Old Faithlegg Church

With the coming of the Normans to Ireland  a man named Aylward was granted the lands of Faithlegg in 1177 and this led to the establishment of a parish.  At the heart of this parish system was an early church close by to which was a Motte and Baily castle.  This would have been the centre of administration and control associated with governing the area. 


Faithlegg Churches 1928

According to Julian Walton there is a written record of this church in the 12th century, however what we know as Old Faithlegg Church has been dated as 13th or possibly 14th Century.  An older church on the site may have been a timber construction, the remains of which would have quickly disappeared.  It is also a matter of local speculation that the site of the old church is in fact the ruins of two seperate churches. 

The older part, it is speculated, is located furthest from the road.  This measures 6.8m by 5.2m and has been referred to as the "Chancel" or "Sanctuary".  The entrance to this is via a Romanesque style arch which dates it earlier than the main church and belfry  gable beside it.  The other features that would suggest this are; a different roof pitch, a different wall size and when the building became undermined in the 1990's it was the chancel that was most seriously damaged. (The very obvious difference in roof pitch is still visible in the inside gable to the left of the Romanesque arched doorway)

On the western side, facing the road is the "Church".  This measures 13m by 6.5m and is in the Venetian Gothic style which is a later style.  The windows are also of a different design, although some have speculated that these may have been added at a later stage.  The roof would have been of thatch.


Faithlegg 1888 - Lapham Collection
Sourced from Tomás Sullivan

It is probably that the church would have given a couple of hundred years of service to Catholics despite the upheavals in the country with the Reformation in England and the uncertainty this would have brought.  It was most certainly closed when in 1649 the Aylwards were finally removed as landlords of the parish and replaced by Captain WIlliam Bolton.  Bolton was described as a "stern old puritan" and the likelihood of a church surviving under his stewardship would be unthinkable.  Locally there is a story that before the Cromwellian Army marched on Faithlegg the Priest of the Church buried his vestments with the church silver vowing that they would be recovered once the invaders had been vanquished.  Alas, the Cromwellian's won out, and the Faithlegg treasure remains hidden.

The Down Survey of 1658 stated that the church at Faithlegg was “out of repair” and down through the years it has remained as such, although this did not prevent the Bolton family of Faithlegg and some of their relations being interred in the chapel of the church.  At one point it also held a bell in the eastern gable, as depicted in a drawing by Charles Newport Bolton in 1843, presumably this was the church bell up until the new Spire and Belfry was added to the New Faithlegg Church in 1873.

Sketch by Charles Newport Bolton 1843
(Who is interred in the church with his Bolton relatives)
Sourced from Tomás Sullivan
As a child I remember the graveyard men - at the time Martin Nugent and my mothers Uncle, Paddy Moran- used to store their tools in the old church behind a padlocked gate.  Once the graveyard committee was established and work proceeded on developing and enhancing the graveyard, the old church became a focus of attention and numerous letters were written to seek state support in  preserving the building.  However, this met with no success and by the mid 1990’s part of the chancel wall collapsed and it became increasingly hazardous.  There was a genuine fear that the whole building could collapse.

Photo copied from Kevin Ryan original 1999 of collapsed wall
Photo copied from Kevin Ryan original 1999 of the collapse

In 1999 Kevin Ryan began a survey of the building with a view to determine how best to structurally secure it. Kevin’s survey work combined with others enthusiasm formed the basis of a successful application for funding.  £10,000 was granted by the Heritage Council of Ireland and a further £15,000 raised locally to carry out the necessary works.   The resulting work has served to protect the building and make it safe and accessible to the present and future generations.
A hope of the scheme at the time was that an archaeological survey might be carried out.  However, the powers that be determined that there was little to be learned from the site and were of the opinion that such a survey would never be warranted.  Such a pity, as the Church silver may have been unearthed, although more likely some evidence of an earlier church might have been proved or disproved. 

Another mystery of course is what happened to the bell that hung in the gable of the old church.  The new belfry got a new bell so where is the old one, and how old was it?...but that's another story for another time
in 2001 there were some concerns that the sum of €25,000 was a high price to pay to preserve such an ancient piece of our built heritage.  Personally, I'm very glad that the Graveyard committee had the foresight to work so hard to preserve the building, and that we were so lucky to have someone like Kevin Ryan in our midst that gave so freely of his time and expertise.  The building is an historic landmark of Norman times, not just of Faithlegg, but of Gaultier, Waterford and indeed, in my own view, of Ireland. 

Visitors can now access the old church in safety and with ease
Photo credit: Hannah Doherty
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