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St Abban in the Parish of Arles (Killabban)

Co. Laois

St. Abban

St Abban founded a monastery here in Killabban about 650AD, in which he is said to have been interred: there are some re mains of its church. There are also remains of the old church of Aries, and of the ancient castle of Hovendon, over the entrance to which are quartered the arms of the Leinster and Ormonde families. Near Castletown church is a well, which supplies water enough to turn a mill in its immediate vicinity.

Courtesy of Portlaoise Public Library 1999.Parish in Killabban

St Abbans Grave in Co Cork. Source: ancient and more proper title for this parish is Killabban. It receives its present name from the parish church being placed in modern times at Arles. This name is derived from Ard-glas, i.e. "the verdant hill;" or, according to some, from Ard-lios, i.e. "the forted hill." The earliest place of worship here appears to have been a chapel built in 1686, of which there is a description and an illustration (Pl. 34, Vol. II.) in Grose's Antiquities. It is there described as having been "built, according to tradition, by a lady of the family of Hartpole. It is erected in the form of a cross, and is thatched. In one arm of the cross is a small chapel, the place of interment for the Grace family. A long Latin metrical epitaph to Dame Frances Grace, alias Bagot, wife to Sheffield Grace, who died 3rd May, 1742, aged 32, is given; and another, in English, to Mrs. Martha Grace, wife of Michael Grace, who died Nov. 28, 1736, in the 55th year of her age." Grose's illustration shows this chapel to have been a very plain structure, with the thatch sadly in need of repair. An inscribed stone, let into the wall of the present church, records the name of the builder of the old chapel: "Madam Scurlock, alias Walsh, alias Hartpole, built this chapel, A.D. 168-" (last figure broken away).

According to the annals of the Grace family, this chapel was pulled down in 1795, and was replaced by that which existed until the present beautiful church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was built, towards the erection of which the late Mrs. Grace Grace was a munificent contributor. The Grace mausoleum is a conspicuous object in the adjoining grave-yard. It was built in 1818, in place of the original one-erected in 1687, by Oliver Grace, Chief Remembrance of the Exchequer; by Mrs. Alicia Kavanagh, daughter of Michael Grace of Grace-field; Sir William Grace, Bart; and his brothers Sheffield Juris consult, and Percy, Admiral of the Royal fleet, for themselves and posterity, on the site of the southern wing of the church of Arles.

The following is the inscription upon it, recording the above:

 "Hoc sepulchrum Alicia Kavanagh, filia Michaelis Grace de Gracefield, Arm.; Gulielmus Grace, Baronettus, et fratres ejus Sheffieldus, jurisconsultus, Perceus Regiae Classis Praefectus, poni curaverunt, A.D. MDCCCXVIII., sibi posterisque. Quo loco fuit olim Australis ala aedis Arlesianae ab Olivero Grace de Shangano sive Gracefield, Armig. Anno Salutis MDLXXXVII. aedificata, jamdiu vetustate collapsa."

This mausoleum is fully described and illustrated in the family Annals, compiled by Sheffield Grace, who traces their pedigree to Raymond Fitz William, surnamed Le Gros, who accompanied Strongbow to Ireland, and through him further back to the Ducal House of Tuscany.

(Above copied as was written)

Source: Rev M Comerford "Collections relating to the Dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin" Vol. 3 (1886)

Killabban Church c.2001
St. Abban in the Parish of Killabban

This parochial district derives its name from St. Abban, who built a monastery here, according to Trias Thaum., about the year 650, but, according to other authorities, a century earlier. The Martyrology of Donegal, at March 16th, that saint's festival, has the following :- " Abban Mac-ua-Corbmaic of MaghArnaidhe, in Ui Ceinnsealaigh, in Leinster, and of CillAbbain in Ui Muireadhaigh, in Leinster. He was of the race of Labraidh Lorc, son of Ugaine Mor; Miolla, sister of Bishop Ibhair, was his mother, as his life states in the first chapter." There are two saints Abban, commemorated in the Irish Calendars whose acts have become hopelessly entangled. St. Abban, senior, was the nephew of St. Ibhair, named by some as having preceded St. Conlaeth as Bishop of Kildare. St. Ibhair having established himself at Beg-Erin, in Wexford harbour, his nephew, Abban, went there for his education, about the year 490, being then twelve years of age (Ussher). In his Life, by Colgan, his connexion with this locality is thus referred to:-

"Sanctus Abbanus cum suis clericis, fines Laginensium intravit, et venit in plebem Huathmarchy, et ipsa plebs honorifice recepit eum, et valde gavisa est in ejus adventu. Et vir sanctus benedixit eam diligenter, et multis diversis languoribus ibi sanatis, et miraculis perpetratis, inde recessit in plebem Huarnidhi, ibique magnam monasterium construxit, et propter honorem ejus in eodem loco civitas aedificata est; et monasterium et civitas uno nomine Scoticd vocantur Ceall-Abbain." (AA. ,SS. p. 617.)

A curious passage, regarding the interment of St. Abban, occurs in his Life, by Colgan. It is here given as translated by the author of Loca Patriciana, p. 7, et seq: -" We wish to write some brief details of his decease, and how his holy remains were deposited in the earth. On a certain day when the time of his passage to the heavenly kingdom was at hand, calling together some of his brethren he mentioned to them the day of his departure. The Praepositus of his monastery, who was also the procurator of every requisite in-doors and outside, was born in the town of Ceall Abain, which is in the territory of the North Leinstermen, and which was the first place St. Abban had founded in the land of the Leinstermen-to this Praepositus, alone, he disclosed the precise hour of his dissolution. That very same moment the Praepositus determined to carry away the blessed body of the holy man, and to bring it, if he possibly could, to his own town; he sent messengers to his native place, in order that his own people should collect together the North Leinstermen to come to meet him at the appointed day, and by the road on which these messengers should determine.

These orders they obeyed with alacrity, but as the Praepositus had the oxen already mentioned in his charge, because these were for the use of the monastery, as the saint prophesied of them before they were born, they were like monks, nor was there any necessity to urge them to work, as they themselves willingly and meekly obeyed, so that the holy father and the brethren loved them much. The Praepositus placed these oxen beside the waggon in the assigned place on the night on which the holy father foretold his departure for heaven-and the angels on that night were seen visiting the man of God. The Praepositus, knowing from the lips of the saint the precise hour of his departure, ordered all the brethren to retire to rest for some time, except his own accomplices who were cognisant of his plans.

Awaiting awhile quietly till the brotherhood had retired, meanwhile the soul of the holy father ascended among the angelic choirs to the heavenly kingdom. The Praepositus with his friends forthwith carried away the sacred body from the monastery, and placed it on the waggon with the aforesaid oxen yoked thereto, which, aware of the precious burthen they carried, began their journey with the attendants. Then the angelic array descended from heaven, singing sweetly around the corpse; and light like the rays of the rising sun, or when he sets in serenity, shining from them, illuminated the whole way. They continued thus until the venerable remains were placed in the grave, while the leaders of the procession walked with quickened paces under the influence of the angelic light.

"When the brotherhood arose after some repose, they went to the place where they left the wily Praepositus; not having found him there they then placed guards on all the gates of the cloisters, and it was only then they learned that the Praepositus had carried away by stealth the remains of the abbot to his own town. With weeping and wailing and violent ringing of bells, the townsmen were gathered together; and when the sad intelligence regarding their abbot was made known to them the whole city was plunged in grief. The people and the clergy were more distressed that his body was stolen away from them than that he had departed from this world, as they doubted not that they should be delivered from every evil, and that they should be enriched with every good, and that they should obtain the wished for favours before the relics of so great a man, as they had been delivered by him while he lived among them.

Taking counsel together they despatch a number of messengers in different directions to the men of South Leinster, to induce them to follow their patron and to endeavour to recover his remains. Forthwith the populace, taking arms, go with the brethren, to fight for their saint. A great crowd being then collected from every side, they formed a large army, and went with eagerness to bring back the remains to the place whence they had been removed. In the meantime the people of the other city, with the army of North Leinster, gather together; they were more numerous and better armed than those of the South. The holy monks, the clerics, and the good and wise men on both sides, seeing that great danger was imminent, ordered both parties to remain quiet, and the corpse to be detained and placed between them, to effect, if possible, some reconciliation; but disputing with one another, it was impossible to bring them to terms.

The N. Leinster army asserted

'This saint erected our city, took us, his first people in this territory, under his protection, and we have accepted him for ever as our Patron; and our wives, our sons, and our daughters, our servants and our handmaids, even our infants, hope in him in every necessity, and we are determined to die rather than yield him up.' The people of Magher-naidhe, with the S. Leinstermen spoke thus-' This holy man was sent to us by God, he lived many years amongst us and founded many monasteries and churches in our country. He is our saint and our venerated father, he built our town, and, after many miracles wrought among us, he was taken away to the Lord. We hope to be always assisted by him, and know ye that we shall consign ourselves to death rather than we shall return without him.' At this speech the wrath of the leaders and armies on both sides was inflamed and lashed to fury-they commenced to vituperate and contend against each other. Then the monks and clerics to whom armed intervention was unlawful, went apart, weeping and wailing; they cried aloud-' Alas! alas! O Lord God, why dost Thou permit this wretched slaughter of so many noble souls on account of the corpse of Thy servant who, while alive, was the means of preventing much bloodshed and wars?

The armed ranks were about to engage each other, urged on by dire hostility, and with impetuosity to enter into deadly strife to fight for the body. Oh, wonderful and exceedingly great miracle wrought by God through the merits of the saint! Behold! in the twinkling of an eye, two oxen with a wain and corpse went to the North Leinstermen, and two oxen of the same appearance and size, with a similar waggon and corpse, went towards the men of South Leinster. Then the holy men on both sides, and all the others, seeing this wonder so quickly wrought, were appeased; and, full of joy, they cried out-' Behold how great, how excellent are the merits of the Saint Abban before the Lord.' The people indeed rejoiced exceedingly, and giving glory and thanks to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, praising his saint, returned with great joy and honour to their cities, and those who were suffering from various diseases were brought before the relics, and all were made whole. And the relics themselves with due honour, with canticles and hymns of praise, after solemn mass and obsequies were consigned with honour to the tomb."

'At Killabban are the ruins of an ancient Church, consisting of nave and chancel; nave, 45 feet by 22; chancel, 28 feet by 22. The chancel-arch remains; it is 15 feet wide and Norman in style. The entrance-door is in the west gable, it is 3 feet in width, and is round-headed. There is a long lancet window in the east-end, part of the stone casing of which remains, and shows it to have been well-wrought. There appears to be a gable campanile at the west end, but the ruin is so completely covered with luxuriant ivy that it is impossible to trace its architectural features satisfactorily. The fragments of a stone coffin are scattered about within the walls of the church. In Roll of  Receipts, Easter term A.D. 1286, John, Clerk of Killabban, because he came not when attached, was fined half a mark. (Cal. State Documents - Sweetman). A Patent Roll, 5th and 6th of Philip and Mary, (Morrin) records the presentation of Edward Shorthall, Clerk, to the Vicarage of Killabban.

The name of Theobald Denn, Gent, of Killabban, appears in the Registry of Parish Priests taken in 1704, as surety for Rev. Brian Moore, of Killabban, Rev. Kedagh Moore, of Ballyadams, and Rev. Edmond McGinis, Killeshin. This is, no doubt, the Theobald Denn, Esq., who was appointed one of the Burgesses of Old Leighlin under the Charter granted to that Borough by King James II. On the 4th of July, 1688. Sir Richard Butler, Bart., of Poolstown, (now Paulstown) dying in 1886, Elizabeth, his widow, married Theobald Denn, Esq. (De Brett's Peerage.) In a Return dated 1731 (see Vol I. P. 269,) it is stated that there were in Killabban one Mass-house, two private chapels, four schoolmasters, and two priests; and that several itinerant priests, supposed to be regulars, frequently officiated in the said chapels.

In all likelihood, one of these private chapels was at the residence of Theobald Denn or his descendants. For the particulars supplied by a similar return, made, March 29th, 1766, by Edwd. Whitty, Protestant Curate.

The principal seats in the Parish are:

Cooper Hill, the residence of William. Cope Cooper, Esq.
Ashfield Hall, the residence of P. Gale, Esq.
Rahin, the residence of Lieut. Col. Weldon.
Tollerton, the residence of Hovendon Stapleton, Esq.
Killeen, the residence of M. Dillon Thomas, Esq.
Maidenhead, the residence of the Bambrick family.
Ardateggle the residence of U. Fitzmaurice, Esq.
Hollymount, the residence of W. Fishbourne, Esq.

The living is a rectory, in the diocese of Leighlin, and in the gift of the Crown. The tithes amount to 1,292-6s-1d. There are two churches, one at Castletown and the other at Mayo, for the erection of one of which the late Board of First Fruits, in 1813, gave 800; and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have lately granted 106 for the repairs of that at Castletown, and 172 for that at Mayo. There is neither glebehouse nor glebe. In the R.C. divisions the parish forms the head of two unions or districts, one called Ballylynan and Arles, which has chapels at those places and at Killeen; the other called Mayo and Doonane, which is united with the parish of Rathaspick, and has chapels at Mayo and Doonane.

About 400 children are educated in four public schools, to three of which the rector subscribes, and 640 in 16 private schools; there are also six Sunday schools.

St.Abban founded a monastery here in AD650, in which he is said to have been interred: there are some re mains of its church. There are also remains of the old church of Arles, and of the ancient castle of Hovendon, over the entrance to which are quartered the arms of the Leinster and Ormonde families. Near Castletown church is a well, which supplies, water enough to turn a mill in its immediate vicinity.

Source: Portlaoise Public Library 1999.

Abbin's Well. Arles

The Religious Heritage of St. Abban

St. Abban is very much part of our local religious heritage. At an early age he joined the monastery of St. Fiach at Sletty which was established around 640 A.D. After completing his studies at Sletty he left to build his own first monastery about 5 miles away at Killabban in the late 640’s A.D. The parish of Arles was known in older times as the parish of Killabban, Cill Abainn or the church of Abban.

St. Abban’s Well in ArlesTradition has it that a pilgrim path went from Killabban to a holy well known as St. Abban’s Well. This well is situated only two fields away from Arles Parish Church (on land owned by Pat Mulhall, a local farmer). Each year a parish pilgrimage takes place to St. Abban’s Well on the 15th August. This pilgrimage recalls our ancestors who made their way to this holy well on their way to Sunday Mass. They secretly attended Mass because it was forbidden to attend Mass during penal times when the priests were hunted. Tradition has it that a priest was caught and hung nearby.

There is a common link between us and St. Abban. Tradition has it that he blessed this well in the 7th century. It has never been known to run dry. The greatest unbroken link between us and St. Abban is the common bond of our Christian heritage.



The information contained in these pages is provided solely for the purpose of sharing with others researching their ancestors in County Laois.
Michael Brennan July 2001. All Rights reserved

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