Old Churches

Kilbrittain Parish 

The first website serving Kilbrittain parish was ‘parish.kilbrittain.net’ accommodated for Fr Tom Riordan on the ‘kilbrittain.net’ site owned and operated by Paddy Shiels.  All the detail and graphics below represent a marvellous effort of research and writing by Fr Riordan and his helpers.

Old Churches and Past Parishes

Diocesan Boundaries

From the time of St. Patrick in the 5th century to the Synod of Rathbreasail in Ireland in 1111 AD monastic settlements, rather than dioceses, characterised the organisational structure of the Irish Church. Church reform began under Pope St. Gregory VII in the 11th century and reached Ireland in the early 12th century. Reform in Ireland began with the Synod of Cashel in 1101. This was followed ten years later by the Synod of Raith Bressail in 1111. This synod introduced a diocesan system with the two ecclesiastical provinces of Armagh and Cashel and a large diocese of Cork. This was modifed at the Synod of Kells-Mellifont in 1152, when Tuam and Dublin were made provinces. At this stage the dioceses of Cloyne and Ross were set up from the larger diocese of Cork. The diocesan boundaries throughout Ireland date from that time with some later name changes, modifications and amalgamations. Diocesan boundaries were largely based on the territorial boundaries of Irish dynasties and were centred around well known monastic sites, many of which were first established in the 6th and 7th centuries.


The Papal taxation schedule for the Diocese of Cork in the year 1302, under Pope Boniface VIII mentions, among others, the Deaneries of Kinelethe (ultra) and Kinelethe (citra). Kinelethe has become the present day name Kinelea. The word ultra refers to the far side, that is the south west side of the River Bandon, and citra refers to the near side. Kinelethe (ultra) lists among others churches at Currarane, Kilbrittain, Kilshinihan, Rathclaren and Burren. There is also mention of churches at Ringrone, Templetrine and Ballinadee.

View of the ruin of Currarane church from the south east

The Church in Currarane is first mentioned in the Papal taxation list of 1302. It is thought to be an outside church for the Parish of Ringrone. The parish had townlands in that area remote from the parish itself. The townlands of Garranreagh, Currarane, Glanavaud, Carrigcannon, Ballydonis, Glanavirane, Coolmain,and Gurraneasig all belong to the ancient Parish of Ringrone. These townlands were in the Parish of Courceys until 1859. In that year Kilbrittain Parish got a curate, since the Parish Priest, Fr. Taylor was getting old. These townlands were added to the parish to provide adequate income for two priests. A number of townlands from Templetrine were also added at the same time.


The name Cill Briotáin, the church of the Brittain, may well have been founded by a monk originating in Wales from where St. Patrick came. The remains of an old Parish Church stand in Clashavanna in the townland of Kilbrittain. This was built on the site of a ancient monastic enclosure which would date from before the Synod of Rathbreasail held in 1111. Kilbrittain is not mentioned in the decretal document from Pope Innocent III in 1199 recognising the Diocese of Cork and listing the parishes but is mentioned in the 1302 taxation list. In 1393 Kilbrittain was made a prebend, that is a church attached to the Cathedral with an income deriving from that. These incomes were lost at the Reformation but each Canon of the Cathedral Chapter today is linked with an ancient prebend. The name Kilbrittain is still in that list and its Titular Canon at present is Canon Bertie O’Mahony, a native of Shanakiel in the parish.

We do not know when the church in Clashavanna was built. It was possibly still in use 1615 but was in ruins by 1699. By 1731 the parishes of Rathclaren and Kilbrittain were united into one and today it also has towlands on the east which were originally in other pre-reformation parishes. The official stamp of the parish has the words “Ecclesia Sti Patritii apud Kilbrittain et Rathclareen”.

View of the remains of the western gable end of Kilbrittain old Church
View of interior of Old Kilbrittain church with the village in the background

The synod of Kells-Mellifont, 1152 which set up many of the early parishes refers to Cell Sinchil. This is thought to be Kilshinihan. A decretal document issued by Pope Innocent III in 1199 recognising the Diocese of Cork and listing the parishes has “Cellshinchell cum pertinensis suis”, that is the places around it. There is a later ancient document that refres to Capella de Kylshinthin de Kilbritton, (the chapel of Kilshinihan of Kilbrittain) but by 1591 this has become Ecclesia de Kilbrittain et Kilshinihan, (the church of Kilshinihan and Kilbrittain). It looks as if Kilshinihan may have been the earlest name of the church in this area. The taxation list of 1302 refers to Currarane, Kilbrittain, Kilshinihan, Rathclaren and Burren. We do not know where that early church for Kilshinihan was located. Some wonder if it were Shanakiel or the townland of Kilshinihan. We do know that in 1743 a penal day priest, Fr. Lar Callannan, built a Mass house in Kinshinihan. This was no longer in use by 1840 and had become the residence of a local farmer.

Kilshinihan church ruin was cleaned up by volunteers in the Summer of 2017
The re-opening of the Kilshinihan church site was marked by a special concelebrated Mass

There is also a Mass rock in the townland of Kilshinihan, about five minutes walk from the church, but there are no written records of it.

Kilshinihan Mass Rock
Mass being offered at the Mass Rock, Sept 2013

The location is signposted on the main Bandon Timoleague road.


The parish of Rathclaren has existed from at least 1291, the present church is either the third or fourth to have existed within that parish. The 1302 taxation list mentions Rathclaren together with the other churches in the Deanery of Kinelethe (ultra). The parishes of Rathclaren and Burren were combined as one parish by 1478. The church in Burren would have gone into disuse and there is no record of a location or signs of ruins.

The present Rathclaren church which stands in the townland of Farrannagark was built by the Church of Ireland. The previous church on this site which would have originally been Catholic fell into disrepair after the 1641 rebellion. The Church of Ireland erected a new church in 1650 as it is today without the tower. This was modified and repaired with a grant of £314 from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1835 and the belfry tower was added to the west porch between 1860 and 1875. The bells were put in place in memory of the Sealy brothers of Burren. This church is part of the Church of Ireland Bandon Union of Parishes.

The parishes of Rathclaren and Kilbrittain were united by 1731. The official stamp of the parish has the words “Ecclesia Sti Patritii apud Kilbrittain et Rathclareen”.

A winter view of Rathclaren Church showing the lych gate entrance


The Papal taxation list of 1302 mentions Burren as a church together with the other churches in the Deanery of Kinelethe (ultra). The name continues to figure in later documentation. By 1478 the parishes of Burren and Rathclaren were combined as one parish and so the name Burren does not appear after that. There is at this stage no record of where the church stood in Burren nor are there identifiable archaeological remains.

There were remains of very early enclosures, possibly prechristian settlements, identified in two sites in Burren North and in Burren South. These locations are recorded in the Archaeological Survey of County Cork 1992 and marked in the ordinance survey maps.

A view looking across the water to Burren from the south

Local lore has it that the church in Cloonderreen was established by the Knights Templars in 1296. The Knights Templars was an order founded, in 1118, to serve pilgrims going to the Holy Land. The order was suppressed in 1312. There is no mention of a church here in the 1302 taxation list. The local lore comes from “A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland” written by Lewis in 1837. However historical records show that the Knight Templars may never have come this far south in Ireland. They had foundations in Waterford, Tipperary and Limerick.

It may well have been an order church maybe linked with the Franciscans who founded Timoleague Abbey. The friars were dispersed when the Abbey was suppressed, in 1542, and moved to Clogagh and possibly even this far east. There was a graveyard around the church. This is marked in the 1842 Ordinance Survey map but there is no sign of it on the ground.

View of the remains of the western gable end of Cloundereen Church
View of the interior of the ruin from the east