Castletown Church and Cemetery date back to the 12th century and would have been built around the same time as the old castle of Dundalk, however much of what remains today is closer in date to the 15th or 16th century. Under the crumbling east window an inscriptions states, ‘Sir Walter Bellawe, Priest, erected this alter, in honour of St. John Baptist the first of Jannarie Anno Domini 1631‘. Another marker within the walls of the church are dated 1630. Very little is known about the early church and most of what I have garnered is from my visit and also the records of the Dúchas Schools Collection of 1930 (a source much used on this website). Most of the graves date from 1711 onwards but undoubtedly the old stone markers are a nod to earlier burials. The Schools Collection does mention the grave of the ‘pirate’ Patrick Byrne, a local landowner, who got the moniker owing to his accumulation of wealth as a smuggler. Patrick Byrne also attempted to built a gothic house on Dún Dealgan Motte but this was destroyed during the 1798 rebellion and only a tower remains. Byrne’s mausoleum is completely covered with vegetation and is a sad state of disrepair, L. Mc Ardle reported in the Schools Collection,
‘In Castletown graveyard there is a grave with wall built around it. This grave is of the Pirate Byrne who live on the banks of Castletown river about four hundred years ago. When he died he was buried in Castletown graveyard. There was a roofed house built over him. But no sooner would the roof be built than it would be blown off again. There were five or four roofs put on this house but each time the roof came off. The ruins can still be seen in Castletown graveyard‘
Other reports from what must be remembered is a folklore collection, mention that unbaptised children were buried on the western side of the graveyard, likely under cover of darkness after scaling the high walls built to keep both grave robbers and others out. One source states that the church was once referred to as Dundalgan Temple, which would make sense considering its proximity to Dún Dealgan Motte. Such an aesthetically haunting sloped graveyard is obviously a source for countless ghosts stories such as that of ‘Old Murphy’ whose chains could be heard rattling on the road that passed the church to the bridge. This final story which I think gives an example of Irish wit comes from the Schools Collection also,
‘One night there were men sitting at a fire and a man said, ‘I will give a half-crown to the man who goes out to the graveyard and take back a skull’. There was a man who went out and when he got to the bottom of the graveyard he picked up a skull and a voice said, ‘don’t touch that, it is my mothers’. He picked up another and the voice said, ‘don’t touch that it is my fathers’. He picked up another the voice said again ‘don’t touch that it is my sisters’, he said, ‘they all can’t belong to you’, and he went home and he got the half-crown’.
GPS: 54.0156, -6.42569