by Kieran Clendinning

The parish churches of the Diocese of Dromore, in particular that of the ancient parish of Magheralin., are a vital part of our heritage demanding to be seen, not only in terms of architecture but as institutions, places of worship within a pattern of settlement with a role in the history and worship of the community.

Situated on the western reaches of the River Lagan, at a point where the river turns east to navigate its course through the verdant Lagan Valley, the Parish of Magheralin. has stood sentinel-like as a beacon of Christian faith from the mission of Patrick, who according to tradition used the Lagan as the highway on his journey through Iveagh to Dromore. A second aspect of Magheralin., Machaire Lainne, (the plain of the church) linking the dawning of Christianity in this ancient homeland of the O'Labhradha of Magh Rath, is that it is identified in the annals as `Lann Ronain Fhinn in Uibh Eachach Uladh'. It was originally claimed that Colman founded the 7th. century monastic settlement. His death is recorded in the annals as follows "The Age of Christ, 699. The sixth year of Loingseach, Colman of Linn Ua-Chaille, died 30th. of March." The belief that this Colman was the founder of the monastery was born out of a suggestion by some scholars. This was later corrected when it was found that Magheralin. had been erroneously named as being the settlement of St. Colman sited close to Linduachaill, at Annagassan, in Co. Louth.

St. Patrick's Church, Magheralin.

The first clue to the patron of the parish can be found in the early manuscript Felire Oengusso Celi D�. Written in 800 A.D. the manuscript known in English as The Martyrology of Oengus, lists Ronan eighth in descent from Colla da-Chrioch as the founder: "The soul of Ronan the Fair went to the starry heaven, with the bright prolific man, Baithene son of Finda'' suggesting that sometime in the year 637, Ronan Finn built his first church at Magheralin.. The date of his demise is given in the Calendar of the Saints of Ireland as the 22nd. May 637, under the following heading Ronan Finn, of Lan Ronain Finn, in Ui Eachach Uladh.

In old Irish, the word Lann is used to denote a house or a church, and is borrowed from the Welsh. The use of the word as applied to Ronan's settlement on the banks of the Lagan dates back to the second wave of missionary activity in the area in the 7th. century. Besides Lann Ronan Finn, there are three other ancient Lann churches sited in the greater Killultagh district. They are Lann Abhaic, (church of the dwarf) at Glenavy; Lann Lua, "the church of MoLua" at Lower Ballinderry and Lann Beg "the small church," at Lambeg. Another proof of the Welsh connection with Dromore in early times is the fact that Colman, of Nedrum, the apostle of St. Patrick and patron saint of the diocese, is also the titular saint of Langolman.

In an age when the paruchiae of Celtic monasticism accepted Episcopal orders, and had it not been a fact that the Normans were entrenched at Dromore at the time of the Gregorian reform, it is more than a probability that the abbot of Lann Ronan Finn, would have been a strong contender to become the prelate of the newly-formed diocese. Long after the enactment of the Gregorian reform, the pre-eminence of Magheralin. was maintained through the establishment of the prebendary of Lann Ronan with a stall in the Chapter of Dromore Cathedral. The ecclesiastical importance of Magheralin. can also be stressed by the fact that the English establishment in 1660, thought it expedient for the Anglican Church - after the Puritan purge of Cromwell - to build a See-House at Magheralin., and refurbish the ancient church as a pro-Cathedral for the administration of the Protestant Diocese of Dromore.


Shadowy details are all that are available of the early monastic community at Magheralin.. Yet it continued to exist up to the 12th. century. The first clear evidence of the settlement appears in 1178 when the annals record that John de Courcey plundered the "ardneimheadh Uladh wile, the chief sanctuary of Ulster, and Thomas O'Corcrain, the erenach of church of Lann Ronan, was beheaded. The result of this desecration meant that many relics were destroyed, including the treasured 400-year old bachal, or crozier of St. Ronan. Despite this annihilation, Ronan's bell known as the Clough Rua was saved and carefully preserved by its hereditary keepers the Roe-Lavery of Magherahinch. During the penal times the bell was placed in Moira Castle and its safety entrusted to Earl of Moira. The bell was eventually returned to the parish at the opening of St. Colman's Church on 24th. October 1841. The bell is now in the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland.

Northern Ireland, from Jodocus Hondius, Hyberniae novissima descriptio (Amsterdam_ 15911

On the map of 1591 (above), Magheralin. (Mahelin) takes pride of place on the River Lagan. Donaghcloney and Dromore are not included. On the map of 1610 (below), all three ancient ecclesiastical foundations are included but the territory of Kilwarlin is even more prominent.

From The province Ulster described. 1610. in Speed's Theatre.

Another important reference to the early church is the well known as "Tober Ronan". This is sited in a field close to the Moira Road, in the townland of Ballymagin, Baile Mhig Flinn. This was church land, a fact that is still recorded in the use of the word Temple, Teampall, a church. While the ancient manuscript known as the Book of Lecan locates Ronan's community at "Corco Rusen in Magh Rath" the exact site of early church is unknown. While there are difficulties in establishing the whereabouts of the monastery above ground, it can be hinted that Ronan had established his community in Feney, where the Survey of Down informs us that the 1835 Ordnance Survey Map "traces the outline of a rectilinear earthworks at a part where a small stream enters the Lagan." In medieval times, the focus of settlement centred around An Temple Machaire Lainne." It was this demographic contraction and social change that led to the placing of the parish church at Ballymaginn, leaving the old timber-built monastic complex at Feney to fall into disuse. The land at Feney, Fionaigh, belonged to the O'Labhradha but this was confiscated by the Commonwealth and taken from Rory Curragh O'Lawy of Ffowney who was implicated as an insurgent during the 1641 uprising.


In the 15th. century owing to the sparseness of numbers, Magheralin. was united with the parish of Aghalee by Papal decree. To cement this union, Donatus Magynd (Donald Maginn) who held the Prebendary of "St Ronan's of Land" was appointed vicar of Acadle in 1492. Nevertheless, records from the 12th. to the beginning of the 17th. century show that Patrick Magind, vicar of Magheralin., was appointed to the Cathedral Chapter of Dromore to hold the prebendary of "St. Ronan's de land, 27th. March 1407," His elevation also included his induction as Rector of Clonduff. Some 15 years later, a John Magynd is recorded as vicar of Magheralin. in 1422. The next vacancy was held by Marcus Mac Bridyn. He resigned in November 1429 before the Papal Bull of his appointment had been issued. This Marcus MacBridyn is also credited as being rector of Clonduff in 1428. In 1440, Ode O'Ronaga (O'Rooney) was provided with the living, but his appointment appears to have been short-lived for he was followed by John MacGgynd in 1442. Christopher McFremior (Treanor) vacated the prebendary on his death in 1477. For three years after the death of Mac Fremior, Magheralin. was held by Donald Magynd, already mentioned above, until appointed to the prebendary, 4th. July 1480. He was followed by the appointment of Arthur Magynd Archdeacon of Dromore and Rector of Tullylish in 1526. From 1407 to 1526, there were eight Canons holding Magheralin.. five of whom, belonged to the established clerical family of Maginn. The names and dates of appointments at this period to the present are recorded as follows:-


During the 17th. century when the Church was proscribed, nothing was noted until 1651, when a mendicant, Friar Lavery was officiating in his native parish, Nothing more is heard of Magheralin. for another 40-years when two priests, Murtagh O'Lavery and James Bane MacOwen, both natives of Magheralin., were attainted and deprived of rights by conviction of treason at Downpatrick, October 1691. Murtagh O'Lavery was ordained in Dr. Daniel McKey, Bishop of Down and Connor, in 1673. When he was compelled to register at Downpatrick 11th. July, 1704 he was described as the "Pretended Popish Priest of Dromore and Magheralin.." It is interesting to note that at Downpatrick in 1704, the Reverend' Patrick Macllmurray, was registered as Parish Priest of Carn in (Seagoe Parish), Aghalee and Aghagallon. He was then aged 47, and stated to have been ordained by Bishop Oliver Plunkett at Ardpatrick, Co. Meath,in 1679. His sureties were Herny Magill, gentleman, of Aghagallon, and David McLerinon, yeoman, each for the sum of fifty pounds. Again Reverend Daniel O'Mulhollan, registered as residing in Magheralin., is recorded as parish priest of Drumalle, Antrim, Donegore and Shealewood. In 1720, not only was a Father Downey recorded as Parish Priest of Magheralin., his charge also included the parishes of Dromore, Magherally, Garvaghy and Seapatrick. The report compiled by the Protestant hierarchy on the "State of Popery in the Dromore Diocese" notes that there were three priests residing in the parish of Magheralin. in 1731. Sometime later in the 1730s, but before 1738, Magheralin. was held by the Reverend Father Tighe, and while it was unfashionable and somewhat illegal at time, he was a regular guest of Sir John Rawdon at Moira Castle.

Among the native priests who dedicated their lives to the people was Reverend Fr. Lavery, Parish Priest of Magheralin. and Dromore, in 1738. Little is known of his life except that he was an intimate friend of Lord Moira. He appears to have been the Reverend Murtagh Lavery, priest of St. John's, Moira, who is mentioned in an administrative bond of 1770. The demise of Fr. Lavery is not recorded. The Reverend Fr. Rodger Fitzpatrick succeeded him as Parish Priest of Magheralin. and Moira. According to the Catholic Qualification Rolls, he took the Oath on the 5th. September 1782. It would appear that by 1777, there was a small thatched Mass-house in Magheralin., but this was destroyed by the rise of sectarian violence in 1798. Reverend Fr. Devlin, succeeded to Magheralin., but the exact year of his appointment is not known. He was Parish Priest in 1802, and, in 1804 was transferred as Parish Priest of Kilbroney.


On the death of Fr. Lavery, his successor was the Reverend Fr. Jennings. He was ordained at Maynooth by the Most Reverend Dr. Troy, Archbishop of Dublin, 27th. May 1809, and was appointed Parish Priest of Magheralin.. Shortly afterwards he erected the church of St. Colman, Kilwarlin. The foundation stone of the church was laid by the Marquis of Downshire on 7th. December 1812, and, some two years later, dedicated by the Most Reverend Dr. Derry, Bishop of Dromore, on the 24th. October 1814. Reverend Jennings died July, 1817, and was succeeded by Reverend Peter Devlin, as parish priest, 1st August 1817, and held the appointment until 1838,

when he was transferred to Dromara. Very Rev. Daniel Murphy a native of Clonduff was appointed parish priest in September 1838. Educated at Maynooth, he was ordained by the Archbishop of Dublin on Pentecost Day 1833. Previous to his appointment, he had served as a curate in Newry 1833-38. On his arrival in Magheralin., he found the old thatched chapel situated on the Stoney Batter in such a state of disrepair that he had no other alternative but to find a replacement. Struggling against the singular odds of poverty, he completed the enormous task associated with the construction of the present Church of St. Patrick, the erection of a parochial house and a the building of a school. Along with the personal privation he encountered, the depressive famine stricken years of the 1 840s greatly affected him and he retired in 1843. He died in Belfast, and was interred in Friar's Bush Cemetery. At this period Rev. Bernard Magi nn, 1842-43 temporarily took charge of the parish until he was transferred as curate to Seapatrick. Owing to a serious shortage of clergy in the diocese, another curate Reverend Bernard Mooney, was appointed to administer the parish, a position he held until he moved, in 1847, to Rostrevor as Parish Priest of Kilbroney.

Front view of St. Colman's Church, Kilwarlin erected 1812.

St. Colman's Church, Kilwarlin, was erected in 1812. The church was extensively renovated in 1967. Some of the earlier headstones in the adjoining cemetery relate to families from the parish of Aghalee (in County Antrim), which was part of the Dromore Diocese even though it is located deep into the territory of the Diocese of Down and Connor. The adjoining parochial house was newly erected in 1964; Father Tom Mooney, P.P., was the first occupier.


The vacancy at Magheralin., was filled on the 24th. December 1847 by another curate, Reverend Patrick MacKay who acted as Adm., he became the parish priest. He was transferred to Drumgath in 1864. Perhaps it would be safe to say that it was not until this period that Magheralin. regained something like normality. In 1864, Bernard Troy who had been the principal of the Diocesan Seminary from 1843-46 was ordained a priest by the Most Rev. Dr. Blake, in Newry Cathedral 26th. July, 1846, and after serving as a curate in Drumgath, Aghaderg and Tullylish, he was appointed Parish Priest of Magheralin. on the 24th. December 1864. He died in 23rd. December 1870, at the age of 61, and was interred in Lawrencetown Cemetery. At the demise of the Rev. Bernard Troy little time was lost in arranging a new pastor to the parish, the designate being a Newry curate, Rev. James Lowry, whose appointment took place on 5th. January 1871. Born in Clonduff, and educated at Maynooth, he was ordained in Newry by the Most Rev. Dr. Blake in 1857. His sojourn in Magheralin. was short, for he retired in 1874, but no reason is given for this decision. However, he appears as having taken up duties as a curate in Kilbroney from 1874 to 1876. Finally, he retired to the continent and died at Courtrail, France, on the 11th. February 1895, and his remains were interred in the burial ground attached to St. John's Church, Courtrail.

Political and land agitation in the closing decades of the 19th. century, led to party feelings that festered into situations of strife. Very Reverend Fr. John McGrath succeeded Reverend Lowry as Parish Priest on the 10th. July 1874, and took up residence in the parochial house beside the chapel. In 1885, the church and presbytery were attacked by a mob who smashed windows and caused other damage. After thirteen years in Magheralin., Reverend McGrath was moved and appointed Parish Priest of Magheradroll in 1887. His place was taken by Very Reverend John Quail, 11th. February 1887, and he remained at Magheralin. until 1912, the year that he succeeded his brother, Reverend Patrick Quail, as Parish Priest of Upper Drumgooland.


The tension that had arisen in the area in the late 19th. century eventually decreased with the appointment of Very Reverend Hugh McAvoy as Parish Priest on 5th. May 1912. A native of Donaghmore, he was educated at Maynooth where he was ordained on 19th. June 1882. During his ministry he held curacies at Annaclone, Aghaderg and Shankill. He died on 3rd. February 1923, and was interred in St. Mary's Cemetery, Barr.

Very Reverend Eugene MacPolin, was appointed parish priest on 9th. February 1923. A native of Clonduff, he was educated at Maynooth, and ordained by Archbishop Walsh on 24th. June 1889. During his ministry he held curacies in the Diocese of Glasgow, 1886-1889, in the Diocese of Down and Connor at Aghagallon 1890-91; Magheralin. 1891-92; Seapatrick 1902-05; Seagoe 1905-23. He died on the 5th. January 1941, and was laid to rest after Requiem Mass in St. Colman's Cemetery, Kilwarlin, on 8th. January. The funeral panegyric was preached by the Reverend D. Gallery a native of the parish, who was then Parish Priest of Leitrim

Very Reverend Daniel Pollen was appointed to Magheralin. in 1941. He celebrated his Golden Jubilee to the Priesthood on 12th. June 1960. During his pastorate, a new primary school opened on 10th. November 1957.

St. Patrick's Church, Magheralin., was erected in 1843.

Very Reverend Thomas Mooney was appointed Parish Priest on 22nd. January 1972. A native of Drumgath he was educated at Maynooth, and was ordained by the Most Reverend Dr. Mulhern, in Newry Cathedral, on the 10th. June 1934. During his early priestly career he was seconded to the Diocese of Down and Connor where he served as a curate in Ballymena, in 1934, and then moved to Donaghadee, September 1934-35. He was recalled to his native diocese and appointed C.C. Magheralin., October 1935-6; C.C. Lower Drumgooland; and Diocesan Inspector of Schools 1937-50, C.C. Seagoe February 1950. Elevated as Archdeacon of Dromore 20th. January 1984. He retired 30th. August 1987, and went to reside in his native Drumgath.

Very Reverend John Treanor was appointed Parish Priest on 8th. July 1963. A member of a notable Burren family who had the distinction of having three members of the family in Holy Orders, namely Very Reverend Frank Treanor, Parish Priest of Donaghmore, and Very Reverend Bernard Canon Treanor, Parish Priest of Dromara. The Reverend John Treanor was educated at St. Colman's College, Newry, Maynooth, Firbough University, Switzerland, University College, Dublin, and Dromantine College; where he was ordained by Most Reverend Dr. Mulhern on 15th. June 1941. Appointed Spiritual Director of St. Colman's College, Newry, on 15th. September 1942, then to the teaching staff, 2nd. September 1946, and President of the College, 25th. January 1970. Appointed P.P. Magheralin. 1972; transferred as Parish Priest of Tullylish in 1978, and, elevated to the Cathedral Chapter, 27th. January 1988. He retired on 27th. September 1998.


Very Reverend Fr. Albert McGovern. Born in Monaghan Street, Newry, he was the son of Michael J. McGovern, merchant, educated at Maynooth and completed. his theological studies at Dromantine College where he was ordained by Dr. Mulhern on June 15th. 1941 He was appointed to the staff of St. Colman's College 1941-6; C.C. Tullylish. 12th. August 1946. C.C. Dromore, 1st. April 1951; C.C. Magheralin., 20th. March, 1955, Returned to Dromore as C.C. Ballela, 1 1 th. October, 1961; C.C. Shankill, 6th. July 1969, Appointed Parish Priest of Magheralin. in 1978, retired 9th. August 1998, as C.C. Kilwarlin. He died on 30th. March 1989.

Very Reverend Arthur McNeill, Parish Priest, was appointed on 9th. August 1988. A native of Annaclone, he was educated at St. Colman's College, Newry, and Maynooth, where he was ordained by the Most Reverend Dr. McQuaid Archbishop of Dublin, 17th. June 1955. On loan to the English Mission, he was recalled, and appointed C.C. Upper Drumgooland on 13th. July 1957; C.C. Donaghmore, 21st. September, 1959; C.0 Clonallon, 18th-September 1962; C.C. Newry, 18th. November 1977; C.C. Magheralin., 24th. October, 1985. He retired in August 2002, and is now C.C. Gilford.

Very Reverend Michael Maginn, Parish Priest, was appointed on 21st. August 2003. A native of Lurgan, he was educated at St. Colman's College, Newry, and Maynooth, where he achieved a B.A. with honours in History and Sociology, and B.D. in Theology and Scripture. He was ordained in Newry Cathedral by Most Reverend Dr. Brooks 14th. June, 1981, and appointed C.C. Annaclone and assistant Diocesan Advisor on Religious Education. In 1982 he left for America to study Catechetics at Forham University, New York. On his return he was appointed Ecclesiastical Inspector, and attached as curate to Saval, 26th. January, 1984. Assistant Diocesan Lourdes Director, 14th September 1983; C.C. Newry, 18th. August 1989; and C.C. Clonallon, 19th. August, 1996.

Few parishes can demonstrate their antiquity in similar fashion to Magheralin.. In the ancient parish graveyard there are the remains of ecclesiastical buildings from the 15th. and 16th. centuries. Evidence of even earlier structures can be seen in parts of the perimeter wall. The arches shown in the photograph are quite similar to the arches of the Nuns Chapel in historic Clonmacnoise, County Offaly.