cormacA brief history of Kilcormac

Kilcormac takes its name from Cormac Ua Liathain, a native of Cork, a holy man who paid a visit to St. Colmcille at the famous monastery he had founded in Durrow in 553 A.D. Cormac was so inspired by the great saint that he joined Colmcille and spent many years at Durrow, eventually taking over as abbot after Colmcille had gone to Iona in Scotland. Cormac was a seafaring man and he went on a number of voyages searching for a peaceful place where he could devote his life to God. He eventually found his hermitage in the woods of Firceall beside the Silver River and he would retire to this place from time to time to pray and meditate. In time this became Cill Chormaic, Cormac’s church, a place of worship for the people of the area who were honoured to have such a famous man in their midst. Cormac died in the early years of the seventh century and with the passing of time his church fell into ruin. The name Kilcormac survived in the local townland, but Ballyboy, situated on the highway through Firceall, was now the important centre in the area and in time gave its name to the parish and to the barony. About five hundred years later reference is made to foreign monks, possibly Augustinian, at the Hermitage. A manuscript, written in Kilcormac in 1300, is now in the museum of the Royal Irish Academy. ( The same museum also houses the crozier of Durrow, which was probably Cormac’s symbol of authority when he succeeded Colmcille as abbot of Durrow.)

 

pietaIn 1420 Odo O’Molloy, son of the local chief Niall of Broughall Castle, founded a monastery for the Carmelite Friars in Kilcormac. It thrived for over one hundred years until the edict of King Henry VIII in 1537 suppressed monasteries and confiscated their lands. In 1567 the government granted the site and lands of the monastery to Henry Cowley, listing the property as

“ the site of the White Friars of Kylharmike, alias Kylcormock, in O’Molloy’s country; lands near Kylharmik, Kylbore in Kylharmick, Ballinrahin and Ballentulgan, Ahenlegan, the Hakeres near Kylharmik and the rectory of Kylharmik to hold for 21 years at a rent of £5 -7s -8d.

 

The lands were granted to Robert Leicester in 1604 and remained with that family until 1703 when Thomas Leicester forfeited them because he had opposed William of Orange in his struggle with the Jacobites. The Hollow Blade Co., Nottingham, became the next owners and they were succeeded by Isaac Stoney just before 1800. The 1838 O.S. map shows the site of the monastery as being where the Convent of Mercy garden is, along by the southern wall of the church yard. There was no church in the parish for fifty years after Cromwell’s campaign in Ireland. Then in 1704 a small thatched chapel was built on the site of the old graveyard at St. Cormac’s church. This was replaced in 1750 by a substantial cruciform slated church which was in turn replaced by the present church of the Blessed Virgin Mary opened in 1867. It was enhanced in 1907 with the addition of the apse, nuns choir and sacristy. On the side altar is the wonderful 16th century pieta which survived the ravages of Cromwell’s troops.

 
stoneThe 16th Century Pieta can be seen in the local church. During the middle ages Kilcormac was very much in the shadow of Ballyboy which was a thriving town only one mile distant. The 1656 census gives the population of Kilcormac as 41. However, there was great growth during the 18th and 19th centuries and Samuel Lewis, in 1837, gives the population as 1112, with 204 houses. It was during the late eighteenth century that the name changed to Frankford. Various accounts are given as to the origin of the name. The Ordinance Survey letters of 1839 state that Frank Magawley, who lived abroad for a time, substituted Frankford for Kilcormac when he returned. However, Lewis in 1837, states that the name ‘ seems to be derived from the family of Frank, of whom John Frank Esq. founded here a charter school, opened in 1753, for upwards of forty children.’
Griffith’s Valuation, 1854, lists all the property of the time and includes a police barracks, dispensary, petty sessions house, R.C. chapel, Methodist meeting house, distillery, brewery, mill, national school, and a quarry, cornmill and kiln in Kilnagall.

 

Both Irish and English were fluently spoken in Frankford, according to Coote in 1801, but by 1838, O Donovan mentions in the O.S. letters that Irish is just dead in the area. However, the Gaelic revival in the late 19th century rekindled people’s Irish instincts and one way this manifested itself was a desire to change the name back to Kilcormac. This came about in 1903 and a great festival was held to celebrate the change with plenty of music, singing, dancing, drama, poetry and a recounting of Kilcormac’s history down through the ages.

 

From Frankford to Kilcormac – Reports from local papers in 1903

Feb 28th 1903

County Council Quarterly Meeting – Frankford

The following notice of motion stood in the name of Mr. James Moran, J.P., but in his absence it was not proposed:-

I hereby give notice that at the next meeting of the County Council, I, or someone on my behalf, will move that the name of Frankford be changed to its ancient name, “Kilcormac”, and that our Secretary be instructed to take such steps as may be considered necessary in order to have said change carried into effect.

Main Street c.1903 From the Lawrence Collection. Reproduced here courtesy of the National Library of Ireland -photo not to be reproduced without their permission.
Main Street c.1903 From the Lawrence Collection. Reproduced here courtesy of the National Library of Ireland -photo not to be reproduced without their permission.

 

May 30 1903

King’s County Council – Irish Revival

The quarterly meeting of the above was held on Monday at the Courthouse, Tullamore, Mr. Henry Egan, in the chair.

Others present were – Messers J Perry Goodbody, D L; Wm. Adams, J P; John Sheil, Denis Sheil, Daniel Powell, Joseph Ryan, Joseph Hume, Owen Coghlan, Michael Egan, Daniel Egan, W.M. Corbett, Arthur Byrne, Wm. Delaney, M P; Michael Molloy, James Moran, J P.

In accordance with a notice of motion handed in by Mr. Moran for the changing of the name of Frankford to Kilcormack, Mr. Moran said it got its name from a saint who had his monastery there, and at the present time there was a well there where people got cured of diseases. Now that the Gaelic Revival was strong it was the best they could do for its revival.

Mr. Ryan – I think it is the least we might do. It cannot inconvenience us greatly.

It was passed unanimously.

Main Street c.1903 From the Lawrence Collection. Reproduced here courtesy of the National Library of Ireland -photo not to be reproduced without their permission.
Main Street c.1903 From the Lawrence Collection. Reproduced here courtesy of the National Library of Ireland -photo not to be reproduced without their permission.

 

June 6th 1903

In the case of Charlotte Murphy, Cully, Blueball, against Michael Conway Snr, Cully, which was before the court on a previous occasion.

Mr Egan for the defendant said that all that was asked for was a pass way on Sundays and holidays to Mass. There was a letter from Father O’Reilly, PP, Kilcormac on the matter.
Mr Goodbody consented, and his Honor made an order that this permission be granted.
In connection with the case his Honor asked where was Kilcormac.
Mr Egan – That is the new name for Frankford.
His Honor – What do you mean?
Mr Egan – The County Council at the last quarterly meeting changed the name to Kilcormac, the same as it was known originally.
His Honor – They had no right to change it.
Mr Fagan, clerk of the Crown and Peace – It is an absurd thing and it creates a lot of confusion. One party calls it Frankford and another Kilcormac, and the whole thing is ridiculous.
His Honor – You have a perfectly legal right to call it Kilcormac, but the legal documents will remain marked Frankford.
Mr David Sherlock, B L, obtained a decree for £2, one year’s rent, against David McCoughlan, Ballincur, whom he had sued for £6.