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THE EOYAL SOCIETY OF ANTIQUARIES
THE ANTIQUITIES OF THE PAEISH OF XILCOMENTY, NEAR
BY HENRY F. BEERY, I.S.O., M.R.I.A., Fellow.
'his parish, which is situated in the harony of Owney and Arra, in the
south-west corner of north Tipperary, is hounded on the north by the Shannon and the parish of Templeichally; south by the parish of Kilvellane; east by the parishes of Kilmastulla, Killoscully, and Kilnerath ; and west by the county Limerick. It takes its name from eille = ' cell' or ' church,' and Commaneth, the name of the patron saint.
The earliest form of the parish name that I can find, appears in the Ecclesiastical Taxation of Ireland, 13021-6, as Kilcommytha (in the deanery of "NVethirchir2), wherein the parish is valued at 13«. Ad., the tenth being 1 &d. In an old Registry Book of the diocese of Cashel, now in the Public Record Office, is a copy of a visitation held by Richard, archbishop of Cashel, in 1437, in which occurs the following entry :— "Decanatus de Owthnia, Ecclesia de Kilcomnaty iijs." The Valor
1 Irish Exchequer Record, 533 9: Roll E. m. I.; "Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland " (Sweetnian), p. 281.
2 " Caithne Tire." Deanery of Owney. See "Book of Rights," edited by O'Donovan for the Celtic Society, 1847. Note, p. 45.
FOR THE YEAR 1904.
PAPERS AND PROCEEDINGS-PART II., VOL. XXXIV.
Beneficiorum (Exchequer), 1537, speaks of the vicarage of Kilcomit; and the Regal Visitation of 1615 mentions the vicarage of Kilcoweth (which seems to have heen intended for Kilcometh), in the deanery of Owthney.
O'Donovan, in the course of one short letter, speaks of the patron saint of this parish as Cuimin fodha, Cumenad, and Cumenod, while in the Ordnance Survey the name takes the form of Cuminad. "With all these variants before us, we must now consider what is most likely to have been the real name of the saint whose memory is still venerated in the district. In the letter indicated above—an Ordnance Survey letter—dated at Nenagh, 13th October, 1840, now in the Manuscript Eoom, Royal Irish Academy, O'Donovan names Cuimin fodha as the patron saint of Kilcomenty, adding, "The 18th March is still kept holy in the parish, in honor, as it is believed, of St. Comenad, but the 12th is his day, according to the Irish Calendars." As a matter of fact, 12th November is St. Cuimin fodha's day, and the word "November" has been accidentally omitted in the original letter. O'Donovan thinks it probable that the parish was "transferred to some continental saint," as, he alleges, was frequently the case in different parts of Lreland. This seems straining a point overmuch, as 18th March has been observed from time immemorial in the parish. One wonders why, in two of his references, O'Donovan makes the name end in ad and od, unless it were to retain some abbreviation of fodha. The country people invariably speak of the patron as St. Cummenat; and so much is known concerning St. Cuimin fodha, and his history, that very little consideration will show how unlikely it is that he was ever connected with Kilcomenty. The holy person, who, in addition to a cell, had a "bed" and well at the latter place, was probably a recluse or anchorite. St. Cuimin was Bishop and Abbot of Clonfcrt, a man of distinguished learning, and one who led a busy, active life, crowds of students being attracted to his famous school at Clonfert. He was the writer of the celebrated letter to the Abbot of Iona, on the Paschal controversy, which about the year A.d. 630 had reached its culminating point in dividing Christendom on the question of the correct computation of Easter. "With a view to a proper study of this subject, he is recorded to have gone into strict retirement for a year, and to have chosen "Disert Chuimin in regione Roscreensi " for his retreat. This place is near Roscrea, and the parish is called Kilcommin. Had St. Cuimin had any connexion with what is now known as Kilcomenty—an ideally lonely and isolated spot—he would naturally have resorted thither; but it seems clear that the cell, bed, and well were appropriated by quite another, one whom Canon O'Hanlon is compelled to speak of as " this almost unknown saint."
An additional and very strong reason for differing from O'Donovan is to be found in the fact that the Martyrology of Donegal, under the date of 18th March, commemorates a saint named Coman, son of Ernan. This saint war a bishop, and came of the race of Conall Gulban, son of Niall. Were he the true patron of Kilcomenty, however, one is at a loss to account for the parish name appearing in any other form than that of Kilcoman.
It seems more likely that the form of the word 'Kilcomenty' indicates a female saint. The termination nat or net was anciently used as a diminutive in women's names, e.g., Killasnet and Kilbegnet. The former represents a saint named Osnat, which signifies 'little fawn' (o« = 'a fawn'); the latter place was so called from St. Becnat (bec=l small: extremely little body''). Dr. Joyce gives some other instances; and
analogy justifies us in supposing that our saint may have been 'little Comma.' The Martyrology of Donegal mentions two saints named Conmat; but neither is commemorated on 18th March. St. Commaneth is not noted in the hagiologies.
St. Senan's2 mother is found to be named Cumaina and also Comgella; and Cum in the former is the same as Com in the latter. The Calendar
1 " Irish Names of Places" (Joyce), 2nd series, p. 28.
2 Rev. Canon Day, Rector of Newport, wus informed by some of the old people in the parish that St. Commaneth was said by tradition to have been sister of the saint (Senan), who had a holy well near Doonass, in Clonlara parish. This is on the other side of the Shannon, in County Clare.
of iEngus does not mention Comgella as a saint; but Coma, daughter of Comgall, appears on 22nd January, while Comgella is made to be daughter of Ernach. Coman, who is mentioned by O'Hanlon on 18th March, is said to be son of Ernan; the accounts of him are rather complicated, but we cannot fail to be struck by the coincidence of this Coman being son of Ernan, while Comgella's father was Ernach.
Some confusion appears to have occurred; but on a review of the apparently contradictory evidence, the truth seems to be that, while in some places a saint named Coman was revered on 18th March, a female saint Comanait was commemorated on the same day in the parish of Kilcomenty. Comanait is the ancient form of Commaneth, and the genitive of Comanait i6 Comnata; Kilcomenty in Irish, then, is CillComnata.
The old graveyard of the parish, the Saint's well, and bed are situated in the townland of Ballyard. Mr. T. J. "Westropp, to whom I am indebted for the sketches of fragments of the church that illustrate this paper, and for the beautiful photographs, from which the accompanying views have been taken, kindly came over from county Clare, and on a perfect summer afternoon, August, 1902, joined me in visiting the site of these antiquities. Previous visits had revealed to me the existence of a few carved mullions lying about in the churchyard; but it remained for Mr. Westropp's practised eye to detect carved stone-work to an unlookedfor extent, and he was able to sketch no fewer than forty specimens.
The following description of the remains of the church has been supplied by him:—
"St. Commaneth'S Chuhch.
"There arc few churches so completely overthrown as Kilcomenty whicli preserve in their scanty remains so much that enables us to forni a notion of the building as it stood in its entirety. In the first instance, St. Commaueth's Church is practically levelled to the ground; but, by a strange good fortune, small portions of the wall to the sides and west end of the building, and a considerable reach with both angles at the east end, are sufficiently preserved to give us an idea of the size of the church. The tombstones, within and without the walls, mark the outline of the oblong as well. It measured internally, as nearly as we could fix it (within a few inches), 60 feet long and 26 feet wide, the average proportion and dimensions of several of the lesser churches on both sides of the Shannon in northern Munstcr. There are numerous dressed stones, jambs, and shafts of the features of the edifice. It had, so far as we can judge, two windows, two doors, a recess for a piscina or stoup, an oblong basin, probably that of a stoup, and some other ope of simple character, with a chamfer 22 inches and a side 3 inches wide, possibly from its very wide splay a fragment of another window. There can be little doubt that the more ornamental doorway and window belong to the same period (from 1470 to 1510), and that they probably stood in the south wall; they are of a very common type of the latest fifteenthcentury moulding. The door has small square recesses and headings alternating with convex bands; the window sill and jamb have a concave and a convex moulding, the latter up the sides of the light; they have a straight-edged recess between the moulding which is not continued round the sill; the head was not found after a very careful search. The light was 9 inches wide. In the south wall of the graveyard is the plain and rather singular hood of a window; the recess is 46 inches wide, and, if for a window, implies one of unusual width, with probably at least three lights ; but, as only the hood remains, we can say nothing further as to its nature, and it may have covered some other recess or even a door. The plain blocks with bold chamfers on the edges, and a small angular division in the face, probably represent a doorwny; they are nearly 17 inches deep. There are three blocks showing the face beside the jamb, and one with only the jamb, but all are of the same section ; they are of limestone very smoothly dressed, and seem older than the other features, but show dressing with a toothed chisel. The others have that pitted dressing which became so general in the sixteenth century. Besides these larger fragments we may name a few others. A plain central shaft of a window formed of a slightly oblong block (8 inches through) with the edges chamfered off, and no slot or holes for sashes in the part which rises above the ground. A very neat column, with a plain fillet and spiral fluting of excellent execution, projects from the ground near the last; it closely resembles the cloister shafts in some of our monasteries, but may have been the dividing shaft of a double recess; this stands outside the east end of the church. A capital (octagonal in design, but the back division merged in the block which it ornaments) lies firmly fixed in the ground at the root of a tree in the north-west angle of the graveyard, and was thickly mossed when we found it. Its design is simple but effective, the upper part consisting of plain squares, under them a chamfer, a rounded fillet, an oblong space, and a chamfered fillet. The spirally-fluted shaft may have belonged to this, though it is round, not octagonal."
A carved holy-water font was many years ago rescued from the ruins, and brought to the old chapel at Birdhill. This is now in charge of Rev. Canon Howard, P.p., and has been placed within the precincts of the lloman Catholic Church at Newport. Father Howard informs me that the parish of Kilcomenty, which under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Cashel is ecclesiastically known as Birdhill, was united to Newport in 1823.
St. Commaneth's "well. About 30 yards east of the graveyard, a rapid stream which there issues from the ground is called St. Commaneth's Well. This stream flows from Ballinahinch, about two miles distant, and close beside the