History of Kilchreest

The Parish of Kilchreest

The Parish of Kilchreest is situated in the barony of Dunkellin, but principally in the barony of Loughrea.  It comprises most of the old parish of Iserkelly, also called “Pobal Mac Hubert” with Kilchreest and Killinan.

Under Dr French the portions of the Ardrahan parish around and eastward of Castledaly were also added to Kilchreest.  Dr Fahey assures us of these facts in his book “The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Kilmacduagh”.

It is clear that Iserkelly and Killinan were once separate parishes within the diocese of Kilmacduagh and they are shown separately on a map of the diocese of around 1840.  At the outbreak of the Great Famine in 1845 Castledaly was still in the parish of Ardrahan but it was joined to Kilchreest sometime between then and 1852.

The parish is very extensive and takes in a vast tract of the Sliabh Aughty mountains.  The population dwindled greatly between the time of the famine and the end of the 19th century.  It stabilised somewhat in the early years of the present century but declined again under native government.

There was quite a lot of emigration during the thirties and forties.  Today there are about 180 houses in the parish.  Kilchreest is bounded on the east by the diocese of Clonfert.  The territorial units of the Church of Ireland are called Parishes or Benefices and Kilchreest was also a large and important Benefice.  At one time nearly half the Protestants in the diocese lived within the benefice of Kilchreest.

Cill Chríost

Kilchreest means Cill Chríost or Christ’s Church.  This is certainly one of the few churches in Ireland, which are named after Christ.  Christchurch in Dublin is another obvious example.  There is another Kilchreest in Co. Clare.

In early Christian Ireland churches were never dedicated to Christ, the Virgin Mary or to the saints, but to the local country saints e.g. St. Colman.

It is difficult to trace the origin of the old church in Kilchreest but it gives its name to the village and to the parish.  It occupies a very striking position on a hill above the village. 

It is now a ruin, or course.  If we are to judge by the ruin, the church was a rather large one and according to O’Donovan it was probably built by one of the Clanrickards about five or six hundred years ago. 

Tradition has it that a great bell was taken down from the church and hidden down in the callows as a precaution during the campaign of Cromwell. 

The Williamites burned the church after the Battle of Aughrim in 1691 when they were on their way to Galway.  We do not know whether it was used as a place of worship after this or not.

The graveyard has been used by Kilchreest families for centuries.

The Penal Chapel

The early years of the 18th century were very difficult ones for Catholics.  The Penal Laws were very severe and for a time it seems that the people of Kilchreest may have been without a place to worship. However, there is no great tradition of Mass Rocks in the area.  Tradition has it that people gathered for Mass in a large hollow near Lismoylan.  No one knows how long the penal chapel at Ballacurra existed.  It may have been built early in the 18th century and it was probably used for a long time.  No trace of it remains.  Most of the penal chapels were thatched cabins resembling a farmer’s house.  They were not large and usually did not have a cross or spire.  Sometime between the years 1760-70 the penal chapel was destroyed, possibly by the landowners.  There is also a tradition that evictions took place sometime around this period. However, it was after the 1798 Rebellion that a colony of Protestant tenants was brought from the North, so it is unlikely that the two incidents were related.

Kilchreest Church

Towards the close of the 18th century a humble catholic chapel was erected in Kilchreest, according to Dr Fahy.

It was on the site of the existing parish church. It was of course the only church in the parish until the Castledaly district was added to Kilchreest sometime after 1850.It is likely that this church was thatched too and it was probably quite small. The site was given by the O’Shaughnessy family who were the landowners.

Lewis refers to this chapel in his Topographical Dictionary. Lewis was writing in 1837.He states “The Roman Catholic parish…..has a small chapel, in connection with which there is a large school for about four hundred children.”

It seems that on weekdays the chapel was used as a school for Catholic children. This may have been an effort to prevent proselytising which seems to have been going on at the time. It is likely that the children were instructed in their faith possibly by the priest. They may have taken it in turns to attend their classes. Fr. Michael Burke became P.P. in this same year.  The Protestant school was in operation at this time as well as a number of hedge schools.

In 1841 Rev. Michael Burke P.P. founded the present parish church on the site of the earlier one. It was certainly a big undertaking considering the circumstances of the time as most people were very poor. However it was completed in a very short time. According to Dr  Fahey the original structure was a neat oblong building measuring 72 feet by 25 feet.

It was during the period when Rev. P Gereaghty  was Administrator that the pointed roof and belfry were erected.

The  church  was still used as a school at least up until 1868 when the national school was established.


The area around Castledaly was originally called Corbally.  The Blake family held property here.  Corbally Castle was situated at the base of the Sliabh Aughty hills.  Peter Daly, a Catholic, who was the younger son of Dermot Daly of Daly’s Grove, purchased the lands at Corbally from the Blakes.

The Daly’s were originally transplanted from their lands in Co. Westmeath during the Cromwellian plantation.  Peter Daly also bought property in the West Indies.  One of his sons was James Peter Daly.  The Daly’s replaced the old by a magnificent residence and they planed the hill slopes around their residence.  The Blake family had been in possession of the lands at Corbally since at least the beginning of the 18th century.  According to tradition the O’Fahy’s were the landowners before the Blakes.  It seems that the Blakes secured the property after the Battle of Aughrim.  The Daly’s were in possession of the lands until the 1940’s.  We cannot fix the exact date when Corbally came to be known as Castledaly.

Castledaly Church

The years following the famine were difficult all over the country but as often happen after a disaster people pick up the pieces and continue with their lives.  In the year 1850 James Daly of Castledaly built the chapel at Castledaly.

At well as giving the people a place to worship, the work provided much needed employment.  It is flanked on the west side by a tower.  The alter is made of marble which was brought from Sicily.  The work was completed in a relatively short time and in 1866 the Church and grounds were given as a gift to the diocese.  The buttresses on the side walls were a later addition to the Church. 

James Daly had two sons and five daughters.  His son, James Dermot, succeeded him and he in turn was succeeded in Castledaly by James Joseph Dermot Daly.  The Church is a monument to the Christian zeal, love and charity of the Daly family.  The people of Castlealy are very proud of the church and this is evidenced by the care, which has been taken to keep it beautiful.  Few Churches are built in such a pleasant location.  St. Teresa of Spain is the Patron Saint of the Church.

Priests of Kilchreest

We can trace the succession of priests in Kilchreest for over two hundred years.

1789 Fr. James Duffy was P.P. He was a native of Peterswell where his father kept a famous hedge school. He was transferred to Craughwell on the death of Rev Terence Hynes. Fr Duffy died in 1833.

Rev. Fr. C. Regan succeeded Fr. Duffy.

Rev. Patrick Mullins Followed Fr. Regan as P.P. and he was afterwards transferred to Clarinbridge where he died in 1852.

Dr Fahy does not mention Fr. Michael O’Fay and there is some confusion about his time in Kilchreest. His ministry must have been a short one as we later find him in New Quay. He later ministered in Craughwell where he died.He built Ballymana Church. 

1837 Rev. Michael Burke was appointed P.P.

1841  He built the present church.

1855  He was injured by lightning and for many years while he was parish priest the parochial duty was discharged by Administrators including:

1855-56  Fr Mortimer Brennan who was a native of Killimor.

1859-64  Fr. Edward Coleman.

1864-66  Fr A. Hanrahan.

1866-67  Fr John Forde (Junior)

1868-73  Fr John Kemmy.He was a native of Gort and he was involved in the Trench v Nolan election controversy.

1873-76  Fr T. B. Considine . He was also involved in the Trench v Nolan case. The clergy advised the people to vote for Nolan as he was favourably disposed towards Catholics. The controversy was very bitter at one stage. In1876 Fr. Considine became P.P. of Ardrahan.

1876-83 Fr. Patrick Gereaghty. He erected the belfry and put a fine pointed roof on the church. He later became P.P. in Kilthomas.

1883-85 Fr. Thomas Burke.

Fr. Francis Cassidy – 1885 – 1887 – 1908

Fr. Richard Newell – 1908 – 1912

Fr. Michael Corcoran – 1912 – 1967

Fr. William Rooney – CC – 1965 – 1967

Fr. Martin O Connor – 1967 – 1983

Fr. Robert Canavan –  P.P. 1983 – 1985

Fr. Martin Coen  – P.P. – 1985

Fr. Liam Power – P.P. – 1985 – 1990

Fr. Paddy Togher – P.P. 1990 – 1995

Fr. Sean Kilcoyne – Adm – 1995 – 1996

Fr. Brendan Helly – P.P. – 1996 – 2000

Fr. Derek Feeney – P.P. 2000 – 2008

Fr. Frank Lee- Adm 2008- 2009


Isserkelly was once a separate parish but it was incorporated into Kilchreest sometime after 1940.  The patron saint of Isserkelly is St. Ceallagh Díseart Uí Cheallaigh means the quiet place or hermitage of Ceallagh.  It is possible that in the Early Christian Period.  The saint had a cell here and a church was built afterwards on the spot.  There is a record of a church as far back as 1180.  The present ruin probably occupies the site of an older church.  The graveyard beside the Church is still used. Long ago the festival of St. Ceallagh was celebrated in the area.  Today the Saint is nearly forgotten.  Dr  Fahey in his book “The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Kilmacduagh” devotes a whole chapter to St. Ceallagh.  He was the eldest son of Eoghan Beul, King of Connacht.  He was the rightful heir to the throne but the young prince’s ambition was no for worldly things and he went to study with St.. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise.  His father Eoghan Beul was killed at the Battle of Sligo in 537 A.D. and it was his wish that Ceallagh should succeed him, as Cugiongelt, his second son, was too young.  Without consulting, St. Ciaran Ceallagh left the monastery and when St. Ciaran heard of his departure, it is said that he cursed him.  When Ceallagh heard this he was very sorry and returned and begged Ciaran’s forgiveness.  Ciaran accepted him back but said that as a punishment Ceallagh’s death would be violent and unexpected. 

In time he was consecrated Bishop of Kilmore Moy but it is said that he still supported his brother’s claim to the throne. Guaire was then King of Connacht and obviously he was not too pleased with Ceallagh who became a hermit and resigned his Episcopal position.  His hermitage was on an island in Lough Con but he was discovered by Guaire’s agents who murdered him.  The murderers were rewarded with land.  Cugiongelt avenged his brother and had his remains solemnly interred .

It is possible that while hiding from Guaire, Ceallagh had a cell at Isserkelly.  Isserkelly later became the seat of the MacHubert Burke family.  We know that there was a Presbytery and vicarage in Isserkelly during the reign of Elizabeth I.  The name is sometimes spelt Dysert Kelly or Isterkelly.  It is likely that when deBurgos lands came into the possession of the Persse family that, the importance of Isserkelly as an ecclesiastical centre declined.

May 1st is the feast of St. Ceallagh.

The Hermitage of Ceallagh

The land around Isserkelly has been farmed for thousands of years.  There are a few lioses dating from the Stone Age.  The Roche family who were probably of Viking descent owned the land.  After the Norman conquest it passed to the MacHubert Burkes and in the 17th century it became the property of the Persses.  The Land Commission divided it into holdings of 20 Irish acres in 1927.  Many families came and got holdings and they also got a grant to build a house.  The fair of Isserkelly attracted people from far and near.  It was held in the Fair Green near Purcell’s.  Isserkelly is mentioned  in the writings of both Yeats and Lady Gregory.  Fox hunting is a great traditional sport in the area.