You could say my visit to the Old Church and Graveyard in Downings – just outside of the village of Prosperous in Co. Kildare – was long overdue. Although I had spent 17 years of my life living within a a couple of kilometres of this place I had never even known of its existence until a couple of months ago! I happened to come across a website that beautifully detailed a lot of local Kildare history and folklore (seamuscullen.net) and was surprised to discover the ruins of a church and graveyard that had been unknown to me for so many years. At the end of June while returning home for a visit to my parents I took the opportunity to check out the site with my father.
The ruins of the church are actually built on one of the oldest ecclesiastical sites in Ireland. In the 6th century this was the site of St. Farnan’s cell, and the circular wall that surrounds the graveyard is indicative of the earliest Christian burial sites. There is a well nearby named after St Farnan also, legend has it that drinking from the well would have a dampening effect on one’s desire for alcohol!
Its believed the stone church was erected by the Knights Hospitaller during the early medieval period. The church would’ve measured 13 metres by 5 metres in size, however not much of the original structure still exists. A cross slab that used to be placed in the church has now been moved to the nearby church in Prosperous. There are records of a clergyman named Nicholas O’Hanlon being vicar of Downings in 1538. According to Samuel Lewis’ topographical dictionary of Ireland it appears the church was in ruins by 1837 though a few family plots remain in use up to the present day.
It was amazing to discover this place, so close to my childhood home but unknown to me for so long, was another beautiful reminder of how much I need to keep my eyes/mind open.
GPS: 53.28859, -6.77768