st stephen's church














Ruins of the 12th Century St. Stephen's Church Kilcarne                                                  (photo N&DHS)

The following is a transcription of a booklet produced for the celebration around the  800th Anniversary of St. Stephen's Church in Kilcarne.

The 800th Anniversary of St. Stephen’s Church in Kilcarne Cemetery

Sunday 13 Sept 1992

Acknowledgements and thanks:

To V. Rev. Dr. M. Smith, Bishop of Meath, and Fr. Dunican P.P. Johnstown, for their messages.  Bishop Smith would like to be with us, but is in Lourdes on pilgrimage.

To Sean McGrath, for work done with his digger.  To Paul Crinion also for work done with his machinery.   To Tom Daly also for work done with his machinery.  To Paddy Carroll for bringing topsoil from Walterstown G.A.A. field.  To Anthony Farrell, for his generosity for supplying excellent topsoil.  To Oliver Oakes and Philip Murtagh for great work done with their strimmers. T o all the other voluntary workers, too numerous to mention, many thanks.   I was very impressed by the large numbers of young boys and girls, who gave freely of their summer holiday time.

To Victoria Murray for her wonderful sketch of the Humphry Barry – Susanne Foster Tombstone.   Victoria was on holidays in the area from London.  We hope to see her, and her father Charlie, again next year.  To Deborah King for her magnificent painting of St. Stephen.  Deborah is daughter of Carmel King (nee Carrig) from Johnstown.  To Noel French for permission, to use his records of the headstones in Kilcarne Cemetery.  To Mrs. E. Hickey, Skryne Castle, for permission to reprint some of her writings about Kilcarne bridge.  To Miss O’Brien, Oldtown, for permission to use some of the material in the I.C.A. production – Johnstown Parish – Seen and Heard.

To all who contributed to our Church gate collection in aid of restoration of the cemetery.  To Walterstown G.F.C. for their generous contribution towards this small booklet.  To Joe Rice forhis photography work.  To our local choirs and Navan Silver Band for their part in today’s success.  To the Oakes family, Croboy, for the use of their field for parking.  To all, once again too numerous to mention, who supplied flowers for the occasion.  To our sacristan, Mrs Shiels, for her part in today’s success.  Last, but by no means least, many thanks to our County Librarian, Mr William Smith and his wonderful staff.  We should be proud of Navan Library and Staff – surely the best in Ireland.  I would like to point out that all the work mentioned above was done on a voluntary basis.

Michael O’Brien 13 September 1992


Kilcarne Church and Cemetery is dedicated to St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and is situated about 3 miles, upriver, from Navan.  This medieval church was built by Geoffrey de Feipo, brother of Adam, the Baron of Skryne. De Feipo was one of, the first Norman Barons in the area.  Mass was celebrated here in Kilcarne for the first time in 1192, 800 years ago.

During the summer a group of dedicated workers – men, women and children – some very young – decided that, the 800th anniversary should be commemorated.  It was decided to tidy the grounds – a daunting task.  Grave stones have been straightened and others which were buried for centuries were discovered.  It would be unfair to single out any of the workers as all played their part in making the cemetery as it is to-day.  Thanks, to all, you have done a great job.  However, this is just phase one completed and please God, next year, we hope to improve the cemetery further.  A community which it forgets its dead does not deserve to be called a community.  Many of the people buried here have passed on to us, of this generation, what we have today.  They lived in a different era, when life was very different and didn’t enjoy the prosperity which we have.  To-day, as we commemorate the 800th anniversary of the first mass at Kilcarne, we remember them and pray that God has rewarded them for their work during their lives.  May they all rest in Peace.

A message from Bishop Smith:

I was delighted to hear that a group of dedicated people from the parish – drawn from all age groups – had over recent months cleaned up the old cemetery at Kilcarne.  This cemetery is almost 800 years old, nearly as old as the present diocese of Meath.  It was opened in 1220 on the instructions of the then Bishop of Meath, Simon de Rochford.  It is important that care is taken of such historical sites and monuments since no community should ever turn its back on its history.  The classical definition of history as the teacher of life’ (magister vitae) is very apt.

I understand that Mass was first celebrated at Kilcarne in 1192 and that it is proposed to celebrate Mass there on Sunday Sept. 13th next, eight hundred years later.  I regret that I cannot join with you for this Mass as I will be in Lourdes for the Meath Diocesan Pilgrimage.  In its own small way this cemetery underlines how deep the roots of faith are in our diocese and its community.  I take this opportunity of expressing deep appreciation and thanks to all who have been involved in cleaning up this ancient cemetery (still in use) and who have organised the celebration of Mass, highlighting its place in the history of the parish and diocese.

A message from Fr. Nicholas Dunican P.P.

It gives me great pleasure to write a note for this booklet which commemorates the 800th Anniversary of the First Mass to be offered at St. Stephen’s Church in 1192.

Though the historic church is now in ruins, the cemetery is still used by some of the old natives.  In recent years Michael Morgan, Patrick Shiels and Dessie Boylan have been buried here.

It is hoped that this sacred place, hallowed by the remains of so many of our loved ones, will continue to be a burial ground for the people of this area.  We thank Patrick and Helen Carolan who have donated land adjacent to Kilcarne cemetery for this purpose and hope that the legalities may be completed as soon as possible.

I am very happy that the cemetery has been given a well-deserved face lift and I congratulate and thank all who were involved in this work.

So today as we celebrate the 800th Anniversary of the first mass here, we remember all who have been buried here over the centuries.  We owe them our gratitude for keeping the Catholic Faith alive in the area and we pray God that this tradition will always be maintained in the parish.

It demands faith and courage to stand by our Christian principles today so our fervent prayer is that our homes will be havens of prayer and harmony and that the parents of today and the future will hand on the faith to the generations to come just as the faithful who are buried in Kilcarne have done in their ti

The Martyrdom of St Stephen

Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.

As the number of the disciples increased, it happened that some poor widows were neglected in the daily distribution.  Hence, it was that the apostles, calling together the multitude if the disciples, said: ‘It is not fit that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.  Therefore, brethren, look out among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.

This proposal was pleasing to the disciples.  They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, with Philip and five others.  These they presented to the apostles, who prayed over them, and imposed hands upon them.  Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders amongst the people.  Some of the most earned of the doctors, envying his fame, began to dispute with him, but even they could not equal the marvellous wisdom with which he spoke.

Ashamed of their defeat, they stirred up the people against him.  He was seized and brought before the council.  They then brought up false witnesses, who testified what he ceased not to speak against the holy place and the law.  All the members of the council looked angrily upon him, but they saw his face shining like that of an angel.  Filled with divine love and the Spirit of God, Stephen reminded them of the wonders which God had wrought for their fathers in Egypt and other places.

After showing them how ungrateful their fathers had been, he concluded with these words: ‘With a still neck and uncircumcised heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Ghost, as your fathers did.  Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?  And they have slain those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you have been now betrayers and murderers!’

When they hears him speak thus, they raged, and gnashed their teeth with fury.  But, Stephen, being filled with the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing as the right hand of God.  When the Jews heard him tell his vision, they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears, and rushing upon him with one accord, drove him out of the city, and stoned him.

Whilst Stephen was being put to death, a young man named Saul held the garments of the murderers.  But Stephen, falling on his knees, cried with a loud voice: ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge!’ When he had said these words, he expired.  The prayer of St. Stephen for his enemies was very pleasing to God, and some say that through this prayer, Saul received, later on, the grace of conversion.

The Normans come to Kilcarne

It is the year 1166.  Diarmuid McMurrough, having lost his Kingdom of Leinster left in Ireland to seek help from Henry II, King of England and part of France He landed at Bristol and then on to Normandy in France, where Henry was believed to be.  He finally met Henry at Aquitaine.  Henry was too busy to come to Ireland but gave Mc Murrough a very important letter, which in effect was a permit to recruit Norman Colonists in Wales, to assist him to regain his Kingdom of Leinster.  Mc Murrough hurried back to Wales and met Richard Fitzgilbert de Clare, better known as Strongbow.  Strongbow promised to come to Ireland but he struck a hard bargain.  Diarmuid secured his agreement eventually by offering his daughter Aoife, in marriage and the prospect of the Kingdom of Leinster after Diarmuid’s death.

Diarmuid won back his Kingdom of Leinster and Waterford, Wexford and Dublin were captured.  In May 1171, Diarmuid died at his dún in Ferns and Strongbow became King of Leinster.  This caused great concern to Henry II, who feared that Strongbow might set up an independent Kingdom in Ireland.  So, Henry led his army to Pembroke on 16th Oct 1171 and set sail for Ireland.  By astute statesmanship and clever conciliation he won the submission of awed Irish and rebellious Normans alike, an astonishing bloodless conquest in the circumstances.  Henry was still suspicious and wary of Strongbow so he granted the kingdom of Meath to Hugh de Lacy.  In Meath de Lacy parcelled out the land to his followers.  The Barony of Skryne, he gave to Adam de Feipo, who in turn divided it up into estates, many of which bear names of their Norman owners, like Staffordstown, Follistown, Brownstown, Duffstown, now known as Dowdstown, Cusackstown, and Kentstown. Walterstown, Johnstown, Gerrardstown were called after de Feipo’s Knights.

When the Normans came to Kilcarne, there was already a church in the area – the Black Church.  The field in which this stood is known today as the Black Church Field.  The Field is now owned by William O’Brien-Lynch of Oldtown.  The Normans were unable to get control of the Black Church, so they built a new church in the area, known as the church of St. Stephen.  The church was built by Geoffrey de Feipo, probably a brother of the Baron of Skryne, Adam, and the first mass was offered in 1192 – 800 years ago.  This is the spot where we stand today.  Let us imagine the sight of de Feipo and his followers as they made their way to what is now a hallowed spot on horseback – the long sword, the lance, the iron helmet and the mail, covering body, thigh and arms, Geoffrey de Feipo endowed the church of Kilcarne with a messuage, complete with house and boundary ditch, which the Chaplin Thomas had been renting from him.  This was given as a pure alms to be held as a freehold.  Because the de Feipo family was always generous in endowing churches they retained the privilege of providing their own curate.  The Augustinians of St. Mary’s Abbey administered the parish of Kilcarne.

The opening and blessing of the cemetery

Another event which took place in the 13th century the effects which have reached to our own day must be recorded.  When Thomas was Chaplain of Kilcarne between the years 1217 and 1223, an order was given by the Bishop of Meath, Simon de Rochfort, the first English man to hold that title, that the cemetery be opened and blessed, because it was too great a burden to bring the dead to the mother church at Skryne.

The church

The old church measures internally sixty feet four inches by eighteen feet five inches.  The church was badly damaged during the Rising of 1641.  The parish and church was dedicated to St. Stephen and in times past, St. Stephen’s day was observed by the parishioners as a holiday.  Despite the damage caused by the rising of 1641; Henry Moneypeney in 1674 and then in 1677 the parish of Kilcarne was united to Skryne.  During Bishop Dopping’s visits (1682-85) he found the church and chancel (area around the altar, reserved for clergy and choir) unrepaired since 1641.  No cure (parish priest) served there but at Skryne. The church and cemetery were not fenced in.

Lord Santry was the impropriator i.e. a Layman in possession of Church property or revenues.  It is highly unlikely that, that church was in use after 1677.  With the passing of the years the church deteriorated until about 30 years ago, Meath County Council decided to take down the church stone by stone.  What a pity it would have been if such a shameful act was allowed to go ahead.  However one lady in the parish became aware of what was happening and objected to the relevant authorities.  She was Mary Clare Lynch of Oldtown who was probably President of a very active I.C.A. guild in the parish and always had a great interest in local history.  Were it not for her foresight, the present impressive remains of St. Stephen’s church would be but a memory to the older members of our community.  Mary Clare died on 23rd October 1971 and naturally was buried in her beloved Kilcarne.

The Font

font in johnstownThe font from Kilcarne is now in Johnstown Church. (left)

For many years it was used as a holy water font immediately inside the door.

When Johnstown Church was renovated by the then Parish Priest, Fr. Finian O’Connor in 1982, it was moved to the Altar, where it now serves as a Baptismal Font.

We, of this generation should be very grateful to a family called Welsh for the preservation of this ancient relic.  The Welsh family – fearing it might be taken away, or, suffering a worse fate, be smashed by the peasantry of Johnstown, (who were in the habit of testing their respective strengths on Sunday evenings, by raising a large stone and trying to see who would land it in the middle of the font) – buried the font in the West end of the Church.

The Welsh family preserved the secret of its hiding place, and after the erection of the present church in Johnstown had it conveyed from its obscurity to Johnstown Church.



Photo: © Navan & District Historical Society

A single apostle is placed in each of the ten niches, with 2 squeezed  into the eleventh.  Saints Peter and Paul are bareheaded.  Peter carries the Keys; Andrew has a tiny X shaped cross; John, a serious and beautiful youth, rests his hands on the open pages of the Gospel, and on his right, James the Great.  His emblem is the cockleshell which is carved on to his hat, (linked to his shrine in Compostela)

This information above on the Apostle Font above has been addd by the N&DHS and is from Helen Roe's book The Medieval Fonts of Meath (MA&HS 1968)]

Dr. Cogan, when a curate in Johnstown in the spring of 1853 had great pleasure in having it sent to a national exhibition in Dublin where it was much admired.  In ‘Wakeman’s Antiquities’ it is described as a gem in its way and well worthy of a visit.  It is a fine example of medieval stone carving.  It has twelve sides which is unusual in medieval fonts.  The twelve apostles are shown, with the twelfth side showing Christ crowned as a king and holding in his hand the globe and cross.  He is in the act of blessing the Virgin Mary who is also crowned.  The figures of the apostles are all different and different saints can be made out from their symbols, St. Andrew, by his cross, shapes like an X, Peter with his keys and James with his rod.  Each figure holds a book, out of which they were to preach the Gospel.

Thanks to the Rev. Philip Barry

Fr. Michael Reid became pastor of Johnstown in February 1833 and died on the 27th of December 1871.  His resting place is in Johnstown Church.  There was then an interval of six years during which the parish was administered by Fr. Richard Lynch and later by Fr. Edward Horan.  A note made by Fr. Matt Farrell P.P. 1902-1903, in the parish registers explains the delay in making an appointment.

‘It is interesting to note’, he writes ‘that Dr. Nulty, Bishop of Meath, tried to break up the parish of Johnstown and unite it with Navan.  The Ford family, who were the landlords would not give him the parochial house and land because it was leased by the Rev. Philip Barry to Dr. Logan, Bishop of Meath in 1826.  While respecting the wishes of the parishioners against the annihilation of their parish, Dr. Nulty incorporated the townland of Athlumney (except one farm, now owned by Mr. Anthony Farrell) with Navan, the reason being that he wished that the Loretto and Mercy convents in that area might be served by the Navan clergy.  However, were it not for the Rev. Philip Barry, there would be no Parish of Johnstown to-day.  What has all this to do with Kilcarne Cemetery?  The remains of the Rev. Barry lie inside the ruined church at the eastern end.  The following inscription is on a large slab, ‘here lieth, the body of the Rev. Philip Barry late of Boyne Hill and Kilcarne in this county, who died on the 2nd day of October in the year of 1831 aged 51 years. He was during the last 11 years of his life, Rector of the Parish of Navan in this county.

The parochial house and lands at Pastor Hill in the townland of Kilcarne were bought by the V. Rev. Thomas Tynan P.P under the Ashbourne Act about 1890 and registered under the act of 1891 in his name.  He was ordained on 24 June 1872 and was appointed Parish Priest of Johnstown, 19 May 1890.

Some notes on the Parish of Kilcarne

Kilcarne is an Irish word – Cill Cairn – meaning the church of the carn or sepulchral pile.  However, I am aware that some people would not agree with this.  The parish contained 2,337 acres.  It was a rectory impropriate in C. Barry Esq. (1836) to whom the tithes were payable, amounting to £127-12-2.


Brannanstown – containing 268 acres. There were no roads going through it.

Gerrardstown – containing 369 acres.  It was very thinly populated.  It was the property of Mr. Corbally.  The Nanny River passes through it near its north boundary, of which it forms a part. There was only one road in it.

Kilcarne – containing 985 acres.  It supported numerous tenantry.  The mail coach road (both old and new) ran through on the west side.  The land was described as well cultivated.  The west boundary is formed by the River Boyne, on which at the north end was a large corn and flax mill, which was sublet to J. McCann Esq. (1822), who negotiated a 999 year lease in 1851 and for many years Kilcarne Mill was run in conjunction with the family business, - John McCann and Sons, Millers and Bakers, 15 West Street, Drogheda. The Field Name Book of 1835, mentioned Kilcarne as ‘a large corn and flax mill.’  James McCann was elected M.P. for Drogheda in the 1850’s and in later life resided beside the Inny River at Tenelick, CO. Longford.

In 1896 the mill was sold as a going concern to Luke Smith of Boyne Mills, Navan.  The agreement apparently, never took effect, for in 1898 the McCann interest was sold to Navan Town Commissioners for £400 in order to provide an intake and pumping station for the town water supply.  Many senior citizens of the area remember the mill for other reasons – dancing – On January the 31st 1931, the Johnstown hurling Club brought off its annual dance in the Old Mill Loft with an attendance of 100 couples.  Of course in those days, Gaelic dances had priority on the floor.  Tommy Kinsella, from Navan was M.C. for the night.

No mention of Kilcarne would be complete without reference to the famous Christy ‘Shed’ McGrath.  In July, 1924, the Kilcarne hurling were in difficulties.  Ten minutes into the second half, they trailed Killyon by 4-0 to 1-0.  Christy called his team off the field, saying they had to catch the train home!  Believe it or not the match was re-fixed.  ‘Shed’s team looked in big trouble at half time trailing by 5-2 to 0-1.  However he had an ace up his sleeve.  He had arranged for a guard to be present from Dublin to play for Kilcarne but did not arrive until the interval.  When he went up in the second moiety, he quickly made his presence felt.  Kilcarne scored goal after goal until they drew ahead of Killyon and won the match.  Unfortunately, the story had an unhappy ending for ‘Shed’ – Kilcarne was suspended.

The remains of Christy McGrath lie in Kilcarne Cemetery.  A member of that team was the V. Rev. Fr. Tom Finn C.C. Johnstown, who was tragically killed when his motor bike was in collision with a car at Walterstown Cross on his way to Walterstown Church, 26th Sept 1926.

Morell, Muinear, a manor, 204 acres.  This is the Irish name.  It is still known as the manor today.  There were no roads in this townlands but a few houses.

Oldtown – containing 509 acres. It was the property of Sir John Dillon, Lismullen House.

I finish almost where I started with the Baron of Skryne – deFeipo.  Each barony controlled a crossing of the Boyne.  Old Kilcarne Bridge was built by the Baron of Skryne.  It was built at this particular spot for 2 reasons, Kilcarne lands remained in de Feipo hands, starting with Geoffrey, - builder of St. Stephens Church in 1192, until the middle if the 17th Century.  Whenever the bridge was built, the Baron or his family retained in control of its defence.

The other reason for its sitting was that the bed of the river at that place was stone which gave firm support to its foundation.  As I mention de Feipo, I think of some famous people who crossed this historic bridge over the years – Saint Oliver Plunkett rushing to a confirmation, Parnell, preoccupied with a speech he must address to his constituents in Navan – farmers and their wives in high gigs on their way to market, farm lads accompanying heavy hay carts at harvest time.  Could I possibly finish without a mention of football!  The Sam Maguire Cup crossed the Bridge of Kilcarne on 5 occasions to a Royal reception in Navan.  And to think it all started when Diarmuid McMurrough, in a fit of rage, left Ireland to seek help from Henry II to regain his Kingdom in Ireland!

Believe it or not!

One day a man visited Kilcarne Cemetery.  Seeing a skull on the ground he kicked it in front of him.  To his amazement the skull spoke the following words –

‘Remember man as you pass by,

As you are now, so once was I,

As I am now you all will be,

Remember man and pray for me.’

Opposite the Church Lane Gate was a lone bush.  It was looked upon with suspicion and dreaded by the natives.  One day two men cut it down and ill-luck followed them for the rest of their lives.  Mr. George Oakes, father of Noreen and Olive, told this story to Miss Hickey N.T. Johnstown.  He warned her not to mention the names as relatives were still alive at the time!

Final Hymn - Faith of Our Fathers.

Faith of our Fathers!

Living still in spite of dungeon, fire and sword:

Oh, how our hearts beat high with joy

When e’er we hear that glorious word.

Faith of our fathers!

Holy Faith! Holy Faith!

We will be true to you till death,

We will be true to you till death.

Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,

Were still in heart and conscience free;

How sweet would be their children’s fate,

If they, like them, could die for thee!

Faith of our fathers, Mary’s prayers

Shall win our country back to thee;

And through the truth that comes from God

England shall then indeed be free.

Faith of our Fathers, we will love

Both friend and foe in all our strife,

And preach thee too, as love knows how,

By kindly words and virtuous life.

St. Stephen's Headstone Inscriptions Click Here