The new parish of Monaleen was created in June 1971, but it would be a mistake to see it as an area that was without roots; that it was without a history. In reality, its origins stretch back into the mysteries of medieval Limerick. In the early thirteenth century, Donat 0’Brien, Bishop of Limerick, who died around 1207, set-up a chapter for his cathedral church, consisting of a dean, archdeacon, cantor, treasurer and six canons. He assigned to them incomes from churches within the diocese and in this context, St. Mary Magdalene is listed. It is referred to as Kilmurry. In 1201, Myler Fitzhenry, the King’s justiciar or representative, listed the churches in the diocese of Limerick and mentions St Maria Rotunda. It is thought, that this church occupied the site of the present Kilmurry church and graveyard. ‘Rotunda’ meaning ‘round’ intrigues many who are interested in the medieval history of Limerick. However sometimes the name is given as ‘Kylmthurrok’. There is a belief that a dedication to St. Mary Magdalene provides evidence that this could have been part of a hospital. Was this saint one of the sisters of Lazarus? In the early Church he was looked upon as the guardian of lepers, and the possible connection between the two meant that she also was elevated to be patron of lepers and leper hospitals. The barber-surgeons of medieval Limerick paid for the building and upkeep of a chapel within St. Mary’s cathedral, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene. With the Reformation in the mid-sixteenth century, Kilmurry, and its lands passed to the Church of Ireland. When Catholics were setting-up a new establishment for themselves they brought the old dedication with them. Hence the nineteenth century church of Monaleen is the church of St. Mary Magdalene.
The second medieval church with connections to Monaleen, is Deriganan or Derrygalvin, in modern English spelling. It is mentioned in a taxation list of 1302. The site of this church is within the bounds of the new parish of Monaleen, unlike that of Kilmurry. Nothing of the building remains but the location is where Ballysimon graveyard is situated.
It is probable that in the eighteenth-century, a penal chapel existed in the general area, but not on the hill where the present church is situated. In times of persecution Catholic chapels were tolerated if they were built in quiet, hidden places. There was a report in a local newspaper dated 25th July 1851, that on the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, ‘the patron of Monaleen parish’ High Mass was celebrated in the chapel. Lenihan, in his 1866 book dealing with Limerick’s history states: ‘The chapel of Monaleen, a neat but small building, about two miles from Limerick, is attached to this parish.’ [St. Patrick’s]
For many years, Monaleen was recognized as a distinct area, but attached to the jurisdiction of St. Patrick’s parish. This is made very clear when it was decided to build a new church in the 1860s. A newspaper report dated May 1868, invited those wishing to tender for the contract, to view the plans drawn-up by George Goldie, which were on display in the vestry of St. Patrick’s church, Clare Street.
George Goldie, was born in York in 1828, and enjoyed an enormous practice, among Catholics, in the United Kingdom. He designed the church of St. Wilfred, York, the cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo, the convent of the Assumption, Kensington Square, London; the list of his works seems endless. The high altar, reredos and the tower of the Redemptorist church, Limerick, the throne for the bishop in St. John’s cathedral and the altar and stalls in the oratory of the Good Shepherd Convent, Limerick, were all from his hand. Designs for some of the stained-glass in St. John’s cathedral and the Dominican church, Baker Place, were also his work.
The church which Goldie designed for Monaleen was finished around 1873. It is described by the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage as ‘a fine example of a late nineteenth-century Gothic Revival church architecture. The church’s stonework, stained glass windows and some bold features overlaid on more traditional elements, enliven the façade.’ The Inventory does not list the stained-glass windows around the ‘canted chancel to rear (east) elevation’. However, they are representations of St. Joseph, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Patrick and St. Thomas. They were probably produced by Mayers’ of Munich. The final comment by the Inventory demonstrates how time moves and changes all things, yet much remains. ‘Prominently sited, it [the church] dominates the village streetscape and remains an important and attractive landmark.’
Monaleen parish combines Limerick’s fascinating past with its present and the possibilities of its future. It is an unfolding tale, as is all of human existence.
Charlotte Murphy Ph.D