The Church of Inion Bhaoith


I had the immense pleasure of visiting the ancient parish church of Killinaboy not once but twice this week. On the first occasion I was part of a group of local tourism providers which was led by the inimitable Galway archaeologist/guide Christy Cunniffe. On the second occasion I myself was guiding an A.T.G.I. (Approved Tour Guides of Ireland) group. Guide guiding guides.

The visits were a pleasure for two reasons: firstly, although Killinaboy is my adopted home place, I rarely frequent the church in my capacity as tour guide. The second reason is that the site visits impressed upon me the wealth of heritage housed there – ancient church, Romanesque art, round tower remnants, double-armed cross, sheela-na-gig, bullauns (basin stones) re-invented as grave markers…as well as a rich mix of medieval vaults, headstones, grave slabs, tombs and wall plaques.

The site is immaculately maintained by the enthusiastic Killinaboy History and Heritage Group. The church had been choked with ivy. Thanks to herculean work by the local group, the ivy has been removed and the splendour of the stone fabric is visible again. The same group is also responsible for the excellent information display board on the history of the parish which is located at the entrance to the site.

The group has also been active in print having published Killinaboy & Coad Graveyards – a remarkable alphabetical inventory of the graves at the Killinaboy site and the neighbouring historic church site of Coad.

The Killinaboy site is dedicated to Inion Bhaoith an obscure saintess from the Early Medieval period (400-110 A.D.) in Ireland.
According to tradition she founded a monastic community on site in the 7th century A.D. The oldest part of the extant church is said to date from the 11th century.  The church was repaired for Protestant worship in the 1720s.

The site is located on elevated ground in close proximity to the river Fergus. The eminent local historian Michael Mc Mahon maintains the Early Medieval monastery would have had a footprint of up to 800 acres. This landscape context of the monastery has been diminished as the busy regional road R476 passes within metres of the church.

I would like to share just five of the many cultural highlights from the church of St Inion Bhaoith.

The O’Hehir wall plaque 1711.


North-west part of interior.

Inscription –  Loghlen Reach O’Hehir’s tomb finished by his son Andrew  O’Hehir ER in VV 1711.

One of the many funerary monuments dedicated to the Catholic gentry in the church. The O’Hehir vault is located below the plaque.

Thanks to Oonagh O’Dwyer for identifying the plant growing on the plaque. It is navelwort or wall pennywort Umbelicus rupestris . Its rounded leaves have a navel-like dimple in the centre.

Navelwort is highly appetizing and full of goodness! The plant is also used as a homeopathic remedy.
It blooms in May and the spiked flowers are a striking accent on the landscape. Navelwort grows on rocks, walls and hedge banks.

The plaque and the plant make for a neat juxtaposition of cultural and natural heritage.

Killinaboy & Coad Graveyards. Killinaboy History and Heritage Group.

Buíochas le Oonagh Dwyer (Thanks to Oonagh). Oonagh is based in Lahinch and leads highly acclaimed wild food walks in the region

Detail from O’Flanagan wall plaque 1644. Image by Tony Kirby.


North-east part of interior.

Inscription – I H S INRI 1644 under these carved marble stones lieth Connor O’Flanagan’s body and bones which monument was made by Anabel his wife
Orate Pro Eislaus Deo

The impressive funerary monument (plaque and burial plot) includes a primitive crucifixion scene in relief.

Connor O’Flanagan was one of the leaders of the 1641 Catholic insurrection – a rebellion by the Irish Catholic gentry and clergy against the English administration in Ireland. The Confederation was subsequently joined by English royalists.
However, it was routed by Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army in the 1849-53 war. The land in Ireland was appropriated to Cromwellian adventurers and soldiers after the Cromwellian war.

The Parish of Corofin A Historical Profile . Michael Mc Mahon. Michael Mc Mahon 2013.
Killinaboy & Coad Graveyards. Killinaboy History and Heritage Group.

Detail from the Blood grave slab 1760. Image by Tony Kirby.


Eastern half of interior in a central position.

Inscription – Here lies the body of Mr Matthew Blood the elder who died the 29th day of September 1760 in the 85th year of his age.

The slab also features a carving of the god of the sea, Neptune, with a three pronged spear. The Bloods were English settlers who acquired lands in the parish at the end of the 1500s.
Matthew was probably the grandson of Neptune Blood who was vicar-general of the diocese of Kilfenora in the late 1600s.

Neptune was adamant that the insurgents burned his fortified dwelling and displaced him during the 1641 rebellion. The dwelling in question is An Cabhail Mór whose ruins stand today on the edge of the river Fergus a short distance from the church. The church and the Blood residence enjoyed inter visibility.

The proximity of the O Flanagan plot and the Blood slab in the church are amusing given the fact that the two families were on opposite sides during the 1641 conflict. Enemies in life, close in death!

The Bloods were Protestant ascendancy landlords. Matthew’s burial here in the 1760 is explained by the fact that the church was transformed from Catholic to Protestant in the 1720s.

The last straw for the Bloods in the parish was probably the savage murder of William Blood in 1831 by a secret society in County Clare called the Terry Alts. The Terry Alts was one of many such societies in Ireland in the period 1760s-1830s which violently opposed the harsh dominion of the tiny landowning ascendancy.

The Parish of Corofin A Historical Profile . Michael Mc Mahon. Michael Mc Mahon 2013.
Killinaboy & Coad Graveyards. The Killinaboy History and Heritage Group.

Kilnaboy Church

Killinaboy Church; Western gable with double armed cross.


On western gable of church facing the R476 road.

Double-arm crosses date to the start of 2nd millennium A.D. and are found at ecclesiastical sites across medieval Europe. The crosses were a device used by the church to tell pilgrims that the site contained a relic of the true cross of Christ. Pilgrimage was an important source of revenue to the church and the cross was designed to attract the pilgrims.

The cross at Killinaboy is off-centre on the western gable of the church. Archaeologists Peter Harbison and Christy Cunniffe suspect that the cross was originally set over the trabeate doorway of a smaller church on site and that it went off-centre with the church re-build.

Art and architectural historian Rachel Moss (T.C.D.) knows of only one other such cross which survives in Ireland. It is made of metal and was located at Kilkenny West, County Westmeath. The cross is now on display in the National Museum of Ireland.

The Double-Arm Cross on the Church Gable at Killinaboy. Peter Harbison. North Munster Antiquarian Society Journal (volume 18, 1976).

Buíochas le Rachel Moss. (Thanks to Rachel).


About ten metres north of north wall of church.

Round towers were built at ecclesiastical sites in Ireland from the 900s to the 1200s. Scholar George Cunningham maintains that 90 examples survive – 65 intact and 25 degraded. Theory and controversy continue to rage regarding the functions of the towers. A round tower is known in Gaelic as cloigteach suggesting that the towers were used in part as belfries. Other plausible uses according to Cunningham are pilgrim landmark, refuge at times of strife and desire by the religious community and its royal benefactors for prestige.

The intact towers extend to about 30 metres in height. The Killinaboy tower is only 4 metres high. According to local tradition the notorious Cromwellians severely damaged the structure with their canon. No historical evidence has emerged yet to support this allegation.

There is evidence of only two other round towers at monastic sites in the Burren region – the intact tower of Kilmacduagh in south-east Galway and the one at Noughaval (no longer extant) a few miles north-west of Killinaboy.

Irish Round Towers. Roger Stalley. The Irish Treasure Series 2000.
Round Towers and Tall Tales. George Cunningham. Irish Times article June 2014.


A few metres west of the west gable of the church.

A modern boundary wall has been built over the stand. The previous wall was located nearer the modern road R476. A stile would have allowed access to the site. The pall bearers would have rested the coffin on the stand as they entered the site through the stile. I have read several accounts of the Killinaboy site but have not noted thus far any reference to the stand.

The stand is a humble but precious part of our funerary story.

Anne Ridge discusses the use of coffin rests in her book Death Customs in Rural Ireland Traditional Funerary Rites in the Irish Midlands published by Arlen House (2009).

Archaeologist and field monument advisor at Galway County Council, Christy Cunniffe, is familiar with several coffin stands spread across counties Galway, Mayo, Offaly and Tipperary.

Fragment of Romanesque stone. Image by Tony Kirby


Cornerstone of south doorway (internal).

This is in fact a fragment of a carved stone. It features a Romanesque carving of a mythical animal. The piece is located within the church as a cornerstone of the south doorway.

The Romanesque architectural style prevailed in Europe during the period 900-1200 A.D. The style became widespread in Ireland in the 1100s – a period which coincided with ecclesiastical reform and the setting up of the Irish church along European diocesan lines. The Romanesque was characterised by round arches, vaulting and decorative sculptures.

The nearby Temple Cronan in Termon, Carran features a fine array of sculptures – human and animalistic.
The carved stone at Killinaboy would have enjoyed a more prominent position in the building in the past. The location of the other part of the stone is not known.

Sheela Na Gig, Kilnaboy

Doorway with Sheela-Na-Gig.


Above south doorway of church.

A sexual carving known as a sheela-na-gig is located over the south doorway of the church. There is no consensus regarding the origins of the term sheela-na-gig.

The carvings are usually distinguished by an unflattering portrayal of a woman with prominent genitalia. They occur in Ireland on buildings which date from the 1200s to the 1600s. The carvings may serve to warn against the sin of lust when found at church sites. On the other hand, they may functions as talismans or protective icons when found on secular buildings such as tower houses or town walls.

However, it is fair to say the functions of the carvings remain hotly disputed. Other possible functions include pagan god survival and fertility figure.

The icon at Killinaboy is made of limestone and its features are becoming progressively vaguer due to dissolution by rainwater.

Ireland has the greatest number of surviving sheela-na-gig carvings. McMahon and Roberts, authors of The Sheela-na-gigs of Ireland and Britain , cite 101 examples island-wide.

There are 5 sheela-na-gigs recorded in County Clare – 2 in the Burren and 3 in the south east of the county.
The second carving in the Burren is located at Ballyportry castle just outside Corofin. There are also carvings at Bunratty castle and Clenagh castle (west of Sixmilebridge). Some reader may help me identify precisely where the fifth County Clare example is!

© Text by Tony Kirby / Images by Carsten Krieger

Abandoned Beauty

Tyrone House

I got a short back’n’sides yesterday in Atlas Barbers, a Moroccan barber shop in Kilcolgan. Kilcolgan is in County Galway on the N18 road between the cities of Galway and Limerick.

After the fine cut, I started drifting home south along a minor road. Two miles west of the village, I came across the abandoned beauty of the 18th century Tyrone House.

The occupiers were the St Georges and they owned more than 50,000 acres in the region at one time. Aristocratic kingpins of large parts of south-east Galway when Ireland was under British rule.

The elevated setting is stunning. The house faces south towards the Atlantic Ocean and the limestone hills of the Burren. The rear of the dwelling looks north onto the estuary of the river Kilcolgan.

Tyrone House

Tyrone House is three storeys over basement. The basement would have housed the kitchen, store rooms and very basic accommodation for the servants. It was an invariably dark and smoky space and did not enjoy exotic views! Rough vegetation and scrub are now thriving in the basement of the Tyrone ruin. (Image 3).

The I.R.A. burned the house in 1921 during the War of Independence (The house had already been abandoned by the St Georges in 1905). The I.R.A. suspected that Tyrone House was being used by the British military, the Black and Tans.

Some of the St Georges are interred in the St George mausoleum at the nearby St Sourney ecclesiastical site, Drumacoo:  A House of Death in the West

The Irish Georgian Society (I.G.S.) is a membership-based organisation which aims to preserve and raise awareness of Ireland’s architectural heritage and decorative arts. Many fine houses have been saved through the excellent work of the society. I.G.S. tried to purchase Tyrone House in the early 1970s but regrettably the purchase did not come about.

Tyrone House

The deserted dwelling is so many things. It is a monument to colonialism and inequality; it is compelling evidence of the greatness of 18th century Irish architecture; it is an intrinsic link to the modern history of Ireland…

Long may Tyrone House stand under the Irish skies.

© Text by Tony Kirby / Images by Carsten Krieger

A Finnish Farmer in Kilfenora

Burren Freerange Pork

Immigrant communities arriving in Ireland by boat around 6 millennia ago brought with them the most radical ecological experiment known to mankind – agriculture. The revolution consisted of cultivating cereals and husbanding cattle, sheep, goats and pigs.

Down the millennia, pigs were reared free range in Ireland. Most Irish households kept a pig right up to the start of the 20th century. To this day pig meat, (pork, ham and bacon), is the most consumed meat in Ireland.  However, it is the factory farming of pigs which is now dominant.

The industry here is highly intensive with the vast majority of pigs reared on factory farms.  The animals are kept inside large sheds with no access to outdoors. The crowded and barren conditions make the animals disease-prone with the result that antibiotics are widely used. This type of farming is not good for animal welfare or safety and quality of food. Most of the producers have a narrow focus on profit whilst the consumer is enticed by the prospect of cheap food.

Only a small number of pigs are kept on free-range or organic farms. These pigs have access to the outdoors and they also have a shed for warmth and to keep dry. Thankfully free-range/organic pig rearing is now experiencing a modest revival. The number of individuals applying to the Department of Agriculture for permits to keep pigs has been rising steadily from a low base ever since the economic crash of 2007.


Eva Harald is a free-range pig farmer in County Clare. She rears the animals on her farm near the village of Kilfenora
Eva is originally from a town called Jakobstad on the west coast of Finland. She is a member of the linguistic minority of mother tongue Swedish which account for 6% of the Finnish population.

Eva’s husband Stephen Hegarty is a part-time conservation beef farmer. The couple has a 30 acre farm and their cattle indulge in the ancient local tradition of out wintering on land they have near the great medieval icon of Leamaneh Castle.

Eva got her first pigs in 2007 and started trading as Burren Free Range Pork. The idea was to make more use of under-exploited land on the farm. Eva also knew that the pigs would act as excellent landscape managers/soil enhancers by rotivating the land. She says “the pigs are lovely animals to be working with. They’re like pets really, easy to handle and so cute”.

At the moment Eva and Stephen have 4 rare breed Saddleback sows (adult female). The saddlebacks are quite distinctive – black in colour with a white band. Their origins may be in the West Country of England. The pigs’ diet includes fruits, vegetables, grass and pig ration (daily feed portion prepared from various feeds).

The Saddleback is regarded as an excellent eating pig and is especially prized for its hams and bacons. The “banbhs” or piglets of Eva’s Saddlebacks depart for butchering when they are about 6 months old. Eva’s sausages have at least 82% pig meat content – a much larger percentage than the industry norm. Other sublime products include rashers, ribs, roasts, chops and pork belly.

Burren Free Range Pork has been awarded the much vaunted McKenna Best in Ireland Award for the last 7 years.  John and Sally Mc Kenna’s Best in Ireland Awards recognise outstanding quality in Ireland’s food and hospitality. Eva’s enterprise also features in the Georgina Campbell Ireland Guide 2015-2016. Campbell’s guide is Ireland’s leading independent food and hospitality guide.

You can buy direct from Eva (and get to see the noble animals as well) by visiting the farm by appointment. Eva also sells hot dogs and frozen pork products at the Clare Garden Festival (Ennis) in April each year, the Clare Slow Food Festival (Lisdoonvarna) each May and The Burren Food Fayre (Lisdoonvarna) each October.

In May this year the Burren Food Trail was named as the 2015 Irish winner of “European Destination of Excellence – Tourism and Local Gastronomy” (EDEN) award for developing a tourism product based on the promotion of local food in a sustainable environment. The Food Trail is a listing of quality food establishments in the area. The Trail shows the visitor the path that food takes from field to plate.
Eva Harald is a committed, sustainable farmer who played an important part in the Burren’s EDEN success.

Burren Freerange Pork

POSTSCRIPT : Eva and Stephen launched an exciting agri-tourism initiative on their farm this year. The couple transformed a vintage horse truck into bespoke farm accommodation.  It is called glamping which is short for “Glamorous Camping”. The glamping truck is extremely comfortable and spacious. Bookings in the high season were strong.

REFERENCE : Máirtín Mac Con Iomaire is a professional chef and culinary arts lecturer at the Dublin Institute of Technology (D.I.T.) His outstanding essay The Pig in Irish Culture and Cuisine can be read on the Media/Culture website

© Text by Tony Kirby / Images by Carsten Krieger

32 Little Truths about the Burren

Black Head

Limestone Pavement at Black Head.

The Burren is 350 square kilometres (135 sq miles) in size – about 0.5% of the surface of the island of Ireland. The island of Ireland covers 84,431 square kilometres (32,599 sq miles).
The region is enclosed roughly within the circle made by the villages of Ballyvaughan, Kinvara, Gort, Tubber, Corofin, Kilfenora and Lisdoonvarna.
The Aran Islands were formerly part of the Burren. They were detached from the region when sea levels rose at the end of the last Ice Age (circa 10,000 years ago).
The place name the Burren is a phonetic anglicisation of the Irish place name An Bhoireann which means a place of stone.
The term karst is defined as a landscape formed from the chemical dissolution by rainwater of soluble rocks including limestone, dolomite and gypsum. Karst is a rare and precious land form.The Burren is home to one of the biggest karst landscapes in Europe.

Limestone Pavement & Erratic

Pavement & Erratics

Glaciers and prehistoric agri-vandalism are the twin causes of the extensive soil erosion in the Burren.
The great English map maker and essayist, Connemara-based Tim Robinson (born 1935), said “The Burren’s austere beauty is due to millennia of abuse.”
Oliver Cromwell’s lieutenant-general of horse and second-in-command in Ireland Edmund Ludlow (died 1692) said of the Burren “”It is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him.”
The Burren National Park is one of six National Parks in the Republic of Ireland and is the smallest one in size – 1,500 hectares approx.
The other five National Parks are Killarney (Kerry), Wicklow Mountains,  Glenveagh (Donegal), Ballycroy (Mayo) and Connemara (Galway).
The Burren region is home to five European Union priority habitats for wild flowers – limestone pavement, species-rich grasslands, turloughs, cladium fens and petrifying springs.
There are only two UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Republic of Ireland – Skellig Michael (County Kerry) and Brú na Bóinne (County Meath). The Burren is one of seven sites on an Irish Government Tentative List (2010) of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The other sites are Céide Fields and NW Mayo Boglands ; The Monastic City of Clonmacnoise and its Cultural Landscape ; Dublin – The Historic City of Dublin ; Early Medieval Monastic Sites (Clonmacnoise, Durrow, Glendalough, Inis Cealtra, Kells and Monasterboice) ; The Royal Sites of Ireland (Cashel, Dún Ailinne, Hill of Uisneach, Rathcroghan Complex and Tara Complex) and the Western Stone Forts.

Feral Goat

Feral Goat

There are an estimated 1,000 feral goats in the Burren hills – 20% of Ireland’s total population (5,000). The Burren feral goat population is one of the largest in Europe.
Octhebius Nillsoni is a black water beetle with white spots. It was first discovered in a Swedish lake in 1996. It was subsequently found in 2006 in three water bodies in the Burren National Park. Octhebius Nillsoni is one of the rarest creatures on planet earth that we know of. It has no name in the English language.
The Burren limestone is 780 metres thick in places.
The slow worm anguis fragilis, a legless reptile, was introduced (by misguided people!) to the Burren in Ireland from Great Britain in the late 20th century. It has been expanding its range modestly beyond the Burren since its introduction.
The viviparous lizard lacerta vivipara is the Burren and Ireland’s only other reptile. It is the most northerly reptile on the planet and can even be found within the Arctic Circle.
The Burren is the only region in the cool, temperate world where livestock are transferred to uplands in winter.
There are approximately 25,000 wild orchids on the planet. Ireland is home to 27 of them and the Burren boasts 23 of this national total.
The east of the Burren is the only area in Ireland where the wild flower dropwort filipendula vulgaris grows.

Caher River, Summer

Caher River

The Caher river in Fanore is the only river in the Burren region that flows entirely over ground from source to sea.
Two of Ireland’s three amphibians can be found in the Burren. They are the frog rana and the smooth newt Lissotriton vulgaris. (The 3rd amphibian, Natterjack Toad bufo calamita, is confined in Ireland to County Kerry).

Common Frog (Rana Temporaria)

Common Frog on the open limestone pavement.

The sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus and the kestrel Falco tinnunculus are the Burren’s two most common birds of prey.
The Burren has one of the highest densities of breeding pair cuckoos Cuculus Canora in Ireland.
Mean rainfall per annum in the Burren is maximum 1,400 millimetres (55 inches). Average annual rainfall in Dublin is 732 millimetres (29 inches) and in Connemara it is 2,800 millimetres (110 inches).
Glenquin House in Kilnaboy was used as the parochial house in the cult sit com TV series Father Ted. However, nearly all the interior scenes were recorded at ITV studios in London in front of a live studio audience.
Two renowned Irish authors, John O’Donoghue (1956-2008) and Francis Stuart (1902-2000), are buried in Creggagh cemetery in Fanore village.
Tower houses were the castles of the elite in Ireland from 1400 to 1650. There are three cylindrically shaped tower houses in North Clare – Newtown in Ballyvaughan, Faunarooska in Fanore and Doonagore in Doolin.
The fort was the dwelling/defence structure of the elite prior to the castle. The fort at Ballykinvarga, Kilfenora is one of only 4 forts in Ireland with chevaux de frise (anti-cavalry stone defensive works). The other three are promontory forts – Dunnamoe and Treanbeg in County Mayo and Dún Aengus, Inis Mór.
Sheela na gigs are medieval architectural grotesques. There are two in the Burren – one at Kilnaboy church (external) and the other in Ballyportry castle, Corofin (internal).
Round towers are 8th to 11th century stone structures. There are three recorded at monastic sites in the Burren – Kilnaboy, Kilmacduagh and Noughaval. The tower at Noughaval no longer survives.



30 of Ireland’s 32 butterfly species have been recorded in the Burren and 71 of the national total of 72 land snail species.
In 2011 the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher were awarded the designation of UNESCO Geopark. The status is accorded by UNESCO to sites worldwide which are considered to be of universal geological significance. There are two other Global Geoparks on the island of Ireland – Copper Coast (Waterford) and Marble Arch Caves (Cavan and Fermanagh).

© Text by Tony Kirby / Images by Carsten Krieger