Journal Volume 5 2006

A Church for Rathdrum (continued/1)

Registering Priests

Under the Government Act of 1704, the registering of ‘Popish Priests’, the first parish priest of the district of Rathdrum was Fr. Charles Byrne, appropriately enough, who resided in Ballinabarney. Ordained by St. Oliver Plunkett at Enniskeane, Co. Monaghan, he lived, it would seem, in his mother’s house, as according to the Catholic Register of the Parish of Rathdrum, this was the location of the former abbey, and to this day it is known as ‘The Priest’s Fields’. Fr. Byrne had then been parish priest for twenty years.

Then there came in succession, to take charge of the extensive parish that embraced Greenane, Macreddin, Aughrim, down to the Wexford borders, as far as ‘The Meetings’ in Avoca, north to Kilcommon, and east into Barndarrig, the following pastors:


Rev. Phelim Bryan (or Brien)

Died 1759

Rev. Francis Callan


Rev. P. O’Quinn

From 1775 to 1778

Rev. Laurence Brennan


Rev. N. Deevy (or Devoy)

Died 1779

Rev. R. Fitzgerald

Until 1783

Rev. John Meagher

From 1795 to 1799

Rev. John Kavanagh

Arrived 1800


Rev. John Kavanagh, a native of Gorey, left a permanent impression on Church history of the whole area of Rathdrum – Aughrim. During the Penal days the chapel of Glenmalure was apparently situated in the townland of Ballinatone. It was burned in 1760 by the notorious ‘Burn-Chapel’ Whaley or Whaley Abbey from just beyond Ballinnaclash, who was the foreman of the Grand Jury of Wicklow. Subsequently a chapel was built ‘on the brow of Ballinacor’, adjacent to the site of where Feach Mac Hugh O’Byrne’s castle stood. This was burnt by the Yeomen in 1798.

Fr. Kavanagh, who had been Chaplin in the French Navy prior to 1782, had the church at Greenane rebuilt during his curacy, but he went much further, for he also restored the church at Macreddin which was also burnt in 1800. It was Fr. Kavanagh who built the beautifully situated church at Clara. Apparently his work was recognised by the Archbishop, for he was appointed P.P. of Rathdrum in 1802. It is worth noting that the Greenane Church was rebuilt in the rare cruciform style such as those at Ashford and Wicklow, all of which suffered at the hands of the Yeomen during the troubled period surrounding the Rebellion of 1798.

Greenane Church was at that time the principal edifice for the Rathdrum Parish, for no church had up to then been allowed to be built in any of the towns and villages of the entire area, as witness not only Rathdrum, but Aughrim, Tinahely, Carnew, Avoca, etc. Fr. Kavanagh continued his ministry up to his death on 1st August 1825, aged 75 years. By his own request he was laid to rest at Greenane, at the south side of his church, where to this day, lies his tombstone with the Latin inscription which he had prepared years before his demise. Following considerable renovations and improvements (1935 – 46), the 150th anniversary was commemorated on 10th June 1951.

Rev. Wm. Doyle succeeded Fr. Kavanagh as Pastor, and it was during his ministry that the then Earl of Fitzwilliam erected the Parochial House, Avon Park, on the Laragh Road, which was the Parish Priest’s residence until the early 1950s when a new house was built.

Fr. Doyle lived until the year 1834, when he was succeeded by Rev. James McGrath, who remained Pastor until 1854. Then came an auspicious time for the Rathdrum Parish in the person of Fr. Galvin, whose contribution will be discussed later.


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