top of page


Updated: Feb 18

Figure 1: Sunset at Rathcooney Graveyard.

On 19 April 2022, the announcement was made that €85,000 is to be provided under the Community Monuments Fund to carry out conservation work on the church at Rathcooney.

This ancient site was first mentioned over seven hundred years ago when the area was assessed for a Papal Taxation. In March 1291, Pope Nicholas IV instigated a tax to aid King Edward I's intended crusade to the Holy Land. Under this system, Edward would receive a tenth of all the ecclesiastical income, from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland for a period of six years.

If you have been in Rathcooney, you may have noticed the ruins of an old church north of the road. Although the age of this building is unknown, it is recognised that in 1675, it was ‘out of repair, and that the same ought and should be repaired.’[1] Twenty-four years later, this work was complete and on 1 October 1700, Bishop Downes reported that ‘Rathcony Church, built with stone and clay; ‘tis in good repair, and is well furnished with seats and pulpit. The communion table is rayl’d in, and the walls are plaistered [sic] on the inside. There are Common Prayer-books and a Bible, and a silver chalice and pewter flagon. The old seats were destroy’d in the time of the late troubles. They have been new ones built since.’[2]

The Bishop reports that Captain St. Leger’s father organised to repair the Church in about 1680 and notes that Counsellor Galway has a tomb in the church. The troubles mentioned by Bishop Downes refer to a twelve year period prior to Oliver Cromwell’s crowning as Lord Protector in 1653. Cromwell arrived in Ireland in 1649, and folklore recounts that he and his army marched over Riverstown Bridge in this year.[3] It is possible that the church at Rathcooney was damaged during fighting in this period.[4]

Figure 2: Mulens Family Gravestone from 1683.

Thomas Crofton Croker visited Cork in the 1820s and reported ‘that the old parish church … called Rathcooney, or the Rabbit’s Rath … is in ruins and disused for service, yet the little burial-ground attached continues to be a favourite place of internment.’[5] Croker reports that the oldest date he could find amongst the tombs was 1680, on the Galway tomb, confirming Bishop Downes’ narrative. The parish church at Rathcooney fell out of repair as a result of the unification of Caherlag, Rathcooney and Little Island by an Act of Council on 3 March 1785. St. Mary’s, Glanmire was built in 1784 and worship transferred there. Reverend Cole notes that in 1874, ‘there are two churches-Rathcooney Church, at Glanmire, and St. Lappan's, in the Little Island.’[6]

In 1913, the four walls of the church were in a good state of preservation.[7] Both the eastern gable and north wall contained a window and there was evidence that the south wall once had a window. 'The walls on the south and north sides are 3 feet 2 inches in thickness. The length of the church internally is 39 feet. The walls are built with grey sandstone on the outside and brown sandstone inside, the binding being lime and sand.'[8] Located in the west wall was a doorway, 'an excellent specimen of "celtic Romanesque" architecture. This doorway is constructed of cut limestone, and the geometrical accuracy of the workmanship is obvious.'[9]

The graveyard offers more insights into the past. Located at the entrance is a benchmark, also known as crowsfeet. These marks were chieselled into stones by surveyors from the Ordnance Survey. These surveyors who mapped Ireland in the nineteenth century used benchmarks as points to measure the height above sea level. The old ordnance survey maps record the benchmark and the location's elevation.

Figure 3: Benchmark at Rathcooney Graveyard (map OSI).

The little burial ground referred to by Croker was once a small, trapezoidal shape but has been extended over the years.[10] If you wander among the gravestones, you will discover the final resting place of sculptor Seamus Murphy, Fenian Brian Dillon and thirteen graves of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.[11]

Alternatively, you can view Rathcooney headstones online at

Figure 4: Gravestone of sculptor, Seamus Murphy.


[1] W.M. Brady, Clerical and parochial records of Cork, Cloyne, and Ross (London, 1864), p.230. [2] Brady, Clerical and parochial records of Cork, Cloyne, and Ross, p. 231. [3] [4] [5] T. Crofton Croker, Researches in the south of Ireland (London, 1824), p. 217. [6] Rev. J.H. Cole, Church and parish records of the united diocese of Cork, Cloyne, and Ross (Cork, 1903), p. 101.

[7] Michael H.J. Brunicardi, The Ruined Parish churches of the diocese of Cork (MA thesis, University College Cork, 1913), p. 68. [8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid. [10] Cork Northern Ring Road Environmental Option Assessment Northern Section, p. 19. [11]

618 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page