I came across this little ruined church on the way out to Howth recently. It is situated on a raised piece of land right on the coast road with some great views of the surrounding area. In early Christian times the sea would have come much closer to the site as there was no road. There has been a Church on this site since the early 6th Century. This is typical early Christian site, consisting of a Church, a burial ground and a holy well. There was a well to the north of the Church, which was believed to be a cure eye ailments, sadly there is no longer any trace of the well to be found. The first Church or cell was probably quite primitive, with a straw or timber roof.
Kilbarrack owes its name to St Bearach, also spelled “Bearach”. According to tradition a holy person named Bearach (Barrog) came here with some followers and it is from him that the area got its name – CillBharrog, the Church of Barrog (Bearach). The monk who later became a Saint, established a church on this very site. St. Bearach spent some time there in his early days, and it has been claimed that he performed many miracles. Bearach was a native of Termonbarry in Roscommon. He was a disciple of St Kevin, and he died in 595 AD. The church has been referred to in some records as the Chapel of Mone. It was also known as a mariner’s Church, where sailors came to offer thanks for a voyage and to bury their dead. Long ago, ships entering Dublin Bay paid monies to the city authorities towards the upkeep of the chapel. The monks and sailors would have been the earliest burials. There are no stones marking these burial sites – if there ever were they have long since disappeared.
During excavations hereby an AnCO team in 1985, the archaeologist and historian Leo Swan dated the present structure from the 12th – 13th century with signs of much older foundations. The ruins consist of a nave and chancel with a side aisle to the south. A large railed fence has been placed where the Western gable stood. I almost suffered a shock when I noticed that the rusted padlock (another nemesis of the ruinhunter) was open. But to my disappointment the gate in the railings was well and truly seized thus preventing me from having a closer look at the inside of the chapel. The Church was built of rough local stone, with some Howth stone in the window arches. Mortar was also used and you can still see some seashells in the mix. There are visible signs of repair having been carried out over the centuries. Many windows had been blocked up and so has the chancel arch. During the AnCO excavations a 16th century slate was found. Recently the Church has been cleaned, preserved and the grounds appear to be maintained regularly, hopefully it will last a few more centuries.
From the late 12th century Kilbarrack was owned by the Cistercian monks of St. Mary’s Abbey in Dublin. As was common practise over the centuries, wealthy landowners would donate land to the Church for the benefit of their souls after they died. This is one of the ways that the church amassed their large land holding and wealth in Ireland. After the dissolution of the monasteries in Britain and Ireland the chapel at Kilbarrack chapel was no longer mentioned. As a result practising Church goers were forced to find alternative locations at which to hear Mass and the Church fell into disuse. At some stage the parish land was added to the lands belonging to the St. Lawrence family at Howth Castle.
As you can see there is some stunning stonework in the graveyard. The cemetery, which still accepts burials in existing graves, includes the grave of the “Sham Squire.” An interesting tale about a man called Francis Higgins. He was buried here in 1802. Well known as a forger and chancer, whom eventually married a wealthy lady and bought the newspaper known as ‘The Freeman’s Journal’. He was said to have betrayed the Lord Edward Fitzgerald to the authorities in 1798. He had a very elaborate gravestone but because of his notoriety it was regularly attacked and defaced and eventually it disappeared completely.
The majority of headstones which are still readable date mainly from the 18th and 19th and 20th century. Some interesting facts about people buried here. The Sweetman family whom were local landowners and brewers have family members interned here. Another famous man buried here was Eoin Mac Neill who was a founder of the Gaelic League and second Governor-General of the Irish Free State. There are memorials to IRA men executed in Mountjoy during 1920-21