KILFENORA, a decayed market-town and parish, and the seat of a diocese, in the barony of CORCOMROE, county of CLARE, and province of MUNSTER, 4¼ miles (N. N. E.) from Ennistymon, on the road to Curofin; containing 2752 inhabitants, of which number, 558 are in the town. This place, called anciently Fenabore and Cellumabrach, though evidently of great antiquity, has not been much noticed by the earlier historians; the first mention that occurs of it is in the annals of Ulster, in which it is stated that Murrough O'Brien, in 1055, burnt the abbey, and slew many of the inhabitants. In the 12th century, the religious establishment which had been fouuded here, though originally by whom or at what date is unknown, became the head of a small diocese.
The town appears to have been formerly of some importance, and a market was held there, but since the increase of Ennistymon it has been gradually declining; the market is no longer held, and it has dwindled into an inconsiderable village; fairs are, however, still held on the 4th of June and 9th of October, for cattle and sheep.
The EPISCOPAL SEE is of very uncertain origin, neither is it precisely known who was the first bishop; though many are of opinion that St. Fachnan, to whom the cathedral is dedicated, must have been the founder.
Of his successors, who were called bishops of Corcomroe, there are but very imperfect accounts, and of the history of the see very little is preserved. In the ancient distribution of the bishopricks, made by Cardinal Paparo in 1152, this see was made suffragan to the Archbishop of Cashel. It remained a separate diocese till after the Restoration, when it was annexed to the archbishoprick of Tuam, and continued for 81 years to be held with that diocese, till, on the annexation of Ardagh to Tuam, it was separated from it and given in commendam to the bishoprick of Clonfert, with which it was held till 1752, when it was united to the see of Killaloe, with which it still remains. It is one of the twelve dioceses which constitute the archiepiscopal province of Cashel, and is the smallest in Ireland; it lies wholly within the county of Clare, and comprehends only the baronies of Burrin and Corcomroe, which formed part of the ancient territory of Thomond. It extends 23 miles in length and 11 in breadth, comprising an estimated superficies of 37,000 acres. The-lands belonging to the see comprise 9237 acres, of which 2350 are profitable land; the gross annual revenue of the bishoprick is returned with that of Killaloe. The chapter consists of a dean, precentor, treasurer, and archdeacon; there are neither minor canons, prebendaries, nor vicars choral: a consistorial court is held occasionally by the vicar-general.
It comprises 19 parishes, which are included in six unions; there are three parish churches, and one other place in which divine service is performed, and three glebe-houses. The cathedral church, dedicated to St.
Fachnan, and which is also used as the parish church, is a very ancient and venerable structure with a massive square tower, commanding a very extensive and interesting view; the aisle is at present undergoing repair, and is being fitted up as the parish church, for which purpose the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have granted £421. In the R. C. divisions this diocese is united to that of Kilmacduagh, and comprises eight unions, in which are 15 chapels, served by eight parish priests and two coadjutors.
The parish comprises 9236 statute acres, as applotted under the tithe act, a considerable portion of which is good grazing land, and the remainder under profitable cultivation; the system of agriculture is improving, and there is a large portion of valuable bog. To the east of the village is a large turlough, which in summer affords very rich pasture for fattening cattle, but in the winter is under deep water after heavy rains. A new road has lately been made between the town and Ennistymon, with great benefit to the intervening district.
Ballykeale, a seat of the Lysaght family, now occupied by Mrs. Fitzgerald, and Holywell, the residence of T. F.
Comyn, Esq., are within the parish. The living is a rectory and vicarage, in the diocese of Kilfenora, united from time immemorial to the rectories of Clouney and Kiltoraght, together constituting the corps of the deanery of Kilfenora, in the patronage of the Crown: the tithes amount to £250, and of the whole union to £416. 13. 4.
In the church are two monuments, of which one is supposed to be that of the founder, bearing a full-length effigy rudely sculptured, and to the north of the transept is another. The Deanery, towards the erection of which the late Board of First Fruits contributed a gift of £300, and a loan of £450, was erected about the year 1813; and has been greatly improved by the present occupant, the Very Rev. W. H. Stackpoole, D. D., who has added an extensive range of out-offices to the house; in the shrubberies is a perfect ancient rath thickly planted.
The glebe and deanery lands comprise 231 plantation acres, of which 70 are good pasture and the remainder mountain land; and the gross annual value of the deanery, tithe, and glebe inclusive, is £482. 18. In the R. C. divisions the parish is held with that of Kiltoraght; the chapel is a neat modern edifice in the village, and a chapel is now in course of erection in the parish of Kiltoraght.
About 200 children are taught in two public schools, of which one is supported by the dean, who, in conjunction with Sir W. McMahon, is about to erect a school-house. At Kilcarragh, very near this place, on the estate of Sir W. McMahon, was anciently an hospital or monastery, endowed with a quarter of land, and which, after the dissolution, was granted to John King. Near the cathedral is a stone cross of very light and beautiful design; and in the churchyard is a plain cross of great antiquity: there were formerly seven crosses around this place, but these are the only two remaining.
from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837.