The ruined church at Ballymoyer dates from the early part of the 17th century, however the importance of this site precedes this period by hundreds of years. Though it is uncertain when the first church was situated at this site, it is recorded in the 16th century that this site, known as Ballintemple, was a prominent landmark on the route between Newry and Monaghan and was known at the time as the ‘Eight-mile church‘. It is also known that Henry Bagenal encamped here on his march to Monaghan in May 1595. A roofed church named ‘Balle ne Moyerie the 8-myle churche’ was featured on a map of south Ulster from 1602.
The construction of the church that we can visit today at Ballymower was begun during the reign of Charles I (1825-1649) but abandoned and it appears it remained unroofed until 1775! If this is the case it was in use for a relatively short period of time as St Luke’s church which stands adjacent to it was consecrated in 1822.
The name Ballymoyer is derived from the ‘maor’ or keeper of the Book of Armagh. The Book of Armagh was a 9th century Illuminated manuscript written in Latin by a scribe named Ferdomnach of Armagh circa 805AD. The Book is a mix the New Testament and also contains several of the earliest texts referencing the life of St Patrick, including his ‘Confessio’, one of the most important documents relating to St Patrick. The Book of Armagh was entrusted to the MacMoywer family in the 14th century, the name being mentioned in the Archbishop’s register in 1367. the MacMoyer’s held considerable land in the area and held onto the book until 1680 when the Franciscan monk Florence MacMoyer pawned it for £5. It was pawned to finance a journey to London with his cousin John to give evidence at the trial of Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh who was convicted to be hanged, drawn and quartered, the last victim of the ‘Popish Plot’. Florence died in 1713 and is buried at Ballymoyer. The Book of Armagh now resides in Trinity College after being donated by the Brownlow family who had subsequently acquired the book.
The church at Ballymoyer is well with a visit, its an attractive ruin dotted with stones of unknown graves, also on the day of my visit I disturbed two beautiful deer who were grazing in the graveyard, I managed to get a couple of imperfect snaps as they scurried away quickly.