The townland of Aglish forms part of the parish of Borrisokane. The ruins of the old church stand in the churchyard of the present Protestant Church . It was built of limestone and was situated on high ground. The building was originally fifty seven feet in length, twenty nine feet in width and the wall height was ten feet. The structure was very sturdy as the walls were three feet thick. John O’Donovan in his Ordnance Survey of 1841 remarked that the ruins belonged to an Abbey which stood there formerly and that some of the stone was used in the building of the present Protestant Church.
Tradition says that the Abbey belonged to the Canons Regular of St. Augustine. They had taken over what had been a previous foundation by Irish Columban Monks. The Canons’ occupation began in the thirteenth century.
The monastic origins of the region would have given rise to the name Aglish which is an anglicised version of ‘eaglis’, the Irish word for a church. This has roots in common with the Welsh Eccluis’ the Cornish Eglos the Armoire ‘ylis’ and the Latin ‘Ecclesia.
There is a considerable number of parishes and townlands called Aglish and Eglish. The former spelling is more usual in the south of the country, the latter in the north.
Let us now survey the history of the modern church in Eaglais. The foundation stone of the building was laid by Bishop J. McGolrick on the 7th of June 1891 . The building was blessed and opened on the 8th of October 1893 , dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel . The ceremony was performed by Most Reverend J.J. McRedmond, Bishop of Killaloe. The alter stone had been consecrated the day before. The church replaced an older building in the village, dated 1789.
A few mundane facts about the church may prove to be of some interest. It cost about £2,500 to build. This cost included the alter, communion rails, stained glass windows, benches, confessionals, furniture and sacred vessels. The money was contributed by parishioners of Aglish and Borrisokane and of Shinrone, by people in America, priests of the diocese and people in neighbouring parishes. The site for the church was given by tenant farmer Francis Dooly with the blessing of the landlord Mr. Fosberry. The title was freehold in perpetuity.
The builder was Michael Martin of Portumna who had already built the convent school in Borrisokane in 1888. Francis O’Connor from Ennis was the architect.
It would seem appropriate at this point to give a detailed description of the church. This will serve to refresh the memories of those who are now living at a distance and may perhaps interest the less observant. The church contains in all nine stained glass windows. The largest lights the main alter and is dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel. Side panels commemorate St. Joseph and the Blesses Virgin and a top panel depicts the Sacred Heart. There is an inscription which reads: “Pray for the deceased parents of Mr. And Mrs. Joseph Slattery, Borrisokane, the donors of this Window 1893.”
There are two smaller windows in the right transept. One, in memory of David and Margaret Quinlan, depicts St. Flannan, the other shows St. Thomas the Apostle and is inscribed: Erected by William Hogan in memory of his parents Thomas and Bridgit Hogan and his son Thomas Flynn Hogan R.I.P. In the left transept, St. Cronan’s window is dedicated to Dan Quinlan while St. Paul’s was erected to the memory of Bridged Hogan (Doolan) by her devoted son. The front porch is adorned by stained glass images of St. Patrick and St. Brigid.
There are some very beautiful chalices in Aglish Church, donated by local people. One of these is inscribed: Given by Father Thomas M. Ryan, Dakota, U.S.A. in memory of our parents and Father Patrick Ryan 1954. Another reads: Pray for Mary Dooly, Aglish, Borrisokane, who died 25th August 1884. Yet another inscription reads: Parish of Eglish 1850, Rev. James Birmingham R.I.P. Pray for me. The monstrance was presented in memory of William O’Dwyer of Eglish.
In referring to people who have been directly involved in the century old history of the present church in Eagkaus, we must not overlook the part played by one family. In 1893, when the church was opened, Mrs. Nora Shanney who had been sacristan in the old building, continued in that post. She was eventually replaced by her daughter Mrs. Nora Conroy. The third generation of the family entered the scene in 1954 when Mrs. Conroy’s son Michael and his wife Elizabeth took over the position. Michael died in 1994. The church fabric underwent many changes over the years. The greatest modifications occurred in 1971. At a cost of 16,000 pounds the church acquired a new roof and a new floor. The walls were dry-lined, oil fired central heating was installed and an extension was added to the sanctuary. Loughnane’s Builders of Birr were involved in the work. It is to be noted that the repairs and additions cost six and a half times than the erection of the original building.
There are many other historical ‘ tit-bits’ about the church, for instance, it is said that the stone used in the building came from Dan Cleary’s Quarry and it took almost two years to dress it. Some local people worked on the site, among them John Reddan, Edward White from Ballyhough, Tom Pilley and Dan Corboy.
When Aglish Church was due for painting in 1893, the work is reported to have been assigned to two outside contractors. Two local painters, the Hayes Brothers of the Square, Borrisokane, did not like this and organised a protest meeting in the town. A certain Jim Molloy was asked to chair and meeting as he was well versed in local affairs and had a reputation as a wit. The meeting took place with Molloy standing on a platform made from a tar barrel, and an old door. Unknown to the Hayes brothers, Molloy had very little time for them and his speech ran as follows: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, this meeting…etc, who should we bring in daubers from outside the area to paint the church when we have our own daubers to do the work…’Presumably the meeting ended at this point! It is known that the church has been re-roofed twice and there is an interesting story about the original roofing. It is said that the contract was given to a Dublin firm because the builder did not consider the local roofer Mike Phelan would have the necessary expertise. He was given the roofing of a coach house at the rear of the church to accommodate the priest’s horse and trap. An ironic aspect of the story was the fate of these roofs during a very bad storm in 1910. The church roof suffered such damage it had to be replaced while the coach-house roof remains intact to this day A foot-note to the foregoing is the fact that the church lacked a bell until 1922. In that year Canon Meagher presented the present one to the parish. It was manufactured by O’Byrne’s Foundry of Hammond Lane, Dublin and weighs one ton.
Before concluding this very incomplete survey of the church in Aglish and its origins the reader might like to know a little more about the man who blessed the foundation stone in 1891 – Bishop James McGolrick. He was a native of Borrisokane as evidenced by an inscription on his headstone in Calvary, Duluth, U.S.A. which stated that he was born in Borrisokane on May 6th 1841. There is however, no record to show that he was baptized in Borrisokane.
Be that as it may, he lived as a boy with his parents Felix and Bridget, four sisters and two brothers in what is now Clarke’s in the main street of the town. His brothers William and Henry became priests, two sisters were nuns in Minnesota and the two remaining sisters remained in Borrisokane. Both were buried in the old cemetery.
Felix was a tenant farmer, a tailor and shoemaker who played the violin. The future bishop attended Mr. Hayes’ school in Borrisokane. He went from there to St. Nathy’s College in Ballaghaderreen and in 1861 he moved to all Hallows College in Dublin where he spent six years. He was ordained in 1867 and celebrated his first mass in Mount Argus and the second in Borrisokane. He came to St Pauls in 1876 for his first curacy and in 1877 was appointed pastor of the new Immaculate Conception parish in Minneapolis. He was consecrated the first Bishop of Duluth on the 27th of December 1889. He now had 19,000 souls to care for, twenty priests and thirty four churches. His father had died in 1887, nine years after his mother had passed on.
The priest, and later Bishop, visited Borrisokane frequently and it was when he was on one of these visits that he laid the foundation stone in Aglish.
He celebrated the Golden Jubilee of his priesthood on the 11th of June 1917 and died some months later in January 1918. He was buried beside his brothers William and Henry. In 1837 when Samuel Lewis wrote his Topographical Director of Ireland he described Aglish as follows: Aglishcloghane, Eglish, a priest in lower Ormond, three miles from Borrisokane, on the road from Portumna to Roscrea containing 1,961 inhabitants. It contains 4,474 statue acres as applotted under the Title Act. The system of agriculture is improving and a considerable portion of moorland, formerly waste, has been reclaimed and brought into cultivation ; there is an abundance of bog.
Limestone of superior quality abounds and is quarried for building. Millford, pleasantly situated in a well-planted demesne, is the occasional residence of Ralph Smith Esq. The living consists of rectory, vicarage and perpetual curacy, in the Diocese of Killaloe; the vicarage, with cure of souls,forms the corps of the Archdeaconry of Killaloe, with which are held. Without curacy the rectories of Aglishcloghane, Lorrha and Dorrha episcopally united in 1785. The church of the union is at Lorrha, where is also a Glebe-house; and there are two glebes, comprising together about forty three acres, situated respectively near the sites of the old churches. The church of perpetual curacy, a near modern building, for the erection of which the late Board of First Fruits gave £800 in 1831, is situated near the ruins of the Old Church. In the church yard nearby is a very old ashtree of large dimensions. The Glebe-house was built with the aid of a gift of £450 and a loan of £50 from the Board. The glebe consists of 13.5 acres; and the stipend of the perpetual curate is £100 per annum, paid by the Archdeacon. This is one of the three parishes which constitute the R.C. Union or District of Burris-o-kane; the chapel is situated in the village of Eglish. The parochial school is supported under the patronage of the curate and there is also a school in the R.C. Church.