On Easter Sunday March 23rd 2008 Mass was said in St. Brendan’s Church Newmarket, Co. Kilkenny for the last time. Sadly, this beautiful church, which is a listed building and a landmark in the village of Newmarket, has closed as the ceiling is in need of repair and the numbers of people attending Mass in Newmarket have dwindled to a handful. As the cost of repairs is substantial, the parish authorities have now closed the church and its future is uncertain. During the final Mass, Rev. Peter Hoyne P.E. outlined the history of Newmarket Church. The following is the text of this sermon and I am grateful to Fr. Hoyne for permission to reproduce the history of Newmarket Church.
In the years between 1600 and 1641 the parish system in the Diocese of Ossory was recognised in accordance with the decreed of the Council of Trent. The tridentine system of pastoral care was to have a parish priest in charge of a specific geographical area, while also being resident in that area. There is a map of the reorganised parishes in Co. Kilkenny from about 1645. One of the parishes named is Aghavilllar. It covered the area of the two modern parishes of Aghavillar and Ballyhale. There were two priests serving the whole area at that time. The present parish of Ballyhale was severed from Aghavillar in September 1847.
Aghavillar Church had been an important ecclesiastical centre for nearly 1,000 years. Perhaps around 1620 there might have been hopes of reviving it. Maybe this is why the parish was named Aghavillar. The revival never took place.
All the lands around it were forfeited under Cromwell in 1653. In 1687 Harvey Morres was granted the lands round about. The fair of Harvey in Hugginstown dates from this time.
It may well be that Harvey Morres was not that badly disposed as long as the people stayed away from Aghavillar. Do what you like in Hugginstown but don’t cause too much trouble. English rule hadn’t impacted that greatly in what is known as the Walsh Mountain area up to then. Eventually a mass-house was built in what is now Mr. Sean Duggan’s farm. Canon Carrigan called it “Carroll’s field” in Thoonavalla, Hugginstown. In 1731 it was the only chapel in the district till it fell or was abandoned.
Eventually the Mass-House needed to be replaced about 1798.
The British authorities were now allowing Catholics to use larger buildings for Catholic worship, but now they were called chapels. In selecting the site of the new chapel the people disagreed. The people of Hugginstown may well have argued that the old Mass-House was here. The people of Newmarket probably argued that the centre for Catholic worship was in Aghavillar for 1,000 years or so. As well, popular devotions at St. Brendan’s well in Aghavillar were still being observed. The result was that instead of building one chapel for the use of all the people they built two chapels in opposition. This was between 1798 -1801. The patron saint of both Churches was St. Brendan of Birr. He had been the patron saint of the ancient Celtic Church in Aghavillar. Fr. John Cassin was P.P. from 1784 to 1800. I have reason to believe that he lived in Ballygeardra.
In 1804 this church was closed down “on account of the spilling of blood”. Canon Carrigan doesn’t give any more details. There is a story that someone from Callan stole some stained glass windows which had been intended for the Church. He was followed and brought back to Newmarket where he was hanged. This was rough justice. Bishop Lanigan closed the church as a consequence. No church is worth a man’s life. It was left idle until after a few years someone began using it to stable horses. The question arose what was to be the future of this building. Bishop Lanigan relented and the building was used as a church once more. Bishop Lanigan died in 1812. It has continued to be used as a church to this day, Easter Sunday March 23rd 2008.
The site for the new chapel in 1798 must have been hotly contested. The landlord donated two sites for two chapels, possibly in the interest of keeping the peace. The two sites had to be owned independently by the Catholic Church. Each site would have to have access to the public road. This was to prevent people from closing a right of way to the Chapel as had happened in Owning shortly before. It would be very interesting to know what the parish priest of the time thought of it all.
The Church is an example of a Church built by poor people. It was a great effort on their behalf. The two little statues high up on the sanctuary walls probably were the original statues. They give us some idea of what could be afforded then. It is a wonder how they have survived. The present statue of our Lady is at least 150 years old. It is a companion to the statue in Hugginstown Church. There was an old liturgical law which stated that every statue of Mary had to be accompanied by the child Jesus. This changed after the Marian apparition to St. Catherine Laboure in Paris in 1831. The statue of Our Lady outside over the front door is that of the vision of Catherine Laboure. Mary is now shown on her own. The ceiling
is thought to be the original ceiling, now sadly perished after so many years. The Church is a listed building mainly because of the background to the Sanctuary. The wooden structure is also in a very frail condition. The Blessed Sacrament would have been reserved here in the tabernacle for about one hundred years, since the time of Pope Pius 10th. The sanctuary lamp would date from that time. The first set of the Stations of the Cross were probably erected about 1870.
This Church has been God’s House in Newmarket for 200 years. It has been the place where he has pitched his tent among his people as it were.
It has been a house of prayer. God’s presence made it a place of blessing. Here in this building God’s love was always at work preparing the people of Newmarket for the heavenly glory. We believe that the saints in heaven join us in our celebration of Mass. We praise God together. Sometimes we say as much in the Preface of the Mass e.g. “And so we join the angels and the saints as they sing the unending hymn of praise”. Think of all the people who celebrated Easter Sunday here in 1908. Think of the people who celebrated the first Easter Sunday in this church in say 1802. Our hope is that they are joining us today as we praise God. This is something to reflect on. We thank God for this house of prayer in which he blessed his family as they came to him on their pilgrimage of life, when they came for baptisms, first Confessions, first Holy Communions, for Sunday mass, for Missions, for weddings and for Christian burials or as they used to be known for Requiem Masses.
There are many memories of this church among the people here Easter Sunday morning. No doubt it is a sad day for many. Let me conclude with one memory which is not sad. In days gone bye security was not as strict as it is today. The porch is a recent addition. The front door was left wide open all day. The old baptismal font was placed near the entrance. One day the water in the font began to disappear mysteriously. This was much to the chagrin of the person in charge of the Church. After careful investigation of this outrage it was discovered that a local sow was wandering in for a drink of water.