Friday, 3 September 2010



Not being sound of limb brings with it some unexpected advantages ,as I have discovered nursing a shoulder injury over the past four weeks. When the old injury (originally incurred in a mad fit when I insisted on using the rotovator on my garden…ouch, I still remember the tearing ache) returned to this ailing old frame of mine, it came with a piercing vengeance invading my left shoulder and arm with excruciating pain. And the action that turns this pain storm into a full blown tornado is the simple act of changing gears whist driving , so for the present I have been forcibly pedestrianised and depending on the good offices of my aunt,Bridie to chauffer me for doctor’s appointments, shopping etc,.
One morning recently after dispensing with a few mundane chores, Bridie drove out to Parteen and Kilquane cemetery where my uncle Frank is buried as well as my father.Patrick. Approaching the cemetery we were relieved to find the roadside gate open, a sure sign that the field leading in to the graveyard was free of cows. Driving in the track we arrived at the burial ground in a blaze of sunshine. The location is a perfect pastoral setting for mortal repose, placed as it is beside the river Shannon. Kilquane has an ancient pedigree stretching back to the 6th century and has associations with a Monk called Cuan and the well known local ‘saint’ Munchin. The original church building is no longer in existence but the ruins of the re- built church are still standing and it is estimated that the building would have seated about 60 people. Back in 1834 when the new Church of St. Peter’s was completed in Parteen, mass was no longer celebrated at Kilquane and was not again said at the old site until 1983. In that year the Parteen Historical Society under the capable guidance of Donal Ui Riain commenced the onerous task of restoring the neglected cemetery and mass was clebrated there on Pattern Day, August 15 th. for the first time in almost 50 years. Over time Donal and his committee ( one of whom was my uncle for a few years) restored the historic site to it’s present noble state. We stood at Frank’s grave reading the couplet engraved on his recently placed headstone ,taken from the pen of Michael Hogan, the Bard of Thomond in his epic poem, ‘Drunken Thady and the Bishop’s Lady’, a firm favourite of Frank’s. The Bard writing about the encroachment of death penned these plaintiff words, “An echo roused upon the hill, / Dies on the wind, and all is still.” Here in the bright sunshine with the sparkling Shannon river beyond, standing in this sacred place, these words themselves seemed to echo among the very stones of the antique burial ground. I reflected on how indifferent Frank would be to the stone and its inscription, never a man for pomp or ceremony even to this extremely modest degree.
I know Frank was intensely interested in the ancient story of Kilquane and the notables, the bad and the good who have been, over the centuries interred within its walls. The Mc Adam grave is probably the most controversial and notorious one here, containing as it does the mortal remains of Phillip McAdam the so called ‘Traitor’. It is widely believed (though disputed by his descendants) that he used his local knowledge of the river near Kilquane to give Ginkel’s army safe passage across and thus allow for the siege of Limerick in 1691. For years after his burial his grave was regularly vandalised by outraged locals determined that the alleged ‘traitor’ would not be allowed to rest in peace. I doubt if Frank, in death or life would have any truck with him !

Padraig O Briain, the Blind Piper who also rests here would be a far more agreeable companion. He was born at Labasheeda in County Clare to a well off farming family receiving an excellent education and becoming an avid scholar of the classics. Sadly however by the time he was 26, O Briain had lost his sight and was compelled to take to the road as a travelling musician to make a living. He settled in Limerick city where he would sit playing his uilleann pipes on the corner of Harstonge Street and the Crescent. One day the Piper was spotted by the famous Galway artist, Patrick Haverty who painted the scene, creating the painting, ‘The Blind Piper’. In the painting the aging musician is pictured with his beautiful young daughter stting patiently beside her gifted father. After the clean up in 1983 there were over 100 marked graves here with an untold number lost to time and sealed forever beneath the lush green grass of Kilquane. We left the old cemetery with all it’s historical associations, still swaddled in the warm mid-day sunshine, sure at least that Frank’s final resting place was of his choosing and stirred that the remembrances of his life would become part of the rich tableaux that is Kilquane.

I am indebted to 'The History and Folklore of Parteen and Meelick' by Donail Riain and Seamus O Cinneide for the historical information about Kilquane.

Gerard O'Shea

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