Words and photos by Pat Shortall
Templemartin is approximately three miles from Kilkenny city. The graveyard adjoins the ruins of the ancient monastic church on a site a little over a quarter of an acre in size. Its most prominent feature is the arched Romanesque Doorway, which is still in relatively good condition. Gravestones are scattered haphazardly and randomly throughout. The holy well of St. Martin is reputed to lie in what is locally known as Mrs. Quirke’s bog a short distance north of the old church. The last burial took place there in 1991; it was that of local lady, Helena (Lena) Lennon. The first headstone mention of her deceased relatives dates to 1929. Representatives from the local community, with the assistance of Kilkenny Co. Council, regularly complete the necessary tasks for the upkeep of the site.
The patron Saint of Templemartin (Thomple – Waurthan) was St. Martin of Tours, the Roman army officer who became the third Bishop of Tours. St. Martin is famously associated with at least one very generous deed. One day on his journey to battle, he saw a poor man dressed in rags during a period of freezing temperatures. He drew his sword to cut the cloak he was wearing in two and gave one-half to the suffering man. The following night he had a vision of Jesus, who appeared to him, dressed in the half cloak he had given to the poor man he had encountered the previous day. The feast of St. Martin of Tours occurs on 11th November. Recognising the importance of the Saint and his feast day, fairs and other business transactions took place at Templemartin crossroads on the 10th and the 23rd of November each year until about 1860.
The parish of Templemartin, or as it is called on the Ordnance Map, St. Martin’s. It comprises the townlands of Highrath, Lavistown, Lyrath (part of) Rathbourne and Templemartin, in all 782 statued acres. The church can scarcely be later than the 13th century.
There is evidence to suggest that the New Model Army led by Oliver Cromwell, during his conquest of Ireland was responsible for an attack on Templemartin church. However, the local inhabitants from then to the present day did not forget the sacredness of the church grounds. Tombs and burial plots were erected and constructed after the devastation, within and between the original walls of the church building.
In November 1970, Mrs. Madge Buggy on behalf of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, carried out an extensive survey of the tombstones and their inscriptions. Many well-known Kilkenny family names were included in her findings. Representatives of families such as Walton, Ryan, Nolan, Long, Kavanagh, Phelan and Loughman. Indeed, on a recent visit, I learned of many more familiar city and county names, which are still in existence today.
The well-respected Wheeler Cuffe family boasts a very fine preserved memorial set in the wall in the chancel. It can be clearly seen over another ornate monument. This concerns the memory of the Shortall family, who had connections with Clara Castle. As with other stone uprights, it survived Cromwell’s rampage, as it is dated 23rd December 1562.
On 13th August 2019, the first mass for at least 300 years was celebrated with appropriate sincerity beside the dominant yew tree opposite the church ruin. People from neighbouring parishes and the local community gathered to honour in prayer, the memory of those who constructed the church on the holy grounds and those who attended mass and the sacraments on the site for so many years. An order of devout monks from Tours, France, in the 11th century, are understood to be the first religious to inhabit the area. They too, were mentioned in a special blessing by Fr Willie Purcell, parish priest at Clara.
Part of the celebration on that damp August evening, was the promise that the holy sacrament of the mass would join the list of graveyard masses in the parish each year. Once again, on June 6 2023, parish priest of Clara, Fr. Willie Purcell performed a sacred blessing at Templemartin’s church and graveyard, to honour once more the feast of St. Martin of Tours. Fr Willie paid special mention to all interred at the graveyard without a memorial stone or plaque.