History of our Parishes

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The Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois
Our three parishes are among the forty one parishes that make up the diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois. Edgeworthstown is in the Longford deanery while Streete and Rathowen are in the Granard Deanery. Total population of the diocese is about sixty thousand. Per the population census of 2011 Longford county had a population of 39,000 of whom 84% declared themselves to be Catholic. The history of the diocese goes back to the dawn of Christianity in Ireland.

The diocesan system as we know it in Ireland was begun at the synod of Rathbeasail, Co. Tipperary in 1111 and completed at the synod of Kells, Co. Meath in 1152. Clonmacnois came out of the Kells synod with some later additions to the original area. It survived as a separate diocese until 1756 when it was joined with Ardagh to form the combined diocese as we know it today and is one of twenty six dioceses in Ireland (North and South). It has a population of some 60,000 Catholics spread over forty one parishes in seven counties in three of the four provinces. Clonmacnois is the more populous. It’s six parishes with a population of 35,000 include the towns of Athlone, Moate and Ferbane. Ardagh’s thirty five parishes have a population of 25,000.

“It was Patrick who first brought the Christian faith to Ardagh, but it was Mel he left behind as bishop to mind and shepard it”. At that time in the 5th century there were as yet no towns or cities as we know them. Dublin (Dubh Linn) was not founded until the 8th or 9th century. There were forts and raths and here and there a great Dún where the King and Queen lived and ruled.

After Patrick arrived in Ireland for the second time, this time as a bishop, not as an enslaved sheppard, he made his way to the hill of Slane where he lit his Christian paschal fire and moved onto neighbouring Tara where he proclaimed the Christian message. He was preaching to an eager audience for Celtic people are ever in love with immortality and things that reach beyond the senses. Laoghaire the King listened. He belonged to that ancient pagan world from which came the standing stones of Newgrange and Brú na Bóinne with their burial chambers, triple spirals, zig-zag lines and entrance passage aligned to the rising sun of the winter solstice and which hinted at such ideas as these. In the young man preaching before him, he had a recognition of a strange new order coming. While he could not bring himself to abandon Crom Cruagh (Sun God) and Mannaman Mac Lir (Sea God) he allowed Patrick the freedom to be on his way through Royal Methe and spread his message.

Laoghaire’s brother Maine was ruler in Ardagh which was in Tethbha, the western part of Royal Methe. When Patrick left Tara along the great Slí Mór he stopped off at Uisneach (near present day Loughnavalley). It is said that Patrick crossed Eithne (Inny) river and came into the Two Teffias and at Ardagh he left Mel (his nephew) as bishop. It is thought he may have entered Teffia by way of Streete, Glen Lough, Croshea along the river Inny before moving onto Cairbre Gabhra (Granard) where Cairbre was king. There he left Guasacht as bishop. At Clonbroney a convent came into being, the first in Ireland. Patrick is said to have given the veil to the two Emers, sisters of Guasacht. Maine and Cairbre were brothers of Laoghaire and all three were sons of Niall of the Nine Hostages. So Ardagh and Granard were important sites in the western part of Meath which was then the central and fifth province of Ireland.

From Granard, Patrick moved west to Mag Sléacht where he toppled the idol Crom Cruach and according to legend moved further west to pray upon Croagh Patrick in County Mayo.


Edgeworthstown or Mostrim?

Meathas Troim is aptly named. Meaning ‘fertile ridge’ much of the parish is on high ground (relatively speaking of course since we are here in the largely flat midlands) where the farming land is reckoned to be very good. Meathas Troim was anglecised over the years to become known as Mostrim.

St. Beaton or St. Barry founded a church here in the sixth century. There is a well in the area called after St. Barry and a place known as Abbeylands, site of the Franciscan friary dating to the early 1400’s. It was known as Ballynasaggart and as the Friary of St. John the Baptist. Two Franciscans were parish priests of Mostrim and are buried locally, Dr. John O’Rourke and Fr. Thomas McCormack. William Edgeworth’s county map of 1814 shows the friary as a ruin. Nowadays it is just a wooded area.

In 1619 King James 1 granted lands to Francis Edgeworth. This family and it’s descendants were to feature in parish life for the next four hundred years. Among them were Richard Lovell Edgeworth, inventor, engineer, visionary thinker in education and father of twenty two. His daughter Maria was a hugely successful novelist. Henry Essex, later known as the Abbé Edgeworth, converted to Catholicism. He was spiritual director to Louis XVI and was present with him on the scaffold at his execution during the French revolution. William Beaufort (Richard Lovell’s brother-in-law) devised the Beaufort scale of wind speeds and for whom the Beaufort Sea is called. Michael Pakenham Edgeworth (son of Richard Lovell) was a noted botanist and studied the flora and fauna of India while working there for the British civil service and after whom the genus Edgeworthia Chrysantha is named.

The Edgeworth family home, The Manor, remained in the family until 1935 when Bernard Noonan, a native of Edgeworthstown living in the U.S., purchased it and in 1939 donated it to the Sisters of Mercy who restored and renovated the house after the second world war. It had been requisitioned along with many other big houses by the government in order to train military personnel as a preparation to defend the country. Following the war the house was vacant for some time and had deteriorated. The sisters renovated, extended and opened it as a nursing/convalescent home in 1952 and also added the spacious chapel of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception. They also ran a maternity unit which closed in 19xx. Some of the front rooms were used as classrooms until 1971 to augument St. Elizabeth’s school. The sisters sold the nursing home in 2009 to the McGiveney family who currently run it solely as a nursing home.

No account of the Edgeworths would be complete without mentioning their involvement in education in the parish. One account lists eight schools before the famine and indeed some of the buildings used are still extant, including the Old Schoolhouse on the Ballymahon Road, St. John’s national school on the Ballinalee Road, the Porter House on Main Street and buildings at the rear of the Manor. It must also be noted that the Edgeworths, most notably Maria, were also landlords who were most sympathetic to the plight of their tenants during the famine.

Today education in the parish is served by two national schools – St. John’s, Ballinalee Road, Church of Ireland ethos and St. Mary’s, Granard Road, Catholic ethos.

The name Edgeworthstown first appeared during the nineteenth century. Both placenames were and still are in common usage. A plebiscite was held in 1974 resulting in Edgeworthstown being the official name in English. Meathas Troim remains the official name as Gaeilge. Mostrim is still the preferred name by many locals while Edgeworthstown is used for all official needs and by the many residents born elsewhere.

St. Mary’s Church, Edgeworthstown
St. Mary's Church Edgeworthstown
As we start into 2023 let us not forget that our beloved parish church, St. Mary’s, celebrates 150 years since being dedicated in September 1873 by Cardinal Cullen. The distinguished guests at the dedication ceremony were later entertained in The Manor House. The title was originally “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary”. The architect was Mr. Colbe and on his death Mr. Hague. The next parish priest, Rev Daniel Grey completed the church and erected the present parochial residence. The final touches were carried out by his successor Cannon Terence Martin who added the tower and steeple in 1909. The tower has a carved stone dated A.D. 1872. Canon Martin introduced the Sisters of Mercy to the parish in 1900. Bishop Dr. Conroy confirmed 94 children in the new church on July 14th, 1874.

The building is cruciform consisting of a porch as main entrance, nave, side aisles (St. Mary’s chapel and St. Joseph’s chapel), sanctuary and a sacristy on either side. An earlier chapel stood between the present church and the grounds of the parochial house where the tombstone of its founder Fr. Thomas McCormick, who died in 1811, can still be seen. It was he who obtained the site from Richard Lovell Edgeworth and built the chapel in 1787. It succeeded a penal “Mass-house”.
The tower built by Canon Martin was completed in the summer of 1908. A new bell was erected in it and was solemnly blessed by Dr. Hoare in July 1908.

The sacristy on the right was used by the nuns on Sundays. The wall at the back of the high altar was damp and became discoloured. In 1945 it was redone by Messrs Kelly, Longford and decorated in marble and mosaic by Messrs. Earley and Co., Dublin. The pulpit was pitch pine and was a donation from the late Madame Edgeworth who was a catholic and died in Paris in 1928. She also gave a generous donation towards the erection of the tower and did not seek any publicity for her charity. The tabernacle is of solid material, lined with silk. The door of the tabernacle is ornamented in brass. This was done in 1918 by Messrs. Bull, Suffolk St. Dublin. The servers dress in what was the Mortuary Chapel. The organ was erected and the gallery extended by Canon Martin in 1912. The presbytery was erected by Canon Grey in 1889. The stained glass windows in the body and side aisles are by Harry Clarke with the windows in the sanctuary being made in Germany. The Sanctuary lamp was crafted from silver donated by a local businessman Michael Farrell. He won many fine silver trophies in the field of horse racing and on his death donated the same to the church, one being the Manley Cup which formed the main structure of the lamp.

At the rear of the Church stands St. Mary’s Hall, originally outhouses which were unused for several years. Macra na Feirme made some alterations to it and held their meetings there. Later, it was used by the Youth Club and the Boy Scouts. In 1992 the building was refurbished.

Over the past 150 years a number of repairs and refurbishments have been undertaken, most recently in 2010 and was overseen by Fr. Pat Murphy.

(Source: Ó Theach go Teach 2003)

Streete, Russagh and Rathaspic, three parishes north of the river Inny in the Barony of Moygish were once known as Magh Breacaigh, the home of the Trout People. The Breacaigh were heavily defeated and subdued by the warriors of Cairbre-Gabhra in 751a.d. Streete become the Lordship of the Delameres complete with Norman castle. The Gaelic O’Ferrals continued to offer stiff resistance to the Norman advance westward.

If the historians are correct St. Patrick may well have forded the river Inny where the bridge is now on the way from Coole.

The church in Streete during the middle ages was a perpetual vicarage. When vacancies occurred recourse was had to Rome.

St. Mary’s Church, Streete (Boherquill)
St. Mary's Church Boherquill
This is a modest early-nineteenth Roman Catholic chapel, which retains its early character and a great deal of its early fabric. This structure is typical of the plain, almost vernacular, T-plan chapels that were built in great numbers throughout the Irish countryside in the years before and immediately after Catholic Emancipation (1829). It is dated 1812 which would make it an early example of its type in County Westmeath. The absence of an attached belfry is the result of restrictions imposed by the authorities on all non-established churches at the time (pre-Emancipation). The sacristy and chancel to the east end were built to designs by the prominent late nineteenth-century church architect William Hague (1840-1900) in 1869. This church was re-roofed and renovated by Michael Grace c.1932.

In 1259 following many years when the parish was part of lands attached to Tristernagh or Kilbxy Augustinian Priory near Ballynacargy a settlement was reached which restored the church of Rathowen to the Bishop and Chapter of Ardagh while reserving to the community of Tristernagh the tithes of eel fisheries belonging to the church.

Kilmacahill, also known as Cauran, is in the old parish of Rathasic, nowadays part of Rathowen. This was a Franciscan Third Order house founded by the Petits, date unknown. It was dissolved in 1540 following which the surrounding lands became farmlands.

St. Mary’s Church, Rathowen

St. Mary's Church, Rathowen, Ráth Eoghan

St. Mary’s Church, Rathowen, Ráth Eoghan

This is an attractive and substantial mid nineteenth-century Gothic Revival-style Roman Catholic Church which retains its early form, fabric and character. It is built in an unusual design for a Catholic church, looking quite similar to the typical Church of Ireland churches dating from the early nineteenth-century. It was built in 1846 by the Rev. James O’Reilly on land donated by the Bond Family of Ardglass. The use of snecked flint in the construction is unusual in Westmeath. The finely carved limestone details and the stained glass windows are noteworthy features of artistic merit. The interior was reordered for modern liturgical requirements by Dan O’ Riordan c.1985. Abstract glass to new porch in west transept is by Pascal Fitzpatrick in 1986.

1-  Many thanks to Fr. Bannon for loaning me his copy of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, Footprints of Mel and Ciaran, by Rev. Fr. Owen Devaney, published by Booklink, 2005. This was my source for the diocesan and parish histories and is well worth the read and is richly illustrated with beautiful photographs taken by husband and wife team Martin and Marianne Rheinheimer. It is available in Longford Library.
2-  Church histories and descriptions are taken from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage www.buildingsofIreland.ie
3-  Notes on the story of Our Lady’s Manor Nursing Home are taken from “The Manor – End of an Era” by Sr. Breege Donohue, 2009.
  John Cahill
The Railway and the Greenway
The railway lines from Mullingar to Longford and onto Sligo and the now defunct Mullingar to Cavan line were both branches of the Midland Great Western Railway (MGWR), Dublin (Broadstone) to Galway line. The Longford branch left the Galway line at Mullingar. This station comprising a Y-shaped junction, which is still there although the line to Galway has not been in service since 1985, was designed by George Wilkinson who was also the architect for Harcourt Street station in Dublin as well as most of the stations on the Sligo line, including Multyfarnham and Edgeworthstown.

William Dargan (1799-1867) successfully tendered for the construction contract from the MGWR for £146,751. Lord Farmham turned the first sod on September 13th 1853. A difficulty arose when a section of track laid around the edge of Lough Owel sank beneath the waters of the lake early in 1854. A large trawling device was used to drag the lake and retrieve the rails and sleepers which were relaid. Further on the line crossed bog that was seventy feet deep in parts. The line to Longford was opened on November 8th 1855.

The Cavan line commenced at Inny Junction, opened on July 8th 1856 and closed in 1960. There is no trace left of Inny Junction but the line can be seen at Lismacaffry (on the R395 between Lisryan and Coole). The Earl of Granard, George Forbes, had a small private station built near his home, Clonhugh House. He enjoyed the luxury of having the Dublin-Sligo trains stop on request. It closed in 1947 but the platform and station house, now a private residence, are still there.

Goods and livestock traffic were an integral feature of railway life for many years including Edgeworthstown station. However with the introduction of ‘liner’ trains (containers) this traditional feature of railway operation had disappeared by the early 1980’s.
Edgeworthstown Railway Station
William Dargan is the most famous of railway contractors and constructed many of Ireland’s railway and station buildings including Heuston in Dublin which was designed by Sancton Wood, opened in 1846 following input from Sir John Macneill FRS who provided the train shed roof. The National Gallery has a Dargan wing and his statue stands in it’s grounds. He also built the Marine Hotel in Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire). He is buried in Glasnevin cemetery.

For more on the life and works of William Dargan read his biography, William Dargan: An Honourable Life by Fergus Mulligan, published 2013 by Lilliput Press, available from Longford Library.

The line from Mullingar to Athlone was originally built with two tracks but was reduced to single track in 1928. Since it closed to rail traffic in 1987 it has remained intact but dormant. Thankfully it has been given a new lease of life as a family and tourist friendly walking and cycling route. In October 2015 the Mullingar to Athlone ‘Westmeath Old Rail Trail’ was opened. It forms part of the Dublin Galway Greenway project and connects with the Royal Canal Greenway in Mullingar. The 3 metre wide surface, laid parallel to the railway tracks, is equivalent to road surface and is done to an exceptionally high standard.

The Galway to Dublin Greenway will be the first inter-city greenway in a proposed national network. Stretching 276 km from coast to coast, this will be a world-class amenity for families, communities and tourists to enjoy, providing a cross-country route away from busy roads. From west to east the route passes through counties Galway, Roscommon, Westmeath, Meath, Kildare and Dublin. It will travel by rivers and through woods, along a disused railway line and old canal paths, and on well-signed, purpose-built cycle paths, offering rural tranquillity in a safe and traffic-free environment to everyone who uses it.
Mullingar Athlone Greenway - 1
For further information on the Dublin Galway Greenway project and the Royal Canal Greenway check out http://galwaytodublincycleway.ie and http://dublingalwaygreenway.com

Clar Comortha Cead Bliain 1916 - 2016
Ireland 2016 Logo
Events in our parishes which are part of THE IRELAND 2016 CENTENARY PROGRAMME include:

March 20th ’16 Edgeworthstown
1916 Proclamation Award Ceremony held in the Community Centre. Joe Callaghan CCE made presentations to 7 members of the community who contributed to the preservation and spread of the culture and history of our Parish. Awards went to John McGerr Sr., Philomena Donohoe, Anne O’Neill, Pauline Flood, Bernadette Walsh, Mickey Smith and Sean Marshall.

May 1st ’16 Edgeworthstown (14.30 to 17.00)
1916 Re-enactment of the funeral of O’Donovan Rossa.
The funeral cortege will move off from the Park House Hotel and will continue down Pound Street which will be transfomed into a scene from the time. The cortege will make its way to The Green where the burial and graveside oration will take place.

Following on from this the Proclamation will be read from the steps of the imitation GPO with street battles between the Volunteers and the British Army.

The occasion will show off uniforms, artillery, vehicles, music, clothing, shop fronts and other memorabilia from 1916.

A video of the re-enactment may be viewed here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26vAl4HqsOM
May 14th ’16 Edgeworthstown
“A Terrible Beauty is Born” – Edgeworth Literary Festival
The Edgeworth Literary Festival will commemorate the 1916 Rising as part of it’s programme, including:
A talk by a noted national historian;
Short-story, poetry and art competitions;
An Irish Night in the Mostrim Arms;
Story-telling for children with the theme of the foundation of the State.

July 3rd ’16 The Green, Edgeworthstown
Easter Rising Re-enactment
Pupils of Sacred Heart Primary School, Granard, will present a docudrama on the men and women of 1916.
Edgeworthstown Development Group and volunteers will re-enact key elements of the Rising, making this period of history come to life for a modern audience

July 3rd ’16 Edgeworthstown
‘Up For The Rising: the local connection’
A production, written by Pauline Flood, on the events of the Rising and the Longford connection, incorporating drama and music.

Full details of the Centenary Programmes for County Longford and for County Westmeath are available from libraries throughout the counties and also on http://www.ireland.ie

Other websites to refer to:
http://www.westmeathcoco.ie http://www.longfordatwar.ie

The 1916 Rising and the Edgeworth Connection
Walter Edgeworth-Johnstone 1863 – 1937, soldier, Dublin Metropolitan Police chief commissioner and sportsman was born at Kingstown, Co. Dublin, the eldest son of Robert Johnstone (1806–85), QC and county court judge, of Laputa, Co. Donegal, and his wife Doris (née Tivy).

In 1838 a member of the Johnstone family had married into the Edgeworth family of Kilshrewley, Ballinalee, Co. Longford (related to the Edgeworths of Edgeworthstown), and subsequently some family members had taken the name Edgeworth-Johnstone.

Educated at St Columba’s College, Walter entered TCD in 1880, graduating BA in 1884. He played rugby and cricket for TCD, and played once for Ireland at rugby in 1884. After attending the Royal Military College at Sandhurst (1884–6), he was commissioned into the 1st West India Regiment in 1886. He served in the expedition against the Yonnie tribe in Nigeria, West Africa, in 1887 and was mentioned in dispatches. He also took part in the West African expeditions to the Tambaku country and Gambia, and was present at the captures of Tambi and Toniataba, again being mentioned in dispatches. In 1893 he was promoted to captain and transferred to the Royal Irish Regiment.

He excelled at fencing and boxing as well as rugby and cricket and during his army career won numerous awards, including the army heavyweight boxing championship (1894), the amateur heavyweight championship of England (1895 and 1896), the Irish heavyweight championship (1895), the sabre challenge cup, royal military tournament (1896), and the amateur sabre championship (1898 and 1900). In 1888 he played for the Gentlemen of Ireland cricket team.

Promoted lieutenant-colonel in 1906, he took command of the 4th (militia) battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment. Appointed chief commissioner of the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) in January 1915. He was concerned by Dublin’s traffic problems and initiated the stationing of constables on point duty at major intersections; he also introduced the wearing of white gloves by traffic policemen.

As chief commissioner of the DMP he had a major role to play in policing Dublin during the rising. He withdrew his men from the streets after three were shot dead. In May 1916 he gave evidence to the royal commission of inquiry into the causes of the rebellion. The commission praised the conduct of the unarmed DMP and noted that Edgeworth-Johnstone had given the government several warnings on which they could have acted before the rising.

After the establishment of the Irish Free State the DMP was renamed Poilíní Átha Cliath and Edgeworth-Johnstone retired 30 April 1923. Most observers admitted that he had performed well in a difficult job. He was created CB (1918) and KBE (1924). He died 4 January 1936 at his London home, 1 Regent’s Park Terrace, and was cremated at Golders Green cemetery.

For a more complete biography, as well as biographies of 42 select figures from the Rising go to www.ireland.ie/portraits and download the free e-book 1916 Portraits and Lives.
Giving a broad picture of the Rising with its diversity of personalities and perspectives, the book presents not only the rebels killed during the Rising but also three Nationalist leaders who opposed the Rising; many senior figures in the British administration in Ireland in 1916; members of the British army that suppressed the Rising; as well as two historians who made considerable contributions to the scholarly debate on 1916 and an array of the women who were involved as soldiers or in other vital roles, such as Cumann na mBan and Irish Citizen Army member Mary Perolz, renowned sniper Margaret Skinnider, nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell, Dr Kathleen Lynn and labour activist and Abbey Theatre actress Helena Molony, are also given due detail.