History of the Parish

Tobar Pádraig – or Patrick’s Well – is one of the ancient sites in our parish. As you come from the Station of Kiltoom, there is a rounded shape of a burial mound on which the old church was built. Not far from the old church, in the direction of the ford of Kiltoom, is the ancient holy well.

In the 1400’s the Athlone Cluniac monks were serving in Kiltoom rectory. Reference to their presence is in the calendar of Papal letters 1427 – 1447 (pages 471-2). One of the Augustinian monks became a Franciscan and this is also recorded.

In 1668 the nearest secular priest to Athlone town resided in Kiltoom according to the Syng Census. A precious chalice, with the date 1683 engraved on it, tells an evocative story of parish life, that can never be measured in earthly terms.

In 1720, a thatched chapel can be traced to Lissagreaghan and another chapel ws sited in Fenmore.

1829 – Catholic Emancipation: Catholics were permitted to build churches, with the conditions that the church buildings were in remote sites – and without steeples or bell towers.

Our Parish Priests

John Tumulty 1668
Bernard Donnell 1685
Daniel Concannon, P.P. Cam 1704
Brian Doyle, P.P. Kiltoom 1704
Anthony Flynn 1733-1750

The United Parish of Kiltoom and Cam

1771-1783 John Kelly
1783-1810 John Glennon
1810-1830 Michael Garvey
1833-1837 Terence Gerard O’Neill
1837-1876 John Fitzgerald
1876-1886 Matthew Naughton
1886-1904 Martin O’Beirne
1904-1929 Peter Hughes
1929-1944 Michael Hargadon
1944-1950 Patrick Hannon
1950-1960 William Larkin
1960-1967 Mark Kilbride
1967-1978 William McGauran
1978-1987 Edward Higgins
1987-1996 John Greene
1996-2001 Colm Hayes
2001- John Cullen


Famine Times

One of the great benefits of history is that it introduces us to a much wider community than those who are alive today. Our renovated church introduces us to our ancestors in the faith. 165 years ago they built the church on this site. History is normally told from the point of view of the strong, of those who win victories and build empires. But there is a history that begins from another point of view. It tells the story of the small and forgotten. That too is a story that must be told because it speaks of God and ‘remembers the wonderful works that He has done (cf. Luke 1:54-55). History makes us aware of the past so as to discover there the seeds of an unexpected future of that story and tells it well.

The Famine Stone at Derryglad museum is a potent reminder of the unbearable plight endured by our ancestors. Early in September 1845, a disease attacked the leaves of the stalks and spread to the potatoes underneath with devastating consequences. Fr. John Fitzgerald, then parish priest, called on the authorities to provide assistance to enable the people to ward off starvation.

The prime minister, Sir Robert Peel (an ironic surname!!) had secretly arranged in November 1845 for the purchase and importation into Ireland of £100,000 worth of Indian meal (maize). He established a temporary Relief Commission whose duties were to advise the government and to supervise and co-ordinate local relief committees. Local committees were originally based on the barony as a unit and were comprised of local “notables”, including landlords, priests, magistrates and “big” farmers. The Indian meal purchased by Peel was stored in government depots in ports such as Athlone and Roscommon and sold to local committees to re-sell to the needy at or under cost price. Meal depots were set up in town “centres”. People had to travel up to ten miles to buy a stone and a half of meal…

It should be remembered that, at this time, parishioners were also trying to pay off a debt, due to the building of the Parish Church. Fr. John Fitzgerald undertook a visit to the United States, with permission from Bishop George Joseph Plunkett Browne (1844-1858), to help pay off the debt – and he raised funds to assist the many people who were facing destitution and were unable to meet subscriptions for food and rent to landlords. Fr. John Fitzgerald is buried within the sanctuary area of our church, as is his successor Fr. Matthew Naughton (1876-1886). A plaque to honour their memories is given prominence in the Church sanctuary.

The list of the 22 diocesan priests appointed to Kiltoom parish for the past 340 years is a tangible expression of the pastoral care of the Church. The visible presence of the priest with the people is a sign of service and leadership. It is an integral part of the diocesan system – which has served the church for centuries. Other priests who assisted the parish priests were: Fr. Denis Killian (1957), Fr. Seamus Cox (1960), Fr. Charles Travers (1962), Fr. John Walsh (1965-1967), Fr. Frank McGauran (1972), Fr. James Casey (1986). Fr. John Feeney and Fr. Tommy Moran also helped in our parish. They were assigned to St. Aloysius College, Athlone.

The Famine, the Tithe War, the Land War, Emigration, Eviction, Jobbery, Patronage, the Civil War, population decline, cholera and fever are all broad historical themes of the calamities endured by our people. They relied on the “kindly light amid the encircling gloom” (Cardinal John Henry Newman’s phrase [1801-1890]). This light shone for them when all the stars had dimmed, darkened and even gone out. I think of Aodhagán O’Rahilly (1670-1729) and his vision of that ‘brightness of brightness’ that he saw ‘on the pathway of loneliness’: gile na gile do chonnarc ar shlíghe in uaigneas. This is the light hat St. Augustine (354-430) discovered when he wrote the “Confessions”. A light above the mind, lux supra mentem, not in any physical sense, as oil is above water or as the light of the sun overtops all earthly light in its scope and power, but a light far, far different from all that can be experienced by the way of the external sense of vision or by way of the internal sense of imagination. Caritas novit eam: “love knows this light”, says St. Augustine (Confessions VII, 10).

Christ is the Light of the World, a tiny light shining in a world which is often shrouded in the darkness of conflict, famine, and disasters of all kinds. Doubt and fear go hand in hand with faith. Although we understand many things, much of life and history is mysterious, hidden and obscure. Our Parish Church makes its pilgrim way through shadows to the heavenly city of eternal light, the light of God. The tiny light of Christ guides our way and is our comfort.

“The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially those who are poor or afflicted in any way are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find echo in their hearts”. These are the opening lines of the Pastoral Constitution of The Church in the Modern World, written in 1965, as part of the deliberations of the Second Vatican Council. This document goes on to refer to “the spiritual uneasiness of today”, “the completely new atmosphere that conditions religious practice” (7) and “people who would empty life of all significance and invest it with a meaning of their own devising” (10). These words were written 42 years ago. The scale of change since then poses a great challenge and opportunity for us believers in 2007. We have choices: adapt or oppose? survive or thrive? Are we in a situation of ‘believing without belonging’ or ‘belonging without believing’?

I began our brief historical journey at Tobar Pádraig. Now in our own time the flow of healing waters from the holy scriptures and the streams of faith from these holy wells refresh us with hope and courage as we face the future together in our parish. What we really need is the courage to be out of step. We need to see how community can be constructed in a shattered, frazzled, world of endless choices and what lived Christianity offers to the blighted lives of the lonely and the hopeless. Ultimately, people are curious about Christ because of what they see lived, not preached. We need to re-discover, re-image, and unapologetically live out the Gospel together, so that once again, when people ask us about Jesus, we can say “Come and see”.

The people who made the history of our parish were themselves the Christian community of their day – and the Incarnate God touched their lives. A brief historical glimpse of these people must illuminate the grace of God at work in this portion of the Lord’s vineyard.

2014-06-09 15.36.53


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