|Penal Laws of the 17th and 18th Centuries|
Map of Allen Parish, Co. Kildare, with Kildare to the south and Newbridge to the south-east. (Based on Ordnance Survey Ireland, permit no. 7785. © Ordnance Survey Ireland & Government of Ireland)
What makes the Parish of Allen especially interesting is that, during the period of the Penal Laws, it was the place of refuge for successive bishops of the united diocese of Kildare and Leighlin.
Bishop Mark Forstall, first Bishop of the united diocese of Kildare and Leighlin, wrote on 5th June 1680:
“We are here in a worse plight than before. We can hardly subsist even among friends who are terrified even more than they need to be by our presence. On this account I have constructed for myself a hut or thatched hovel in a marshy wood. There I took up my abode, but was attacked by agonising pains that brought me almost to the point of death. Sick though I was, I have abandoned the place, for I could no longer endure my suffering there.”
The location of this hovel is thought to be near Kilmeague.
Bishop James Gallagher (1737-1751) also took refuge in the parish and the great J.K.L. (Bishop John Doyle of Kildare and Leighlin), in an unpublished manuscript, refers to Dr Gallagher as follows:
“For some years before his death he resided for part of each year in a small hut of mud walls, thatched with straw or rushes near the Bog of Allen to which he might fly when sought after the myrmidons of the ruling faction.”
The place of Dr. Gallagher’s humble residence is thought to have been immediately outside the village of Kilmeague, to the right of the road to Robertstown. Is it possible that both these men shared the same locality if not indeed the same structure?
Tradition also holds that Dr. Gallagher maintained a small seminary in the Bog of Allen, where basic education was given to young men who were ordained and then sent to the Continent for their theological education. He was buried in Crosspatrick.
Bishop James O’Keefe (1752 – 1787) also took refuge in the parish and, indeed, the Green Lane in Robertstown West is often referred to as Bóithrín Chaoimh. He later resided in Tullow, Co. Carlow, and with the passing of the Luke Gardner Act of Relief regarding Catholic Schools in 1782, he transferred to Carlow where he oversaw the building of Carlow College for the education of both lay and ecclesiastical students.
In a Government return made on 27th November 1731, it is stated that: “In the parish of Kilmaogue (sic) there is a Mass House built since the first year of George I. 1714, one officiating Popish Priest in the Wood of Allen in the said parish and a Friary of 3 or 4 Friars.”
The ‘Mass House’ referred to in this return stood in the townland of Grangehiggin. This humble, thatched structure is found marked on an old map of 1752.
The church which succeeded it was built in 1783, adjacent to Mulrennan’s shop, as testified by an inscription no longer legible on the west gable:
“This Chapel was built in the year of our Redeemer 1783, by the Revd. Will. Lawler Parish Priest. The prayers of this congregation are to be offered for ever for all those who gave their charitable help towards it, the parishioners who honestly paid their contributions and to the Priest who gave £50 of his own.”
The Rev. William Lawler PP, the Rev. John Lawler PP, the Rev. Denis Dunne PP and Rev John Moore, Rathbride, are buried in the burial ground attached to this church.
The Rev. Dennis Dunne was succeeded by the Rev. Eugene O’Reilly, who transferred from the Parish of Myshall in September 1839.