St Finian’s Church, Carlow, Ireland

St Finian’s Church in Myshall, Co. Carlow, is a pre-Norman church named after St Finian who was born locally around 470AD. Finian was a student of St Fortchern, and went to Wales to study for thirty years, upon his return he founded a church at Myshall and a church on Skellig Michael. After a vision Finian decided to establish a monastery in Clonard, Co. Meath, near the River Boyne. This monastery was modelled on Welsh monasteries, where strictness and asceticism were the order of the day, along with study and a working scriptorium. The monastery grew from humble clay and wattle beginnings to notoriety as the home of ‘the twelve apostles of Ireland’ and at its height taught three thousand pupils.

The church at Myshall does not date from the time of St Finian but does predate the Normans arrival in Ireland in 1169. All that remains of the church are the western wall and very little of the north and south walls. Local legend suggests it was destroyed by Cromwell’s army. One of the more interesting features of Myshall graveyard is the large double bullaun stone near the entrance to the enclosure. Local folklore states various reasons for the origin of this stone and its unusual hollows. Most seem to refer to a witch or giantess that lived on Mount Leinster, who either in annoyance at another witch, angry at the church, or trying to help her son escape from jail, depending on which story you read threw the stone from her cave on the mountain. I have included some of the excerpts from the 1938 Dúchas Schools Collection below as I always enjoy their captivating quality,

The Woman’s Slidder – told by 60 year old James Kavanagh to Lillie B. Holmes at Coolasnaghta, Co. Carlow
“Not far from this historic place the Nine Stones is a Woman’s Slidder. This woman was a giantess who lived on the mountain. One day she wanted to throw a large stone to her sister in Wicklow. She as a giantess also. And when she was throwing the stone she slipped down the hill, and it did not get to reach Wicklow. It fell on the old church in Myshall and knocked it down. This Slider can plainly be seen on the mountain. Her marks is on a stone which lies in Mr Hogan’s field of Drumprea. That is the story about the old woman’s Slidder.”

As told by Maureen Mullen, Myshall, Co. Carlow
“Long, long ago there lived a witch named Moll McCann on the top of Mount Leinster, in a cave called Moll Rock. She kept her treasure in another place called Moll Churn. This witch was a very cross old lady and she had a great objection to the Catholic Church in Myshall, and one day she made up her mind to destroy it. She got a very large stone and carried it to the top of the mountain in her arms. Then she threw it at the church, but it fell in the graveyard a couple of yards away from the church. She threw it with such a great force that she fell on it herself and broke it and the track of her knee is to be seen in the stone even to the present day.”

As told by Thomas Mullins at Myshall
“The other night my uncle was telling me a very interesting story of an incident which happened near his farm. Long ago a witch and her son was living in a cave on Mt. Leinster. During the night time the witch’s son used to go around the houses stealing poultry, and eggs and bring them home for himself and his mother to eat. One night he was caught by a party of men, who put him in Wexford jail. When his mother heard this she was very sad, and began to think of a way to rescue her son. At last she resolved to fly to Wexford jail and throw a big stone on the jail and knock it. So she set out one morning with a big stone and as she did not know the way she kept soaring about until her strength failed and she fell in the old grave-yard in Myshall and the track of her hands and face is still in the stone.”

GPS: 52.68515, -6.78033

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