St. Brigid’s Church, Talbotstown, has a really beautiful backdrop, with the twin mountains of Keadeen and Carrig dominating the view. The small car park beside the church is one of the best vantage points for admiring those mountains and for seeing Finn McCool and his wife resting in the sunshine. To the left you will see the much smaller Kilranelagh Hill, the site of an old graveyard and the centre of an area with many remains of ancient habitation. But Talbotstown Church itself has its own beauty and its own history.
It is at the edge of the townland of Talbotstown Upper in Kilranelagh civil parish, but it is an out-church or chapel-of-ease of Rathvilly Roman Catholic parish, which straddles the border between Cos. Carlow and Wicklow. Talbotstown is proudly in Wicklow, though all this part of the county was part of Carlow (Catherlogh) before Wicklow was invented in 1606. Until the early years of the twentieth century the word ‘church’ was used only in relation to Church of Ireland places of worship, while those of other denominations were referred to as ‘chapels’.
Writing in the Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society in 1905, Charles Drury stated that after the old chapel of Kilranelagh fell into disuse, Mass was said in a chapel in Englishtown. He quoted one John Magrath as saying that this practice continued for about 150 or 200 years. The tumbled down walls of that chapel are all that may be seen now, to the side of the road between Talbotstown and Killalesh. That chapel is shown on the original Ordnance Survey map c1840, while the site of what is now Talbotstown Church was part of a field next to the then new National School.
Drury stated that:
… now some sixty years ago, service was first held in Talbotstown Chapel. Father Gahan, who was parish priest at the time it was built, assembled his congregation on the site of the proposed new chapel, and ascertained by actual measurement the size necessary. The dimensions of Tinnock Chapel were arrived at in the same way.
The new Talbotstown Church is said to have been built in 1842. A Valuation Office House Book, dated in the mid-1840s, states:
This chapel has been lately built and the interior is in quite an unfinished state the south western [end?] is [?ed] with cut stone in the grecian style and so are the windows on such side, and all appears to be of the best materials
The building features in The Churches of Kildare & Leighlin 2000 A.D., edited by Rev. John McEvoy, now Parish Priest of Rathvilly. It mentions that the bell from the old chapel in Englishtown was installed in it. Talbotstown is described as:
… a substantial structure built of granite, with a front of fine-cut blocks featuring six pillars. Three doorways allow access, two to the nave and the central one to the organ gallery. The porch has rounded stone arches, a feature repeated in the side-windows and the pillar-supported arch over the old altar.
The book notes that it never had stained-glass windows. Regarding the interior, it mentions that ‘the striking features are the high walls of exposed stone which support a beautiful ceiling painted by Grispini, an Italian artist who also worked on Humewood Castle, Kiltegan.’ This painting would have been done a few decades after the erection of the church, as Humewood was built in the 1860s-1870s.
These photographs were taken at various times from more or less the same location between July 2018 and March 2020. The field in the foreground is at the very edge of Co. Carlow. It is in Mountkelly townland. Beyond the trees is Killalish (pronounced ‘Killalesh’) Lower townland in Co. Wicklow.
The twin mountains in the background are Keadeen (on the left) and Carrig (on the right). Over the shoulder of Carrig on a clear day you can glimpse the summit of Lugnaquilla, the highest mountain in Wicklow, and in Leinster. On the side of Keadeen towards where it merges with Carrig, are two discoloured patches that resemble two reclining figures. Local folklore says that they are the shapes of Finn McCool, of ancient legend, and his wife. I wrote about these figures in a previous post.
Here are the images:
(1) July 2018
(2) January 2019
(3) April 2019
(4) Mid-August 2019
(5) Late August 2019
The other evening in Mountkelly Lane. It was beautiful weather and Lugnaquilla managed to peep over the shoulder of Carrig. I've taken the same view at different times for over the past year. The yellow rapeseed dominated at the beginning of the summer. A few weeks ago it was all brown and tumbled down. Now just the stubble is left. I wonder what crop the field will get next year.
(6) October 2019
Yesterday (12 Oct) Mr & Mrs Finn McCool were enjoying a bit of autumnal sunshine on the side of Keadeen mountain. You can just see the figures over the top of the lowest trees. Of course, they were much clearer and closer to the naked eye. Lug is just in the picture also, on the right.
(7) March 2020
Today (21 Mar) Finn & Mrs McCool were a little cold on the side of Keadeen. Not a day for sunbathing! I'm afraid you can't really expect them to understand the importance of social distancing - they never move from that spot. Those clouds looked weirder in reality, as if a UFO was about to appear out of them. Anything could happen now that we're living in a futuristic disaster movie that's changing everything around us.
Earlier this month, on Facebook, I posted the first of two short pieces about the figures of Finn McCool and his wife on the side of Keadeen Mountain in West Wicklow. Actually the figures are on the western face of what is two mountains in one, Keadeen having the higher, northerly summit and Carrig the slightly less talked-about southerly one. Here is what I said:
In the January 1905 number of the Journal of the Co. Kildare Archaeological Society (Vol. IV No. 5), Charles Drury published an article, ‘County Wicklow Archaeological Notes Around Kiltegan’. He covered folklore associated with 34 locations (many some distance from Kiltegan). No. 28 was ‘The beds of Finn M‘Cool, his wife, and dog’, with no further explanation. Evidently Finn McCool’s spot on the side of Keadeen was an old folk tale by 1905. So 113 years later it’s a very old folk tale.
When I was young my father pointed Finn McCool and his wife (and maybe his dog) out to me. I’ve been very fond of them ever since. I see them most days I go cycling. They can be viewed from a long distance, though their dog is not quite as conspicuous. Coming into Baltinglass from Castledermot at Clough Cross is a good place to see them from. At the side of Talbotstown Church is another. It’s not that easy to get a good photograph of them as they are always quite far away, no matter where you are.
Two weeks ago I shared this photograph of them on my personal Facebook page because Finn McCool and his wife were quite visible when I was out cycling. Normally they are a sort of light brown / straw colour. In the present, unprecedented heatwave the grass everywhere around turned to straw and the McCools turned green!
In response to that post I got several comments. One questioned which of Finn’s wives was with him, as ‘Did not Diarmuid run away with Gráinne, Finn’s wife?’ I replied:
My wonderful Googling skills have unearthed the information that Sadhbh was Fionn (Finn)’s most famous wife and that Gráinne was his wife when he was at an advanced age. I’ll give the name of Sadhbh to Mrs. McCool of Keadeen from now on!
Another response was from Duncan, a local man much younger than me, who was told when he was a child by an old man named Paddy Kelly that the legend of Diarmuid and Gráinne was depicted on the side of the mountain. He said ‘Hounds visible either side of Gráinne and Diarmuid, Finn and hounds visible on the left side of the mountain chasing them’.
Apparently Duncan believed that the Finn McCool and wife figures were those of Diarmuid and Gráinne.
I’m afraid the additional story of Diarmuid and Gráinne in relation to Keadeen is of recent origin! The folk tale of Finn McCool and his wife [possibly Sadhbh] on Keadeen is an ancient one. I only heard Diarmuid and Gráinne added this week! That aspect may have been the invention by Paddy Kelly, who told Duncan when he was a child.
A good measure of folk memory is the National Folklore Commission’s Schools’ Collection, dating from the 1930s. Of course, 1930s children didn’t always get things right, but the collection can help us know about traditions from 80 years ago. There is one mention of Finn McCool on Keadeen in the Schools’ collection. It’s from Talbotstown National School, and dated 27 May 1938 (The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0917, Page 171). I’m reproducing the image of the relevant section here, acknowledging the National Folklore Collection’s copyright.
It would appear that the information from Talbotstown was written by the teacher rather than any of the children, as no child’s name is given and the composition and penmanship are advanced and consistent. The informant about Finn on Keadeen was Mr. Richard Geoghegan of Danesfort, ‘whose father resided at Talbotstown’. Richard Geoghegan was living in Danesfort at the time of the 1911 Census, stating his age as 36. In 1901 he was living in Talbotstown Upper, stating his age as 26. So he was born about 1880.
The tale told by Mr. Geoghegan in 1938 was that Finn and his wife died on the western slope of Keadeen. It’s interesting that the writer says ‘The remarkable thing about it is that even when the rest of the mountain looks green in the distance the two brown patches stand out in contrast to the rest …’. That’s exactly the opposite of what is happening in the present heatwave, as I remarked in recent weeks.
I'm a genealogist by profession, with credentials from AGI. I also dabble in local history and the history of Irish golfers, and I'm always writing something!