1st January 2000
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Parish of Ardcarne
(Ardcarne & Tumna) County Roscommon
Churches: Crossna, Cootehall, & Drumboylan

THE PARISH OF Ardcarne in north county Roscommon is bounded on the east by the Shannon, and by Aghanagh parish, Boyle parish, and Loch Cé on the west. It straddles the meandering course of the Boyle River, which widens to form Oakport Lough and Drumharlow Lake, before connecting with the Shannon near the ancient church site of Tumna. It stretches from Ardglass in the south to Lough Skean in the parish of Kilronan in the north, thus making it one of the largest parishes in Elphin, comprising over 29,000 acres.

Ard Cárna was an important name in the ecclesiastical history of Ireland when it came to prominence at the Synod of Rathbreasail in 1111, to become the name a diocese covering the territorial region of Moylurg and Tír Tuathail. However, by the Synod of Kells in 1152, the western portion of the Diocese of Ardcarna was amalgamated with the See of Roscommon, and Drumcliff in north county Sligo, to form the present Diocese of Elphin, whilst the eastern portion became part of the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise. This resulted in the suppression of Ardcarna, although it still retains its titular as a diocese. Following the loss of the bishopric, Ardcarna continued as head of a rural deanery, and remained so until the vicarforanship was transferred to Boyle. While the diocese of Ardcarna was shortlived, nevertheless it holds a distinguished place in the history of the Irish church.

Mac Firbis, in a tract called De quibusdam episcopis, gives Beo-aodh as the first abbot-bishop of Ardcarna who died in 523. His feastday is celebrated on 8 March.

The Martyrologies of Donegal and Aongus speak of Beo-aodh as patron of Ardcarna. There is nothing left now of the ancient church except for a large earthen mound which is reputed to be his burial place. St Beaidh's Church of Ireland, built in 1860, on the site of an earlier church, is near the site of the seat of the Ardcarna bishopric. The adjoining old and new cemeteries once formed part of a medieval village and ecclesiastical centre often referred to by the annalists. Here also, in the townland of Farranagalliagh, was a Benedictine nunnery, a cell to the Abbey of Kilcreevanty in county Galway.

The present parish of Ardcarne consists of the ancient parish of Ardcarna together with the ancient parish of Tumna. Territorially Tumna lies partially in Moylurg and partly in Tír Tuathail. Tumna was under the patronage of St Éadoin who is believed to be buried in the old graveyard there. This ancient church site of Tumna lies south of the Drumharlow Lake, and is now in the neighbouring parish of Croghan. Drumsillagh school was named Scoil Naomh Éadoine in honour of the patron saint.

There are other ancient places of ecclesiastical interest associated with the parish, including Knockvicar (Cnoc a' Bhiocaire), where there was a friary of the Third Order of Franciscans. Kilteasheen (Cill tSeisin), the church of St Seisan, was thought to mean the church of the little seat, so it was called locally the ‘place of the Bishop's Seat'. Kilteasheen is mentioned as a church in the Papal Taxation List of 1306, as well as Kileelan (Cill Fhaoláin). Baile na gCeall is referred to by Mac Firbis as being a residence of the Mac Dermots. In Killeen, the foundations of a small church are traceable, which served as a chapel of ease to Ardcarne.

We have very little record of where Catholic worship was conducted during the penal days of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. There is at least one Mass Rock preserved in the townland of Rusheen. In the Report on the State of Popery of 1731, Ardcarne is recorded as having one Mass House, with Conor Rogers as priest.

There are three churches in the parish today, namely St Michael's Cootehall, St Patrick's Crossna, and St Patrick's Drumboylan. St Michael's Church in Cootehall was erected in 1845 during the pastorate of Fr Bartley Hester, who came to the parish from Riverstown in 1843. This church, which survives to this day, replaced an older church, originally thatched, which had been erected at the close of the eighteenth century, and which served as a place of worship until 1845. In the early 1960s the church underwent major renovations and redesign. It was re-dedicated in January 1964 by Bishop Vincent Hanly. It is adorned with a number of beautiful stained glass windows by Catherine O'Brien (1881-1963).

St Patrick's Church Crossna, built at the commencement of the twentieth century, replaced an older church which is described by Dalton in his History of Ireland (1845), as ‘a spacious Roman Catholic chapel to which a fine new steeple has been recently attached'. The present Romanesque-style church was erected on the site of the old church during the pastorate of Fr Thomas Flanagan, and was dedicated by Dr John Clancy, Bishop of Elphin on 7 May 1906. It stands on an elevated site overlooking Loch Cé, and was designed by W. H. Byrne of Dublin.

St Patrick's church at Drumboylan was built in 1930. The site on which this church stands is a truly historic one. It overlooks the location of the ancient ford on the Shannon by which St Patrick crossed into Connacht. The foundation stone was laid in May 1930 and the church was solemnly blessed and dedicated on 19 October 1930. Rev Richard Morris, who was instrumental in its erection, died in August, three months before its dedication. At the entrance to this church is a mural in mosaic, which depicts St Patrick baptising the Princesses Eithne and Fidelma at Ogulla, in the parish of Tulsk, and another scene of an Irish priest baptising an African. This mural, which was presented by St Patrick's Missionary Society in 1962, commemorates Mgr Patrick J. Whitney (1894-1942), the founder of the Society in 1932. He was born at Derreenargon, Drumboylan, was the first Superior General of the Society he founded, and for a period was Prefect Apostolic of Ogoja, in eastern Nigeria. He died on 17 July 1942 and is buried at St Patrick's Missionary House, Kiltegan, county Wicklow.

The Church of Ireland community, as we have noted, is served by the Church of St Beaidh's which was built in 1860, replacing the older structure which had been destroyed by fire. The church possesses some remarkable stained glass windows by Evie Hone, (1894-1955) and Alfred E. Child (1875-1939). In 1997, a new Famine memorial was erected at the adjoining graveyard, to commemorate over nine hundred people who succumbed to disease and starvation during An Gorta Mór.

Beirne, F. ed. 2000. The Diocese of Elphin: People, Places and Pilgrimage. Dublin: Columba Press.

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