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Killeshandra and Croghan - Medieval Times

The name 'KILLESHANDRA' comes from the Irish 'Cill na Sean Rįtha', meaning the 'Church of the Old Fort'. This church was sited on an old semi-circular 'rath' or fort overlooking the lake that is now-a-days known as the Town Lake. Records in the Papal Annates concerning the appointments of clergy to the church date from 1411 and in 1436 were are told that the patron saint of the church was St. Brigid.

During the later middle ages the dominant family or clan in the area was the McKiernan family. The land of Tullyhunco, which was the McKiernan territory, was included in the rectory of the same name and its church was at Killeshandra. The chieftains of the McKiernans had their dwelling place at Croghan and the family had managed to maintain a certain degree of autonomy thanks to their geographical position between the two hostile septs of the O'Reilly and the O'Rourke.

Hill of Croghan

The Hill of Croghan, viewed from across the Town Lake

In the 1995 Breifne journal Ciaran Parker suggests that Croghan, which was later occupied by the O'Rourke family, was regarded by them as the inauguration site of the kings of Breifne. The McKiernans may have once been the guardians of the site or may have had some important role in the inauguration ceremony. The position of the McKiernan family within the local church was also important. In 1398 Pope Boniface IX decreed that the rectory of Tullyhunco, which included the church at Killeshandra, be assigned to and conferred upon John McKiernan. As a result he would receive the rectorial tithes of the parish. For this reason the prior and canons of Drumlane Abbey were also laying claim to the rectory and it seems that at some later date the made good their claim and the rectory passed into their possession.
Drumlane Abbey

Drumlane Abbey

At the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century Killeshandra was still a dependency of the Priory of Drumlane. This meant that the rectorial tithes of the parish were paid to Drumlane Priory and, in turn, it appointed a vicar who took care of the spiritual needs of the people. With the Dissolution of the Monasteries the possessions of Drumlane, both spiritual and temporal, passed to the Crown. In 1570 they were leased to Hugh Conallach O'Reilly for 21 years at an annual rent of £8 14s 8d. Later they were leased to the Dillons. By taking these leases both the O'Reillys and the Dillons hoped to save the monastic lands and titles of Drumlane for the Church.

In 1590 Killeshandra parish church was declared Crown property. Then in 1610, under the Plantation of Ulster, a grant to Sir Alexander Hamilton of Endervicke, Scotland, gave him 2,000 acres in the vicinity of Killeshandra. During the 1610's Killeshandra church was one of eighteen Catholic churches in the Diocese of Kilmore to be handed over to the Established Church for use as places of worship. In 1619 Killeshandra got its first Protestant minister. The Catholic church was re-roofed and used for Protestant worship down to 1688. It was then re-constructed on a major scale. It continued in use until 1842 when the present Protestant church was built.

The 1688 Church

The ruins of the 1688 Protestant Church

There are no remains of the original church on the site but the ruined remains of the old 1688 church are still to be seen in Church Street. They are surrounded by a disused mixed cemetery, a cemetery in which both Catholics and Protestants were buried, thus echoing something of the mixed history of the church and its grounds.

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