Parish History

As in most Irish parishes, the faith history of the people in the early centuries of Christianity is hidden from view. However, it is more than likely that Dunboyne, along with most of the area corresponding to the present-day Diocese of Meath, was evangelised in the centuries after the mission of St Patrick in the fifth century. We know very little about the faith history of the people until the coming of the Normans in the twelfth century. At that time, Dunboyne became the territory of the Petit family, who were barons of Dunboyne and of Mullingar. In the early thirteenth century one member of the family, Ralph Petit, became Bishop of Meath. In that capacity he founded a priory of the Blessed Virgin in Mullingar and he endowed this establishment with the townland of Kilbraynan (or Kilbrena) in Dunboyne, along with the rectory of Dunboyne, its tithes and other ecclesiastical revenues. In the following century Thomas Butler, brother of the first earl of Ormond, married Sinolda, heiress of Sir William Petit. Thus the Dunboyne properties and titles passed to the Butlers and this family’s long association with the area began. Because of its strategic location on the Tolka, the fertility of its land and the varied connections of the Petit family, medieval Dunboyne possessed a surprisingly large number of church establishments and properties. Judging by their small size and extraordinary density, religious life in the area at this time was intensely local, modest in scale and very close to the land. Dunboyne did not support any one great religious community on site but extensive properties in the parish were attached to large establishments, usually monasteries, elsewhere in the Diocese of Meath and in Dublin. This was because in many parishes in the Diocese of Meath at this time, monastic communities rather than locally supported diocesan clergy provided religious services for the people. In principle, the monasteries were granted properties in the parish and, in return, they supplied religious services or paid vicars to do so in their stead. This was the system known as ‘impropriation’. It was not very effective, as sometimes the monasteries did not supply the services themselves. They either paid substitutes (called ‘vicars’) or supplied none at all. This made it difficult for the local church to organise and support itself. At least three monasteries were associated with Dunboyne at this time through the impropriation system. Thanks to Petit associations, the religious community and properties in Kilbraynan were associated with the priory in Mullingar. Another small religious community at Salestown was connected with the abbey of St Thomas in Dublin and the properties and community at Portane were owned by the abbey of Christ Church in Dublin. There was a small convent too in Portane and a second at Cushinstown. They probably had outside links too. Along with these religious houses and properties there was a number of chapelries or chapels-of-ease in the parish. As well as the main parish church, there were chapelries at Vessington, Rathleek, Jarretstown, Loughsallagh, Clonee, Portane, Cushinstown, Salestown, Kilbraynan, Kilbride and Belgree. This last chalpery belonged to the convent at Lismullin. Little survives of this medieval network today as most of the sites have been completely obliterated. However, the tower of the medieval parish church survives in the Church of Ireland in the village and shattered ruins remain in the Kilbride area. The Reformation of the sixteenth century was a period of discontinuity and confusion for Dunboyne. All church lands in the parish were surrendered to the officers of Henry VIII by John Petit, the last prior of St Mary’s Mullingar. In this fashion most of the church lands in Dunboyne, as elsewhere in the diocese of Meath, came into lay ownership. The lay proprietors were supposed to support the new Anglican clergy but the latter were in short supply. Further, even where they did exist, lay proprietors were often unwilling to support them, preferring to keep the revenues themselves or to support the old clergy, who were now technically illegal. In this way the church buildings, which officially belonged to the Anglican Church fell into ruin and the provision of religious services grew haphazard and inconsistent. The best known ecclesiastical figure in reformation Dunboyne was one of its native sons, Hugh Brady. He joined the Anglican Church and became Anglican bishop of Meath in 1563. He remained in office until 1584. He was 

Fundraising committee standing outside the newly built Dunboyne Church of Ss Peter and Paul in 1959, L. to R.: Joseph Bruton (Chairman of Committee), Donal McCabe, Joseph Ward, Michael Buckley, Mathew Buckley, Charles Kelly, James Gibney, Nicholas Dunican, William Connolly, William Brady, Vincent Murphy, Simon Aloysius Leonard (architect)

a man of genuine religious conviction and a committed servant of the new religion. Like his predecessor Edward Staples, Brady believed that the best way to attract people to the new faith was by example and good preaching, rather than compulsion. He stressed education and catechesis as the prelude to real conversion. However, he was discouraged by the quality of some of the clergy he inherited and frustrated by the fact that, due to impropriation, he was unable to provide for their support and for the maintenance of church fabric. At this time, some curates were forced to live on as little as 5 shillings yearly and, in these circumstances, it proved impossible for him to attract suitable clergy to the area. Brady was well-known and liked, especially in his native Dunboyne where he found what he described as ‘greedy hearers’ for

The Dunboyne Bell, which was found by Eamonn Walsh of Courthill, Dunboyne, in a nearby field in Kilbrennan in 1972. The bell, which dates back to the 8th or 9th century, is made of iron and was coated in bronze. The bell was found along with human remains and is associated with an early Christian community in Dunboyne. The Dunboyne Bell in its refurbished state is on display in the National Museum in Dublin.

the gospel and he made conversions. In 1576 Brady could report that he had tried to install some manner of clergyman upon all the parishes in his charge but they were a ‘ragged clergy’. There was little hope, he feared, of turning them into effective ministers of the Gospel. Things began to change towards the end of the sixteenth century. On the one hand, better-educated Catholic clergy, many of them the products of the newly founded Irish colleges on the Continent and the various religious orders, especially the Jesuits, began to appear. On the other hand, following the defeat of Hugh O’Neill at Kinsale in 1603 and the Flight of the Earls in 1607, the Anglican church began to organise itself better. Already in 1603 church lands in Dunboyne had been granted to Richard Cooke, chancellor of the Irish Exchequer. Reports of the time tell that practically all the church buildings in the parish were in ruin but there was some modest physical recovery under the Anglican bishops Montgomery and Ussher. Despite this it was the new Catholic clergy who won the people’s confidence. We know that Robert Ford was parish priest of Dunboyne in the early seventeenth century. He died in 1609 and was buried in Kilbride. Thereafter every coffin entering the graveyard was placed temporarily on his tomb on the day of burial as a mark of respect to the old priest. This practice continued into modern times. The wars of the middle of the seventeenth century were enormously disruptive for the parish. Dunboyne and the surrounding areas were held by forces loyal to Parliament and later to Cromwell. From the depositions made by local Protestants after the rebellion of 1641–2, we know that the Catholic parish priest (called the ‘Mass priest of Dunboyne’) was Nicholas Holliwood, who may have lived in or at least celebrated Mass at the old church tower in the village. At the time of the battle of the Boyne (1690), Michael Plunkett was parish priest. Later, in 1704, James Trenor was parish priest. In 1722 the parish priest Thomas Plunkett was buried in the church yard in Dunboyne. He was succeeded by Dr James Jennett, who was also buried in Dunboyne in 1763 and he, in turn, was replaced by Michael Moore. We know that Fr Moore lived in a small house on the Ratoath Road, in the townland of Kilbraynan, which had been granted to the Church by Baron Dunboyne. At this stage some of the Butlers were still Catholic. When the Butlers, who had been supportive of the local clergy, left the church, Fr Moore moved to a farm granted by the Wilsons of Roosk and he died there in 1782. His chalice still survives. At this time there was a small mud-walled church serving the Kilbride area at the crossroads of Priesttown. It was replaced in the late eighteenth century by a new edifice constructed on a site donated by the Protestant Brassington family. It stood at Kilbride cross not far from the present Kilbride church. In the period before the famine up to 300 parishioners attended Mass there and it also was home to a small school. These were troubled times. On the death of Fr Moore in 1782, the French-educated Patrick Smith became parish priest. With the defection of the Butlers, who had been patrons of the local Catholic clergy, to the Protestant faith, the parish entered a period of confusion and tension. Fr Smith resigned and his supporters in Dunboyne and elsewhere were anxious that he obtain a suitable alternative appointment in the diocese. They cast their eyes on Kells, but Bishop Plunkett was not happy to be dictated to. This led to a long legal wrangle with Fr Smith appealing to a metropolitan synod, which found against him. A resolution was eventually reached in 1792. In the meantime, Smith had been succeeded in Dunboyne by James Connell, who had been educated in Flanders. He came to Dunboyne at a time of spiritual and organisational distress but proved an able pastor. When Bishop Plunkett visited the parish in 1788 he found the chapel in order and two schools in operation. In the following decade, calamity befell the parish. In the summer of 1798, at the height of the United Irishmen rebellion, the churches in Kilbride and Dunboyne (at Kilbraynan) and the parochial house were burned by the regiment of Highlanders, government forces who were active in the area at the time. Fr Connell escaped but was unable to present himself to the bishop when he visited the parish on 6 June 1798. Dr Troy, archbishop of Dublin, complained to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland concerning the conduct of the soldiers and £100 compensation was paid to the parishioners of Dunboyne for the loss of the chapel. A site for a new church was procured from the Butlers. This site, however, became the subject of a legal wrangle, which caused the Liberator, Daniel O’Connell, to intervene. The case was settled with a payment of £200 to the Butlers. The new church was completed by 1801 and was dedicated to SS Peter and Paul, the medieval dedication. This building was to remain in service until the present church was built in 1959. Fr Connell died in 1827 with Fr Joseph Kennedy succeeding. His ministry was short and by 1833 a new parish priest, Fr William Grennan was installed. He had been educated in St Finian’s and in nearby Maynooth, and had the care of over 2,000 parishioners. Dean Cogan, the historian of the Diocese of Meath, described the time he spend in Dunboyne as a curate under Fr Grennan in 1862 as one during which ‘he was edified by his example, instructed by his precepts and charmed

Turning of the first sod for the new church in 1955 with Bishop John Kyne, Bishop of Meath, Fr O’Farrell, curate, parish priest Fr John Murphy and parishioners of Dunboyne


by his genial and dignified society’. Fr Grennan served in Dunboyne for forty-five years and died in 1877. He was succeeded briefly by Peter Molloy who was followed by Thomas Martin in 1879. He joined the Cistercians and, in 1884, Bernard Brady became parish priest of Dunboyne. He was to serve in the parish until 1927 and was remembered as an exceptionally eloquent orator and kindly pastor. It was the generosity of his will that provided the nucleus for the fund to erect a new church in Kilbride. The new church was consecrated in 1930.In 1927 Michael Conlon became parish priest. He was a moving force behind the new church in Kilbride, the new parish schools and the acquisition of a parish farm from the Land Commission, the last in 1933. Two years later he was moved to Athboy and was succeeded by John Murphy. It was during his term in Dunboyne that plans were mooted for a new church in the parish. These came to fruition in 1959, when Bishop John Kyne blessed the new church. Edward Rispin became parish priest in 1965 and saw to the embellishment of the church. At the same time there were important new developments in education. In 1970 the new primary school was opened, with an extension added in 1990. Edward Dunne succeeded in 1991. On his arrival, there was no secondary school in the parish, despite the huge population rise. This deficiency was remedied when St Peter’s opened in 1994. It expanded enormously in the intervening period as the population of Dunboyne soared in the course of the economic boom. From just 2,300 in 1965, the parish population rose to over 5,000 in 1994 and has continued to rise since, reaching nearly 6,000 in 2006. When Dermot Farrell arrived as parish priest in 2007 he set about continuing the pastoral programmes of his predecessors and maintaining the extensive parish fabric. Despite the recent economic recession, Dunboyne parish looks set for more extensive development and population growth as plans to reopen the rail link to Dublin progress. This will bring its own pastoral and infrastructural challenges in the future. The commemorative events of 2009 are a celebration of the faith of the people of the parish of Dunboyne and a sign of life and vitality in an age-old community of faith. As the parish community faces current challenges it draws on a strong faith tradition and takes encouragement from the achievements of past generations.

Stations of the Cross

The Stations of the Cross were designed and made by George Stephen Walsh around 1977. He served his apprenticeship with Harry Clarke, whose influence can be seen in the Stations. The Stations were made in opalescent glass. This glass was a result of experiments in the production of new forms of glass by James Powell in England in the 1930s and Louis Comfort Tiffany in America at the same time. This type of glass was used extensively up to the 1980s, but today is rarely used. The Stations in Ss Peter and Paul’s Church are a fine example of this medium.

Baptismal Window in the new Church

Christ is the bridge from death to life. Baptism makes sense when we realise there is something crossed, a chasm or a river. In this window (see inside back cover), George Walsh has shown a river, a symbol of: the Jordan, Baptism, cleansing and renewal, and from isolation to belonging. We die and are born again in Christ. This is shown at the base of the window, going from darkness to light and salvation through Christ. The glass used in this work is a mixture of French, Polish and American, with a litter of Hartley Wood glass (used by Harry Clarke and no longer made). Colour also has significance in the work. The colour red is symbolic of Christ’s death and passion, yellow and green, new life, etc. Blue represents the water and Baptism. The artist, George Walsh, whose father, Stephen, designed the stations would ‘hope that after viewing the window, people would leave with some feeling of spiritual renewal.’ ‘To illumine our minds so that we may travel through light to an apprehension of God’s Light’ Abbe Sugar 1200 AD.

Simon Aloysius Leonard was the architect who designed the church. He was born in 1903 and died in 1976. He studied agriculture at Trinity College, Dublin and he farmed in Co. Meath before joining the office of W.H. Byrne in 1927. He studied architecture at Liverpool University, 1931–1935, and graduated from UCD in 1937. He then became a partner in W.H. Byrne and took over the practice on the death of the principal in 1946. President of the AAI in 1940 he became a fellow of the RIBA in 1956. He also designed Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Drogheda (1959) the Church of St Columcille, Kells (1960). Bishop John Kyne, Bishop of Meath, while on a visitation of the parish on 15 May 1952, commented on the need for a new church. Prior to this a monthly collection for that purpose had been in progress. Fr John Murphy called a meeting of the new church committee for 14 March 1954 ‘to consider the present position and future action’. After a number of meetings Simon Leonard was invited to submit plans. On 30 September 1956 the foundation stone for the new church was laid and blessed by Bishop Kyne. The last Mass celebrated in the old Church was on 20 September 1959; the celebrant was Fr John Brady. The new church was blessed on 30 September by Bishop Kyne. Messrs Farmer Brothers, Dublin, were the main contractors and the total cost of the building was £80,269. Renovations were undertaken on Ss Peter and Paul Church as part of the 2009 golden jubilee celebrations for the new church. Richard Hurley was the architect on this occasion. The new altar and ambo were sculpted by Tom Glendon and the celebrant’s chair was designed by Ken Thompson.