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A History of Rosenallis by L.H. Croasdaile S.J. (1959)


“Rosenallis is called Ros Finnghlaise (The wood of the clear stream) by early ecclesiastical writers. Colgan gives the name as Ros an Aluis as supplied to him by Dr. Ross McGeoghan 1629-1640.” (J. O'Donovan, Ordinance Survey Letters, 1838, Vol. I, 196-201). The ancient parish is also denominated the union of Oregan and consisted of Rosenallis, Rearymore, Castlebrack and Kilmanman, in other words, the whole Barony of Tinnahinch -The O'Dunne country. And so it remained until the formation of the two parishes of Mountmellick and Clonaslee at the end of the 18th Century, 1770, 1793. O'Donovan - op. cit. - states that the original church of Rosfinglais was founded by St. Brigid of Kildare. He quotes as his authority “Trias Thaumaturga”, section “De Ecclesiis et locis Sae Brigidae in Hibernia dicatis.” Colgan.

It stood in the old graveyard near the present protestant church, but not, as Dr. Comerford states, on the same site. I myself have seen the old foundations exposed in opening a grave. The old ruin and that of a round tower till after the year 1819 when Shaw Mason, in collaboration with Rev. J. Baldwin wrote: “Rosenallis has the ruins of an old church that was dedicated to the Virgin Mary; The Inhabitants observed February the 1st in commemoration of their Patroness. A Round Tower in connection with the ruins still remains.” (Shaw Mason, Statistical account of parochial survey, Vol. III, pp. 329-330). Rev. Shaw Mason is in error as to the “Patroness”. St Brigid, as the date proves, was always regarded as the Patroness of the church. The well in the village is marked on the Ordinance Survey Maps as St. Brigid's Well.

The ruined church and the tower were pulled down about 1834 by order of the Protestant Rector, Rev. Thomas Pigott. The round tower stood between the gable-end of the old Protestant school and the road to shanbeg. A large heap of stones was pointed out to me many years ago as the site of the tower. There seems always to have been a tradition that, in very early times, there was a convent situated where the old protestant school now stands (the Green School). This may well have been the case and the tower may have been for the protection of the nuns in troubled times. I have not however, been able to find any reliable confirmation of this tradition.


Oregan or Rosenallis was handed over to the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem in Kilmainham in Dublin, and from this date until the suppression of that monastery, (1537), the Knights Hospitallers were the rectors and the vicarage was valued at £30. The Royal taxation of dioceses and parishes, 1302-1306, and again in 1509-1547 shows the tax of Oregan to have been £12.3.0½. This was the 8th order of importance in the whole diocese. (calendar of state papers relating to Ireland. Record office, London).


In this year Sir William Brabzon, or according to the Four Masters, Sir Anthony and St. Leger, marched with an army into Leix and Offaly and spent fifteen days “Plundering and spoiling and burning even the churches and monasteries”. (Annals of the Four Masters, Vol. V, pp. 1496-1497).

It seems certain that Rosenallis was amongst those destroyed for we find the following extract from the chancery rolls - temp Elizabeth 1547-1553: Land grant by Fiat. “Lease for 21 years or rectories and tithes of Oregan als Rossenallis in O”Doyne”s country, a parcel of the possessions of the late Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in Ireland, to Vaughan, William and Greffyth ap David Yeoman.”


We find the same “parcel” in the hands of Maurice FitzThomas FitzGerald of Lackagh, Co. Kildare. As the Dunns kept a tight hold on the whole barony of Tinnahinch ‘till after the Cromwellian war, it is very unlikely that these grantees ever took possession of the church lands.

It seems almost certain that the ruined church was repaired and was used as a parish church until the period of the war 1641-1654, for we find the Bishop of Kildare, Dr. Ross McGeoghan 1629-1640, in his list of Parochial Churches, mentioning “Ecclesia Sae Brigidae de Rossenallis” as though it was still functioning as a Parish Church.


It Probably remained in use until the arrival of the Cromwellian troops under Colonels Hewson & Reynolds, when the carried the war into the heart of the O’Dunn’s territory, and when they destroyed the castles of Tinnahinch and Castlebrack. From 1641 to 1662 was a period of very bitter persecution when the Catholics throughout the whole country were without chapels and Mass had to be celebrated, with great danger in the open air. One such place, well remembered and venerated is the Monument Bush or De Profundis Bush on the left hand side of the road about ¼ mile below the Present Chapel as you go toward Capard. The road in question was not then in existence. The hawthorn bush that marked tile spot was blown down in the last storm…


From this date until 1688 was a period of relaxation of persecution, and it was during this period that “Mass-Houses” first began to appear. Either the old ruin was again repaired or one such Mass-house built, for there is a mention in a letter from Rev. George Chapman, who describes himself as Rector of Oregan, “that the papists in ye village have of late been wont to congregate to hold Masses, christenings and marriages contrary to the laws of this Relm.” (original in Record Office, Dublin).


After the defeat of King James II and his Irish allies at Aughrim and the repudiation of the Treaty of Limerick, organised persecution began and continued until about 1750.


At this period a Williamite contingent was quartered on or near Rosenallis Village. It was probably this fact that forced the Catholics to remove the Mass-House from the village. Robert Pigott of Capard, a protestant landlord and kind friend to the Catholics, allowed them to build a Mass-House at Rushin - off the Green Road. It was a very humble place, built of sods and thatched with heather of rushes. (History of the Queen's County by John Cannon O'Hanlon, Vol. II, p. 592.). It is uncertain how long this Mass-House was in use, but it cannot have been for many years owing to the poor materials used.


A second Mass-House was built about 1714, this time at Ballinakill, Lower Capard, at a spot directly opposite to the East-Gate Lodge of Capard Estate. The foundations were discovered about 1900 in ploughing operations on the farm of Andrew Gorman (O'Hanlon ibid.).


In this year the Irish Parliament ordered that "a report be drawn up as to the state of Popery in Ireland."

(Originals: Record Office, Dublin). The materials for this report were to be gathered by the Protestant ministers throughout the country. In it we read: "In the Parish of Rossenallis is there are four Mass-Houses, two of them built since the first year of George I, (1714). All are supplied by one, Lawlor and two curates Dunn and Keenan. There are little Irish schoolmasters in many places: who they are I have not discovered."

Signed: George Marley Celbridge.

The four Mass-Houses would include those of the whole union, Rosenallis, Rearymore, Castlebrack and Kilmanman.


Returns made by Barnabas Jackson, Hearth-money collector. (Originals in Public Record Office, Dublin).

Castlebrack: 132 Protestants, 790 Papists, no Quakers, 1 Mass-House in good repair.

Rosenallis: 1190 Protestants, 2712 Papists, 150 Quakers, 2 Churches, 2 Mass-Houses in good repair.

Kilmanman : 51 Protestants, 1470 Papists, 1 Mass-House in good repair.

Rearymore: 83 Protestants, 1141 Papists 19 Quakers, 60 Methodists, 1 Protestant church, 2 Mass-Houses.


Report ordered by Irish House of Lords. (Originals in Record Office, Dublin.)

"An account of the inhabitants of the parish of Rosenallis, otherwise called the union of Oregan containing the town of Mountmellick, Parish of Rosenallis, Parish and town of Castlebrack, Rearymore and Kilmanman" ...taken by Rev. Thomas Hackett, curate of the parish by order of the House of Lords, 1766.

Number of Acres: 11,468

Protestants : 1,899

Papists : 5,806

Popish Priests: 5

First Letter:
"The parish containeth the whole Barony of Tinnahinch. .yet there is not one Justice of the peace in the whole Barony. Quere. Whether a militia quarterly array'd would not be a natural security to the Protestant inhabitants, and a check on their Popish neighbours from entertaining any levelling schemes subversive to the peace of his Majesty's faithful subjects."

Thomas Hacket.

Second Letter:
"The number of priests not being returned to me at the time I sent my list of inhabitants of the union of Rosenallis, I must pray your Lordship to add the names of five Popish Priests: Kennedy of Mountmellick, Murray, a chaplain in a private family, Dunn as Parish Priest, Brophy as parish curate and there is another Dunn who hath lately returned to his Friends out of France since the expulsion of the Jesuits from thence, but whether a Jesuit or not I cannot tell."

Thomas Hacket, Nutgrove, near Mt. Mellick.

The complaint voiced in the earlier part of Rev. Hackett's report can be explained by the fact that both Richard Pigott of Capard and Henry Croasdaile of Rynn, had been deprived, some years previously, of their commissions of the peace; the former on suspicion of harbouring a priest - a suspicion probably well founded; and the latter for refusing to go on a priest-hunt and even using violence towards the professional priest-hunter, who complained before the Lord Justices in Maryboro; "When I approached this Justice (Croasdaile) and asked for a privy interview, on learning my business, spoke to me in a loud menacing voice and with oaths declared that he had foxes and wolves and deer to hunt and that he would in no wise hunt men. Then he used by body very shamefully." (Grand-Jury Records, removed to Record Office or Royal Irish Academy). Neither of these names appeared in the list of magistrates till 1775.


In this year a small chapel was built on Mr. Pigott's land and stood on the same site as the present church. It was built of stone and lime and was thatched. It was described for me by an old man, Tom Scully of Rynn who had often heard Mass in it as, "reaching only to alter rails, without either of the aisles (Transepts) and not so high. There was no vestry, so the priest used to vest behind the alter." Nicholas Garry also confirms much of this.


From a manuscript in the handwriting of Dr. Doyle, "State of churches since 1820", we find that Rosenallis church had been improved, had two suits of vestments, two chalices and Remonstrance. There were 80 monthly communicants, 55 in confraternity, 121 vols in library, new school to be built, number of scholars 250. Although this chapel was very small and plain, still it marked a great step forward, for it shows that the Catholics no longer afraid to come out of hiding and build their places of worship where all might see them.


This chapel did duty until the year 1859 when the present church was built. I have heard it said that the present church was not completed as originally designed; It was intended to have a steeple surmounting the tower. It is also said that the total cost of the church as erected was £600 of which £200 was given by Mr. Pigott of Capard. The Protestant church, built in 1797 and consisting of nave, aisle, tower and steeple of cut stone, cost only £923.1.6¼. from the Parish and a small loan from Board of First Fruits of £230.

List of Parish Priests from 1674 to 1958

1674 Fr. Kedagh Dunne:

Born 1645. Ordained at Navan 1669. Resided at Rushinflugh, Capard. died 1714. Buried at Reary.

1714 Very Rev. Bryan Dempsey: D.D., V.G.:

Transferred to Monasterevan 1724.

1724 Fr. John Keenan:

Resided at Derry. Died 1734. Buried at Reary.

1737 Fr. Valentine Dunne:

Born 1702. A native of the parish. Resided in or near Coolnamooney castle. Died 1780. Buried at Reary.

NB. There seems to be a vacancy of three years between the death of Fr. Keenan and the appointment of Fr. Dunne.

1780 Dr. Patrick Dunne; V.G.:

Transferred to Kilcock 1793.

1793 Fr. Hosey:

Place of residence unknown, probably Derry. Buried at Reary.

1802 Fr. Conran:

Exchanged parishes with Fr. Thady Dunne.

1802 Fr. Thady Dunne:

Born in the parish in 1766. Resided at Derry. He built the Present Parish Church in Clonaslee. Died 1828. Buried at Reary.

Fr. Thady Dunne was the last of the priests to be buried in the ancient burial place within the ruins of St. Fintan's Church, Reary. A headstone marks the grave of another priest, Fr. Jo1m Kinin who died 10th May 1734. He does not appear to have been a priest of the parish. He seems to have been a priest of Ossary Diocese.

"It is said that 22 priests are interred at Reary: A record of their names and other particulars are known to have existed in the district about 60 years ago (1820) but it cannot now be discovered." Collections, etc. Comerford II, 328.

1828 Fr. John Byrne:

Born 1790. Resided at Rosena1lis. Died 1847. Buried in the first church on the present site. There is a monument to his name in the present church.

1847 Fr. John Mooney:

Died 1876. Buried in present church.

1876 Fr. Richard Coffey:

Died aged 55. Buried in present church.

1877 Fr. Martin Maher:

Died 1896. He is last to be buried inside the Church.

1869 Fr. James Delaney:

Died December 1900. Buried outside the Church.

1901 Fr. Matthew Treacy:

Died 1902. Buried outside the Church.

1902 Fr. Paul Dunny:

Died 1939 Buried in new cemetery.

1940 Fr. Lawerence O 'Neill:

Died 1941. Buried in new cemetery.

1941 Fr. Joseph Boland:

Died 1949. Buried in new cemetery.

... Fr. Thos. N. Cunningham:

The Schools of the Parish

In the answers from the various parishes as to the "state of Popery in Ireland 1731" mention is constantly made of the schoolmasters. Of Rosenallis parish, the Rev. George Marlay speaks as follows: "There are little Irish schoolmasters, but who they are I have not heard.". Unlicensed schoolmasters were liable to be -and often were - arrested, Imprisoned and finally transported to Barbados and sold as slaves. Yet these devoted men and women, described as "Coadjutors and abettors of the popish priests", opened schools at their own expense and lived in the greatest poverty and personal danger. Their schools were known as "Hedge schools" and later as "Pay schools". The latter name remained until the National School Movement.

All the schools mentioned hereafter were "pay schools" i.e. the teacher depended for his support on the few pence contributed weekly by the Parents of his scholars. These accounts are gathered from the Government Blue Book Report of the year 1824.

PARISH: Rosenallis, Reary and Clonaslee. Thady Dunne P.P., 1802 -1828.

1. Nira.

John Feighery, R.C., fair character. Income £8 per annum. Teaches in part of a dwelling house given him. Is building school at own expense. Attendance: Summer 59 R.C's.

2. Corbally.

John Dunne, R.C., good character. Founder of the school 1820. Income of £6 per annum, paid by parents. Schoolhouse built of stone and lime, Thatched, 18ft. by 15ft. (would cost £12 to build). There are 2 Tables and 4 seats. Attendance: 36 R.C's. ,2 C.of I. In winter only 8 as total.

3. Skerry.

John Redmond, R.C. Fair character. Founder of school 1810. Income £4.11.0. paid by scholars. School house built of mud and Thatched 14ft by 12ft. (would cost £7). One table, two seats. Attendance (summer only) 41 R.C's. 3 C. of I.

4. Gurteen.

Peter McDermot, R. C., fair character. Income £ 11 per annum paid by parents. Walls of clay and thatched 19ft by l0ft. (would cost £8 to build). One table and forms. Attendance (summer only) 29 R.C.

5. Mulloughanard.

Eliza Dunne, R.C., fair character. Income £6. School-house mud walls, 20ft. by 14ft. (would cost £10). Two tables and seats. Attendance: Smmmer 53, Winter 16.

L.H. Croasdaile S.J., St Mary's, Emo 1959.