Culdees at Killeavy


Mention was made earlier (History: Religious History: Moninna) that the Killeavy monastery formerly of the holy women who followed S Moninna, had by the mid-sixteenth century reverted to the care of the Culdees, when the Tudor monarchs decided to ‘dissolve’ the monasteries and seize their Church lands. So who were the Culdees? The Catholic Encyclopaedia explains.

In the Irish language the word was written Ceile-De, meaning companion, or even spouse, of God. In the beginning, the Culdees were separated from the mass of the faithful, their lives were devoted to religion, and they lived in a community. In the Irish annals the epithet Ceile-De is appropriately given to St. John, one of the twelve Apostles, to a missioner from abroad whose coming to Ireland is recorded in the Four Masters at the year 806, and to Aengus, the well-known monk and author of Tallaght, whose penances and mortifications, whose humility, piety, and religious zeal, specially marked him out. 

The Culdees were holy men who loved solitude and lived by the labour of their hands. Gradually they came together in community, still occupying separate cells, still much alone and in communion with God, but meeting in the refectory and in the church, and giving obedience to a common superior. St. Maelruan, under whom Aengus lived, and who died as early as 792, drew up a rule for the Culdees of Tallaght which prescribed the time and manner of their prayers, fasts, and devotions, the frequency with which they ought to go to confession, the penances to be imposed for faults committed.  But we have no evidence that this rule was widely accepted even in the other Culdean establishments.  Nor could the Culdees at any time be said to have attained to the position of a religious order, composed of many houses, scattered over many lands, bound by a common rule, revering the memory and imitating the virtues of their founder, and looking to the parent house from which they sprang, as the children of Columbanus looked to Luxeuil or Bobbio, or the Columban monks looked to Iona.  After the death of Maelruan Tallaght is forgotten, and the name Ceile-De disappears from the Irish annals until 919, when the Four Masters record that Armagh was plundered by the Danes, but that the houses of prayer, “with the people of God, that is Ceile-De“, were spared.  Subsequent entries in the annals show that there were Culdees at Clonmacnoise, Clondalken, and Clones, at Monahincha in Tipperary, and at Scattery Island.

To those of the eighth century, such as were represented by Aengus, were soon added secular priests who assumed the name of Culdees, lived in community, subjected themselves to monastic discipline, but were not bound by monastic vows. Such an order of priests had, in the middle of the eighth century, been founded at Metz.  As they lived according to rules and canons of councils, they came to be called secular canons and were usually attached to collegiate or cathedral churches. They became popular and quickly extended even to Ireland, and it is significant that in the accounts given of the Culdee establishments at Clones, Devenish, and Scattery Island, Culdee and canon are taken as convertible terms. The Danish wars, which brought ruin on so many proud monastic establishments, easily effected the destruction of the Culdee houses with their feebler resisting powers. At Clonmacnoise, as early as the eleventh century, the Culdees were laymen and married, while those at Monahincha and Scattery Island being utterly corrupt and unable, or unwilling, to reform, gave way to the regular canons, with their purer morals and stricter discipline. 

Those at Armagh were more tenacious of existence.  Like their brethren throughout Ireland, they had felt the corrupting influence of the Danish wars; and while lay abbots ruled at Armagh the Culdees had so far departed from their primitive piety that in the twelfth century regular canons were introduced in to the cathedral church and henceforth took precedence of the Culdees.  But the latter, six in number, a prior and five vicars, still continued a corporate existence at Armagh.  They were specially charged with the celebration of the Divine offices and the care of the church building, had separate lands, and sometimes had charges of parishes. When a chapter was formed, about 1160, the prior usually filled the office of precentor, his brethren being vicars choral, and himself ranking in the chapter next to the chancellor. He was elected by his brother Culdees and confirmed by the primate, and had a voice in the election of the archbishop by virtue of his position in the chapter. As Ulster was the last of the Irish provinces to be brought effectually under English rule, the Armagh Culdees long outlived their brethren throughout Ireland. By the end of Elizabeth‘s reign, however, they had died out, and in 1628, a new body was incorporated by Charles I – the “Prior and Vicars Choral” of the cathedral church of Armagh – to which were transferred the lands formerly held by the Culdees. Five years later, the Catholic primate, O’Reilly, announced to Rome that he had been elected “Prior of the College of the Culdees”, and he wanted to know if in assuming the title he had acted in accordance with canon law. We do not know what was the nature of the answer he received, but this is the last mention made of the Irish Culdees.

Appearing, then, first in Ireland, they subsequently appeared in Scotland, and in both countries their history and fate are almost identical. Attached to cathedral or collegiate churches, living in monastic fashion, though not taking monastic vows, the Scotch, like the Irish Culdees, were originally men of piety and zeal. The turbulence of the times and the acquisition of wealth sowed the seeds of decay, zeal gave way to indolence and neglect, a celibate community to married men, church property was squandered or alienated, even the altar offering, grasped by avarice, were diverted to personal uses, and by the end of he thirteenth century the Scotch Culdee houses had in almost every case disappeared.


Templemore Virgin


One must be careful of the sensibilities of one’s friends and co-religionists, yet it is difficult not to comment upon the remarkable coincidence of eras of our (and indeed other) country’s history – of violence, of great physical, emotional and spiritual deprivation – and the alleged appearance of the Blessed Virgin,

Read moreTemplemore Virgin

Presbyterian Baptisms 1830s

As a small contribution to genealogists in search of Newry roots, I reproduce below a list of baptisms recorded 1824-1828 [1828 only to begin with] at Newry First Presbyterian Church.  Date, father’s name and address are included.

8 Aug 1824 WEIR Jane Isabella, of Joseph, High Street
16             SPENCE Jane of James, Canal Street
16  EDGAR Elizabeth of John, Stream Street
19  LITTLE George of Robert, Altnaveigh
8 September HILL James of John, North Street
17  DAVIDSON William of Rev David, Margaret Square
26  BROWN Jane of William, High Street
28   McGOFFIN Isabella of Hugh, Church Street
3 Oct  McCURDY Ellen of James, Sugar Island
9  THOMPSON John of Hugh, Boat Street
13  WALLACE Robert Smyth, of R.G., Grinan Lodge
15  HILL Elizabeth, of Joseph, North Road
15  DODD Robert, of Robert, Crownbridge
20  WILSON James of William, High Street
14 Nov HAMILTON Joseph of William, Church Street
14  FLANIGAN Oxburgh Henry of John L., William Street
17  McKEE William of William, North Street
21  HANNA Mary Jane of Abraham, Dysert
26  CHRISTIAN Esther of John, Canal Street
28  PITT James Crowthers of Sgt, 86th Regiment Barrack
28  SYMPSON Anne Eliza of Ebenezer, Boat Street
13 Dec GRAHAM Anna of Alexander, Crobane
25  BAXTER Joseph of Hugh, Church Street

Church at Kilnasaggart?

The Kilnasaggart Stone plaque recently referred to continues with a description of its carvings:
‘On the north-west face are ten carefully-carved crosses, nine of them within circles and, low down, a number of parallel linear marks, once interpreted as a possible ogham inscription but actually knife-sharpening score marks.  Traditionally a crock of gold was buried below the pillar and it was overturned by treasure-seekers in the 1830s, but it was soon reset.
Excavations in the 1960s to the south of the pillar revealed a number of both stone-built and dug graves, probably dating from the Early Christian period.  A map of 1609 shows a ruined church in this area but there are no visible remains and no trace was found during the excavation.’
Your editor considers that the early 1960s excavations of this, the Slieve Gullion tombs, Ballymacdermott Court Cairn etc. were less that complete and must at best be treated as indicative.  We baulk at terms like ‘actually’ above, used in relation to a dubious theory at best.  The stories of the cemetery excavation – and the overturning of the pillar in search of booty – have already been related here.  The sentence beginning, ‘Traditionally a crock of gold was buried below the pillar..’ is at best unclear and at worst an unintended enticement to further vandalism.  There is certainly no evidence to support the allegation.  There is no indication of the possible greater antiquity of this standing stone already debated here (and on Guestbook).
Though there is no extant evidence of an early church on the site, we believe the circumstantial evidence (the location at the Gap of the North on the ancient Slighe Miodluachra (next story!); the overscored Christian symbols on a more ancient pillar; the nearness of Moninna’s convent at Killeavy and that of Bridget at Faughart; the 1609 map; the name, Kilnasaggart meaning Church of the Priest) points to that distinct possibility.


Clare Barker writes on behalf of her father Arthur McGuigan of Derrybeg Drive.  Arthur recalls the Missions of old, where the first week was for women alone, the second for men.  Arthur and his mates ‘bunked’ the service and kept warm by sitting in the empty buses on The Mall!  A religious mate would be waylaid on his way home so that all could report on what the Missioner was on about that evening!
All went well until his father Raymes caught them.  To the last man, they were frog-marched to the Church and supervised for the duration of the service.
I must admit I rather enjoyed the Missions.  All that ‘fire and brimstone’  taught me a love of horror movies!  
Then there was the Confraternity.  Again, one night for men, one for women.  You sat under a Shield naming your area.  A clever device that, for ‘absent’ colleagues could quickly be identified and followed up!  Seriously though, the Cathedral was always packed.  I miss that level of community faith.

St John of God Centenary

St John of God was born Joao Cidade in Portugal in 1495 (about the time Christopher Columbus was making his voyages of discovery to the New World, later to be deemed America) but from the age of eight years, he lived in Spain.  
The Irish congregation of the St John of God community was founded in Wexford in 1871 by Bishop Thomas Furlong and Mother Visitation Clancy.  Just thirty-three years later, in August 1904, following the request of Dr O’Neill, Bishop of Dromore, three members of the Order travelled to Newry to take charge of the Daisy Hill Infirmary.  
Inevitably they worked too in the workhouse that was on the same grounds.  Agnes Boyd of the Board of Guardians (grandmother of Russell Boyd, of Boyd’s Stores) saw to that.  Sr M Malachy Kearns was appointed as nurse of Newry Workhouse at

Frank Carroll: Missionary


Attending the Abbey Grammar in the ’60s we could look out a window to the home at 71 Castle Street, of Archbishop Francis Carroll.  The Christian Brothers never tired of lauding his praises as the greatest of their past-pupils.  Perhaps we were too young or sceptical then to appreciate their words.  To show they were not – in the words of my old mentor, Paddy Arthur Crinion – ‘wasting their sweetness on the desert air’, I post this tribute!

Francis Carroll was born the son of Patrick and Mary Carroll and attended the Abbey Christian Brothers School in Newry.  Deciding to become a priest he studied theology at Dromantine until June 1937.  He was one of eighteen priests ordained by Bishop Mulhern in St Colman’s Cathedral in December 1936.  Frank was to have a distinguished missionary career in Africa.  Attempts to establish a mission in the Monrovia district of Liberia had met with limited success before his arrival.  Liberia was (and is) an impoverished country with a dispersed population, simmering political unrest, poor communications and a virtual absence of medical facilities.  The difficult climate – just a few degrees from the equator, and known as the Whiteman’s Grave – the isolation and the poverty exacted a heavy toll on members of the Irish province of the SMA. 


Frank took charge of a mission composed of young and inexperienced priests.  His jurisdiction on the Kru Coast was accessible only by sea and was the least developed region of that underdeveloped republic.  Yet through his energetic and outgoing personality, his excellent relations with the indigenous population and with the Americo-Liberian government of President Tubman, his clear conception of what he required, his skill in obtaining funds and his exceptional ability to ‘get things done’, he succeeded in transforming the moribund coastal mission of 1951 into the thriving, vigorous mission of 1958. 


Frank’s achievements when he became Bishop were no less impressive.  His skills as a diplomat when he later served as apostolic delegate and Vatican representative were of inestimable value.  For his lifetime’s work Frank was four times decorated by the Liberian government for outstanding services to the nation in education, health, social welfare and evangelism.  It is a tragedy that the ‘country of the freed slaves’ today does not have the services of one of his qualities.  Liberia unfortunately is once again one of the most afflicted countries on the African continent.


Frank Carroll’s remains lie in St Mary’s Cemetery.  An obituary by a senior colleague summarized his life’s work:


‘A missionary in Liberia for forty-two years .. when Archbishop Carroll retired he was beyond question the foreigner who knew more Liberians from all walks of life and all social classes than anyone else.  All this time he promoted Liberian education at every level.  He took particular interest in the poor and the sick, establishing orphanages and clinics throughout the country.  His door was always open not just to diplomats and government officials, but to the poor.  He gave particular attention to youth.  In a country where Catholics are a small minority he made the role of the Church appreciated by all.  He leaves behind the memory of a man of deep faith who had a great love for the people of Liberia.’  And for the people of Newry, I might add.  May he rest in peace.