The Ancient Parish of Coolstuff


HILARY MURPHY

My first learning acquaintance with the old cemetery and church ruin at Coolstuff was, strangely enough, in the course of my research into the family connections of Commodore John Barry. I had already discovered that a daughter of the Commodore's aunt, Margaret Barry, was interred in Coolstuff.

Margaret had married a Merriman from the area , and their daughter Anne, known as Nancy, married Michael Kelly of Kingsfort who was killed in the Battle of the Three Rocks on June 5, 1798.

I drove out to Coolstuff to search for their headstone which the late Brian Cantwell had transcribed for his Memorials of the Dead. A local man was browsing around the graves and he volunteered to help me locate it.

During this search I was pleasantly surprised to find that my own maternal ancestors, Sinnotts of Glenduff, Barntown, also rest in this ancient cemetery.

'Is there anyway that I could find out the history of this place', my new-found friend enquired, informing me that he occasionally came there to visit his own family graves. I remembered that I had taken a note of an account of the old parish of Coolstuff which had appeared in an old issue of The People, but by the time I got around to looking it up I had forgotten the local man's name.

This account, dated August 22, 1908, makes interesting reading, as follows:
Coolstuff, in the olden days, was one of the parish churches of this diocese. The parish was a pretty large one, extending so far south as Dirr Castle. The cemetery, however, does not appear to have been very extensively used. This may be accounted for by the fact that the entire county surrounding it was for over two centuries peopled mainly by Quakers, who are still kindly remembered and some of whom are interred in a portion of the cemetery. No tombstones, however, mark these graves.

In pre-Reformation days Coolstuff was a vicarage - that is its revenues supported one of the canons of the diocese. The canons at that time lived in community life in the Cathedral at Ferns. They kept the canonical hours, and chanted the Divine office in choir. The canons had the revenues of parishes, like Coolstuff, Taghmon, Kilrane, and others allotted for their support. The cure of souls in these parishes was meantime looked after by a vicar or curate. At the Reformation all the old parish churches of Ireland were vested in the new people, with the new religion. The majority of them were not, however, used as places of worship, for church-going was not a strong characteristic of "the new people".

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Coolstuff was erected into a Rectory of the so-called reformed church, and a residence was built upon the glebe adjoining, that formerly belonged to the Catholic priest who had charge of Coolstuff. No church, however, was built and the Rector of Coolstuff acted as curate of Taghmon, drawing two salaries amounting to over three hundred pounds, though his parishioners did not number half-a-dozen families. The first resident was the Rev. Mr. Hinson, grandfather of the late attorney at New Ross. He was succeeded by the Rev. George Richards, the second and last rector. Rev. Mr. Richards was grandfather of Mr. A.G. Richards, Macmine Castle.

The parish of Coolstuff is now, of course, in charge of the Very Rev. Canon Furlong V.F. Taghmon, who is the rightful rector of Coolstuff as well as of Taghmon and Kilgarvan, and one of the most popular, as well as eloquent and learned, that has ever occupied the position. In the parish is a chapel-of-ease which, however, is not dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, as was the ancient parish church, but is dedicated to the Holy Trinity, like the old church that formerly stood in the burial ground at Trinity, one of the most popular cemeteries in the diocese, and where the remains of at least two priests are interred. The old church at Trinity was never a parish church, but merely a chapel-of- ease and appendage to Killoggan Hospital in Hook, and not unlikely had some connection with the old Norman family of Mayler of Dirr Castle. Fr. Stafford of the Ballygrangans, when Vicar of Coolstuff, built the church at Trinity, which was a central part of the parish, and then more generally populated by Catholics than the portion about the ancient parish church. Fr. Stafford had evidently a taste for church- building. It was he also who erected the present churches at Donaghmore and Ardcolm.

Nothing, by the way, is known of Father Cogley , who was interred in Coolstuff in 1802. We have communicated with all the families named Cogley for many miles around, but none of them are aware of any connection with the priest who is interred in Coolstuff cemetery; and it is strange that the tombstones over old priests never set forth the name of the parish to which they were attached, or the particular family to which they belonged. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, before the relaxation of the penal law permitting regular churches to be built in the various parishes, priests were usually interred with their kinsfolk; but so far as can be ascertained none of Fr. Cogley's kinsfolk are buried in Coolstuff. He may have officiated and resided in Coolstuff parish, but the cemetery is not situated in what was formerly the Catholic quarter of the parish.

Many people from Wexford and from the Barony of Forth, as well as from Taghmon parishes attended the pattern at Coolstuff. In the long-ago there was a large open space in front of the churchyard, where the pattern was held, and a regular gala day was kept, great crowds assembling, and amusements until a late hour being the order. The late Rev. Mr. Richards, who fenced the cemetery, had this pattern- green taken in.

The mud walls adjoining are the remains of an old school house, which was maintained by the rector in pre-National school days, and at which some of the very old people of the parish were educated. Among the very old families interred in Coolstuff are--Doyles of Ablinstown, Hores of Ballintlea, Furlongs and Sinnotts of Glanduff, Doyles of Coolstuff, Furlongs of Rosetown and Ballindinas, and many from Ballyhenigan, Cools and Sigginshaggard.

Another short note concerning Coolstuff in olden days is as follows: 'Coolstuff was once a flourishing village, containing more than a score of dwellings, two public-houses, a ball-alley, rectory and a blacksmith's forge. The last resident was Tom Stafford who died in 1914. His father had been the blacksmith and held nearly twenty acres of land. His other sons went to America. The last rector was Rev. George Richards who died in the 1870's. The rectory was the last house left standing.'

FOOTNOTES

  1. Edward Merryman is listed among the freeholders on Shelmalier Commons in Griffith's Valuation, in 1853.
  2. Denis Cogley is listed in the Tithe records as a smallholder at Youngstown, in Coolstuff parish, in 1831.
    Fr. Patrick Cogley was Parish Priest of Clone (Monageer) from 1780 to 1802 when his curate was Fr. John Murphy of '98 fame (Grattan Flood's History of the Diocese of Ferns) In 1802 Fr. Cogley was transferred to Duncormick where he died the following year, aged 52 (The People of 19/8/1916)
  3. 'The People' 17 Jan. 1914.