I stumbled upon this old medieval church recently and to be completely honest, I almost drove past it. After last year I feel that I have seen far too many off these old church ruins which seem to be scattered everywhere I turn. But as it happens, I was wrong. The ruins of Dunfierth church turned out to be one of those hidden gems that you only come across on rare occasions, so I was delighted that I decided to pull over and have a look around. The church which dates back to approx 1500AD, sits on raised ground within an old walled graveyard. I can now add this to my ever growing collection of both Churches and Castles that are associated with the De Bermingham family. I have listed these sites a few times before and regular readers will be familiar with them. But for the benefit of those whom are not, most of the Castles and religious sites of the De Bermingham family are concentrated along the Kildare/Offaly border and you can visit these by clicking on the following highlighted links. Carbury Castle and Teampall Do-Ath ,Grange Castle, Mac Feorais Castle, Priory of De Laude Dei and Carrick Church are all in County Kildare, whilst Blundell Castle, Kinnefad Castle, Monasteroris Medieval Church & Graveyard and Monasteroris Friary & Castro Petre are in County Offaly.
Interestingly in a nearby field an old Castle once stood, probably a Norman tower house. But sadly this no longer exists. Local reports claimed that a stone was found there in the 1980’s with a carving of a monkey. Perhaps this was part of the coat of arms of the Fitzgerald’s. The graveyard itself consists of an overgrown dry-stone wall, with two points of entry via a set of stone steps with an unlocked gate in the Eastern boundary wall or by a smaller gate adjacent which leads to the graveyard. Walking around the graveyard before entering the church ruins themselves I noticed a mix of ancient stone grave markers and quite a few legible ones which mostly date from the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s a really peaceful place with the exception of the passing traffic.
Moving on to the church at first glance it looks like so many other medieval ruins I have visited over the last two years. But as it happens Dunfierth had a few hidden surprises in store for me. The Nave in the west and Chancel in the east still survive, probably due to some restoration works which were carried out in 1999 by the Kildare County Council. The enterance to the Nave is located in the south wall were surprisingly the lintel & relieving arch can still be seen. There is a twin Ogee-headed window in the west gable with single Ogee-headed windows in the north and south walls to the east. A number of 18th & 19th century headstones can be found within the nave. I also noticed two decent sized stones embedded in the ground which had been covered in some form of tarpolem, presumable to protect them from erosion. There is no access from the Nave to the Chancel as the Chancel arch was bricked up back in the 19th century. To show the importance of these ruins, Dunfierth was placed on the Register of Historic Monuments in 1994.
Moving on to the east of the church we find a beautiful Gothic styled Arch doorway and it is though this doorway were we find the hidden treasure of Dunfierth. The Hamilton family vault with its slated roof was built in 1815 by Frederick Hamilton. The altar tomb of the Bermingham family (1548) was incorporated into the Hamilton family vault. The Vault is secured with a locked iron gate but on the rear wall there is a carved effigy of a knight in full plate armour holding a sword with a crucifix on a chain around his neck. This is generally believed to depict Sir William Bermingham. On the north and south exterior walls of the vault there are two stones imbedded, each one depicting what may be six of the apostles or as some refer to as weepers. To the rear/west side of the vault there is a panel with a crucifixion scene. When I stopped here initially I did not expect to find this little gem, so it just goes to show, ‘Never judge a book by it cover’, or in this case, ‘Never judge a ruin by its appearance’.