St Michael's Church Killorglin

St Cartach's Church Castlemaine

History of St James Church Killorglin
(Church of Ireland)

Saint James’s Church

(Church of Ireland)












Some Aspects of its Heritage








Researched and Compiled by


Tom Doyle




Legend and folk tradition in Killorglin record that the earliest church in the district was built on the hill above the River Laune, on − or near − the site now occupied by Sol y Sombra.  The church − "Cill Lorcáin" − dedicated to Saint Lawrence, subsequently gave rise to the place name Killorglin.


Text Box: Early Christian Killorglin

The narrative of Cill Lorcáin, which incidentally is located in the townland of Farrantoreen, was reinforced by the discovery and identification of the "Farrantoreen Stone" in 1906.  In that year Professor Robert M Alistair (Department of Archaeology, N.U.I.) who had worked in the Middle east, identified the inscription on a cross slab located in a marsh close to the River Laune (about 300 metres from St. James’s Anglican Church) as a Chi Rho cross, suggesting Coptic (Egyptian) Christian influences, a very rare motif in Early Christian art in Ireland.




More recent research (Sheehan, U.C.C., 2009) suggested Merovingian Gaul (8th century, France) as the source influencing the design on the cross slab.  In effect, Irish craftsmen − masons/sculptors − working in France (circa 700-750AD) either in secular or monastic buildings introduced the feature to Kerry.  In comparative terms the Farrantoreen cross slab is older than the Book of Kells, the illustrated manuscript of the Four Gospels, considered a masterpiece of the Golden Age of Irish Christian art, which it pre-dates by at least fifty years.



Text Box: Dromavalla Church

  In 1215 the Normans built a castle in Killorglin.  Some years later the Augustinian priors at Killagha (near Milltown) had a church built in the townland of Dromavalla, which translates as the ‘ridge of the town’, suggesting that it was the original location of the medieval village of Killorglin, which grew up close to the church.


Archaeologist John Sheehan (U.C.C.) speculates that the Augustinians may have attempted to transport the stone from its original site − on the hill above the Laune −  to their new church in Dromavalla as a way of establishing authenticity and continuity between their institution and the Early Christian church.  Unfortunately, the stone − due to its weight and size − sank into the flood plain close to the River Laune where it remained for several centuries.  During the construction of river embankments on the tidal portion of the Laune in the 1820s, workmen digging sluices to facilitate drainage rediscovered the cross slab.



Dromavalla Church (13th century) in ruins since, at least, 1682.


In 1587 Jenkin Conway arrived in Killorglin, with his brothers Edward and Richard, to take up occupancy of the Manor of Killorglin (a 1,300 acre estate) which had been granted to him under the Munster plantation.  He was required to settle eight families in the district, in effect English colonists of the reformed religion (Anglicans).  In 1601 the McCarthys burned ‘Castleconway’ after which the Conway family built a house in Reen.  Several generations of the Conway and (later) Blennerhassett families lived there until the 1680s.


In 1689 John (Black Jack) Blennerhassett, a staunch supporter of King William (of Orange), persuaded some of his relatives to travel to Sligo to join the Williamite forces.  They were arrested in Galway and later transferred to Dublin.  All told, Black Jack spent eighteen months in prison.  He was released in July 1690 following the Battle of the Boyne. Returning to Killorglin, he rebuilt Castle Conway House, constructing a family chapel across the road.  Dr Charles Smith visited the chapel during his tour of Kerry in 1756.  The building is clearly shown on Alexander Nimmo’s map of Killorglin (1812), occupying the site of St James’s (1816) Church.


Harman Blennerhassett, 1764 − 1831.


Harman Blennerhassett, Black Jack’s great grandson, sold the Killorglin estate − inclusive of 6,000 acres, the town and a valuable salmon fishery (on the Laune and Cromane) − to Thomas Mullins of Dingle in 1795 for £28,000.


Mullins, who lived in Burnham House, Dingle/Ventry, which he had refurbished in 1790 at a cost of £4,000, had no desire to live in Castleconway House, which he leased to local gentry.  Fr James Luony, Parish Priest of Killorglin (died 1844) was the last tenant to reside in the building.

Text Box: Saint James’s Church (R.C.)

In the 18th and 19th century Ireland, it was customary for a new landlord who bought − or inherited − an estate to publicly address his tenants.  In 1796 Thomas Mullins visited Killorglin and, to ingratiate himself with his tenants, announced that he would provide a lease of a half-acre for a Roman Catholic church.  Dedicated to St James, the building − a barn-like structure with a thatched roof, an earth floor and no seats − could accommodate 1,000 worshippers.  Parish Registers survive from 1798-’99 when Father Timothy O’Mahony served as parish priest.


Thomas Mullins also owned the Blennerhassett family chapel which dated from the late 1690s.  In this period the Church of Ireland community worshipped in a church in Dungeel, which is located − in ruins − on the Johnston farm about two miles east of Killorglin.


Killorglin village, which supported a population of 250 to 300 people (about 50 households) in the 1790s, probably had at most 25 to 30 Anglicans (10% of its inhabitants).  It is possible that the Blennerhassett (private) chapel could accommodate a congregation of this magnitude.  It seems that Rev Frederick Mullins, a relative of Killorglin’s principal landlord, purchased the building around this time.  Nimmo’s map (1812) shows the building clearly but it also highlighted the ruined church in Dromavalla.



Connolly O’Neill became Rector in Killorglin in 1811.  Like its sister church in England, the Protestant church in Ireland was an ‘Established’ church.  It received grants for the construction and upkeep of churches and glebe houses from general taxation.  The State also paid clergymen’s salaries and administered Tithes.

Text Box: 1816 application to Board of First Fruits

In 1816 Killorglin parish applied for a grant from the Board of First Fruits for the construction of a new church.  The parish received £800 in funding, which also included provision of a glebe house (Rector’s residence) based in Anglont on an 11 acre farm.  According to Lewis’s ‘Topographical Dictionary’ (1837), the building had a capacity for 100 people.

OS Map, 1841/’42,  Note the size of St James’ s Church (1816) compared with thethe buildings that replaced it in 1868 as revealed in the OS Map of 1894:



During the 1845-’49 Famine, Rev William De Moleyns (in 1841the Mullins family changed their surname to De Moleyns − the French version of their name − as they felt it more appropriate to their status as an aristocratic family), a relative of Lord Ventry, Killorglin’s principal landlord, served as Rector in Killorglin.


In the autumn of 1845 there was a partial failure of the potato crop.  Agricultural labourers and small farmers (5 acres or less) were the most adversely affected as their diet was almost totally based on the potato.  By the spring of 1846 potato stocks were running out in Killorglin and poorer people were facing starvation.

Text Box: Clergymen combine to save Killorglin from the worst effects of the Great FamineIn April 1846 Rev De Moleyns became chairman and treasurer of Killorglin Relief Committee which included his Catholic counterpart Fr Owen O’Sullivan, parish priest of Killorglin.  The 1841 census recorded the population of Killorglin parish as 8,574 of which only about 250 were Anglicans.  Acting in tandem, the two clergymen addressed the County Grand Jury (Tralee) and the Board of Guardians of Killarney Poor Law Union, a local body set up in 1838 as part of the national network to alleviate poverty.


Approval was given (April 1846) for an impressive range of public works projects for Killorglin.  But six months passed before money became available and it was October before locals were employed.  The wages earned were to be used to buy food as a substitute for potatoes.  In the winter of 1846 a Provident Association was set up to bulk buy provisions and avoid profiteering.  Rev De Moleyns became secretary of the organisation.


In 1847 the Government decided to close down public work projects and replace them with direct food provision.  This system was open to abuse and Killorglin district was viewed as one of the worst offenders.  Outdoor relief was suspended: only those who entered Killarney workhouse would be given food.  Blight infected the entire potato crop in 1847 and as the fungus remained in the ground, it devastated the harvests in 1848 and 1849 as well.


In early October 1847 about 2,000 people gathered in Killorglin to march to Killarney to demand outdoor relief.  Fr O’Sullivan met them and persuaded them to disperse as Killarney Board of Guardians was not meeting on that day but he would accompany them to the next meeting.


Rev De Moleyns advocated a substantial increase on the levies paid by the wealthier sections of the community − landowners, merchants, large farmers (many of whom were members of his congregation) − to fund the coffers of the Poor Law Union.  Killorglin ratepayers were already boycotting the collection; in 1848 only £168 was collected in Killorglin out of a total of £2,405 due from the district.  Evidently many of the more affluent in Killorglin did not see their claimants as the ‘deserving poor’.


The joint campaign waged by Rev De Moleyns and Fr O’Sullivan during the 1840s Famine on behalf of Killorglin’s rural poor saved many lives.  It was unusual, if not unique, to see such an alliance, given the social and political differences between the two men.  Fr O’Sullivan was involved in O’Connell’s Tithe and Repeal movements.  As a Unionist and clergyman of the Established Church, De Moleyns’ status was challenged by both campaigns.  A landlord himself, William De Moleyns was a relative of Lord Ventry whose estates in Kerry exceeded 93,000 acres including the lands in Killorglin.  In his humanitarian − Christian − involvement in the Famine period, De Moleyns aligned himself with the tenants rather than the landlords.


Fr Owen O’Sullivan was transferred to Dingle in 1849.  While engaged in his parish duties he contracted a fever and died in 1856, aged 48 years.  Rev De Moleyns continued to minister in Killorglin until his death in 1863.  A fine memorial in white marble, erected by his widow, was displayed in the church until its deconsecration in the 1990s.



The 1861 census recorded religious affiliation in Ireland for the first time.  Roman Catholics (4,505,265) constituted 77.69% of the island’s population.  Members of the Established (Anglican) Church (693,357 people) accounted for 11.96%.  The remaining 10% comprised of Presbyterians, Methodists and a number of smaller denominations.


Killorglin had 275 members of the Church of Ireland in 1862, 45 based in the town with 230 living in the rural hinterland.  As the 1816 church had only a capacity for 100, it was totally inadequate for the needs of the parish.


Based on the statistics on religion (1861) W E Gladstone’s Liberal Party included Disestablishment of the Irish church as part of their policy platform in the 1868 General Election.  The Liberals secured 387 seats to the Conservative tally of 271.  Disestablishment became law on July 1st 1871.


Realising that State grants for the construction and upkeep of Anglican church buildings would cease once the legal status of the Church changed, Rector Timothy applied for funding for a new church in 1868.  We do not have details (architect, design features or cost of the project) as all Church of Ireland were destroyed in the fire/explosion in the Public Records Office/Four Courts at the start of the Civil War in July 1922.


It is said that the square tower may be the only part of the 1816 building to have survived the rebuild (1868).  It is possible that its exterior may have been rendered.


Text Box: The Civil WarAs it had separate access from the main church, the tower had unexpected use during 1922-’23.  In mid-August 1922, a unit of the 1sr Westerns (about 60 men) under the command of Captain Donal Lehane established a garrison in Killorglin, securing the town for the Provisional Government.  Lehane set up his military headquarters in Morris’s Hotel (now Bianconi Inn) next door to the church and got permission from the Rector, Rev George Power to use the tower as an observation post and machine gun installation.  It proved invaluable on September 27th 1922 when Killorglin came under attack from Republican forces.  The Republican action failed but Donal Lehane was killed in the fighting.