This place derived an early degree of celebrity from a very ancient abbey founded about the 7th century for Culdean monks, on an island in the parish, called Mona Incha, and dedicated to St. Columba. This island, which comprised little more than two acres of firm ground encompassed by a soft morass, recently drained by its proprietor and brought into cultivation, is noticed by Giraldus Cambrensis, who came into Ireland as preceptor of John, Earl of Morton, afterwards King of England, who says that there a few Culdees or Colidei "did devoutly serve God." An opinion even in his time prevailed that no person, however severe might be his malady, could die in this island, from which tradition it obtained the appellation of Insula Viventium, or "the Isle of the Living." This legendary celebrity made it the resort of numerous pilgrims from the remotest parts of the country, but did not prevent the brethren from emigrating to the more healthy shores of the neighbouring village of Corbally, where they fixed their residence, and where there are still the remains of a small neat cruciform chapel, with narrow lancet-shaped windows. The abbey continued to flourish till the dissolution, and, in the 28th of Elizabeth, the site and possessions were granted to Sir Lucas Dillon, Of the abbey on the island there are still the remains of the church, which, though raised on a spot scarcely accessible, exhibits a beauty of style and costliness of materials scarcely to be expected in so retired and isolated a spot. The abbey church appears to have been 44 feet in length and 18 feet in width; the arches of the choir, and of the western entrance, are of the Norman semicircular character, and decorated with rich and varied mouldings embellished with highly wrought ornaments. To the north of the church is a small oratory, and the abbey and a separate room for the abbot were formerly to be traced. Attached to the church is a burial-ground, in which are the remains of a fine cross. There was also on this island an ancient building called the "Woman's Church." The parish consists of three detached portions intersected by the parish of Roscrea, and comprises 10,125 statute acres, as applotted under the tithe act, of which about 400 are woodland, 3200 bog, and the remainder good arable and pasture land. The system of agriculture is improved, and there is no waste land except the bog, which affords abundance of fuel. There are numerous quarries of grit-stone, which forms the basis of the principal hills, and is used in all kinds of building; there are very few quarries of limestone, but limestone gravel and pebbles, which make the whitest lime, are found in abundance. Mount Heaton, the property of the Misses Taylor, but now occupied by Mrs. Hutchinson, a handsome mansion with a castellated front, flanked at the principal entrance with two stately towers, and containing spacious and elegant apartments, is beautifully situated in a richly wooded and highly embellished demesne of 400 acres, watered by a branch of the river Brosna, and finely diversified; the, gardens are spacious and kept in excellent order, and in the grounds are some white thorn trees of the growth of more than two centuries. Corville, the seat of the Hon. F, A. Prittie, is a handsome structure in the Grecian style, and is seen to great advantage terminating a long avenue from the entrance gate; the demesne is ample and tastefully embellished, and in the grounds are the ruins of an old church and a square tower on an eminence. Timoney, the seat of J. D. Hutchinson, Esq., is situated on a rising ground surrounded by hills finely wooded, and by plantations covering 100 acres; the grounds are embellished with timber of stately growth, and contain some of the largest spruce and Scottish fir trees in the country. Great improvements have been made on this estate by the proprietor, and much rocky mountainous waste land has been reclaimed. Rockforest, the seat of W. H. Hutchinson, Esq., was a castle occupied by the family of Hutchinson, whose ancestor came to Ireland as a captain in Cromwell's army, and subsequently settled here in 1660, and has since been the seat of the eldest branch of that family. This castle sustained several sieges, and repeated injuries from the rapparees, who, on one occasion, surprised the garrison and carried off the proprietor into Connaught, where he was detained a prisoner; the present house, which is incorporated with the old castle, is situated on a bold eminence and surrounded by extensive plantations, which, rising abruptly from the plain, forms one of the most striking and beautiful prospects between Dublin and Limerick: there is some fine old timber on the grounds. It was anciently called Knockballymaher, which was changed for its present name by its late proprietor, T. Hutchinson, Esq., who at considerable expense excavated a handsome lake in the demesne, and made great improvements on the estate; the lake is well stocked with fish, and on it is a canoe of considerable dimensions, hollowed out from a single tree by the American Indians -, it was picked up off the banks of Newfoundland, and presented to Mr. Hutchinson. Dungar, the seat of J. Hutchinson, Esq., is beautifully situated in a highly cultivated demesne, and the gardens are very extensive; in the grounds is an old castle covered with ivy, having a commodious staircase leading to the summit, from which is an extensive and beautiful view of the sur- rounding country. Birch Grove, the seat of J. Birch, Esq., is a handsome residence pleasantly situated.; some additions were made to the house by the late Mr.
Elsam; the principal staircase winds through a round tower with a richly gilded dome; the east window of the old abbey at Roscrea is preserved and placed in a very picturesque situation in the grounds, and the ancient carved door of the "Woman's Church" at Mona Incha forms the entrance to the gardens. Mona Incha, the residence of G. Birch, Esq., is an elegant villa in the Italian style. Mount Butler, the residence of Capt.
Smith, is a very pleasing villa; the grounds are tastefully laid out and kept in excellent order. Derryvale, the residence of W. Smith, Esq., and Tenderry, of Charles Hart, Esq., are also in the parish. Spruce Hill is the handsomely planted demesne of Lord Norbury, but contains no residence. An extensive distillery at Birch Grove, and a large brewery at Racket Hall, are carried on by Messrs. Birch and Co., and afford employment to 100 persons. Fairs are held at Williamstown on March 11th and Nov. 27th, chiefly for pigs. A private canal, about four miles in length, has been constructed, from, which are several branches, one for conveying turf to the distillery at Birch Grove, and another to the Rathdowney road leading to Roscrea, and partly supplying the latter town; all run into the bog of Corbally, in which is a lake about one Irish mile in circumference. A considerable portion of the bog has been reclaimed by Messrs. Birch, and is now in a high state of cultivation.
It is a rectory, in the diocese of Killaloe, entirely impropriate in the Earl of Portarlington, by whom the tithes, amounting to £403. 1. 6¾., are leased to several persons. There is no church, but divine service is performed in a private building on the Timoney estate, every Sunday and holiday, and evening service every Wednesday during the summer, by a clergyman principally supported by J. D. Hutchinson, Esq. In the R. C. divisions the parish forms part of the union or district of Bourney; there are two chapels, one at Williamstown, and one at Camlin. There is a meetinghouse for the Society of Friends on the Rockforest estate, endowed by the family of Hutchinson. A school is supported by J. D. Hutchinson, Esq., in which about 80 children are instructed. There are two chalybeate springs on the demesne of Rockforest, considered as strong as that of Ballyspellan, in the county of Kilkenny; also a petrifying stream.
from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837.
The transcription of the section for this parish from the National Gazetteer (1868), provided by Colin Hinson.
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