Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers

Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers (1)

Johnstown is a small village just outside Naas in County Kildare. I have passed by it countless times over the years and just by chance whilst hunting for a standing stone I came across a small little graveyard and church with an amazing history. There are signs of early human activity in the area dating back to ancient times, the most notable being the Holed stone which rests in a field towards the Southern end of the village. The stone is linked to an astronomical alignment to the summer solstice. Today though we are going to have a look at the medieval church at the other end of the village. Originally known as Fraoch Oileán the village name changed to Johnstown, presumably taking the name from the religious order whom established themselves in the area.

Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers (2)

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Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers (4)

Not to be confused with their infamous Templar brothers, the Knights Hospitallers  or The Order of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem  to give them their full title, where one of the big five orders to rise up during the first crusade. Believed to have formed around 1023 at the Amalfitan hospital in Jerusalem to provide care for sick, poor or injured pilgrims coming to the Holy Land. After the crusade they became an official religious and military order under its very own papal charter, Pie Postulatio Voluntatis’, which was issued by Pope Paschal II in 1113. They were charged with the care of pilgrims and defending the holy land against Islamic forces. Their main base of operations was the island of Rhodes and later from Malta. Theirs is a fascinating history, but far too expansive to include in this article.

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Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers (6)

They first arrived on Ireland’s shores during the Invasion by Norman forces where they first established themselves in Wexford around 1172AD. Two years later a Priory was set up for them at Kilmainham in Dublin by the Earl of Pembroke, Richard De Clare. Within forty years the order was said to have acquired up to 129 properties under Pope Innocent III. Despite this the number of members in Ireland was said to have been quite small, perhaps only 30 -40 members. In Kildare the knights had three Perceptorys at Tully, Killybegs and Kilteel as well as an Abbey in nearby Naas. Whilst I can’t find a definitive date for the church in Johnstown, I did manage to find the earliest grave slab dating back to 1430AD. So they may very well have arrived in Johnstown sometime between 1212 and 1430AD. Much like every other country in which the order resided their primary role was to provide hospitality to pilgrims and travellers. But with the ongoing attacks by native Gaelic clans following the Norman invasion many of the orders strongholds also served as military outposts. This medieval order of knights who held lands in the surrounding area until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1540s.

Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers (8)

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Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers (9)

The church itself stands on a slight rise near the centre of a graveyard. It is a rectangular structure which appears to have had some restoration work carried out over the years. Built mostly from rubble and limestone. There are a number of boulders of granite and tufa where a chancel may once have stood. The west wall contains a rather large two cantered arch. The entrance doorway in the north wall looks does not appear to be part of the original structure and may very well be a later addition. In the east gable wall there is a double ogee-headed window with a broad, square-headed embrasure and sill. Much of the south wall seems to have been rebuilt, and there is a round-headed window-piece which has been reused on the inner wall face to act as a stoup. Also worthy of a mention are the octagonal base of a medieval baptismal font which lies in the confines of the chancel and is in reasonable condition for its age, and a fine example of a lancet window which remains surprisingly intact in comparison to the remainder of the structure.

Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers (11)

Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers (13)

Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers (12)

One of the most famous families associated with Johnstown were the Flatsbury’s. They first showed up in Kildare during the 13th century and were quite an influential bunch. Members of the Flatsbury family held lofty positions in Ireland from collectors of the Kings revenue to Sherriff’s of Kildare and some where even members of parliament. So it just goes to show that the ‘Big Boys’, club which exists today in politics is an age old, time honoured tradition. J A large plot can be seen tucked away in a corner near the entrance to the graveyard which is the family plot of the Bourke clan. Today it is marked by a simple plain stone cross. And there is a rather nice flat stone slab which still rests within the graveyard at Johnstown, it is connected to the Flatsbury and Wogan families and it has the family Coat of Arms carved into it. Usually when you come across this type of grave marker they are either badly weather worn or cracked and broken up. So it was nice to see this one surviving the years. It is believed to be the grave slab of James Flatsbury whom had been married to Eleanor Wogan back in 1436. The Wogans were another big family in the Kildare area, with the family stronghold at Rathcoffey Castle. Another well-known member for the Flatsbury family was Philip. He was a scholar and scribe whom is best known for compiling the ‘Red Book of Kildare’, in 1503 for the Earl of Kildare, Garret ‘Og’ Fitzgerald. This book contained the details of all the Fitzgerald estates including grants and title deeds. Considering what I have seen of these holdings, this book must have been quite an impressive tome. After the rebellion of Silken Thomas, Garret’s son the book mysteriously disappeared before eventually resurfacing in Trinity College Dublin, where it now resides.  In 1641 the lands around Johnstown and Palmerstown were confiscated from the Flatsbury’s and eventually granted to a family from the West of Ireland known as the Bourke’s.

Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers (14)

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Much like the Flatsbury’s, the Bourke’s did quite well for themselves with their new found wealth. They went on to acquire the titles of ‘Lord Naas’, and ‘Earl of Mayo’, and held numerous Crown offices. Perhaps their most famous member was a chap was Richard Southwell Bourke, the sixth Earl of Mayo, whom was also known in the village as ‘The Pickled Earl”. It’s actually a funny story, Richard was appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland on three occasions during the 1860s before going on to become the Viceroy of India, where he was stabbed to death in 1872. This left the British Crown with a bit of a problem, how could they get his remains back to Kildare from India him rotting away. Well as the story goes, he was placed in a barrel of Rum for the long voyage home. Not a particularly nice way to end, and a terrible waste of good rum, but it did however earn him the amusing moniker amongst the locals. One of the most striking features within the confines of the church is the wonderfully ornate Celtic cross. And it is under this cross that Richard was buried.

Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers (16)

Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers (17)

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About edmooneyphotography

Photographer, Blogger, Ruinhunter, with an unhealthy obsession for history, mythology and the arcane.
This entry was posted in Diary of a Ruinhunter, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

67 Responses to Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers

  1. Ali Isaac says:

    What a fascinating post Ed, and some great pictures. That cross is incredible. Good to see you out and about again!

    • Thanks a mill Ali, Its part of my new attitude for 2016, last year got on top of me far too much and it manifested itself in a negative way.
      So this year will be nothing but good thoughts and happy vibes. Lets see where it takes us 🙂

  2. gordon759 says:

    I love stories like that of the ‘pickled earl’, a bit like that of Nelson. Most of the time, and probably in this case, ‘Spirits of Wine’ were used, this is similar to methylated spirit and was used to preserve biological specimens and so was readily available. It was preferred to spirits like rum or brandy as it wasn’t really drinkable, and so sailors would be less likely to ‘tap the cask’.
    This didn’t always work as advice given to scientists collecting specimens for the Natural History Museum included, ‘Preserving alcohol should be kept under lock and key as in some countries the natives are inclined to drink it’!

    • LOL, a very good point, and most likely true. The rum story might have been the final insult by the locaal villagers as im sure they would have not been privy to the different forms of alcohol 🙂
      Not sure if I would fancy trying Earl flavoured alcohol, I have had sampled some rather nasty concoctions over the years, Think ill stick to the Bourbon just too be safe 🙂

  3. afairymind says:

    Some beautiful pictures and a very informative post, Ed. 🙂 We’ve recently been discussing the possibility of visiting somewhere in Ireland this summer and seeing as we tend to do a trail of historical sites I’ll be pointing out your posts to a few other family members!

    • So glad to hear it. You can check out my maps page on the blog which contains all the sites I have visited to date. Each one is acuarate to about 10 meters on Google maps.
      And let me know how you get on 🙂

  4. colonialist says:

    As usual rapt interest is split between the amazing images and the history. That cross is exceptional.
    I much prefer the old name of the place. ‘Johnstown’ does seem trite.
    The Knights Hospitallers should be revived most strongly for defense of all lands against militant Islam types!

    • Thank you so much, glad you liked it. But I would have to disagree with you slightly regarding the Islam.
      Now I am not a follower of any Creed but looking back at history, religion has been used by man for power and greed.
      How about we all forget about our spiritual beliefs and turn out attention to the greedy and corupt puppet masters whom are behind on the bad stuff thats going on and kick their arses instead???
      Just an idea 🙂

  5. adeleulnais says:

    Beautiful photographs and history. Thank you

  6. I’m jealous that you get to live in such a beautiful, ancient history rich country… and the country that has the Luke Skywalker Island!!!!!

  7. Pingback: The photographer Eddie Mooney provides great info on Irish archaeology.  His posts are worth reading. :)Fraoch Oileán and the Knights Hospitallers | Bekka King

  8. roweeee says:

    Thanks for paying my blog a visit, especially as it brought me here to absorb those incredible photos and history. I’m sorry to hear that you had a rough year last year and hope 2016 goes better for you.
    Take care!
    xx Rowena

  9. willowdot21 says:

    These photos are just brilliant.

  10. noelleg44 says:

    The Celtic Cross is magnificent, and as usual, your post was terrifically interesting. I have a question for you: are there any Parsons in Ireland?

  11. beetleypete says:

    Evocative images, and interesting history to accompany them. I remember reading about the Knights Hospitaller defending Malta from the Moors. Stirring stuff; castles, men in armour, brave deeds.
    A great read as always, Ed.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  12. Sue says:

    Fascinating history and some great images, Ed

  13. Thank you for another fascinating read and photography.

  14. Darlene says:

    This place is fascinating! Fantastic history and pictures. We heard all about The Order of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem when we were in Malta this past fall.

  15. jfwknifton says:

    What a beautiful cross!

  16. Tadhg says:

    Thankyou for sharing the photographs. They are all really great, and I love the fact they’re black&white, which shows a greater depth, spirituality of those places, and a sense of brooding, liminality. I also like myth and history, and so appreciated the history and comments between the photographs. Thanks.

  17. Yet another interesting post Ed with some great photos as usual.
    You do this very well I must say…!

  18. unironedman says:

    Has a vibe of Donaghcumper. The Earl story is a rum thing indeed… not unusual but yes, would spoil a rather nice barrel. And certainly a tad more conspicuous than the ‘worm’ in the Mezcal tequila. At least he had the good grace to be pickled after he died. Most foreign diplomats are well pickled long before they shuffle off this mortal coil.

  19. Quiche says:

    Beautiful photographs, wonderful history, thank you for sharing.

  20. Lovely cemetery and I love the Celtic cross.

  21. chattykerry says:

    Great post, Ed. The black and white photography was particularly good – was the light better than usual?

  22. Lovely images and wonderful layers of history, I really enjoyed this post

  23. Theres just something about b&w photography. Theres so much more detail and feeling. I love it.

  24. Nirodaigh says:

    I absolutely love the images, really brings me back! What a beautiful little church it was, and the history is great to read. Silken Thomas, now that’s one I haven’t heard for a long time! Thx so much for the lovely story and photographs. I have a cousin living in Thomastown (Kilkenny), maybe some day you get over to that corner of the woods… 🙂

  25. Eliza Waters says:

    I reckon that cross is nearly as well preserved as the Earl is! Marvelous place, Ed, thanks for the tour!

  26. Such exquisite photos! Oh how I miss Ireland! You find the best places Ed! 🙂

  27. Pingback: Fraoch Oilean and the Knights Hospitallers | Crusader History

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