Thursday, 21 March 2013

Johnstown Medieval Church

I found this old graveyard by pure chance having passed by it many times over the years. Situated at the north end of the small Kildare village of Johnstown. It contains the ruins of a medieval nave and chancel which was built by the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem. Presumably where the village took its name from as the Hospitallers were a medieval order of knights who held lands in the surrounding area until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1540s.

There were many members of  local landlords and aristocracy which were buried in the graveyard, most notably those of the Bourkes, who were Lords of Naas and Earls of Mayo. Perhaps the most famous of these was Richard Southwell Bourke, 6th Earl of Mayo (1822-1872) who was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland three times in the 19th century. HE was also appointed as Viceroy of India in 1868, were he came to an untimely end after being stabbed to death. He then became known as 'The Pickled Earl', locally after his body was reputedly shipped back to Ireland in a barrel of rum (for preservative purposes). He is believed to be buried under the wonderfully ornate Celtic cross in the centre of the graveyard.

A large plot can be seen tucked away in a corner near the entrance to the graveyard which is the family plot of the Bourke clan. Today it is marked by a simple plain stone cross. Inset into the wall is a 15th century grave slab with coats of arms of the Flatsbury and Wogan families.This has been taken to be the grave slab of James Flatsbury who married Eleanor Wogan in 1436. In 1503 Phillip Flatsbury compiled the ‘Red Book of the Earls of Kildare’ for Garret ‘Og’ Fitzgerald, the 9th Earl of Kildare.The book, which contains lists of documents relating to the Fitzgerald estates (including grants and title deeds) went missing after the Rebellion of ‘Silken Thomas’ the 10th Earl, but is today in the possession of Trinity College Dublin.

Bourke family plot.
Flatsbury and Wogan grave slab

Also worthy of a mention are the octagonal base of a medieval baptismal font which lies in the confines of the chancel and is in reasonable condition for its age, and a fine example of a lancet window which remains suprisingly intact in comparison to the remainder of the structure.

Medieval Baptisim Font
Lancet Window

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