Dromavalla Graveyard and Church

Dromavalla Cemetery and Old Church Ruins

Around the year 1205, the Augustinian Order from the Abbey of O’Connell in Kildare had been granted 10 Carachutes of land (acres) at Killorglin, which became the Abbey of Kilcoleman. Killorglin – derived from the Gaelic Cill (a church), Lorcain (Lawrence), came under the Augustinians’ ecclesiastical jurisdiction, which would have given them rights to collect tithes and appoint clergy. It is worth noting that the Anglo-Norman incursion in1170 had Papal approval – Adrain IV or VI (whose real name was Nicholas Breakspear – the only English Pope) wanted to reform the Irish Church and introduce continental religious orders and practices into Ireland, which until then had been a maverick within the Latin Church.

It was not intended to establish a town in Killorglin, but in the medieval world a castle and a church acted as a magnet for the population in times of temporal and spiritual strife. In 1302 ‘Glenorgulan’ was valued at 6s 8d for tithes (church taxes). Ecclesiastical records for 1398 note that Killorglin vicarage was in the patronage of the Augustinian Prior at Killagha. The foundation charter of the abbey prohibited Irish novices from joining the order. As the monks spoke a mixture of French and/or English and preached in liturgical Latin, they would not be in the same vocal world as the average Gaelic speaking serf, if such a term was used in feudal Killorglin. Secular clergy filled the vacuum.

The church at Dromavalla probably dates from the late 13th century or the early 14th century. The east window suggests a Romanesque style, which is what local masons would have been used to. The earliest known Christian carving in Killorglin – The Farrantoreen or Ardmoneil stone – located on the west bank of the Laune has French Merovingian influences. Dromavalla Church served as the Killorglin parish church up until the 1580s at least. Of course it does not necessarily mean that the present building served as the centre of worship for over two hundred and eighty years. The site probably saw several changes as the building was enlarged from its original medieval foundations.

Following the Desmond Rebellion, Sir Thomas Spring was granted the Abbey and lands at Kilcoleman (1587 – The Plantation of Munster). Dromavalla Church would have been included in his property portfolio. The Spring family, like the Conways – the new lords of the manor of Killorglin – were Anglican and, given the atmosphere of the time (1588 – the Spanish Armada) – probably militantly so.

Deprived of the financial resources of the Augustinian Order, the Dromavalla Church fell into disrepair. It was recorded as being ‘in ruins’ in Dr. Charles Smith’s 1756 The Ancient and Present State of Kerry. Apart from some of the cut stone around the east window (altar) which has been removed, the building is largely the same as the ruins described by O’Donovan’s (1830) Antiquities of Ireland. The site has been used as a cemetery for at least two centuries (19th/20th) and probably for a much longer period.