Church Of The Rath
It is from this old church that the town takes its Irish name Cill na Sean Ratha, meaning the ‘church of the old rath or fort’. Described as an early settlement with a small church set within a ringfort dating from the late medieval fourteenth century. The rath church was typical rough stone construction with small windows and a surrounding graveyard, said to have been built by a local clan sept called MacKiernan’s, under the supervision of Drumlane St.Mary’s priory for the order of Augustinian Canons Regular. The church was used by local people living around and about the area and probably visited by the priory friars. During the early seventeenth century a regranting of Cavan lands took place under the scheme called Plantation of Ulster, whereby local lands were granted to Scottish settlers led by Sir Alexander Hamilton, tasked with building a town called Killeshandra with a fortified house, Castle Hamilton. These local lands also included the old rath church and used by the Protestant planter families for episcopalian worship. As the town population grew there became need for a larger church building, so the Hamilton’s re-styled the church to include a ‘T’ shaped transept and install larger gothic style windows. There is no exact date when this work was undertaken, said to have taken place soon after the death of Sir Charles Hamilton in 1688, who is recorded to have been buried here together with his wife Catherine (nee Semple). Their son, Sir Francis Hamilton erected a heraldic coat of arms ascribed to his parents which can still be seen on the south facing gable wall. When Sir Francis died in 1713 his wife commissioned a marble Hamilton memorial plaque which can be seen inside the present Killeshandra Church of Ireland building, having been removed from the abandoned old church when a new church was built in 1842. The rath church graveyard continued to be used by local families of all denominations until quite recent times, presently cared for by members of the local community. Several grave markers date from the early eighteenth century, with the earliest being Agnes Harkness and her family which dates from 1696. The graveyard is immensely popular with overseas visitors searching for their Killeshandra ancestors.
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