Friday 24 March 2023

Cromogue Church & St. Fintan's Well Co Laois


                                    Above Image: Steps up to ruins from entrance

                                         Above Image: Remains of the bell tower

                                                Above Image: Entrance to nave

                                      Above Image: Detail of entrance door arch

                                               Above Image: East gable interior

                                     Above Image: Entrance in Southern facing wall

                          Above Image & Image Below; West gable & remains of tower

                                Above Image: Remains of Southwest corner of tower

                                             Above Image: Entrance gate to well

                                                 Above Image: St. Fintan's well

The remains of church of St. Fintan can be found amongst a labyrinthine series of narrow country lanes that lie between Mountrath and Abbeyleix.

The ruins mostly date to the 12th century but have been embellished further by the addition of a bell tower during the late medieval period. St. Fintan had established a monastery in Clonenagh (see earlier post here) around 548AD and is quite revered in this part of the country.

The church roughly measures 14m x 8m with a divided nave with the said bell tower built at its Western gable. It is positioned upon elevated ground within an enclosed is graveyard that has decipherable stones dating as far back as 1737. These graves are all located on the South, East and West sides, the Northern side traditionally left as unconsecrated ground. Some internments were later made within the walls of the nave. Its period of use is unclear but it is safe to say it fell foul of the suppression in the 16th century and is definitely classed as ruinous on the 1837-1841 ordnance survey map.

After a drive down some winding country lanes we finally encountered the ruins and managed to park a little precariously outside the gates of the graveyard enclosure. Access is via an iron gate in the South wall. A small flight of stone steps in the embankment within brings you level with the ruins.    

The remains of the bell tower appear split in two leaving a gap where the South and West walls of the tower once stood. In between this gap, which leaves a tall independent shard (the corner remains of the South-West corner of the tower), is the entrance to the nave positioned on your right hand side. This at one time would have led directly into the tower from the nave but is now left open to the outside. 

Within, the ground is rough and contains a few graves. The walls are bare and featureless with a little ivy encroaching here and there. There is a window in the East gable and what appears to have been the main entrance in the Southern facing wall with a few steps leading into the church from this doorway.

There is an old tale that a clan named Phelan incurred the displeasure of St. Fintan in some manner or other. It must have been fairly serious as he laid a curse upon them warning that any male members of the family would suffer either blindness or lameness before the age of thirty and that all would turn as grey as badgers within the same period. Later he regretted the curse and imposed upon himself  a practice that on every Christmas eve he would say an outdoor midnight mass even in fiercely inclement weather for the souls of the deceased Phelans.

As in most cases on our visit we encountered no other visitors and so when we had finished our tour we headed a short distance Southwest to view the holy well dedicated to St. Fintan. This is a very nicely adorned and very ancient well nestled in a small landscaped close shaded by a huge tree. As at most Irish wells there are mementos hanging which have been left by visitors as rememberences of loved ones and as prayers for their souls. Stones from the well are said to have healing powers and there is a definite strong local belief in this.

As mentioned this ruin is a little off the beaten path so follow these directions.Take the junction 18 exit from the M7 motorway and at the roundabout on top of the exit ramp take the R445 signposted for Castletown. Drive for approx 3KM then take a left turn onto the L26943. Continue on this road for approx 4.2KM until you reach a T-junction. Turn right and continue for approx 1.5KM until you reach a crossroads with a large church opposite. Turn left here which is the L5675 and drive approx 1KM until you reach a crossroads with the R430. Turn left here following the sign for Abbeyleix for approx. 1KM and then take the first right hand road (L5658) and drive approx 400m until the road forks. Take the right hand lane and look for the graveyard gates approx 100m along. You can park directly at the gate but the lane is narrow so allow room for any possible passing vehicles. If you wish to subsequently visit the well then continue on down this lane for approx 100m and take the left hand fork in the road. The entrance gate to the well is approx 100m along on your right hand side. Again space is tight so park close to the gate. 

GPS FOR CHURCH 52°57'32.3"N 7°24'50.8"W

52.958971, -7.414110

GPS FOR WELL 52°57'27.3"N 7°24'52.7"W

52.957589, -7.414644