Riverstown (Baile Uí Lacháin) is notable for its 300-year-old five-arch bridge straddling the River Little Brosna, which here forms the border between Counties Tipperary and Offaly. (Photo by Sarah777)
Carrig has an attractive parish church (RC), erected in 1825; unfortunately, the interior has suffered from insensitive post-Vatican II re-ordering.
Aglish (Co. Tipperary / Northwest)
Aglish (Eaglais – church) is the location of an old graveyard enclosing the ruins of a medieval church and a Church of Ireland edifice, built c.1813 and closed for worship in 1987; its doors and (unusually varied) windows remain intact, as do the interior gallery and ecclesiastical furnishings. The burial ground, still in use by both main religious communities, contains tombstones dating from the C18th.
St Michael’s church dates from 1891, when the foundation stone was laid by locally born James McGolrick, Bishop of Duluth, Minnesota. St Michael’s replaced an earlier church that stood at the western end of the village.
Ballycormac House is a 350-year-old farmhouse run by John and Cherrylynn Lang as a B&B / Guesthouse and equestrian centre, with over 30 horses available for trail / cross-country riding and hunting in season, and facilities for fishing, shooting, walking and cycling.
Conroy’s Old Bar is a former pub converted into an unusual self-catering cottage.
Lorrha & Dorrha (Co. Tipperary / Northwest)
Lorrha and Dorrha, a parish bordered by the River Shannon, is a district of great historical interest.
Lorrha (Lothra) is the location of several National Monuments.
Lorrha Monastery, founded c.540 AD, was one of the most important in early Christian Ireland, and is associated with a number of legends. One of these, involving a miraculous food-giving tree, is probably an echo of an earlier sacred grove in the same spot.
Saint Ruadán / Ruadhan / Rodan
Ruadán mac Fergusa Birn, a disciple of Saint Finnian of Clonard, was the founder and first abbot of the monastery of Lorrha. After his death, he was venerated as a saint and as one of the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland“.
The Curse of Tara is a tale about Ruadan’s trip to Tara in 556 AD. Angered by king Diarmait mac Cerbaill, he pointed to a roof beam in the royal hall and prophesied that the monarch would be killed by it. Diarmait had the beam cast into the sea. On consulting his druids to find the manner of his death, they foretold that he would die of slaughter, drowning and burning, and that the signs of his death would be a shirt grown from a single seed of flax and a mantle of wool from a single sheep, ale brewed from one seed of corn, and bacon from a sow which had never farrowed.
Eight years later Diarmait was visiting Banbán at Ráith Bec, unaware that the chieftain had recovered the Tara roof beam from the sea and set it in his hall. The shirt, mantle, ale and bacon were produced, and Diarmait tried to escape, but his enemy Áed Dub, waiting at the door, struck him down and set fire to the hall. Diarmait crawled into an ale vat to escape the flames and was duly killed by the falling roof beam. (The legend that Tara’s halls were ever after deserted is contradicted by the fact that a famous Feis was held there in 697 AD).
A bell which bears the saint’s name is preserved in the British Museum. He is said to have died at the monastery of Lorrha on 5th April 584 AD. His feast is observed on the anniversary of his death.
(Lorrha monastery was pillaged at least twice by Viking raiders, once under the Danish warlord known as Turgesius. According to legend, he was captured by the king of Leinster, who had him inserted in a wooden barrel hammered with nails and rolled down a bumpy hill into a lake to drown.)
Medieval & C19th churches of St Rodan
A medieval church ruin shares the ancient monastic site with St Rodan’s parish church (CoI), built in1815 and still in regular use.
The older structure is thought to be of pre-C12th origin with later medieval additions, notably a multi-period limestone doorway carved with decorative motifs such the ‘pious pelican’ nourishing her young with her blood, a symbol of Christ.
The former chancel is now part of the C19th church, which has an internal gallery, very fine stained glass windows, and memorial tablets on the walls commemorating members of local families, many connected with the British army and Empire.
The stumps of two C9th High Crosses can be seen in the graveyard, as can specimens of greater celandine (Chelidonium majus), a rare plant in Ireland, possibly the survivor of medieval cultivation.
A Holy Well dedicated to Saint Ruadán lies across the road.
The Augustinian Priory
The Augustinian Priory, aka St Ruadán’s Abbey (Beatae Mariae Fontis Vivi), was founded in the late C12th for the Black Canons. The ruined church has an early Christian grave slab built into a niche to the south of the altar, and a fine doorway with a small carved stone head of a woman wearing a C14th double horned headdress. Some blue pigment survives on her dress. This lady may be the wife of the monastery’s patron, probably a member of the De Burgo dynasty. The handball alley built into the ruins in the early C20th was the scene of passionate clashes over the years.
It is recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters that John O’Hogan, a prior in Lorrha, was slain by a party of the O’Kennedys in 1599. The location of this killing is said to be Gurtcroo Hill (hill of the slaughter), a high rise of ground between Lorrha and the O’Kennedy homestead of Lackeen Castle. One tradition is that he was hung from one of the many tall trees that covered the hill. The motive for the murder is not known.
Henry McGolrick, one of three locally-born brothers who served as priests in Minnesota, transported a black polished stone holy water piscina from the ruins of the Priory in Lorrha and set it up in his church of the Immaculate Conception in Minneapolis with the inscription: “From the banks of the Shannon to the banks of the Missisippi. Christ yesterday, today and the same forever.”
The Lorrha Moat / Motte is all that is left of a C12th Norman structure, probably a small fortified manor rather than a major defensive construction. A large chunk was removed from one side in the 1970s; although the work was halted, the scar remains raw. Nearby, an old stone bridge is best viewed from a flight of stone steps leading down to the river.
The Dominican Friary & St Ruadán’s church
The Dominican Friary, founded 1269 by Walter de Burgo, stands in ruins beside St Ruadán’s parish church(RC), built in 1812 and still in use. The late medieval monks operated a mill nearby. Although the monastery was destroyed by Cromwellian troops c.1652, the Dominicans are known to have remained in the area, supplying priests to parishes throughout County Tipperary and even the West Indies.
The parish church, a T-shaped barn type structure, was erected on the site of an earlier edifice by the last Dominican prior of Lorrha, Alexander Fitzgerald. There are some decorative stone carvings of heads and an angel from the west front of the priory built into the front wall. The beautiful light-filled interior houses a number of early modern stone holy water fonts, including one decorated with the head of a cherub, taken from the late C18th church at Rathcabbin, demolished in the 1970s. The heavy wooden altar furniture in the sanctuary was designed by the sculptor Imogen Stuart, and the tabernacle and its setting, of bronze incorporating designs from the ‘Stowe’ Missal, by Wicklow-based sculptor Niall O’ Neill.
There are many interesting stone tombs and graveslabs in the adjacent graveyard, including C17th O’Kennedy memorials (one of which incorporates symbols of the passion and heraldic imagery) and a MacEgan tomb signed by the mason, Patrick Kerin.
Lackeen Castle is a C16th Tower House and bawn constructed by Brian O’Kennedy, and remains in relatively good condition. Although the family lost its estates under the Cromwellian Redistribution, John O’Kennedy is credited with the 1735 discovery of the Stowe Missal hidden in the walls of the castle.
The Stowe Missal
The Stowe Missal, so called due to its acquisition by a Duke of Buckingham for his library at Stowe, is also called the Lorrha Missal. Dating from 750 AD, it is believed to have been compiled by Culdees associated with Saint Maelruain and Saint Aengus the Culdee, possibly at Tallaght in Dublin or possibly at Lorrha monastery, where it was undoubtedly used and added to from c. 1050 AD onward.
Written in Latin and Irish, it is in fact a combination of excerpts from the Gospel of St John and a sacramentary or travelling priest’s Mass book, the only surviving example of the C6th Divine Liturgy for the Celtic rites still extant. The Canon of the Mass (Gelasian) includes a single Preface of Irish origin unknown in any other rite. Besides material common to the Roman and Gallican rites, there are also a few prayers or phrases from the Coptic, East Syrian, and Ethiopian rites. The impact of Spanish liturgy is also apparent. Translations have recently been approved for use in the Russian Orthodox Church.
Some of the Gospel pages are decorated, while the missal is unadorned except for some playful drawings of initial letters. Purchased by the British government in 1883, the manuscript is held in the Royal Irish Academy, while the ornate cumdach (protective shrine) is to be found in the NMI.
Redwood / Dorrha chapel (RC), erected in 1853, is on an eminence commanding spectacular views over the lowlands to the west and north, including Redwood Castle.
Redwood Castle / Egan Castle / Caislean Choillte Rua, founded by the de Cougan family c.1210, was taken over c.1350 and enlarged by the O’Kennedy sept, then ceded to the MacAoghan /MacEgan clan, hereditary Brehons who established a bardic school of history and law here that lasted until the castle was confiscated and burned by Cromwellian soldiers c.1652. The derelict edifice, used as a refuge by a local 1798 outlaw, was purchased and restored by Michael J Egan, a County Mayo lawyer, in 1972. While still a private residence, the castle is open to the public on summer afternoons to benefit from a Heritage /Cultural Tax Relief scheme, and has hosted several Clan Egan rallies in recent years. A Sheela-na-Gig is visible onthe entrance wall.
Redwood Bog Nature Reserve, a beautiful stretch of natural wilderness and home to many wild creatures, is recognised as one of the finest raised bogs in Europe. The intact dome, quaking areas and numerous bog pools, together with the surrounding callows, rivers, woods and countryside make up a fascinating complex of habitats of great scientific interest and international importance, especially as a wildfowl reserve.
Pollnagopal (“the hollow of the horses”), at the head of an island in the River Shannon, is believed to be the place where O’Sullivan Beara and his companions on their doomed march to Leitrim in January 1603 fought off an attack by the High Sherriff of Tipperary, Donogh MacEgan of Redwood Castle (who was killed in the encounter), slaughtered their horses, attached the carcasses to cages of hazel and willow and used these makeshift vessels to cross the swollen river. A partial re-enactment staged on the 400th anniversary of the event saw a small band who had walked all the way from West Cork experience considerable difficulties steering a curragh and a small round coracle across the same stretch of water.
Portland House, formerly the home of the Butler-Stoney family, was due to become a Protestant orphanage in 1935, but on the eve of its inauguration was torched by armed masked men, reputedly at the instigation of a local Roman Catholic priest. Restored, it was later turned into a hotel, destroyed by fire c.1999.
The Ferry Inn is a pleasant old fashioned pub / restaurant run by Barry and Theresa Walker beside Portumna Bridge.