by Lesley Gleeson
Collinstown village is a village in north county Westmeath, overlooking the beautiful Lough Lene.
The name of the village in Irish is Baile na gCailleach- which means ‘town of the veiled women’, owing to a convent once established on an island on Lough Lene.
The area has been inhabited since pre-Christian times. The townland of Ranaghan, to the west of the village contains the remains of several ringforts- at least one of which is linked to the Viking chief Turgesius, who is said to have conquered Dublin!
Turgesius also had another fort upon the largest island on Lough Lene, which still bears his name, Turgesius Island.
The area also contains ancient burial grounds associated with St. Colman, dating from penal times
Collinstown also has historic links with several religious orders; There is a convent on Nun’s Island, Lough Lene, to the north is the monastic complex of Fore Abbey.
Lough Lene, Collinstown
by Lesley Gleeson
Our beautiful Lough Lene boasts not only a rich history but ancient burial sites, old ruins, ringforts, stiles and mass paths. It can also claim to have been home to kings and Vikings!
Lough Lene is an irregular oval shape covering approximately 500 hectares of exceptionally clear freshwater.
There are a number of islands, with 3 of note; Nun’s Island (which once housed a convent), Turgesius Island (home of the Viking leader Turgesius), and Castle Island (on which the famous Lough Lene Bell was found).
Discoveries on Castle Island also include 2 logboats which were recovered in 1968. These Roman-period boats were constructed for lake fishing and are about 8m long. Made of oak, yew and possible willow, they were paddle propelled.
Recent History of Lough Lene
When Ireland joined the European Union, Lough Lene became the first freshwater lake to obtain a Blue-Flag for its pollution free water. This has been awarded with remarkable regularity to the Lough Lene, mainly due to the surrounding agricultural communities commitment to preserving this wonderful water resource.
Wildlife on the Lake
The lake supports a wide and varied range of plantlife , from pondweeds and stoneworts to reeds and willows.
Birdlife on the lake includes, mute swan, teal, pochard, grey heron, mallard, cormorant and water rail. The surrounding lands are home to snipe, lapwing and curlew.
The Lough Lene Bell
Adapted from the Collinstown Faith History Project
A very important ecclesiastical find was made in the summer of 1881. A boy who was out searching for eels made an amazing discovery of a bronze bell on Castle Island. The boy then sold the bronze bell to the Royal Irish Academy.
The bell is very like two other mid seventh century bells, one,which was found in Bangor, Co. Down, and the other in Cashel. The bells are a similar size and shape, and have similar decorative finish. It is believed that the bells all came from the same foundry.
The bell has a faint outline of the Christian Cross on each side and an ornamental border, which is thought to have been unusual and reserved for shines of the era.
The bell may have belonged to St. Feichan of Fore who lived in the mid seventh century and that the bell was taken to the Island to be hidden either to keep it safe or by a thief, and that the safe keeper/thief did not survive to get the bell from it’s hiding place
The original bell is in the National Museum. And a second replica holds pride of place in Dail Eireann as the Ceann Comhairle’s bell. It was presented to the Dail, by the widow of Major Bryan Cooper (a former member of the house) in 1931. There is a copy of the bell in the Cathederal Museum in Mullingar and in both St. Mary’s Church Collinstown and St. Fechins Church, Fore.
Extracts from a project undertaken by the Parish
The Churches of Collinstown and Fore
In the parish of Collinstown and Fore we can trace the history of Christianity back to the 5th century. Very few parishes in Ireland are able to do this.
The Church at Kilpatrick
The ruins of the church that can be seen today date from the 7th century. This church was one of many founded by St. Patrick across the midlands. The church was very small; it measures 20 ft. by 20 ft. with a doorway measuring 4 ft 4 inches by 6 ft. It is a very unusual 7th century church because it has a stone roof. A few hundred years later a Chancel was added, this is connected with the nave by an arch. The church was a two-storey building; the second storey was reached by a stone stairway on the right of the Chancel.
By the end of the 17th century, the church was used for Protestant worship.
There was a small penal day chapel 300 yards to the north of the old Church, no ruins remain, but the field where it was is known as Chapel field.
There are the remains of an old cemetary at Kilpatrick.
The Church of Kilcumny
The ruins of the church at Kilcumny are of the Protestant faith. This church was built on the site of a Catholic Church, which was torn down in 1705. The church was built in 1765 and abandoned in 1811 when the present Church of Ireland church was built at Drumcree.
John Weasley, the founder of the Methodist church preached to a large congregarion at Kilcumny church in 1748.
The cemetary at Kilcumny is very unusual because both Catholics and Protestants are buried there. Protestant landlords and their families are buried in the same graveyard as Catholic priests and their parishoners. There are vaults in this cemetary.
St. Mary’s Church Collinstown
The present church of St. Mary’s evolved through a series of renovations and improvements made since the late 1700’s.
Dr. Gaughran dedicated the church to Our Lady under the title of Her Annunciation on 9th October 1910.
The church was again renovated in the mid 1970’s. Mass was held in Collinstown Hall while the building work was carried out.
The present cemetery in Collinstown was opened and blessed on the 9th October 1938. Before this cemetery was opened, Kilpatrick and Kilcumney were the cemeteries used. Parish priests were buried on church grounds. Snowdrops were planted in the church grounds to commemorate Fr. Thomas Mulvany.
St. Mary’s Church Grotto was erected in December 1999 for the Jubilee Year 2000.
There are six silver chalices in the parish:
1. An old chalice inscribed Aeneas Daly
2. A Chalice inscribed Me fieri fecit Reverendus DD Johannes Murray parochus pre usu perpetue Paroeciae S Fechgin, Fore 1792.
3. A Chalice inscribed A gift from Maurice Hegarty to Rev M Coghlen or the use of the parish of Fore
4. A chalice inscribed Presented by James Cullen, Carpentstown, to Fore AD 1879
5. A chalice inscribed Pray for the donors Thomas and Mary Lynam. July 1918.
6. A chalice inscribed Purchased by the parishoners for the use of the chapel of Fore, AD 1834, Rev. Bernard Masterson, P.P.
There are two other chalices in the parish
1. A medium sized chaice inscribed 1792, Rev. John Murray.
2. A gold-plated chalice inscribed Presented by parishoners of Collinstown to Rev. John Reilly for Golden Jubilee 1956.
Churches of the Protestant Faith in the Parish
The present church in Drumcree was build in the early 1800’s. Bishop O’Byrne opened it in 1811. The church was built on a site donated by the Smyths. It was built at a cost of £756 with a loan from the Board of First Fruits. In 1818, it was joined to the parish of Killuagh. The last rector retired in 1962 and the church was joined to Castlepollard. In 1980 the church was closed against the wishes of the parishoners.
Collinstown Former Chapel of Ease was built in the 19th century. It is now closed. The Board of First Fruits built it. One pew in the church came with a built in fireplace. There are monuments to the Smyth family and the Monck sisters in the church.
Churches of the past in Collinstown
There was a church and a graveyard known as the church of the Lassar, the Virgin, of Cill Arcalgach on the brink of Lough Lene dating from the 8th century, at a spot known as Caltragh. The level of the water in the lake has risen and the ruins of this church and graveyard can no longer be seen.
There is a tradition that there was a chapel or mass house at Gillardstown located two miles from Collinstown village, left of the Castlepollard road. There was a path to this place and it is still known as the Mass Path. A small font now in the Castlepollard Museum is said to have come from this chapel.
Monk’s or Madames Island which is located at the far shore of the lake from the Cut has the ruins of an old church, and a cemetary which was used in the last century.
During times of persecution, the hiding places of the Priests were on the Islands of Lough Lene and the Ben of Fore. Mass was said at dawn and the place where mass was said was changed constantly, so that the Priests would not be captured.
Though not a church, a community of nuns connected with the monastery of Fore had a house of retreat on one of the islands of Lough Lene. The island became known as Nun’s island. The nuns gave Collinstown its Irish name – Baile na gCailleach, which means the town of the veiled women.