Kilfinnane is in the Electoral Division of Kilfinnane, in Civil Parish of Kilfinnane, in the Barony of Coshlea, in the County of Limerick The Irish name for Kilfinnane is Cill Fhíonáin The English name for Kilfinnane is Kilfinane Kilfinnane is on Logainm.ie: Kilfinnane.
The Irish name of the town of Kilfinane is Cill Fhionain, that is the church of Finan, after whom it is called. His well still exists there; his festival was celebrated annually in the parish, but all memory of the exact day of this celebration is lost in the distant ages of antiquity.
There were many saints in Ireland who bore the name of Finan, but this particular saint, who founded the ancient church at Kilfinane, was surnamed Lobhar, or the leper, on account of his being afflicted for thirty years with some kind of disease akin to leprosy. He was a native of Ely O'Connell, in King's County, then forming part of Munster. He was appointed Abbot of Swords, near Dublin, also of Clonmore Maguin, in Leinster.
He is mentioned in O'Clery's Calendar at the 16th March, in the following words :— ‘Finn, the leper of Swords, and of Cluain More, in Leinster, and of Ardfinan, in Munster. He was of the race of Cian, son of Olioll Olum. He died belween the years 675 and 695 A.D."
Olioll Olum had a second son, named Cormac Cas, whose name was associated locally with the neighbourhood of Kilfinane. The latter fought a great battle in Knocksouna, near to where Kilmallock is situated, with Eochy, King of Ulster. Eochy was mortally wounded. Cormac was only slightly wounded, and was brought to Duntrileague (Ir. Dun-tri-leag, i.e., the dun of the three pillar stones), near Ballylanders, where he lived for three years, after which his remains were buried in a camp within the fort which he had erected there.
O'Clery’s Calendar, to which reference is made above, is worthy of note. Its author, Michael O'Clery, born in 1575, was one of the four persons who compiled the “Annals of the Four Masters." Besides the part he took in compiling the "Annals" he was also the author of a book, containing (1) a catalogue of the Kings of Ireland; (2) the genealogies of the Irish saints, and (3) the saints of Ireland with their festival days, in which latter the name of St. Finan, founder of the ancient church at Kilfinane, is mentioned.
The most noteworthy archaeological feature of the town is the “Dane's fort” (1837 appellation), or moat (motte) in modern terms, which is a huge mound of earth, 180 feet high, 60 feet in diameter at the base, and 20 feet at the summit. It is surrounded by 7 ramparts, each 14 feet high and about 20 feet apart. Some writers state, amongst whom was Rev. Geoffrey Keating, the great Irish historian and scholar, that the fort was erected by Brian Boru, and is none other than the Dun Cinn Abraha, one of the forts he built in Munster to safeguard his territory against invasion. Close by the town of Kilfinane were three strong forts, a rath and an artificial cave.
After the Norman invasion of Ireland the Norman lords vied with the Irish princes and chieftains in the building of churches and castles. The barony of Fermoy was granted after the conquest to a Norman follower, named Fleming, whose daughter married one of the Roche, or De Rupe family. In this way most of the territory around Fermoy came into possession of the Roche family, whose descendants were Lords Fermoy. In 1291 Kilfinane obtained a charter for the holding of fairs. Near the old church (fell around 1790) are sited the ruins of an ancient castle, with walls four feet thick, built by a member of the Roche family. A 13th century church in Glanworth, Co. Cork, built by the same family, remains in fair preservation. The latter was constructed for Dominican Friars, and dedicated to the Holy Cross. Members of the Roche family also erected an abbey at Bridgetown, on the Blackwater; and a Cistercian abbey at Fermoy.
During the Elizabethan wars Munster was the province most involved in ruin and desolation; it was here that famine and pestilence exercised wider sway. In common with other parts of Munster, Kilmallock, Kilfinane and its neighbourhood were the scenes of many encounters between the forces of the Crown and the Insurgents. O'Sullivan Beare states 'the countryside was devastated and reduced to ruins: unparalleled scarcity and famine prevailed everywhere. Nor was it man alone that suffered; the very beasts of the field were in many places swept away; the wolves, abandoning the hills and woods, assailed and devoured the emaciated inhabitants...'
The original Castle Oliver, successively occupied by members of the Fitzharris and Roche families, and since 1641 by the Oliver family, was by the early 19th century, in ruins. Members of the latter family represented the borough of Kilmallock at varying periods between the years 1703 and 1799; namely Robert, Philip, Silver and Silver (junior). The latter and John Waller represented the borough at the close of the 18th century.
It was also during this century that the Palatines first make their appearance in the history of Kilfinane. A number of refugees from the Palatinate of the Rhine, one of the seven ancient electorates of Germany, took refuge in England. Their country had been ravaged by Tilly in 1622, and by the French in 1688. In 1709, Queen Anne sent a fleet to Rotterdam, which brought 7,000 of them to England. Of this number, about 3,000 emigrated and settled in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. A number was brought to Ireland, and settled in Rathkeale, from which place they were brought by landed proprietors to other estates in County Limerick, some of whom settled in Kilfinane and the adjoining neighbourhood.
Ferrar, writing in 1780, thus describes them: "They are very industrious men, and have leases from the proprietors of the land at reasonable rents. Their mode of husbandry and crops are better than those of their neighbours, . . . . In short they have benefitted the country by increasing tillage, and are a laborious, independent people, who are most employed in their small farms.... They are thrifty and hardworking, and are, in general, comfortably off."
The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, visited Kilfinane in 1765 and preached to large crowds. He famously reported a 'large Druidical Temple, comparable to Stonehenge' located near the town; no trace or tradition of which has come down to modern times. It is stated that silver and iron were found in the locality, with an abundance of limestone gravel. At the east side of the town was a sulphur-chalybeate spring, which was effective in curing diseases of the skin.
The rebellion of 1798 yet lingers in folk memory largely due to the name of one man - Staker Wallis, notoriously executed in the Square with his head placed on a spike over the Market House. "He was but a simple peasant, without culture, but he had the heart and courage of a hero. He bore the torture of the cruel scourge with a fortitude that could not be exceeded... throughout Coshlea and the neighbouring Munster counties, his name is a veritable household word at the firesides of the peasantry. If the blood of nobles had flowed through his veins for twenty generations, he could not have shown more undaunted fortitude in a holy cause..."
At the time of Samuel Lewis' A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837), the town of Kilfinane consisted of two principal streets, and several smaller ones, and contained 314 houses. According to the previous census returns the population of tho parish and town was 4,437, of which number 1,752 lived in the town. The majority of the houses were large and well built, and were the property of R. Oliver Gascoigne. Some of the inhabitants of the town were engaged in the weaving of linen and cotton goods. Adjacent to the town were oatmeal mills, and two miles distant, at Sunville, were others. The markets were held on Tuesdays; the fair days on May 19th, August 9th, and October 20th. The market house was a large building, and was repaired in 1836. At the time there was an R.I.C. barracks in the town, and petty sessions were held on alternate Saturdays. Quarter sessions were formerly held in the town, but around this time they were removed to Bruff. In 1836, a large fever hospital was erected in the town, to which an accident ward was attached.
In 1837, the parish comprised 9,340 acres, apportioned under the Tithe Act, the valuation of which was £5,679 per annum. The tithes amounted to £270, of which £105 was payable to the Earl of Cork, and the remainder to the Protestant Vicar. The Protestant Church had been rebuilt in 1760, and the Glebe house in 1813, to which were attached 44 acres of glebe lands. The Roman Catholic Parish comprised those of Kilfinane, Particles and Ardpatrick, and contained two chapels; one in Kilfinane, the other in Ardpatrick, the Iatter of which was erected in 1835 at an expense of £1,000. The principal residences near the town at this period were Spa Hill, the residence of W. Oliver; Spring Lodge, of W. Collins: Bossonstown (sic), of G. W. Bennett; Kilfinane House, of C. Bennett; and Brookville Cottage, of Dr. T. Massy.
Extracted and abridged from a number of sources, ©Irish Newspaper Archives