The parish of Castlemagner, like all parishes, owes its origins to the Norman invaders who replaced our Brehon Laws and clan system with their baron and leet system. The King leased the land to the local baron for an annual rent and the baron leased the land to local tenants for more rent than he was charged. The baron operated the leet courts to enforce the King's law. The Normans were Catholic and saw no dividing line between politics and religion. The local Bishop could at times become the owner of large parcels of land which he rented to tenants. The Norman system of land ownership lasted in Castlemagner from 1189 to 1922 with a slight change in 1657 when the House of Commons replaced the King as the supreme authority.

In the 8th century, a church was built in what is now Subulter and was in use until 1460 when the last priest to serve there was a Fr. Donatus Morrissey. Other church sites in the parish are identified at Coolavaleen, Ruskeen, Castlemagner and Lisduggan (go here for a record of priests) . The church in Lisduggan was built in 1867 and replaced an earlier one built there in 1800. The church in Coolavaleen was actually a mass house (a makeshift church) and was in use from 1704 to 1793. The church in Castlemagner dates from 800 and was in use until 1591 when it was taken over for Protestant use. An inventory of vestments and sacred vessels of Castlemagner parish dated 1852 is available here.

Several aspects of the history of religion in Castlemagner are covered on this page:

From 1591 until 1704, there were no Roman Catholic churches in Castlemagner. They were either converted to Protestant use or burned by Lord Brohill in the aftermath of the Battle of Carrigadrohid (1652). The era of the mass rock and Sunday Wells spanned this period in the parish of Castlemagner (1591 - 1704). Mass rocks were used in times of suppression of the Catholic religion to celebrate mass clandestinely since the celebration of the mass was forbidden by law. There is a least one authenticated mass rock in the parish of Castlemagner. This is located in the extreme northern part of the parish in the townland of Kilguilky on the farm of Mr. Paddy Cronin (see picture below). A recent celebration of mass at the mass rock gives a powerful image of what it must have been like to practise the Roman Catholic faith in Ireland during penal times.

The attached narrative attempts to explain how religion in Ireland has evloved over the past millenia.

Celebration of Mass at the Mass Rock

Celebration of Mass at the Mass Rock


St. Brigid's Well is located across the river from the ruins of Castlemagner castle. It is a druidic well adopted into Christian ritual. It was originally the well of Brede (the druidic goddess of agriculture) and later, in the Christian era, became the well of St. Brigid of Kildare. When the parish of Castlemagner became a Protestant parish in 1591, Roman Catholic mass was celebrated there on Sundays, and it hence became known as a Sunday's well. This practice was stopped in 1658 when Captain Roger Bretridge became landlord of this area as a result of the Cromwellian confiscations. However, the practice resumed periodically after Catholic Emancipation in 1829. Between 1658 and 1704, rounds of the well was one of the few Catholic rituals allowed in the parish. The well was refurbished and covered over in 1771 by Mr. Eoin Egan of Subulter, a cripple who was miraculously cured at the well. It is a beehive shaped covering with an opening to the well at the eastern side. On the left of the opening is the best preserved effigy in the world of Shíla-Ní-Gig, a druidic symbol of the supreme goddess of fertility. This was brought by Mr. Egan from the ruins of an 8th century church in Subulter. On the right of the opening is an effigy of the Archangel Michael. This was the centre keystone on the arch of the main entrance to Magner's castle and dates from approximately 1200.

Site of St Brigid's Well
When Colmcille left Ireland with his 12 followers and settled in Iona, his followers continued to make religious settlements across mainland Scotland and eventually to the island of Lindisfarne. In around 770, a monk, reputed to be the son of a Saxon prince, made his way with 12 followers (from Lindisfarne) to Cullen in County Cork from where they continued to Tullylease, a place of a strong druidic settlement. Within this settlement was an advanced silversmith school. This settlement was eventually converted by this monk and the locals called him Berrahert (i.e. bearer of the truth). The converted druids continued their silver-smithing and eventually made the Derranaflan chalice. These converts, like Colmcille, moved on in time to form religious settlements locally in: Freemount, Castlecor and Subulter (where they built a church in the Romanesque style).

In accordance with the teachings of Patrick and Colmcille, pagan ritual and custom would be adopted into Christian use and ceremony. It must be remembered that if St. Berrahert had followed the teaching of St. Augustan of Canterbury instead of that of Patrick and Colmcille then the Shiela-NÌ-Gig would never be tolerated on the wall of the Christian church.

Blessed Well
St Brigid's Holy Well with Sile-Ni-Gig effigy
From 800 until 1461, the Shíla-Ní-Gig at Castlemagner Holy Well was attached to the inside of the wall of Subulter church, which explains its well-preserved state.

The Holy Well in Castlemagner was the scene for a series of lectures, 18th October 1998, on the place of the Holy Well in Irish Mythology and in early Christianity.

Until the dedication of the new church and parish of Castlemagner to Saint Mary in 1867, the parish and the Holy Well were anciently dedicated to St Brigid in the Catholic and Church of Ireland persuasions.

In order to gain an understanding of St Brigid and her place in early Irish Christianity, the additional acounts below have been added:


In 1183 the north and eastern part of Castlemagner was overrun by Norman invaders named Barry. The eastern end was assigned to William Magner and the Northern end to the 'Knights Templar'. These were a military order of lay monks drawn from the high ranking Norman ruling families. This order constructed a monastery in the present town land of Subulter overlooking the Marybrook bridge on the land occupied by the Taylor family. A manor farm to support this monastery was developed on the site of the present Marybrook House amounting to 600 acres and occupied parts of the present townlands of Subulter, Knocknanuss and Lackaleigh. A site in the southern end of Lackaleigh was set aside for stabling horses for farm work and war horses for the young knights. This site is occupied by the present Assolas house.

In 1300 MacCarthy Mor regained some of the Norman land which included Subulter. As a result, the monastery was vacated and unoccupied until 1307. However, by this time the order of lay monks was suppressed by Henry III thus bringing an end to this era.

Following this, the lands and monastery were re-assigned by the then King to the Knights Hospitaller of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (the name Subulter being derived from this). The order ran a recuperation and rest centre for knights wounded in the crusades. By 1350 the monastery was again in disuse and reverted to the Norman Bishop of Cloyne. (It was standard practice at the time that unassigned Crown land would revert to the local bishop.)

In 1542 all land owned by the Roman Church was confiscated by the Crown (Henry VIII). The 600 acre estate was sold by the crown to Lord Barry Mor who in turn sold it to the O'Callaghans of Clonmeen. The O'Callaghans remained the owners of the estate until the Cromwellian confiscations of 1657.

From this point onwards, the estate and monastery site had an assortment of Anglo-Irish owners until the birth of the Irish Free State in 1921 when the Lucey family became the legal owners.

All that remains of the monastery today is a well in the present Taylor farmyard which is 100 feet deep and 6 feet in diameter. The well is stone lined well along its entire depth, a feature common to all Knight's Templar monasteries.


The church in Subulter was built in around 780. It was built in a Romanesque style with local limestone. The church was at the centre of an old Gaelic settlement called Mona na Mandaragh. The settlement was probably built by followers of St Berrahert of Tullylease. St Berrahert is credited with converting a druidic settlement (which was probably located around the present site of Marybrook House).

An effigy of Síle Ní Gig, the supreme druidic Goddess of fertility, was set into the wall of the church in Subulter when it was built and later transferred to the Holy Well (see above). This suggests a strong converted druidic association with the early Christian church in Ireland. This would be in keeping with the Celtic Christian practice and teaching of this time.

The church was in continuous use until 1461. Fr Domatus Morrisey was the last priest to serve there. The land around the church was used as a burial ground by local families up to 1900 and for 40 years after for the burial of unbaptised infants. All that remains today is a section of a side wall of the church and about 1 acre of burial ground. The church is situated in what is known locally as the 'Church Field'.


Protestant church
CoI Church Belfry Tower
The first Protestant Church in Castlemagner was converted from the early Roman Catholic church (circa 800) that was attached to the old Gaelic settlement of Munemanarrach (shrubbery of the sheepfold). The majority of the ruling classes in Cork ignored the reformation in England (1543) even though they had all signed for the Act of Supremacy (1560). They conveniently ignored its contents and openly practised the Roman Catholic religion. Although all the leading families who took part in the unsuccessful Fitzmaurice rebellion in 1579 got the Queen's pardon, allowing them to hold on to their land, property and titles, they were forced to adopt the Protestant religion. Edmond Magner became the first Protestant vicar of the old Gaelic church which was now for Protestant worship only.

The church was damaged during the Williamite wars and a replacement church was started in Ballygiblin park in the area now occupied by the former John. A. Woods quarry. For some reason, this church was never completed and is known locally as The Monastery. The church at Castlemagner was repaired and refurbished after the wars although there remained a problem with one area of the floor - there was a spring rising in it !

In 1679, a silver cup and a silver paten was donated to Castlemagner parish. The engraving on the silver cup read:

This cup belongs to the parish of Castlemagner 1679.

From 1713 to 1799 Castlemagner and Ballyclough parishes were amalgamated. A new parish register was started in 1809. The present rectory was built in 1813 at a cost of £738 9s 2d of this amount £ 276 18s 5 1/2d was granted by the Board of First Fruits by way of gift and £ 461 10s 4d was given by way of a loan. This loan was payable by annual installments of £18 16s 4d.

The Rectory

The Rectory
The present Protestant church, on the site of the present graveyard, was built in 1816 at a cost of £461 10s 9 d granted by way of a loan from the Board of First Fruits and payable in annual installments of £11 16s 4d. The church and rectory shared a ½ acre site. There was no approach to the rectory from the road except through land rented by the vicar from Lord Limerick.

In 1860 the tithes for Castlemagner were £303 15s 11d. In 1887 a vestry room was added and a heating system installed in the church. In 1877 Clonmeen and Castlemagner Protestant parishes were amalgamated. The four churches in the union were dedicated to St. Brigid. In 1898, Kilbrin and Liscarroll Protestant churches were amalgamated into Castlemagner parish. In 1900 a chancel, pulpit and prayer base were added, all of which were dedicated as a memorial to Sir Henry Beecher. This was to express thanks for the monies which came from an endowment levied on Beecher land. The sum transferred to the church was £130 per annum.

The church in Castlemagner from Gaelic times was dedicated to St. Brigit. The Castlemagner Church of Ireland parochial records are held in the Public Records Office in Dublin. There are 3 volumes;

  • baptism 1810-1905
  • marriages 1809-1844
  • deaths 1809-1906

In 1903 the church in Castlemagner was greatly improved. A tessellated pavement, solid marble steps, oak pulpit, reading desk, lectern, communion table and rail were added. In addition, the roof was opened up and a pitch-pine dado placed around the inside of the church and a roof of the same material. All this was done at the expense of Sir John Beecher with aid from Rev. H. Swansea (rector) and a grant from the Beresford fund.

The church was used for regular service until 1970 when the incumbent rector Reverend Hill retired.

Protestant church entrance
Entrance to CoI Church

CoI Church & St Brigid's Graveyard


The present burial in the townland of Castlemagner has been in use from early Christian times (c. 800). It was walled in with the building of the new Church of Ireland church in 1817. The imposing gateway was a gift from Lord Arden of Lohort Castle. In 1926, the local landlord, Mr. Beecher, added about a third of an acre and in 1980 Cork County Council added another acre, which was also walled in and a new 12 foot entrance and gateway completed. Catholics and Protestants have been buried there side by side since 1591.



Around 1250, under the Norman system of civil parishes, the 2 Gaelic settlements in Castlemagner were united as one parish under a Norman Bishop of Cloyne. The southern and western end of the present parish remained under Brehan Law and the control of MacCarthy Mor. This situation altered little until 1591 when all areas under Norman control accepted the English monarch as the head of the new Protestant church and denied all authority of the Pope.

At this time, all Catholic churches in the parish of Castlemagner were either burnt or turned over to Protestant use. The next record of a Catholic priest in Castlemagner is 1704. This priest was Fr. William Sheehan. Fr. Sheehan resided either at Killavallig or Coolnamaa. Coolnamaa was a small thatched church built under penal law and remained in use until 1800. With the advent of Catholic Emancipation (1828 AD) a Roman Catholic church was built by Fr Paul Ryan PP (known as the French Man). This church was built at the site of the present Roman Catholic church.

The present Roman Catholic church was built in 1865 by Fr. William Hogan on the site of the old Roman Catholic church.

RC Church 

St Mary's Church Castlemagner