenagh. The word Kildrenagh translates into ’sloe bush’. The monks came to the memory of Saint Mernoc who died in 635 A.D. A small thatched church was built which served as a Chapel of Ease. Living on a small portion of low lying land which the landlords had no use for, the monks put it to use by grinding corn which helped to subsidise their livelihood. A spring of water close by a stone-wall provided for their needs. This spring is now called The Wart Well, its font is the base of the Crucifix, which is in local granite stone, the arms of the crucifix are worth a very close look, the figures are of architectural interest. Dunleckney church was at this time the Parish for Newtown and surrounding areas. Parishioners had very long journeys to attend Mass with transport being mostly by pony and trap or by foot on shanks mare, very slow, no speeding those days! However, the lucky ones found short cuts by taking to the fields or bogs, in so doing paved a path along side a headland with its owners permission, thus making a footpath, these paths became known as Mass Paths and were considered sacred ground, one never dared desecrate them. Anyone who did was much frowned upon. After two hundred years it is sad to see Mass Paths being built on by people who do not know how people revered them.
Granite stone comes into the history of this area quite frequently. So far its original date of finding is somewhat uncertain, except to learn the quarry was on Hogan’s land in Boherduff. The local men mentioned in connection to its use for all local buildings are named as Currans, Byrnes, Hogans, and Dillons.
In 1819 the local school held its classes in the Church, which was known as Hedge School. Hedge Schools were allowed to accommodate poor Catholic children; the attendance was 53 boys and 26 girls. The only means of heating the school would be open fires burning turf, which the children supplied each day. At this time the church was burned down by Orangemen, the aftermath of 1798, the school then moved to the old house later Ryder’s home. In 1834 a new, two storied school was built with local granite, its architecture fitting in with the Church which was commenced in 1832 and completed in 1884. When finished it was described as a ‘high spirited Church, a reduced version of Carlow Cathedral’. The beautiful ceiling is believed to have been the work of Italian artisans, the stained glass windows by Joshua Clarke, the window with the Churches Patron St. Patrick is of striking beauty.
The graveyard surrounding the Church is well worth visiting, a tour of the headstones Is of special interest, of mention would be Keoghs, Orchard who gave us the famous Myles Keogh who fought and died with Custer at Little Big Horn an 1876 having served with the Papal Guard in Italy. There too stands a headstone to the memory of the Tubberbride Keogh, the family who gave the change of horse to Father Murphy on his final journey from Kilcomney to Tullow. It is worth mentioning the two granite slabs with the figure ‘O’ in the centre of each which were built into the wall of the watch-house in the grave yard to watch out for corpse stealing, something quite common in that time. It is believed the corpses were used for refitting limbs. Families would have arranged to have their grave s watched for whatever was deemed a necessary time after burial. The watch-house was so positioned and the spy-hole designed to afford the maximum view to the night watchman. The Knight of Kerry who owned some land in Boherduff, also on Valentia Island had large amounts of granite transported as far afield as Clonmel and Kerry. The wall surrounding the light-house on the Skellig Rock situated away out in the Atlantic Ocean off the Kerry coast bears the inscription ” Granite from Boherduff, Carlow”, the Cable Station on Valentia Island is also surrounded with granite. Sadly cement has taken the place of granite in recent years, leaving the quarry defunct. It is now closed and like everything, people now are wanting to build with granite, it’s a strange world.
The present new school opened its doors in 1978 to 140 pupils and 4 teachers. Modern with heating, light, water and every comfort laid on, a picture unknown or beyond the imagination of the hedge school children. Progress undoubtedly in tune with the times we now live in. It took almost 200 years to reach this comfort, it was worth all the hardships the area suffered patiently, and let there be no doubt, families suffered terrible hardship into the mid 1900’s.
Suppression takes a long time for any population to recover, the mark is left for several generations, however with far-seeing people anxious to help in the best possible way, the local curate and Church of Ireland rector saw in their wisdom one idea which was much needed to bring people together and help socialise. They called a meeting generously attended and formed a solid working committee, from there each member took on a towns land to visit, which in turn led to bringing the less fortunate into local circulation. Distant bus outings were arranged, card games, Christmas Dinner, etc. Very soon the most reluctant was at the helm, the working party and the original organisers had after 14 years good work given of their best with pleasure.
Time is now catching up; it’s a long time since the mid 1600’s. However its good to know that there is not one person who has lived through those centuries. Its past now, we look to the future with hope. The year 2004 saw our new Bishop Moriarty come to our 1884 church on Easter morning early to celebrate 9 am Mass much to the delight of the congregation, the first time let it be said, a Bishop ever celebrated Mass in the church, the appreciation knew no limit. To date a mention and gratitude must be given to the local families whose name goes down in the records being the longest in this Newtown area. Namely, Hughes, Kildrenagh- 1760, Smyth- 1815, Aughney- 1800, Murphy, O’Brien, O’Hara, Kehoe, Gorman- no date.
History would not be complete without mentioning one of the oldest of our local families, namely Bridget Aughney, a wonderful lady at 92 years of age, born and reared in Clonegath townsland and who at an early age went to work in Dublin until retirement when she returned to the home-ground to enjoy many years rest. A lady of independence, has no difficulty walking the one mile to Newtown church every Sunday for 9 am Mass, sometimes accepting a lift from the first driver who overtakes her. Faith, humility and respect are the mottos she practised all her life. Long may she live in good health.
St Patrick’s Church Newtown- Mainly oral tradition
According to Mgr. Conway it was burned in 1798.
Martin Brennan states that in 1819 School was taught in the Roman Catholic Church in Newtown as there was no school until 1834. Stone work in two buildings similar and said to come from the locality ( Gorman’s lane in Kildrinagh) . The church was supposed to be a barn-type Church . Sean Swayne quoting an Architectural Historian says that it “is one of the finest barn-type gothic Churches in the country” JAMES Murphy, Newtown died 15/5/1848 (Buried near vestry door) He is reputed to have been a great help transporting granite stone to the rebuilding of the church burned down in 1798.
Comerford in 1886 states ” the chapel of ease in Bagenalstown at Newton was built in recent times.” It is believed that the galleries, and side aisles etc. were added at that time. Italian refugee artists are reputed to have done the ceilings. They also did Fenagh House.
The bell was erected c. 1900 as inscription on bell reads “M.Byrne, Bell founder, James’ St. Dublin. Gift of John Me Grath Esq. Nurney 1900 Rt. Rev. Monsignor Burke P.P. V.F.” The roof was repaired and raised a little as timbers show around 1930 by a mail named Broughan. In 1950’s the Mosaics at the back of the altars and on outside were added. Ryders, originally from Myshall are reputed to have made the Confession boxes at the turn of the century.
Report on Newtown Church
The following is an extract from a report on Newtown Church prepared by two architectural historians for the Irish Episcopal Commission for Liturgy and passed on to our late Parish Priest by Fr. Sean Swayne its National Secretary: – “Very fine and important gothic church. T-shaped with a low ceiling; long transepts; very fine granite decorations, crenellations, pinnacles, beilcote, and crosses; two doorcases with quarterfoil over; transepts also decorated; three galleries; simple gothic reredos (similar to Ballon) contemporary with the church; good plaster work on the ceiling, with pretty good label-stops on the moulding on the windows (similar to Clonegal). This is one of the finest gothic barn-type churches in the country.”
The ceiling immediately catches the eye and the motif of grape and wheat – ‘ Ears of wheat so fine and the grape that forms the wine’ – is particularly appropriate- It is reputed to be the work of an Italian refugee of the last century. Tradition has it that he was afterwards deported to his native country while engaged on a similar contract in a Galway church. Great credit is due to our local painter, Percy Ryan for the very fine job of work done in restoring its natural colours when the church was re-decorated a few years ago.
Article printed in the Contact Magazine in the 1970’s
Newtown Church Bell
The following inscription is engraved on the bell on St Patrick’s Church Newtown
M. Byrne, Bell Founder, James Street, Dublin.
Gift of John McGrath, Esq. Nurney 1900
Rt. Rev. Monsignor Burke P.P. V.B.
The bell itself weighs 10cwt. and the tongue 3 st.
Acknowledgement for information to Tom Kehoe Newtown for Contact Magazine in the 1970’s.
The Chalice in St Patrick’s Church Newtown
James Hughes, Son of Martin and Catherine, Kildrenagh, Bagenalstown Parish, born 1853. Ordained to the Sacred Ministry 1878. Appointed Secretary to Bishop of Solford, England, for a very short time, later recalled to serve P.P. Myshall, died in August 1906, aged 53. Fullfilling his dearest wish that his Chalice – A Gift from his parents for Ordination, be returned after his death to St. Patrick’s Church, Newtown, where it remains 128 years in Divine use in this year 2004.
Fr John Hughes, brother of Fr. James C.C. Ballyadams predeceased Fr. James, having died 1897. both Priests are buried in the Family Graves in Newtown, beside the Church as by their own wish. May the Rest in Peace.
Having given the history of the Chalice in Newtown Church, the beautiful Sanctuary Lamp is also due special mention, To the very day it is now 100 years lighting The Tabernacle August 1904 and donated by Fr James Hughes two years before his death to the Memory of this Parents. (K. Power)