• Tommy Hourigan, Raheen, Limerick

History of Grange Church in the Limerick Archives


Introduction

The Grange Book articles on Grange Church were featured in a blog post on this website recently - week 12 of our serialisation of the book.

In the meantime, Dianne McGuinness of New York drew a historical document to my attention. Those who are familiar with the Grange Parish Book or with the content of this website will know that Dianne was responsible for the research for the article on The Purcell Family of Grange which charted the Irish ancestry of her husband, Michael, going back to the mid-1700s in the Grange locality.

The document (link to digital archive is provided below), which is held in the archives of Limerick City and County Council, appears to be an undated letter by an unknown author. It is likely that the letter was written sometime in the 1840s, though it may have been later. My rationale for this rough dating of the letter will become clearer later in this post.

The document is fascinating in that it deals with the initial building of the existing church in 1837/1838 as well as providing insights into the thatched chapel that preceded it. A plan of the old thatched chapel features in the document. The account in the document also provides insights into how the priests and the congregation used both the thatched chapel and its replacement, Grange Church.

It must be said that Mary Gallagher, in her book article on Grange Church, charted the history of the existing church comprehensively - much of what is contained in the archived document (the subject of this post) appeared in Mary's article, including the construction of the church in 1837/1838. There is, however, additional information evident from the archived document. The observations of the author of the document on the construction of the stream that to this day flows adjacent to the southern extremity of the graveyard from Lough Gur is fascinating.

Maurice Lenihan

The source of the archived document was the private collection of papers held by Maurice Lenihan, now in safe keeping in the Limerick Archives and available for public perusal. The following is a short introduction to Maurice Lenihan.

He was born in 1811 in Waterford. His mother was originally from Limerick. He embarked on a career in journalism. In 1833, he joined the Waterford Chronicle and eight years later, in 1841, he moved to Limerick to join the Limerick Reporter. Lenihan was the editor of the Limerick Reporter until 1843 when he started working with the Cork Examiner. By the end of 1843, he had moved to Nenagh and established his own newspaper, the Tipperary Vindicator. Lenihan amalgamated the Tipperary Vindicator with the Limerick Reporter, which he purchased in 1849.

In 1853, he decided to enter public life as a member of Limerick Municipal Council, and from 1854 to 1887 (excluding 2 years in the 1860s) he represented the Custom House Ward division. In 1870, he was made Justice of the Peace and in December 1883 was unanimously elected as Mayor of Limerick City.

However, Lenihan is probably best known as a historian. His most famous work is The History of Limerick, which was published in 1864 (1866?). The book treats the history of Limerick from the earliest times to the 1860s. The book was academically a success though not a financial one. Lenihan's merits as a historian were recognised by the Royal Irish Academy when he was elected to membership in 1869. He died in 1895.

His private collections of papers are of huge historical significance and value. Lenihan's Historical Sources and Research Notes (1759 - 1864) contained the document which is the subject of this post.

The Document

The Archived Document may be accessed HERE.

It is notable that the document is very legible. The scribe was clearly articulate and the hand-writing is excellent, and the drawing/sketch which relates to the old thatched chapel is clear. While you are encouraged to access the document directly, the following may provide the reader of this post with a window to some of the document content.

The Old Thatched Chapel

The building contained an area designated as "Women's Chapel" and a separate area designated "Men's Chapel!. There were separate walkways from the church gate to each of these designated chapels. It would appear that the altar and the sanctuary area provided a physical barrier between the women's and men's chapels. Each chapel had its own communion rail. Within the sanctuary, near the altar, was a "Pew of OGradys of Rahin family".

Externally, there was the chapel yard, a grass plot and the burying ground. It would appear that in planning the layout, every effort was made to ensure segregation of the sexes. Perhaps the planning was for a different reason. However, it must be assumed that both sexes of the O'Gradys were permitted to use the family pew.

Due to the size of the chapel, more than half of the congregation were obliged to kneel outside among the tombstones while Mass was being celebrated.

Thatched Chapel demolished and a New Church constructed

The new church was built in 1837/1838. During construction, the congregation attended Mass at John Purcell's house, Grange Hill. John Purcell is mentioned in the Grange Book article, The Purcell Family of Grange. Expert "mechanics" who examined the building found the walls to be too high and inclined inwards. Consequently, the wall had to be lowered by two feet all around. During 'the night of the big wind' on 6 January 1839, the metal cross on the church roof blew down, but it was reinstated and remains in the original position today. The church sustained no other damage in the storm.

The new church was large enough to provide standing room for all who attended Mass.

The Stream that runs adjacent to Grange Church Cemetery

It is best to reproduce the exact words from the archived document, as follows:

" Now a few words on the disgrace of tolerating that deep open rocky hole dug through the south end of the Grange graveyard to make an outlet for Loughgur. That disgraceful damage should have been opposed from the beginning. It is a very offensive blemish on the graveyard and the little avenue leading to it. Those who caused the damage should be made to remedy it by arching over the water drain and levelling its surface as it was at first. If subscriptions be necessary I will begin by sending ten pounds to help in the work."

The objection articulated seems surprising today, but, clearly, the writer felt very strongly about the perceived "blemish". £10 must have been a very substantial amount of money then - (£10 in 1845 would equate to approximately €1,400 today). Of course, those were difficult times in Ireland for most Irish catholics. Personally, I have during my lifetime regarded the stream as an attractive landmark that blends with the other landmarks of the physical environment in the precincts of Grange Church and the short avenue/road leading to it.

We know from various records that this outflow from Lough Gur was introduced in the 1840s, possibly designed to drain the area of reed swamp immediately to the east (King and O'Grady 1994). The lake today is shallow, varying from 3.75 metres in depth in the northern basin to 2.1 metres in the southern basin. It would appear that the water level dropped about eight feet as a result of the stream outflow. There appears to have been no natural surface water outflow from Lough Gur prior to this; the lake only drained to an underground water system. The channel that was dug to introduce the outflow is very deep and steep over its length from where it commences adjacent to the graveyard all the way to the end of the avenue. The digging of the channel must have been back-breaking work, done largely by manual labour, presumably.

Bishop John Joseph Hogan

Page 3 of the archived document carries the following words which are placed vertically towards the left edge of the page. The writing runs vertically while the remainder of the written text on the page runs horizontally as normal.

"+John J Hogan, Bishop of Kansas City, Kansas City, Missouri, Oct 25, 1911"

The significance of this text is not absolutely clear to me. including the date in 1911. I will surmise as to the presence of the text, but first of all, a few words about Bishop Hogan.

John J Hogan was born in Caherguillamore in 1829, and he was baptised in the Old Thatched Chapel in Grange. He was educated in Ireland before embarking on his priestly journey in America, where he became an extraordinary missionary in Missouri. He was consecrated bishop in 1868. He served as Bishop of Kansas until his death in Kansas City in 1913, aged 83. He was a remarkable man and his life story was told by his great grand-niece, Olive Hogan O'Connor (Rahin), in her article for the Grange Parish Book. Olive's article, Bishop John Joseph Hogan, is most interesting and engaging.

I am puzzled about the vertical text above, particularly the 1911 date. Bishop Hogan died in 1913. The text is adjacent to a block of horizontal text that describes the manner in which catechism classes were organised at Grange Chapel. No doubt, John J Hogan would have attended some of those classes as a young child. I am inclined to the view that the text was added to the original manuscript as a reference for some purpose, obviously not earlier than 1911. Maurice Lenihan died in 1895. It may be a reference to a document written by or about the bishop which mentions the Grange Chapel. Perhaps, the exact explanation is something else entirely. I may follow up on this with the office of the Limerick Archives.

When was the Document/Letter written?

It is impossible to answer this question precisely. However, as it was written after the construction of the new church and probably soon after the introduction of the outflow from Lough Gur, one might surmise that it dates to the 1840s, possibly mid to late decade.

Conclusion

Sincere thanks to Dianne McGuinness for bringing the existence of the document to my attention. I hope that you, too, will find it interesting. You may also discover other interesting records in the Limerick Archives.

Best Regards to All.

Tommy Hourigan

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