St Mary's Church

Collegiate Church, Effigial Tombs and Ogham Stone

The Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to state it's full name, is a really wonderful 13th century building. This rectangular church has undergone many changes over the years. The original chancel was removed and replaced by a 19th century Parish Church, the superb central tower was vastly modified in the 14th or 15th century and the crenellations were added to the church. The church was served by a college of clerics, rather than monks, who lived in a nearby house.

A few of the many masks to be found throughout the building.

The Parish Church at the eastern end of the building is only open to visitors during the summer months, Mid-May to August, and even then it is closed on mondays and tuesdays. I dropped by in early May but still thoroughly enjoyed my visit. There is a vast array of medieval carving to to be found throughout the building. I don't recall ever seeing such a large number of masks, except on romanesque doorways, on any other ecclesiastic building. I will definitely call back during the summer months to view the splendid 16th century Butler tombs, decorated with weepers and effigies of armoured knights, a couple of 14th century effigial slabs and a cross inscribed ogham stone present inside the Parish Church. The images below are from several trips to Gowran in 2018.


Loyal Dog

Effigies above from Left to right, possibly Sabh Kavanagh, mother of Piers Butler the 8th Earl of Ormond. James le Butler 1304-1338, first Earl of Ormond and his wife, Eleanor de Bohun 1304-1363. Radoulfus d.1253 the portrieve (priest) of Gowran in 1218.

Gowran Cadaver

James Kealy Tomb






Gowran Ogham Stone

This ogham stone was discovered in the foundation of the chancel of St Mary's old Church, during the re-building of the chancel. The stone was lying prostrate in the nave, until Du Noyer noticed the ogham inscription in 1849. The 1.50 metre high stone now stands up against the interior of the north wall, next to the altar steps. Macalister, 1945, read the inscription, dexter angle up, sinister edge up, as follows;


The MAQ strokes have been chipped away at the bottom of the dexter angle.

The ogham stone has been Christianised with the addition of a large cross potent, carved at the bottom of the inscribed face. This is similar to the ogham stone at Dromkeare, County Kerry.

Medieval graveslabs

A fine collection of medieval cross slabs are also present at St May's Church. Most of them are lying on the floor in the chancel, others are lying against the walls. You can see a number of these in the image shown right. The slab below, is fixed upright on the north wall of the tower, it bears an eight pointed fluoridated cross with the coat of arms for the Ormond family and below it is a shield with the Purcell and Rothe families mentioned. Another memorial monument commemorates James Kealy and his wives, Ellen Nash and Mrs Mary White, his second wife. He may be a son of the James Kealy commemorated on the cadaver tomb. A slab, below right, lying on the floor of the chancel, bears a carving of an upper body and a sword.

The Chancel

Situated: Very easy, located in the centre of town on the R448. Parking nearby. The church is open from mid may-till the end of August. Wednesday to Sunday inclusive.

Discovery Map 68: S 6331 5348. Last visit May 2018.

Longitude: 7° 3' 53" W

Latitude: 52° 37' 44" N

Google Map

Photos: Jim Dempsey.

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