History of Collooney – Ballinacarrow (Kilvarnet) Parish
Before 1978 our present parish of Collooney (Kilvarnet) was part of the parish of Ballysadare and Kilvarnet, which was the union of two pre-Reformation parishes. Our parish history starts in that wider context.
Ballysadare (Irish Baile Easa Dara, the town of the waterfall by the oak) first receives mention in the records for the visit there of St. Colmcille in 575. Colmcille had left Ireland for Scotland in 563, but he had returned in 575 to assist at the convention of Druim Ceat. Colgan, in his Life of St. Farannan, says “Before the Saint (Colmcille) returned to Britain he founded one church in the district of Carbury (Drumcliffe), and proceeded from there to a place called Easdara, where all the prelates of the neighbouring regions, and vast numbers of holy men and women had come to meet him.”
There is no mention of a church in Ballysadare at the time of Colmcille’s visit. The first church there that we hear about is that founded by St. Fechin, “which was commonly called the great church” (Cf. Terence O’Rorke history of the parish). The village grew up around the church and its attached monastery.
The ruins that remain today may incorporate some of the earliest church. What remains shows signs of extensive alterations in its structure. Near the old church there are the remains of two stone houses. O’Rorke thinks it is likely that these were the Refectory and Abbot’s House, as these are commonly found in those establishments, “where monks did not dwell in a single building, but in a multitude of separate cells, arranged in streets in the vicinity of the church.” By tradition, Ballysadare belonged to that class of establishment.
As well as the “old church”, there are today (some distance away) the ruins of another church called the Abbey. This may have been built in the thirteenth century when the monks, or “canons” as they were called, who had lived in separate cells throughout the town began to live under the same roof.
O’Rorke discusses the question of whether the religious who lived in “the house of the Canons at Ballysadare” became Canons Regular of Saint Augustine so that the house passed under the rule of that Order. He thinks rather that the “house of Canons” was a band of secular priests living in community and ruled by a superior called a Prior, joining at stated times in prayer and ecclesiastical offices and performing pastoral duties by themselves, or by vicars or curates appointed by them. The livings of Ballysadare, Drumrat, Attymas, Kilnegarvan, and Killasser belonged to the abbey.
The Act of suppression of monasteries became law in 1537 but, of course, it took several years before the Act could be enforced in remote areas. By a lease dated 26th August 1588 we find that the Ballysadare Abbey, and its property, was granted for a term of 21 years to a Bryan Fitzwilliams, Esq., “one of her Majesty’s servants”. Some years later part of this property was granted by King James to John Crofton, Ballymurry, Co. Roscommon. His son Edward inherited this property and also got the O’Hara land at Temple House in 1606.
KILVARNET PARISH: The old parish of Kilvarnet got its name from the church of Kilvarnet (Irish Cill Bhearnait, the church of Barnet [O'Hara]). The ruins of an old church still stand today, probably of one built not long before the Reformation.
The Catholics lost the use of the old church at the Reformation. Its eventual replacement, the Church of St. Fechin and St. Lassara, was situated at Ballinacarrow at the other end of Kilvarnet parish.
PARISH PRIESTS IN MODERN TIMES
The records of priests working in the parish in post-Reformation times begin in 1683. In that year, separate priests are given for Ballysadare and Kilvarnet -James O’Connell and Patrick Henry, respectively. John Fitzmaurice, Parish Priest of Ballysadare 1768-1794, was the first to live in Collooney and from that time on the parishes were united into one parish, Ballysadare and Kilvarnet, sometimes loosely called Collooney parish.
Notable later Parish Priests were: Patrick Durcan (1832-1852), who left to become bishop of Achonry and Terence O’Rorke who was Parish Priest for fifty four years (1853-1907), and wrote the history of the parish.
In 1978 the united parish was divide into two parishes
1. Collooney (Kilvarnet) comprising Kilvarnet and part of Ballysadare
2. Ballisodare comprising the remaining part of Ballysadare.
All of the above research and information was provided by the late Mgr. Joseph Spelman (former Parish Priest of Collooney who died on June 22nd 2016 R.I.P.)
Parish of Collooney-Ballinacarrow (Kilvarnet)
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