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KILFINANE “Highest Town in Limerick”

Cill Fhion Saint Finan Church

Saint Finan founded a church in Kilfinane in the seventh century. According to the Civil Survey of 1654-56, the village had 50 thatched houses and cabins, a castle, church and mill. In 1837, the parish had a population of 4,437, of which 1,752 lived in the town.

Kilfinane, which is surrounded by mountains on its south, east and west, owes much of its present layout to the Oliver family. They acquired 6,500 hectares of land in this area from Sir Edmond FitzHarris (whose ancestors had owned it since the 13th century), when the FitzHarris lands were confiscated by the Cromwellians in the 17th century. The Olivers remained in ownership of the area for the next two centuries, during which time they commanded a local military force, held seats in parliament and acted as magistrates in local courts.

Kilfinane (Cill Fhionáin in Irish) is a small market town in southeast County Limerick, Ireland. The Towns name comes from the Irish words Cill (church) and (Finian), making its meaning Church of Saint Finian. Kilfinane is located approximately 40km southeast of Limerick and approximately 70 km north-northwest of Cork. The town has a population of approximately 750 people.

At an elevation of over 150 metres, Kilfinane is the highest town in County Limerick. It is surrounded on three sides by the Ballyhoura Mountains, and on the fourth side is the Golden Vale region that runs through Counties Limerick, Cork, and Tipperary.

Even today, locals have been known to break into song about the durable Mr Snagge comparing him to a certain farm yard animal posterior.

Kilfinane has 2 graveyards, both have been digitally surveyed and are available via the following links:

Kilfinane Historic Graves (Old Graveyard)

Kilfinane Historic Graves (St. Andrews Church)

MARKET HOUSE

Courts Leet and Courts Baron were held in the Market House, a large and commodious building which dates to the 18th century. With jurisdiction over the lands of the Manor of Kilfinane, the courts dealt with legal and land ownership issues. Fairs and Tuesday markets were held in Kilfinane until the 20th century. Rev. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, preached here on several occasions between 1765 and 1789. He was invited here by the Palatines Protestants from the Rhine who settled here in 1740 who by that time were well established in the locality.

PATRICK STAKER WALLIS

A stark memorial stands in the square commemorates Patrick Staker Wallis, who was executed in Kilfinane shortly after the 1798 Rebellion. Wallis was a member of the United Irishmen, whose rebellion was one of the bloodiest in Irish history. He was captured by Captain Charles Silver Oliver, who had him repeatedly flogged and tortured. After considerable brutality over several days, Wallis was hanged and his severed head displayed on a spike over Kilfinane Market House.

BRIDEWELL

A solid sandstone building at the eastern end of Kilfinane was the Bridewell a local jail, consisting of two day-rooms, two yards and four cells. Built in the 1830’s, it was for many years the local headquarters of the Royal Irish Constabulary. It is now a private residence.

SAINT ANDREWS CHURCH

This fine building, erected in 1853, was the Church of Ireland parish church for Kilfinane until it closed in the 1980’s. It is unusual among Irish churches as it has a main aisle and a side aisle (running parallel with the main aisle and about half its length).

THE MOTTE

One must first stand on top of a Norman motte, or see it in an aerial photograph, to begin to appreciate these entirely man-made earthen structures which date from the 13th century. At 42 metres in hight, this motte presented a formidable defence against attack, having once been surmounted also by a wooden palisade and lookout tower. Because it was surrounded by substantial earthen banks and ditches, some archaeologists now suggest that it may have been an adaptation of an earlier pre-Norman ceremonial structure. There is also evidence to suggest that during the Early Medieval period, Kilfinane was a royal seat of the Kings of Munster.

The motte is described in greater detail on an information panel at the site.

OLD GRAVEYARD

The ruins of Saint Finan pre-Reformation Church, which was used later as the protestant parish church, can be found in the old graveyard. It is surrounded by dozens of headstones, a few of which date to the 18th century.

KILFINANE MILL

This oatmeal mill was once a bustling complex. It later expanded into flax weaving, tweed making and related enterprises. The Olivers, who ran the mill during most of its existence, also had other mills at Ardpatrick and Rockmills, near Kildorrery. However, Kilfinane mill was destroyed by fire in 1940, after which most of its buildings were demolished. Among its few surviving features is a chimney stack of brick.

The mill is described in greater detail on an information panel at the site.

KILFINANE CASTLE

This Roche castle was attacked by Cromwell army during the mid-1600’s. The Cromwellian’s killed all who defended the castle. They then rendered it defenseless by breaching holes in its walls and removing its battlements.

SAINT ANDREWS CATHOLIC CHURCH

Unlike on the continent, where parish churches are usually named after local saints, in Ireland during a flurry of church building in the 19th century, parish churches were rarely named after the local patron. Saint Andrews Catholic Church is a wonderful Gothic Revival building designed in 1878, by George Ashlin (1837-1921). Ashlin was one of the best Irish architects of his generation. He also designed the adjoining parochial house.