MARTINSTOWN “A Place Apart”
Martinstown “Baile an Mhairtáin” – The Town of Martin
The modern Catholic parish of Bulgaden-Martinstown is formed chiefly from the two medieval parishes of Bulgaden and Kilbreedy-Major. In 1837, Kilbreedy-Major had a population of 1,137 living on 1,356 hectares. Its sister parish, Bulgaden, consisted of 1,374 hectares and had 1,152 inhabitants. The land in this area was described in that year as mostly arable with some good meadow and pasture, and there is a small proportion of bog. The village of Bulgaden was “very small, consisting of only a few thatched houses”.
Martinstown graveyard has yet to be surveyed on Historicgraves.com
The John Flanagan Memorial at Martinstown Church celebrates our proud association with one of Irelands greatest sportsmen, John Flanagan. Born at Ballinvreena on 28 January 1868, he excelled in weight-throwing and became a world record holder in 1895, when he set a distance of 145-feet 10.5-inches (46.863 metres). He emigrated to the United States in 1897. He became a policeman in New York City and represented the US in international sporting events.
Except for one two-year stretch, Flanagan held the world hammer throw record from 1896 until 1911. He was the first to surpass 150 feet (45.72m, in 1897), 160 feet (48.77m, 1899), 170 feet (51.87m, 1901) and 180 feet (54.86m, 1909). Flanagan won Olympic hammer throw gold medals in Paris 1900, St. Louis 1904, and London 1908. At the 1908 London Olympics, Flanagan overcame world record holder Matt McGrath with his last attempt to win his third straight hammer throw gold medal. On 24 July 1909, Flanagan threw the hammer 56.18m to become the oldest world record breaker in the history of athletics. He was 41 years, 196 days old.
He was the AAU national champion in the hammer throw from 1897 through 1899, and in 1901, 1902, 1906, and 1907, and he won the 56-pound weight championship in 1899, 1901, 1904, 1906, and 1907.
John returned to Kilbreedy, Martinstown, in 1911 where he died in 1938. The Flanagan Memorial, sculpted by Jeanne Rynhart, was unveiled by Ronnie Delaney (Irish gold medalist in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics) in 2001.
County Limerick has many impressive Irish-style castles known as tower houses. These mostly date from the 14th to 16th centuries, and amongst the most architecturally important is Fantstown Castle, near Martinstown. The castle, which is in a good state of preservation, contains most of the elements of defence that one might find in a tower house including a defensive bawn wall, battlements, gun-loops, two machicolations projecting from its upper walls.
Even if an enemy had gained entry, there were many other crafty defensive features, among which was a winding-stairs rising-steeply in a clockwise direction. This made it difficult for any right-handed swordsman to stab at a defender. For added protection, inside the dark stairway trip-steps of uneven height ensured that any assailant unfamiliar with the castle would do as the name suggests as he tried to rush up the stairs against the defenders.
There is one other fascinating feature on Fantstown Castle which is not often found on Irish castles. A horizontal Sheila-na-nGig (a medieval fertility carving of a woman, with legs splayed) high up on an external corners, was perhaps intended to ensure that the Faunts, who built the castle, would have many descendants.
An ivy-covered wall and carved stone fragments are all that remain of the medieval church that gave its name to the ancient parish of Kilbreedy-Major. The church was probably founded by the Anglo-Normans in the 13th or 14th century.
Features of the churchyard are characteristic of early medieval graveyards. Burials were concentrated on the south, east and western sides of the church. This was because, until the 19th century, it was believed that the north-side of churchyards were in the perpetual shadow of the church and reserved for the burial of strangers and persons guilty of mortal sins.
There are many 19th and a few 18th century headstones in Kilbreedy including the tomb of Fr John Clifford, who died in 1846. Among the oldest is a headstone dated 1748. The churchyard is very well maintained and has appealing modern Stations of the Cross.
There are two other medieval graveyards in the locality. Emlygrennan, has traces of a medieval church and is close to Saint Moluas Well, which continues to be a place of annual pilgrimage. Athnassey churchyard is shaded by trees and surrounded by a 19th century stone wall
Bulgaden-Martinstown parish has two Catholic churches. Martinstown Church is dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption. It was built in 1834, shortly after Catholics and other religions were given Emancipation through the endeavours of Danial O’Connell. Martinstown church was built under the direction of Fr Jacob Walsh and was opened by Bishop Ryan. The church was renovated some years ago, when its gallery was removed.
There are several interesting features inside, including a plaque that asks people to pray for Padraig Mac Flanncada and Liam Slatarra, who were killed in the War of Independence. James McCormack from Ballinvana donated the Stations of the Cross in 1939. Fr Mark Crowley, parish priest of Middlesborough, Yorkshire, whose parents were natives of the parish, donated the stained glass windows at the entrance to the church, in 1991. The remains of Fr Richard Nunan, parish priest from 1858 to 1862, are buried under the church.
Bulgaden church, built about 1860, is dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption. Two former parish priests Marcus O’Cleary (died 1886) and James Walsh (died 1858) were buried within the church.
A Celtic cross near the church commemorates Patrick Staker Wallis, a Limerick folk-hero who was born in the townland of Teermore, in 1733. In the 1790’s, he was a local commander of the United Irishmen, which fought to free Ireland from English rule. After an attack against British forces at Bruff, in the 1798 Rebellion, Wallis was captured by the English and brutally interrogated at Kilfinane, where he was subsequently hanged, drawn and quartered.