Fr. Tom Lawlor 1842-1916, Parish Priest, Humanitarian and Visionary.

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Fr. Thomas Lawlor (1842-1916) Thomas Lawlor was born at Irribeg, Lixnaw in 1842. He studied for the priesthood at the Irish College in Paris and was ordained there in 1866. Upon returning to Kerry he served as curate in Tralee, Castletownbere, Dingle and Ballybunion prior to being appointed parish priest of Valentia Island in 1879. While there he was involved in the Land League serving as President of the Caherciveen branch, a role he would continue in Killorglin between 1885-1889. Fr. Lawlor assumed responsibility for Killorglin in January 1884. At the time the parish was a bye-word for neglect, a consequence of his predecessors inability to provide for, or maintain the parishes stock of church and school buildings, which in the mid 1880s still languished at pre-famine levels. On arrival to Killorglin, Fr. Lawlor’s immediate priority was the provision of a network of schools evenly distributed throughout the district, making primary education accessible within walking distance of every child in the parish. Appreciating the value and importance of education in providing a good start in life, tenders were sent out early in 1885 to build six schools and teacher’s residences at Killorglin, Cromane, Caragh Lake, Dungeel, Douglas and Glencuttane which were all completed and in use by September 1887. At the same time, Fr. Lawlor devoted his attention to the provision of a new parish church. In October 1886, he embarked on an ambitious fundraising tour in the USA, visiting emigrant communities  in Boston, New York and Chicago. On returning to Killorglin in July 1887 he received a tumultuous welcome. While the American trip was a financial success, it fell far short of the amount needed for the complex of buildings (the church, parochial house and convent) that Fr. Lawlor wished to bestow on Killorglin. Further collections at parish and diocesan levels brought in valuable donations. The foundation stone of the new St. James’ Church was laid on the 6th of September 1888 and the completed building was dedicated on the 3rd of May 1891.

Fr. Tom outside church

Above; Fr. Lawlor (far left) greeting people outside the newly built St. James’ Church (circa 1895). Photograph courtesy of the ‘Lawrence Collection’.

St. James interior

Above; The interior of St. James’ Church circa 1895. (Photograph courtesy of the ‘Lawrence Collection’)

St James Church in colour

Above; A coloured version of the 1895 photograph Below; The interior of St. James’ Church at present

St. James interior today


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Above; An extract from Fr. Lawlor’s personal notebook depicting the costs for St. James’ Church. Unfortunately by 1910, Father Lawlor’s health began to decline. He died at his residence in Ardmoneil on the 23rd of July 1916 aged seventy-four. At his request, his remains were laid to rest at Our Lady’s Altar in St. James’ Church. Almost one hundred years after Fr. Lawlor’s passing, the parish of Killorglin is still indebted to him.


 Above; Monument to Fr. Tom Lawlor.

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 Above; The resting place of Fr. Thomas Lawlor at Our Lady’s Altar, St. James’ Church

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Above; The Illuminated Address presented to Fr. Lawlor by his parishioners in July 1887, in thanksgiving, on his return from his ten month fundraising tour of American cities. Note Fr. Lawlor on the top, in the top left corner is an image of what the new St. James’ Church will look like, the top right corner is the Parochial House, bottom left corner is the is the newly constructed Metal Bridge and the bottom right corner is the newly constructed Killorglin County Bridge.