Journal Volume 5 2006

A Church for Rathdrum (continued/2)

Churches in Rathdrum Area

So far as one can judge, there is no tradition of a catholic church of outstanding importance ever attached to Rathdrum in ancient times, nothing such as Glendalough, Wicklow or Arklow. There is reference to St. Mary’s of the Wood as being a wooden church, and as having been desecrated by Cromwell’s Army, but apart from its unimportance, so indicated, naturally a wooden church would not last long. It appeared in Penal times that Greenane was the principal church of the parish. As already mentioned, Rathdrum seemed one of those towns in which a catholic church was forbidden.

From all this one deduces the non-existence of a stone-built catholic church ever in Rathdrum town. One and a half miles out from the town on the main Wicklow road, there stood a church on the height on the left-hand side dedicated to St. Coman – today it is called Kilcommon. The name was of ecclesiastical origin, but who St. Coman was is not known. In its churchyard a stone exists, dated 1776, to the memory of Rev. Bryan Byrne. According to Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary, Kilcommon was a parish of 850 inhabitants and constituted one of what was known under English administration as a Constablewick of the parish of Wicklow, when Wicklow – or to be more correct, Rathnew Parish – extended to the confines of Rathdrum.

Tradition has it that St. Coman was a disciple of St. Kevin, Glendalough, and also that during the Penal times its parishioners from outlying districts were not allowed to use the roads and had to visit the church by means of ‘double ditches’.

The next church that might be noted is that at Ballinatone, but today the church there (Church of Ireland) is quite a modern looking edifice. Apparently it was named after Baile na Corra as a seat of Clan Gabhall Raghnaill of the O’Byrne Clan, and it gave its name to one of the baronies constituting the county administration.

Over by Kilmacoo, near Avoca, is the site of Tigroney – Tigh Romhan – commemorating that Palladius, who preceded Patrick, landed at Inisbothin, and was the first to preach the Christian concepts on Irish soil, establishing this as one of his first churches, and thence going to Donard where he and his disciples set up a monastery on a large scale.

All this presumption about not having had a church actually built in Rathdrum is borne out by the fact that, when Penal codes were being relaxed priests came to reside openly in the Rathdrum area, there certainly was no such building, and they had to turn to what they could find for the purpose. This brings us to Fr. Charles Byrne in 1704, and it can be assumed that it was the wooden church of St. Mary that he had for his ministrations. After the Rebellion, which probably accounted for St. Mary’s as well as neighbouring churches in Greenane, Ashford and Wicklow (though this is mere presumption), the then Parish Priest, the famous Fr. Kavanagh, was permitted to use the Flannel Hall.

Flannel Hall Described

A contemporary description of this Flannel Hall, given by Wright in his guide of the early years of the century (written 1827) stated:

‘The design (of the Flannel Hall) was admirable. It consists of two storeys, in the upper of which was a long hall, carried round the four sides of the square, having stands for the support and display of goods. The basement contained another gallery, occupying three sides of a square, the fourth side being occupied by a storeroom, lodge and entrance. The centre of the hollow square was analogous to an exchange mart, where factors and merchants bargained and converged upon business.’

When Wright visited Rathdrum the market in flannel manufacture was flourishing. There were two kinds of flannel presented for sale, and he says that ‘it was generally supposed from the excellence of the quality of the Wicklow wool for flannel manufacture, it might be carried to a high degree of perfection in this country, superior to that of their rivals, the Welsh, had they but the spinning machinery’.

‘We quit Rathdrum,’ said Mr. Wright, ‘impressed with the belief that important opportunities are here shamelessly neglected, and anxiously hoping that the beauty and fertility of this country may speedily claim the attention of those in whose hands fortune has placed the means of bettering its condition.’

So important had this flannel industry become in Rathdrum that the Irish Government, in 1790, appointed a seller to superintend the market. The Flannel Hall had been erected for its purpose by the then Earl Fitzwilliam at a cost of £3,500 of that period’s currency. Above the entrance there had been the escutcheon of the Fitzwilliam family, with the date of erection, 1793. Yet, within ten years of Wright’s visit, thanks to the prohibition on Irish exports imposed after the Union, the industry had virtually disappeared.

In 1798 the Flannel Hall was converted into a prison for the ‘croppies’. Many were executed there.


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