Colmcille is the secondary patron saint of Ireland, alongside St Brigid of Kildare. It is believed that he was born at Gartan, Co Donegal, in or about the year 521. He was of the royal O’ Neill lineage, who dominated the history of Ulster for many generations. His original name was Crimthann, meaning a fox, while Columcille was his religious name. He is also referred to as Columba, the Latinised form of this name. Columcille, a pupil of the famous Ciaran of Clonard, settled on the island of Iona in 563, where he established his famous monastery. The saint is generally depicted with a book, signifying his learning and teaching, a quill, that signifies his writings, a church, that signifies the many churches he established, and finally a dove, which is the meaning of his name. Two new stained glass panels depicting our patron were commissioned for the rededication in 2011 and are inserted in the main entrance doors.
Inistioge is mentioned once in the Annals of the Four Masters which records that in 962 a victory was gained over Amlaeibh, son of Sitric, by the Osraighi, at Inisteoc, where many of the foreigners were slain, together with Batbarr, son of Nira. It has been suggested that Inisteoc signifies the inch of a person named Teoc. In Irish, Inistioge is called Inish-tee-og and sometimes Inishteeog-Shose, or Inistioge of the Joyces, a surname which was prominent in the area.
Inistioge: Christian Heritage
It is most probable that Inistioge was the site of an abbey or monastery long before the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1169. There is little evidence to support the belief that there was a foundation here as early as 800. The Priory was founded by Thomas Fitz Anthony, Seneschal of Leinster, for Canons Regular of the Order of St Augustine and was dedicated to God under the invocation of the Blessed Virgin, and St Columba, the ancient patron of the area. Canon Carrigan in his history of the diocese of Ossory proposes the year 1210 as the year of its foundation. Fitz Anthony made ample provision for the support of the new Priory which included the fishery rights of the river Nore, which extended for a length of about three miles.
Myles or Milo Baron (otherwise Fitzgerald, who were the Barons of Brownesford and Cloone) was the last Prior of Inistioge. He was appointed Bishop of Ossory on 8 June 1528. He surrendered the Priory and all its possessions on 20 March 1540 into the hands of Henry VIII’s Royal Commissioners.
In 1792 a return – possibly the old library – was built onto the old chapel of Inistioge by Mr John Barron of Inistioge as appears from the inscription on a mural slab on the north wall of the chapel-yard: “Pray for the soul of My John Barron, at whose expense this Return was built. He dep[arte]d this life on the 20th May, 1792, aged 76 yrs. This stone is erected to his memory by his affectionate brother, Garret Barron.”
The foundation stone of the present chapel was laid on 19 August 1836. The land upon which the church is built was a gift from William Frederick Fownes Tighe of Woodstock, and his wife, the Lady Louisa Tighe, one of the many daughters Charles 4th Duke of Richmond. This gift is acknowledged on the monument erected to the memory of the Rev. William Carroll, parish priest of Inistioge, who died on 11 November 1837. There is no known documentary evidence currently available as to the identity of the architect. There is however a marked similarity in design and proportions between the Inistioge church and the old parish church which was dedicated to St John the Evangelist in Kilkenny city, which was built c. 1840. While the architect of the old church of St John’s is also unknown it is reasonable to assume that he was in fact the acclaimed William Deane Butler of Dublin, who was responsible for other Ossory buildings, most notably the 1836 buildings at St Kieran’s College, Kilkenny.
The Baptismal Font, which is situated at the entrance to the Church has for most of us being the ‘door to life and to the kingdom of God’ is made from Kilkenny marble, a black limestone which derived from a quarry near Kilkenny City, a product of the renowned Colles marbleworks at Maddoxtown, which flourished during the years 1730 to at least 1822.
The Lady Altar
The Lady Altar was financed by Lady Louisa Tighe and is dedicated to the memory of Miss Lizzie Kelly who died on 21 October 1898. Nothing much is known of Lizzie Kelly, but it is believed that she worked at Woodstock for the Tighe family, having been born there in 1842 to Edward Kelly and his wife, Alice Connors. Lizzie Kelly’s death is recorded in the Liber Defunctorum of Inistioge parish, where she is buried.
There are three hanging lights in the sanctuary. The main sanctuary lamp carries the inscription: ‘Presented by the Parishioners of Inistioge in memory of Rev James Hennebery CC, died Jan 29th 1908’.
Stained Glass Windows
The centre window in the East Wall is dedicated to the memory of the Rev Peter Nolan, who died as parish priest in 1898. It is similar in design to stained glass windows which are to be found in the parish church at Thomastown [and at Duiske Abbey, amongst others]. The windows in the sanctuary area date from 1920 and came from the Watson Glassworks at Youghal, Co. Cork.
There have been extensive changes to the sanctuary area over the years. Early photographs show that the marble altars have changed little over the years. The marble altar rails replaced earlier wooden ones when work was done under the guidance of the Rev. Ambrose Lowry, who became parish priest in 1928. The Deposition of Christ relief, which is now on the front of the main altar, was beneath the tabernacle prior to its relocation in the 1989 alterations. During the renovation and remodelling in 2011, the altar was moved to its present location.
Relics of St Oliver Plunkett are to be found beneath the altar stone and these are wrapped in the stole of the Rev. Ragheed Ganni, who was killed on 3rd June 2007, in Mosul, Iraq. The chair and ambo were designed in 1989 and placed in their present location in 2011. The decorative mosaic floor may be the work of Ludwig Oppenheimer from Liverpool who also worked in St Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny at the beginning of the 20th century.
The statues of St Columcille and St Joseph stand at either side of the main altar. Neither are dated though the statue of St Joseph which carries a dedication plaque in memory of the deceased friends of Edward and Mrs Brennan, Coolsilla. This statue is not a feature of the earliest photograph that we have of the interior and may be part of the changes executed by the Rev. Ambrose Lowry. The statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Sacred Heart are in the early photographs. The large oil on canvas picture over the site of the original altar features the Crucifixion of Christ. This was cleaned during the 2011 renovations. The work’s origins and date are unknown and all that we can say with any degree of certainty is that it was placed here in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
The carved stone insets which are a feature of the perimeter wall of the churchyard are believed to derive from the old monastic cloister, which was located on the church site. They are examples of the beautiful stonework and expertise produced by our forbearers.