This one has been on my list for some time now and I finally had the opportunity to make a visit this year..
Kilfane Church is a medieval parish church more than likely constructed in the early fourteenth century. It incorporates a Norman tower and some notable features one of which is most unusual.
The Church is hidden away from the road shielded by trees but is accessed by a pillared metal gate at the roadside. A short track leads to it and is adjacent to a private house in which the back garden contains a couple of loudly barking dogs but they are of no danger to the visitor. The Church sits in a walled enclosure and a small metal gate allows easy access to the site. It is a long rectangular structure with its main entry on the West gable. There are three other doorways in the North and South walls. Below the window in the East gable are the remains of an altar and beside it in the South wall is a sedelia or priest’s seat which according to the information board outside is thought to have been part of an earlier Church and actually still contains traces of medieval paint. There are also some plain recesses for holding a book and some statues .Of course I have up to now avoided the elephant in the room and I refer of course to the Cantwell fada (or long Cantwell). This 8 feet tall effigy of a knight crusader stands upright within the Church and seems to stare at you as you enter the doorway On approaching it really stretches in height. It is deemed to be the most interesting and tallest effigy in both Ireland and indeed Britain and depicts a knight in chain mail and protective helmet holding a shield close to him which bears the Cantwell family crest. The Cantwells were one of the original families involved in the Norman Invasion of Ireland and were honoured for their service by being made Lords of Kilfane. The effigy is thought to date to around 1320 which leads historians to believe that it depicts Thomas Cantwell who died in that year. Interestingly the feet are turned inward and a local which we met at the site said that this was to indicate that he had died in battle but I’m not entirely sure that this is the case. The effigy is a striking piece of medieval work and is worth your time in itself to make the trip to Kilfane. I’ve only ever seen one other effigy on my travels and that was of Piers Oge Butler (d. 1526AD) and that was laid atop a tomb in Kilcooley Abbey in Co Tipperary (See post here).
But all this good stuff does not end here. On the Eastern end of the Church is the Norman tower. This is likely to have served as both the sacristy and a place of residence for the priests. A doorway leads into the lower vaulted chamber a dark and brooding place if ever there was one. Out of this chamber a set of worn stone steps leads upward to the first floor which contains like the vaulted chamber, a large fireplace. There is a very tangible atmosphere here of desolation aided and abetted by the constant shrieks of birds hiding in the innards of the tower and flying overhead. Indeed mind your step on these stairs as pigeons seem to tuck themselves close into the steps and are not at least put out by feet tramping close to them. One wrong footing and you could be in trouble. In the South East corner of the first floor a very narrow stone spiral stairs leads further upward. An entry to another floor which was probably wooden and now missing is gated for safety but you can continue on up to what would have been roof level. This is unfortunately also gated now and I can see why by how exposed the roof is but still the view both down on the Church below and of the Kilkenny landscape is excellent from this location. The tower also acted as a bell tower and there is a twin bellcote at roof level.
So after a careful descent and with a nod to the knight we left Kilfane all the better for the visit. There is a lot to see in this area which will be covered in future posts but in the meantime do check out this remarkable ruin.
To find the ruin and Mr Cantwell take the M9 heading South and exit at Junction 7 and at the top of the exit ramp take the left hand exit for the R448 (signposted for Thomastown). Continue straight through the next roundabout and on the subsequent roundabout turn right on to the continuance of the R448. Continue on through the villages of Gowran and Dungarvan and approx. 4.5KM out of Dungarvan you will pass the Long Man restaurant & bar on your right. Approx 100m past this on your left is a turn signposted for Kilfane Church. You will find the entrance gate to the track up to the ruin is 400 m down this narrow road on your right hand side. The gate is directly opposite a more modern church of Ireland church and there is room to park at gate leading to the ruins.