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Notes on the Parish of Errigal Keerogue Co. Tyrone

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Notes on the Parish of Errigal Keerogue Co. Tyrone

Transcribed by Teena

Extract from Journal of the Royal Historical and Archaeological Association of Ireland 1885-1886

Errigal Keerogue, or, as it is called by some, Errigal Kieran, is a parish in the County of Tyrone and barony of Clogher, near to the town of Augher, and close to the old mail-coach road from Aughnacloy to Omagh. It is undoubtedly an ancient place, and many traditions of the past are still remembered by the neighbouring peasantry, who, as a rule, are a most industrious and respectable class. It derives its name from the supposed dedication of its church to St. Kieran, who is said to have built it.

Upon the summit of a steep hill, commanding an extensive view of the surrounding country, are situated the ruins of this ancient edifice, which are fast hastening to decay. The stones used in the building seem to have been put together without cement. Part of the east wall still remains, but it is fast crumbling away. Portions of the west, north, and south sides are also standing. The space within the ruins is used as a burial- place, being considered of great sanctity, and there are many graves and tombstones to be seen in what was the interior of the building. Although tradition states that this church was built by St. Kieran, yet it is also said that it was not built by him, but merely dedicated to him. There is a curious account of the building implicitly believed by the country people, and willingly told to any listener, which, from its singularity, is worth preserving.

It is as follows : —

St. Kieran, the builder, when engaged in the building of his church, possessed a bullock who assisted his owner by drawing up the steep hill upon which the ruin stands the stones necessary for its erection. The bullock having laboured during the day, was slaughtered when the evening came, and on its flesh the masons made a hearty supper. The bones, clean-picked by hungry men, were carefully collected by the saint, and put into the stall. When morning dawned, it was found alive and well, ready for another day's work St. Kieran cautioned the labourers to be careful and not break any of the bones. This went on for some time, but on one unlucky night a mason named MacMahon, tempted by his love for marrow, broke the shin bone and feasted to his heart's content. In the morning the bullock was alive as usual, but dead lame. The good saint cursed the glutton, and prophesied that the walls of the building would never fall until three MacMahons had been killed in the ruins. The country folk say that two of the name have paid the penalty of their progenitor's disobedience. Be this as it may, I have been told you could scarcely get a MacMahon to go near the place. There are not many of the name in the neighbourhood, so the old walls are likely to stand for some time.  

It is stated that some carved stones, which were part of the remains of an ancient priory — said to have been founded by one of the O'Neills — were to be seen built into the walls, but if so, they must be covered up with rubbish, as I examined the place carefully, but could find no traces of carving of any kind. If these sculptured stones were ever there, I would suggest that they had been used in repairing, at some time or other, the original structure ; for on inquiry I find that in the townland of Ballinasaggart, or Bal-na-saggart, situated in this parish, there stood, in what is now known as the "priory meadow," some remains of an old building of this sort, but no traces whatever are now to be discerned, save a grass-grown mound, showing where the priory once stood, and quite close to this spot is a fine spring, called the priory well. I examined closely the stones with which it is built over, but could find no trace of ornamental carving or of letters. I believe the name of this townland was sometimes spelled Bal-na-soggarth.

This would be in keeping with the tradition that a religious house once stood in the vicinity. Close to the ruins of the old church on the roadside there is a "holy well" — two enormous thorns almost conceal it from view. It is neatly built in with rough stones, nicely fitted together, and a large slab partly covers the top. I was informed that years ago. people afflicted with illness, but with sore eyes especially, came even from distant places on a pilgrimage to the sacred water. They bathed the afflicted parts with a rag, which was then hung on the thorn bushes, a common pin was thrown into the well, and the charm was thus rendered complete. An old man told me that, in his early days, people came from all parts to try its virtues, but now it is completely deserted and almost forgotten, save by tradition. In the graveyard surrounding the ruins of the church there stands an ancient stone cross. The ornamentation is partly defaced, in the centre of the cross on the far side is a kind of raised boss. It seems to have been ornamented, but being greatly exposed to the weather it is almost completely worn away. There is no carving round the edges (as in the case of the cross at Donaghmore, in the same county). The cross at Errigal stands about 5ft. 6in. high, and 2ft. 6 in. in width. There are many old tombstones to be seen with quaint devices rudely executed, but I observed none which dated earlier than the beginning of the 18th century. This place, being secluded and out of the way, is seldom visited.

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