Saturday, 16 August 2014

St. Thomas' , Rathowen.


I spent last Saturday night at a small village called Rathowen in County Westmeath. By no stretch of the imagination could you describe it as a heaving metropolis. Even the most ardent resident would, I suspect, accept that it is for the most part one of those places that you pass through when travelling somewhere else. That said it does have several buildings and structures which are listed on the Irish National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. Included amongst these is St Thomas' Church of Ireland Church. Not having any particular plans for the evening apart from the need to stoke up on food, which I had pencilled in for eight o'clock, I ambled along to the Church to have a stroll around its grounds ie the graveyard.


St. Thomas' is the parish church of Rathaspeck and Russagh in the Barony of Moygoish within the combined Diocese of Kilmore Elphin and Ardagh. It is rather sad that it no longer has its own resident rector. It is now part of a Union of six churches. A reflection of twentieth century population movement and the secularisation of society no doubt.


The building is approached via a gravelled tree lined avenue with neatly cut verges. It was constructed in 1814 with additions in 1821. The original construction was achieved using a loan of £800 from the Board of First Fruits. A further loan of £200 allowed the two single-bay and single storey vestibules to be added to either side of the three stage tower. The castellated parapets and corner pinnacles to either side of the tower add to the gothic look of the structure. The graves of two former incumbents are in the shadow of the chancel, their headstones looking down the approach to the church.


When St. Thomas' was built the living was what is termed an impropriate curacy. Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) states that it was in the patronage of Sir John Bennett Piers Bt. The tithes amounted to £128.5.0 which sum was paid in its entirety to the patron, the impropriator. The curate's stipend was £92.6.7. 1/2, of which £82.2.0 was derived from Primate Boulter's Augmentation Fund with the balance being provided by the impropriator. The Ecclesiastical Register of 1827 refers to Sir John as the reputed patron. The use of the word, "reputed," may point to some debate on the matter. The will of Dame Frances Elizabeth Fetherston of Ardach in the County of Longford seems to confirm this view. In it she states that during his lifetime her late husband, Sir George Ralph Fetherston, was, "the undoubted patron of the perpetual impropriate curacy and impropriator of the parish." Her husband had died on 12th July 1853 and under his will his widow was granted the patronage during her lifetime. She states that she had built the Glebe House, (constructed 1817) for the use of the incumbent and that she had endowed the perpetual curacy in the sum of £4333.6.8.






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