Kildemock parish in medieval times and the jumping church
Niall C.E.J. O’Brien
The medieval parish of Kildemock lies about two miles south of the town of Ardee in County Louth. The fourteenth century parish church of Kildemock, known later as the “jumping church”, was built on the site of the early church of St. Deomog. It is not known to this writer who St. Deomog was or what was his story. The parish does contain two holy wells called Trinity well and St. Patrick’s well. Also in the parish is an old ring fort called Garrett’s Fort. The modern Roman Catholic chapel of Kilpatrick lies in the south-west part of the parish.
The “jumping church” and parish of Kildemock are well documented in the pages of the Journal of the County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society. See Kildemock Miscellanea. XIII, 4, (1956), 412-40; a List of Families around Ardee, 1766, X, 1, (1941), 75; Materials for the Dublin Society Agricultural Survey of County Louth, XVIII, 3, (1975), 192-3; Note on the Jumping Church. XV, 4, (1964), 356, and Old Churches in County Louth: Barony of Ardee. X, 3, (1943), 206-7 for various commentaries. Not having direct access to these journals or by way of JSTOR over the web, the following is a reconstructed history of the parish and its famous “jumping church”.
Early medieval history
The area of modern County Louth was overrun by the Normans as early as 1176 but little in the way of permanent settlement occurred until after the visit of Prince John to Ireland in 1185. Roger Pipard, or his brother Peter Pipard (Justiciar of Ireland in 1194), was granted the Barony of Ardee in which lies the parish of Kildemock.
Around the same time Lesceline de Verdun, daughter of Bertram de Verdun, married Hugh de Lacy of Meath as his first wife. In 1205 Hugh de Lacy was created Earl of Ulster. Hugh de Lacy had two sons and three daughters. His eldest daughter, Matilda de Lacy married David Fitz William Fitzgerald, Baron of Naas. On the occasion of her marriage Hugh de Lacy gave Matilda de Lacy the lands in County Louth he received from his wife, Lesceline de Verdun, and those he got from her brother, Thomas de Verdun before 1199.
Arrival and departure of the Knights Templar
At some date in the twelfth century Matilda de Lacy founded the Preceptory of Kilsaran in County Louth for the Knights Templar. The preceptory was given twelve churches and the tithes to eight other churches. The Pipard family gave the parish income and church of Kildemock with the advowson [right of presentation] to the new preceptory. The rectory position and income of Kildemock was given to the prior of Kilsaran while a vicar was appointed to care for the religious needs of the locals.
The Knights Templar were formed after Jerusalem was captured by the Crusaders in 1099 as a military force to protect pilgrims going to the Holy Land. A monastery for the Knights Templar was built in Jerusalem in 1118 followed by other establishments across the Holy Land and in many parts of Europe. The Knights were introduced into Ireland before 1180 and had their chief house at Clontarf. The Knights were given land and churches in those parts of Ireland that were recently conquered by the Anglo-Normans including Kildemock in County Louth.
After the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 and the capture of Acre in 1291 the raison-d’etre of the Knights Templar was much reduced yet still the order grew wealthier in Europe. Unsuccessful attempts were made in 1274 and 1293 to unite the Knights Templar with their somewhat rivals, the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitallers.
In the early years of the fourteenth century the wealth of the Templars was most tempting to solve the poverty crisis suffered by the King of France. A series of accusations were made against the Templars in 1307-8 which finally resulted in the suppression of the order in 1312.
The Irish possessions of the Knights Templar were seized by the government. Some of these properties were used to fund the pension scheme for the suppressed Templar knights. Elsewhere local lords temporary took over the property. In 1310 the manor of Kilsaran was granted to Richard de Burgo, Earl of Ulster. In 1312 the Pope ordered that all properties formerly held by the Knights Templar should be given to the Knights Hospitallers. This transfer did not happen overnight but gradually the Hospitallers acquired all the former Templar properties.
In the early 1320s the London government asked for an inventory of the goods and chattels formerly owned by the Templars in Ireland. The initial reply to London before Easter 1326 was unsatisfactory. Two further replies were sent to London in 1328 and 1333. The combined effect of all three replies is a detailed picture of what the Templars held in Ireland.
In 1308 the vicar of Kildemock was a person called Adam and he had custody of the entire manor of Kilsaran which included Kildemock. In the final years of the Knights Templar there were not enough Knights to manage all their property. Thus a local vicar like Adam was given responsibilities far beyond his station in order to keep the show on the road. This work paid Adam well as he got ten pounds eighteen shillings and three pence from the manor of Kilsaran while he got 106 shillings 8 pence from the bailiff of Kilsaran. Adam got 6 shillings 8 pence as vicar of Kildemock where he had the help of a clerk called Robert. The suppression of the Templars was not good news for Adam. Yet for a time after the government took over Adam kept his management job but was joined by Thomas Kent, Walter le Taylor and Robert de Halys.
The church of Kildemock was valued at ten pounds, or fifteen marks, making it the second highest valued parish after Kilsaran parish which were held by the Preceptory at Kilsaran. The next parish was Molaury at fourteen marks and the other eight parishes were far less with Crefmartyn worth just one mark. The large church ruin at Kildemock reflects the wealth of the parish.
In the years around 1312 William de Hothum, John de Kent and Nicholas de Drumcath collected and shared the parochial income of Kildemock along with seven other parishes. Nicholas de Drumcath got the fruits of Kildemock which was worth twenty marks. He got a similar amount for Kilsaran. The fruits income of the other parishes was less than twenty marks. Nicholas de Drumcath was an associate of the Templars in Louth before the suppression of the order. In 1306 he collected the church tenth revenue for the order in the county.
Kildemock church from megalithicireland.com - photo by Jim Dempsey & Beb Snelson
Kildemock in the fourteenth century
In the first fifty years of the fourteenth century the parish of Kildemock suffered much change and even greater material destruction such as the destruction caused by the invasion of Edward Bruce in 1315-18 and the Black Death of 1350. Yet the value of the parish seemed to hold its own. An undated document from the time of Archbishop Milo Sweteman (1361-1380) showed Kildemock to be joint first in terms of value of procurations in the deanery of Ardee. The procuration of the parish was sixteen shillings, four pence which was the same as that for the parish of Stabanan. The other seven parishes in the deanery paid less.
Late in 1365 the prior of the Hospital at Kilmainham of the order of St. John of Jerusalem presented Sir Thomas Conlagh, priest, as the new vicar of Kildemock. In December 1365 Archbishop Milo Sweteman directed Master William Morice, Archdeacon of Armagh, to make the usual inquiries concerning the right of presentation in the deaneries of Drogheda, Ardee and Dundalk. Thomas Conlagh was subsequently admitted to the vicar despite his Irish nationality. In other places the new vicar is called Thomas O Connalaigh which puts him very much within the Irish nation.
The famous statutes of Kilkenny enacted in 1366 declared that no Irishman “of the nations of the Irish” should be admitted by provision, collation, or presentation into any cathedral, collegiate church, or benefice among the English of the land; and that no religious house among the English should in future admit Irishmen. How did Thomas O Connalaigh get a job in an area of Ireland that was within the English zone? One could say his appointment was a year ahead of the statutes and so he got away with it. Yet the statutes of Kilkenny were not new statutes but the re-enactment of previous legislation. The answer lies more in the fact that the statutes were not an absolute prohibition but a method of controlling the number of Irish who held office, be it in the church or in the state. The king could grant dispensations and this power was widely used to permit Irishmen to hold benefices.
In April 1369 a great council was held in Dublin attended by the bishops of Ireland. At the council the prelates agreed to give a grant in aid of the expedition of William of Windsor, the king’s lieutenant, to Ireland. This grant was to come from two sources, namely; one mark from every cultivated carucate belonging to the church and two tenths of the value of each benefice. Shortly after, at Mellifont, the convocation of the whole clergy in the archdiocese of Armagh was convened where the two tenths grant was agreed. Collectors were appointed in each deanery. The vicar of Kildemock, Thomas Conlagh, was to collect the two tenths in the deanery of Ardee. On 30th June 1370 Thomas Conlagh received his letter of commission from Archbishop Milo Sweteman.
Kildemock in the fifteenth century
At the start of the fifteenth century, Sir William Proute was vicar of St. Catherine’s church in Kildemock. But by 1410 William Proute was blind and decrepit. On 2nd March 1410 Archbishop Nicholas Fleming appointed Sir Patrick O Cuinn of Clonkeen parish to be coadjutor of Kildemock. Patrick O Cuinn was to have administration of the oblations, fruits and issues of the vicarage.
In 1411 an exchange of parishes was decided upon between that of Kildemock and Clonkeen. In June 1411 Thomas le Butler, prior of the Hospital at Kilmainham of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, presented Sir Patrick O Cuinn, priest, as the new vicar of Kildemock while John Serll, Lord of Gilbertstown, presented Sir John Proute to Clonkeen.
In two documents the vacating vicar of Kildemock is said to be John Proute while the previously named vicar in 1410 was William Proute. We do not have a second document to determine if the vicar of Kildemock up to and including 1410 was indeed called William Proute. The document of 1410 could be an error on the name of William. Yet if William was blind and decrepit in 1410 it would seem strange for him to take on a new parish one year later. The most likely scenario is that William Proute died or retired late in 1410 or early 1411 and was replaced by John Proute, a possible kinsman. The document which admitted John Proute to Kildemock did not make it into the register of Archbishop Fleming or the parties never got round to formalising the change. When the dust settled a more permanent arrangement was made, namely; the exchange of benefices between John Proute and Patrick O Cuinn.
The usual inquiry by the archdeacon of Armagh was made into the right of presentation and the suitability of Patrick O Cuinn to be vicar. The Archdeacon, Master William Pirroun, found everything in order and Patrick O Cuinn was admitted as vicar of Kildemock in September 1411.
The register of Archbishop Octavian de Palatio contains the fragment of an induction to the vicarage of Kildemock made around the year 1435. The documents surrounding this fragment in the register are dated to 1430. Which date is correct? A misreading of document number seventy-six in the register seems to be the cause of the confusion. The fragment induction is therefore for the year 1430 and was the occasion of the induction of William Corre as the new vicar of Kildemock.
Front cover of the Registrum Octaviani by the Irish Manuscripts Commission
This induction came about because on 24th April 1430 Rev. Maurice Cussying resigned the vicarage of Kildemock. The Prior of Kilmainham, William Fitz Thomas, presented William Corre, chaplain, as the new vicar. But Archbishop John Swayne (1418-1439) wanted to hold an inquiry concerning the patronage and vacancy of the rectory of Kildemock before admitting William Corre and on 2nd May 1430 directed a letter to John Prene, Archdeacon of Armagh to hold such an inquiry.
Archdeacon Prene gathered a jury of twenty-one people at the Church of St. Mary in Ardee on 15th May 1430 for the inquiry. The jurors found that the church of St. Catherine of Kildemock was vacant since the resignation of Maurice Cussying and that the prior of Kilmainham had the right of presentation. They said that Rev. Cussying had been presented by the prior of Kilmainham when he entered the vicarage. The value of the parish was six marks out of which twenty four shillings and four pence was for the vicar and other parish expenses. Yet the jurors found that even if the parish was worth ten marks it would be insufficient to sustain the rector’s needs.
Within days of his induction to Kildemock, William Corre was in foul mood. He quickly learnt that the previous incumbent, Maurice Cussying, had resigned because of poverty. On examining the books, William Corre found the vicarage income to be insufficient to maintain a vicar in proper conditions. On 17th May 1430 William Corre got Archbishop John Swayne to write a firm letter to the prior of Kilmainham to augment the vicar’s wage within a month or the Archbishop would enter Kildemock and redistribute the church income. Prior William Fitz Thomas of Kilmainham acknowledged the letter of Archbishop Swayne and was considering his reply. The prior’s reply is not recorded but evidence of later times would suggest that the vicar’s income was not increased.
Rev. William Corre was possibly a local man from the Kildemock/Ardee area. In 1485 and 1487 an inquiry showed that William Bateman of Ardee was an uncle of William Corre. Elsewhere John Corre was chaplain of Ardee in 1484. Yet William Corre did not stay long as vicar of Kildemock. The insufficient vicarage income may have hastened his departure.
There was trouble in the neighbouring parish of Ardee where the vicar, William Smith, had resigned one hour before an inquisition into his conduct. The patron of Ardee, Thomas de la Faunte, was a minor and thus the right of presentation was in the king’s hand. The Dublin government, on behalf of the king, and possibly on the recommendation of John St. Leger of Ardee, clerk of the King’s Bench and keeper of the rolls, nominated Rev. William Corre of Kildemock for Ardee. William Corre was inducted as vicar of Ardee on 24th September 1431 and remained as vicar of Ardee until his death in the early months of 1479 when he was succeeded by John Cashel.
The new vicar of Kildemock was William Vynter. He appeared as a jury member in 1436 concerning the rectory of Mansfieldstown. In October 1450 Chaplain William Vynter appeared as a witness for an inquiry concerning a glebe at Ardee which was in dispute. On the latter occasion William Vynter is not described as vicar of Kildemock as other clerics witnesses had their parishes mentioned. We do not have enough information to conclude if Vynter had left Kildemock or that the scribe failed to record the fame of Kildemock. At some later date William Vynter was more definitely replaced as vicar of Kildemock by William Lawless. The above mentioned John Cashel was not long at Ardee before matters concerning the parish of Kildemock and William Lawless came before his desk.
Early in 1479 Rev. William Lawless was suspended as vicar of Kildemock. There were accusations that he had left the vicar’s house to fall into disrepair and the church furniture and fittings had gone missing. The insufficient vicarage income may have forced William Lawless to let the parish fall below standards. Undisclosed correspondence may show an ongoing dispute about money between William Lawless and the priory at Kilmainham which led to his suspension.
Archbishop John Mey had tried to correct the poverty of vicars employed by the Knights Hospitallers within the Diocese of Armagh in 1451. In August that year Archbishop Mey sent a letter to the perpetual vicars in the deaneries of Ardee, Drogheda and Dundalk along with the clergy of the diocese within the English area that he had had enough of poor vicars in Hospitaller parishes. The Knights Hospitaller were in arrears with their procurations according to the accounts of both the archbishopric and archdeaconry visitations. The Knights had also not kept the chancels of their churches in repair which was the responsibility of the parish rector which the Knights were in the parishes they controlled. Archbishop Mey further complained that the wages of vicars was insufficient for suitable provision. The archbishop told the clergy that he was sequestering the fruits of the Knight’s churches to correct the deficiencies. The immediate impact of this action is unclear but long tern it had little effect. Low wages continued to be an issue with the Hospitaller vicars.
The management of the Knights Hospitaller seemed to disregard the concerns of their vicars. Instead Brother Thomas Talbot, prior of Kilsaran, exercised the right of presentation on behalf of the prior of Kilmainham for a new vicar at Kildemock. On 15th May 1479 an inquisition was held at Ardee before John Cashel, vicar of Ardee and commissary of Henry Corkeran, Archdeacon of Armagh, concerning the vacancy and right of presentation. The fifteen jurors found the vicarage vacant because of the suspension of William Lawless. They also found the prior of Kilmainham to be the real patron; that part of the church revenue paid the vicar and that the annual value of the vicarage was less than 40 shillings. The new vicar, John Costaly, was found suitable by the jurors.
On 17th May 1479 John Costaly was inducted as the new vicar of Kildemock by John Cashel, vicar of Ardee and commissary of Henry Corkeran, Archdeacon of Armagh. The new vicar was not long at Kildemock before he started to complain about the terrible state of the church that the previous vicar left him. The vicarage may not have been subject to any litigation but conditions were still unacceptable.
Therefore on 24th May 1479 an inquisition was held at Ardee before John Cashel, vicar of Ardee as deputy for the archdeacon of Armagh, concerning the state of the manse of the vicar of Kildemock. The fifteen jurors found that seven marks was insufficient to repair the manse and that William Lawless, the last vicar, was liable for the repair. William Lawless was also found liable for a missing chalice, a missing volume and a handbook which appeared to have been pawned to pay a royal subsidy.
It would seem that Rev. John Costaly had local connections to the Ardee area like the former vicar of Kildemock, William Corre. An inquiry into the vacancy and patronage of St. Mary’s church in Ardee in March 1479 had Chaplain John Costaly among the jury. In May 1479 John Costaly was again a jury member for the inquiry into the vicar’s manse at Ardee.
Kildemock in the reign of Henry VIII
At the start of the sixteenth century John Nangle is recorded as vicar of Kildemock. Before January 1509 John Nangle along with Richard Kelly conducted an inquiry concerning the rights of the prior of Ardee to the tithes of Toryeslandes. No document currently survives to say when John Nangle was admitted as vicar of Kildemock. Within a few years John Nangle was replaced as vicar by Thomas O Duffy.
In the 1520s a number of government inquiries were made into absentee clergy around Ireland. On 3rd November 1524 the Barons of the Exchequer took evidence from a number of jurors in the Diocese of Armagh. One of these jurors was James Clinton of Rochestown in the parish of Kildemock. It was reported that Thomas O Duffy, the vicar of St. Catherine’s, Kildemock, was an absent clergyman along with four other parish rectors in the diocese. The annual value of the parish was given as eight marks.
We are told by the same inquiry that Thomas O Duffy was presented as vicar by Sir John Rawson, Prior of the Hospital of Kilmainham and was admitted by John Kite, Archbishop of Armagh. John Kite was a Londoner by birth and one of the King’s clerks. He was provided to the see of Armagh in October 1513 by Pope Leo X and first appears in Ireland in May 1514. After 1516 Archbishop Kite returned to England from where he travelled extensively on diplomatic missions for Henry VIII. In July 1521 he was translated from the see of Armagh to the see of Carlisle. Prior John Rawson was also a Londoner and joined the Order of St. John of Jerusalem (Knights Hospitallers) in 1497. In 1511 he was made acting lieutenant of the Irish priory and became full prior in 1514. The appointment of Thomas O Duffy to Kildemock must have been sometime between 1514 and 1521.
In May 1537 another inquiry into absentee clergy was conducted by the Barons of the Exchequer. Many of the parishes that had absentee clergy in 1524 reappear in 1537 with absent clergy including Kildemock. Thomas O Duffy was still the absent vicar and had been since a previous inquiry in May 1535. It is very likely that Thomas O Duffy was absent for much of the time between his appointment and 1537. Despite his absence the annual value of the parish had increased from eight marks in 1524 to ten marks in 1537. Clearly Thomas O Duffy must have been doing something right.
Beyond Kildemock events were afoot which would change the religious landscape forever. King Henry VIII broke with the authority of the Pope in Rome and declared himself head of the Church in England and Ireland. In July 1538 Henry VIII extended royal jurisdiction to embrace the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. But the Knights Hospitaller would not long enjoy royal authority. In May 1540 the English Parliament passed the bill for the dissolution of the Order of St. John. On 22nd November 1540 Prior John Rawson surrendered the Irish priory to the crown. The surrender of Kilmainham priory included the rectory of Kildemock with the patronage and advowson of the vicarage along with the chief rent and tithes of the chapel of Gernonstown (now Castlebellingham). Also included was the rectory of Kilpatrick which now forms the western end of Kildemock parish.
Yet these changes appear to have had little immediate impact on Kildemock. Our famous absent vicar, Thomas O Duffy, was still in situ 1543 and still causing unfavourable reports to appear before the Barons of the Exchequer. At the so-called Reformation Parliament of 1536-7 where Henry VIII became head of the Irish church among other legislation, an act (28 Henry VIII c.26: The act for the English order, habit and language) was passed that all clergy were to be able to speak English and instruct their parishioners in learning English. An inquiry before the Barons in 1543 listed a number of clergy who failed to operate schools for the teaching of English as required by the above act. The vicar of Kildemock, Thomas O Duffy, was one of the named clerics who failed to keep the English schools. Three other parishes in County Louth were also named.
The name and shame given to Thomas O Duffy in 1543 did little to improve the situation. A similar inquiry by the Barons in November 1544 still found O Duffy not teaching English to the parishioners of Kildemock. As an absentee clergyman it would be a wonder if the people of Kildemock heard a service in any language, be it Latin, Irish or English.
The mystery of where was Thomas O Duffy, if not in Kildemock, is revealed by one of the government enquiries. The Baron’s inquiry of 1543 tells us that Thomas O Duffy was living in the parish of Sherleston, County Louth. This parish is now known as Charlestown and is located just north of the town and parish of Ardee while Kildemock is just south of Ardee.
The “jumping church” of Kildemock
The subsequent history of Kildemock parish is for Tudor and modern historians. For this article the medieval church of Kildemock makes a later, dramatic, jump into the history books. In the year 1715 there was a most violent storm with a great wind that literally moved mountains. It is said that in this storm the west gable wall of Kildemock church was lifted off its foundation wall and carried a few feet into the nave of the church. Instead of collapsing into the nave the wall stayed upright, if slightly leaning to the west. And today the west gable still stands a few feet inside the nave of the church.
The 'displaced' west gable of Kildemock from irishantiquities.bravehost.com
How feasible is this story is another matter? For the local people the story of the great storm is too scientific an answer for the strange location of the west gable. Instead local folklore says that the wall moved in order to exclude the grave of an excommunicated person. Which is the true story? Who knows? Yet, as it is said elsewhere; “Never leave facts get in the way of a good story”.
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