At Clonenagh, County Laois, there was once a large ecclesiastical site which was founded by St Fintan in 548. Fintan had lived for many years as a hermit and the monastery he founded at Clonenagh was known for its austere nature, apparently the monastery was so stringent that other local monasteries complained that they couldn’t keep up the same level of rigidity! The original structure does not remain as the site was destroyed by Vikings in 838 and plundered again in 937 by the King of Cashel and the Danes of Waterford. The church at Clonenagh dates from the 15h century, it measures 9metres in length and 6.5metres in width, towards the end of its life it was used as a Protestant church.
On the day of my visit I did not spot the now collapsed ‘holy tree’. It was believed that the water collected in the trunk of the tree had healing properties. A tradition existed locally of hammering coins into the tree as an offering, however this may have actually resulted in the near demise of the tree. The stump of the tree still stands and I have read that branches are now starting to grow from it.
Across the road from the graveyard and church lies another graveyard and just inside the gate strand several early cross slabs. These beautiful stones date from the 6th and 7th centuries, however a few were somewhat altered in the 17th century. They were only discovered during renovations in 1988.
Local legend states that 7 churches have been located at this site, along with the one that remains archaeological evidence has been found for two others. One of the stranger stories I read about Clonenagh revolves around a Protestant minister, Rev. Sandys. Sandys was expelled from the Church of Ireland for being drunk at the pulpit while saying mass one day. However Sandys refused to step down and convinced his parishioners he was still the serving minister and offered marriages at the price of one pound. Rev Sandys was initially sentenced to death but this was reduced to a short term in jail. Later in his life he became a Catholic priest, perhaps his own form of revenge on the Church of Ireland!
GPS: 53.01021, -7.42343