Wednesday, 25th April 2018

St. LÚARÁN’s Church

Posted on 05. Aug, 2010 in Churches of the Parish

Built around 1824 and renovated in 2003. The Church is named after the Patron Saint of Cookstown.

History of St. Luaran’s Church

By Mgr Reamonn Ó Muiri

It would seem to me that LÚARÁN, the name of our patron saint, is contained in the place-names ‘Derryloran, ‘Doire Luarain’, ‘the oak grove of Luaran’ and ‘Gortalowry’, ‘Gort a’ Lurain’ ‘the tilled-field of Luaran’. The two townlands are close together. His feast day is listed as 29 October in the Martyrology of Tallaght, where he is located at Daire Lurain. In the Corpus Genealogiarum Sanctorum Hiberniae. (ed. P. 6 Riain, Dublin, 1958), a book of genealogies, he is called ‘Duanaire’ (chanter or poet) and in a later martyrology, the Martyrology of Gorman, he is given the title ‘bishop’. His name perhaps is a composition of luar ‘fierce’ and the diminutive -an ‘little’ and so would mean ‘little fierce one’. It has been anglicized and mis-spelt as ‘Loran’. There are various corrupt 17th century English spellings of Gort a’ Luarain in English documents such as ‘Gortoharim’, ‘Gortcharrin’, ‘Gortelary’, and ‘Gortolarin’. The last one is close to Gort a’ Luarain. Doire Luarain was associated with the other early Church foundations in the area of the Ui Tuirtre people, west of Lough Neagh, where tradition locates the seven ‘domhnach’ foundation churches of St Patrick. Fr Eamon Ó Doibhlin once had the opinion that one of Patrick’s ‘domhnach’ foundations, Domhnach Libuir, was perhaps the same as Derryloran. It may have been its earlier foundation. The churches at Ardboe and Ardtrea also fit into this circle of early church foundations.

I was pleased to find among the papers of the late lamented historian of Armagh diocese, Fr Lorcan Ó Muiri, some items regarding our patron saint, among them an article in the Evening Herald, Dublin, dated 4 March 1922, by Terence O’Hanlon, native of South Armagh. The article is entitled ‘Cookstown and its Patron’. Terence O’Hanlon was a journalist with Independent newspapers. He died in 1954. He was the author of a popular book The Highway Man in Irish History published by M.H. Gill and Son Ltd, Dublin, 1932. Subsequently both he and Fr Lorcan Ó Muiri exchanged some private letters in 1924 and 1925 with H.L. Glasgow of the Mid-Ulster Mail who was publishing a serial in the Mail on the history of Cookstown.

When writing his article Terence O’Hanlon spoke to an old scholar-priest Fr Bernard Mooney, who had remembered traditions about the old church of Derryloran, which lies ruined not far from our Gortalowry chapel. Subsequently, Mr Glasgow also spoke to Fr Mooney. O’Hanlon, I think, confuses Luaran with Lurach, a saint who was patron of Maghera, using both names, and so I avoid his use of Lurach, substituting Luaran. The substance of the priest’s tradition, as related in O’Hanlon’s article, is as follows:

He (Fr Mooney) was born and reared in the shadow almost of the ancient church of Derryloran. He gathered his information a few generations previously from a local scholar, Joseph Mooney, who was old enough to remember the famous Dungannon Convention of 1782. The old church at Derryloran – dedicated to St Luaran – was confiscated by the established church in Reformation times. The old church graveyard had been closed for forty years, but long before that Catholics had ceased to bury in it. The old Catholic tombstones were destroyed.

Fr Mooney said, ‘I knew an old man, however, Joseph Mooney, who lived at Moveagh, a mile from Derryloran, who died some sixty years ago (c. 1860) at the age of upwards of a hundred, and he told me that in his young days he often attended Catholic funerals here, and even at that time there were still a good number of Catholic tombstones in this old burial-ground. While the Catholics were allowed to continue burying their dead in Derryloran old churchyard after the place had passed into the hands of Protestants, no priests dared accompany a funeral to the graveside for the purpose of conducting the burial service. And so it became the custom at Catholic funerals for the procession of mourners to commence reciting the rosary when within a half a mile of the cemetery and to continue praying aloud until the cross roads directly in front of Derryloran old church was reached. Here a great mound, approached by a flight of steps and surmounted by a giant oak tree, which tradition said was planted by St Luaran and his monks, rose above the intersecting roads to a height of seven or eight feet and to the summit of this mound the coffin was carried and laid in the shade of Luaran’s spreading oak. There the priest would bless the remains and read the burial service, while the cortege knelt around on the cross roads below. This impressive ceremony concluded, the coffin was then carried into the graveyard and lowered to its last resting place without further formality.

‘Nevertheless in those Penal days the Catholics in this part of Ulster were not so badly treated as were those of some neighbouring districts. They had two good friends among the local Protestant gentry -the Stewarts of Killymoon Castle and the Cook family, founders of Cookstown.

‘Catholics worshipped quietly in. this penal time in the loft of an old beetling mill across the way from old Derryloran Church through the tolerance of the Stewarts This had been going on Sunday after Sunday for generations, when on a particular Sunday morning as the outlawed congregation were in the act of rising for the ‘Last Gospel’, a girder snapped, the floor of the loft gave way, and the entire assembly, priest and flock, were precipitated into the mill below. A few were crushed to death on the spot, while others sustained injuries from which they never afterwards recovered. The tragedy had so deep an effect upon the generous-hearted Colonel Stewart that he forthwith bestowed upon the Catholics a fine plot of land as a site for a church and cemetery, and out of his own purse had erected a temporary wooden structure, where Mass was celebrated pending the completion of the new edifice. With the advent of a brighter era for Catholicity in Ireland, the latter was in turn succeeded by a still more commodious church, as yet in use as a mortuary chapel.

‘But we have another definite memento of St Luaran in Gortalowry, a district comprising the southern half of Cookstown, the name signifying ‘St Luran’s field’. The Cook family, to whom the old mill belonged, where the disaster befell, commenced to build houses at a point due north from Gortalowry, and the building went on until it reached what is known as Loy Hill, where Cookstown and Gortalowry joined in a straight line to form the present main street of Cookstown’.

So ended the old priest’s reminiscences. On 18 March 1923 Terence O’Hanlon wrote to Mr Glasgow of the Mid-Ulster Mail: ‘I would have replied sooner to your interesting letter regarding St Loran, only trying to get in touch with the “Old Priest” before communicating with you, I was delayed. Nor have I succeeded, as he moves about a good deal. However when next I meet him I’ll ask him to drop you a line. Regarding the date of the erection of the old church or chapel on Chapel Hill, I remember my friend as trying to recall the year, which, if I mistake not, he said was inscribed on one of the stones. Looking over the notes 1 took from him, I find these additional facts which I did not think worth recording in my article: That the parish priest at the lime the chapel was built was a Fr Arthur McKenna who lived at Gortacar and that the Catholic trustees in whose names the lease of the site was granted were John Mayne, James Doris, and Francis Vincent’.

Inscription, Gortalowry Old Chapel

It is obvious that Fr McKenna PP erected an addition to the chapel but he may not have built the original. Just before the present 2003 restoration, the inscription on this stone had almost flaked away. But it is possible to make it out from an old photograph. It reads, ‘This addition erected by Rev. A. McKenna 1824’. The present building that has survived is, therefore, that addition. The chapel had once been cruciform shape as is clear from the Ordnance Survey map of 1834. The original church, before 1824, was a narrow rectangular building the gable of which faced the road. Wings were added on each side in 1824 which left just part of the older building jutting out at the back. This older part of the church, probably in very poor condition, was knocked down, one presumes, when Holy Trinity Church (1855-60), was opened. Holy Trinity Church was consecrated on 3 June 1860 by Archbishop Joseph Dixon. The ‘addition’ of the old church was then preserved as a mortuary chapel. It was customary to have Masses in it each year on 2nd November, the Feast of All Souls, and even into the 1920s there was the occasional funeral Mass in it. The last Mass before the present renovation was on 2nd November 1985.

Fr Arthur McKenna, a native of County Armagh, lived at Gortacar. His evidence on poverty in the parish of Derryloran and Desertcreaght (population in 1831 – 15,922 persons) is given in the ‘First Report of Commissioners for enquiring into condition of poorer classes in Ireland, 1836’ (volume 31, appendix and volume 32 appendix).

The lease on the ‘Old Chapel’ seems to have come after 1824, post Catholic Emancipation (1829). Fr Michael McRory, who formerly served in Cookstown, wrote an article on Dr Patrick O’Donnelly, the penal day bishop, who is buried in Desertcreat, in Seanchas Ard Mhacha (1969) in which he mentions the Old Chapel and gives some details of Gortalowry and the lease of the old chapel:

‘At present Gortalowry, in the Parish of Derryloran, Barony of Dungannon Upper, has an area of 236 acres 0 roods and 38 perches. It includes the southern part of the urban area of modern Cookstown, which is mostly residential; for example, Chapel Street, Killymoon Street are still referred to as Gortalowry. The remainder is mostly rural.

Gortalowry Primary School, opened 1833, closed 1967. Now demolished. The school was situated just inside the main gates of the cemetery.

Gortalowry Primary School, opened 1833, closed 1967. Now demolished. The school was situated just inside the main gates of the cemetery.

‘For those of us who conjure up the possibility and even the likelihood that Patrick O’ Donnelly was born and spent his childhood in this balliboe of Gortalowry, the Old Chapel of Gortalowry becomes an interesting monument. Still standing 100 years after its congregation and its services are no more – for Holy Trinity passed its first centenary in 1958 – it is a reminder of the one who first saw the light of day close by, and an appropriate tribute to the memory of one who continued to live long after he was officially dead. Once a year, on the feast of All Souls, the three Masses are celebrated in the old chapel still. On such occasions one invokes the name of a Patriot Bishop, the intrepid champion of the 18th century, the only Bishop saying Mass in Ireland.
The Old Chapel lease is dated 15th September 1838: ‘William Stewart of Killymoon to James Dooris of Gorticar, John Mayne of Grange and Francis Vincent of Killybearn. Ten thousand years. Yearly rent £50 but reduced to II-. The lease of the new Church, on the other hand, is dated 18th August 1850 (21 years later): “James Gunning and James Moore to The Most Reverend Joseph Dixon and The Reverend Francis Montague, 999 years from 1st May 1859. Yearly rent £25 but reduced to £3”.

‘The Primate and the Parish Priest are the lessees in the latter, whereas three laymen are mentioned in the former which was given nine years after Catholic Emancipation.

‘Thirteen years later Gortalowry passed out of the hands of the Stewarts in 1851. Among the tenants’ names in Lot No.6 of the sale, Gortalowry and Sullanboy, we find “Trustees of Roman Catholic Chapel: Rent charge payable by tenants – Nil; Quantity of land: 1 acre 0 rood 27 perches (statute measure)” There were then 105 tenants in Gortalowry and Sullanboy. Most of them had a rood or two, or less (yearly rent I/-).’

On 15 May 1923 Mr Glasgow wrote to Fr Lorcan Ó Muiri, ‘Since I saw you I had a visit from an old clergyman, Father Mooney, whom you probably know. He had supplied the information to the Evening Herald for an article on Derryloran, which I have filed to use. His father had the lease of the Old Chapel here, which was built in 1824, and he says that before that the Catholics met in Cook’s Mill, at where Adair’s now is, but that Mass was celebrated in private houses’.

Mr Glasgow thought that the Cook mentioned by Fr Mooney, who was connected with the Greenvale linen industry and who allowed the Catholics to worship at the Mill, was not related to Dr Allan Cook, ‘founder of Cookstown’ who came to these parts in 1620.

Fr Bernard Mooney was still remembered by the late Viney Doris and his brother Peter Doris, Clare, Cookstown parish, when I spoke to them in 2000. He seems to have been living in retirement in Cookstown. Tradition says he had lost an eye, from a bee sting while walking in the grounds of Mount Mellary Monastery. He is mentioned by James Mullin, a native of Cookstown, in his autobiography The Story of a Toiler’s Life (1921; reprinted 2000, University College Press) pp. 66-7 who refers to him as a ‘Greek scholar’ and a Trappist in Mount Mellary Monastery. He is buried in Chapel Hill cemetery, Gortalowry, in the family burying ground of Margaret J. O’Neill who lived at Church Street, Cookstown. The family tombstone reads, “Thy will be done/ of your charity/pray for/ the souls of Margaret J. O’Neill/died 29th April 1924/also her father John O’Neill/died 12th March 1925/ and her uncle Rev Fr Bernard Mooney/ died 26th October 1925/also her mother Mary Ann O’Neill/died 27th August 1930./ R.I.P.

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