After some difficulty, I eventually found this quite little graveyard about a mile away from another Ladychapel Church in Maynooth. The first church I found although nice was definitely not the one that I had been searching for. Whilst it is a stunning example of a church which dates back to 1863, it does not have the characteristics of the many ruins that I come across on my travels. Located at the end of a narrow cul de sac lies one of the most well maintained graveyards I have seen in a long while. It consists of what appears to be the remains of a medieval church, a stone lined holy well and some very interesting gravestones, with historical connections, one of which ‘The Mooney Memorial’, may have ancestral links to my clan, but I will need to do some serious digging to find out.
My personal favourite here was the stone lined holy well. With the site itself estimated to date back over 2000 years it is quite possible that this holy well was a place of worship for the druids prior to the arrival of Christianity. It is a well-known fact that many holy wells as they are now known were in fact sacred sites long before the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. These sacred springs were then commonly associated with various saints as part of the plan to replace the old ways with the new religion. This well at Ladychapel is a fine example of such a well and there are many pointers to suggest its prehistoric past. Whilst I could not find any saint associated with this well it would seem that a religious festival or Pattern was held on ‘Lady Day’ 15th August, which is a day set aside on the Christian calendar for devotion to ‘Our Lady’. It was believed that a visit to the holy well at Ladychapel cured those suffering from an ear-ache.
In ancient Ireland there were five main roads all of which started at Tara as a central point, being the seat of the high kings and extended to various parts of the country. The main road was called Sligh Mór or ‘Great Road’. This road went from Tara to Dublin then headed west as far as Galway Bay. It is this road that passed alongside the site of Ladychapel and its sacred spring which would likely have been used as a source of drinking water for the weary traveller in addition to being a sacred site.
To date I have not been able to find much history of the ruins of the old church. But I do know that almost all early Christian churches faced east, the church at Ladychapel fits into this nicely with its gable end and alter facing to the east. Interestingly it is the gable end of the church that is the closet part of the building to the site of the Well. There is a nice little window in the gable which also overlooks the well. The first record of the church comes from a document during the reign of James I which tells of a ‘chapel of ease’, near Taghadoe known as Lady’s Chapel. It is believed that Ladychapel came under the jurisdiction of the monastery at Taghadoe. For anyone interested you can read more about Taghadoe and its Round Tower The founder and patron saint of Taghadoe was a St. Tua but it is not known what connection if any, he had with the site at Ladychapel.
In ordinance survey letters from 1837 the graveyard at Ladychapel is describes as a burial ground in the parish of Taghadoe called Coanstown which contains the ruins of an old church. Due to an Act of Parliament in the early 1800’s all graveyards had to be enclosed. This would have presumably to prevent dame to graves by wandering farm animals. There is a stone plaque on the cemetery wall at Ladychapel shows that is was enclosed in 1786 which would mean that it would have been one of the earliest cemeteries to be enclosed. Today there are a large number of gravestones in the burial ground which give some interesting clues to local history. In fact some of the people interred here are connected to various violent events from Ireland’s history, which include the Rathcoffey massacre in 1642, the 1798 rebellion at Ovidstown, as well as victims of the Great War. There is also a plaque on the wall beside the entrance to commemorate restoration works that were carried out by the local committee.