Nineteenth Century Church and School Building in Brosna and Knocknagoshel

Religious practice in Brosna and Knocknagoshel from the eighteenth to early nineteenth century was outlined by Peter Robinson, a correspondent of the Kerry People, in 1903:[1]


Prior to the abolition of the Penal laws, and up to 1834, Knocknagoshel had no fixed Roman Catholic place of worship and the people on Sundays assembled to hear Mass at Incha-an-Afran and the left bank of the Owbeg, on the borders of Behingagh, nearly midway between Headley bridge and the Feale bridge.  The name Incha-an-Afran indicates its original, and the hallowed spot is now part of the farm owned by Mr James Mangan, uncle of the present archdeacon of that worthy name.  Brosna was then no better circumstanced, and as late as Bishop Egan’s days the people were Confirmed in an old quarry at a place called Thooreenachuig, nearly midway between Brosna and Knocknagoshel.


In 1832, a start was made to build a substitute for a chapel at Knocknagoshel; it was finished in 1834 and was an almost exact representation of the barn at Saul built in the days of St Patrick.  It had neither aisle nor style to indicate its rank, save that its eastern gable was surmounted by a small cross solidly cemented to the pinnacle; but it was a slated building.[2]  The Brosna chapel was but a miniature photo of that at Boulavogue in ’98, so graphically described by James Murphy in his thrilling romance of The Forge of Clohogue when Fr John Murphy started his career from the blaze that laid it in ruins.


Peter Robinson described a new era in religious practice post-famine:


The advent of the Reverend Patrick Moriarty to the pastoral charge of the united parishes here, in 1865, inaugurated a new era that should shed halos of honour around his ecclesiastical career and hallowed memory.[3]  He was generous to a fault, was renowned for his hospitality that seemed as natural to his ideas as the dignity of his clerical career.  Prior to his time there was no presbytery, and the priest was a ‘tenant at will.’  Father Moriarty got a commodious and respectable priests’ residence built, while renting rooms for his own accommodation in the village, and also built a handsome chapel that crowns the mountain brow of Brosna to his and the people’s everlasting credit.  Then followed the fine male and female national schools of Brosna, Knocknagoshel and Knockbrack and one would be tempted to conclude, from a comparison of his and Father Neligan’s works, as the successor of Father Moriarty, that God was pleased to divide the honours between both, for the work of the former was only eclipsed by the latter as a worthy successor whose early demise is so sincerely deplored by his people today.[4]


Rev James Neligan succeeded Rev Moriarty and continued the church building programme in the erection of a chapel at Knocknagoshel.[5]  He also progressed the building of school houses:


The fine schools of Knockaclarig, Thoorenard, Mein and Laughtfouder followed in rapid succession and just as the schools and the chapel were approaching completion, his health began to give way; yet it would seem that God was pleased to allow him to see those fine monuments of his great exertions crowned with victory to perpetuate his name to posterity through the prayers of a faithful people to whom, and to whose posterity, he and Father Moriarty have left those everlasting memorials as mementoes of their stewardship.[6]


Fathers Moriarty and Neligan


In 1877, Father Patrick Moriarty found his name drawn into the development of waste land around Castleisland following a question raised about it by Home Rule politician, John George MacCarthy, MP:


Kerry has a great deal of un-reclaimed land.  There could be one thousand farms made out between there and Newmarket, one thousand happy homes added to our population would be a boon to the country in many ways.  The shoemaker, the tailor, the baker, every class would benefit by them.  Father Moriarty, Brosna and others would have pleasant journeys to their poor people in those mountains.  There never was a curate in those parishes that won’t think of the sick calls, often in the dead of night, to Glounlahan, Doctor’s Hill, Meenganair, Scrahan etc 17 and 20 miles from their home without roads where no horse could travel … who knows but the good landlords of these vast tracts may do something for the poor on those plains.[7]


Castleisland historian T M Donovan, observing an ‘intimate relationship between the Castleisland and Brosna parishes,’ placed on record his memories of the Brosna clergyman:


I can well remember that fine old Irish Sagart, the Rev Patrick Moriarty, parish priest of Brosna, in the seventies of the last century [19th].  As well as being a good priest, he was, indeed, a fine type of a true Irish gentleman, one of the old school of clerics who combined a great simplicity of life with great learning.  To the younger priests of the time he appeared to be old fashioned and lacking in the learning of the schools, but to their great surprise they found on closer examination that his knowledge of theology and canon law was far more extensive and profound than theirs.  Young fledgling clerics who, with the polish of the schools still thick upon them, often fell a prey to Fr Pat’s apparent simplicity.  That pride of newly acquired learning that goes before a fall got no quarter from the humble but learned pastor.  The great priest-author, the late Canon Sheehy, must, sometime in his life, have met Fr Pat Moriarty in the flesh for in one of the Canon’s books there is a clerical character that is practically an exact portrait of our one-time Brosna parish priest – an humble, saintly, scholarly priest, who delighted to take a fall out of the pride of newly ordained levites that had a habit of spreading their youthful wings when crowing about their up-to-date learning.[8]  Fifty-five years ago, on one of Fr Moriarty’s many visits to Castleisland, I had the honour of serving his Mass.[9]


Reverend Patrick Moriarty died at his residence in Brosna on 17 June 1888.  The following obituary appeared:


The parish over which he had control bears the most unmistakeable marks of his labour.  He erected schools for the children.  He got roads constructed, rendering approachable localities that were almost inaccessible.  He built a presbytery and a church that could do honour to a richer people.  Never did he ask his flock for a penny for any work as long as he himself could meet the expenses out of his own resources.  In fact there was nothing which a true and devoted priest could do for his people that Father Moriarty had not done.  At 10 o’clock on Tuesday morning the Requiem Mass began in the neatly constructed church at Brosna.  After Mass the remains were borne on the shoulders of the parishioners from the church, where they lay during the previous night, round the little square opposite, back again into the church where they were interred.  Father Moriarty was 71 years of age, and parish priest of Brosna for nearly 30 years.[10]


Dingle native, Father James Neligan, parish priest of Adrigole, was transferred to Brosna after the death of Rev Moriarty.  He was ordained in Kerry for the curacy of Annascaul following religious education at Rome and the Irish College, Paris.  While at Annascaul he proved himself ‘a fearless defender of the people’s rights, fighting a splendid battle for the right of the people to the seaweed on the strand.’[11]


He subsequently ministered in Kenmare and later Bonane and Glengarriff and Adrigole before being appointed parish priest of Brosna and Knocknagoshel where the building of the new church at Knocknagoshel was due to his efforts.


Rev James Neligan suffered poor health, and died during a recuperative visit to his brother, Rev Maurice Neligan, Parish Priest of Beaufort, on 20 May 1903.  He was aged sixty-three.  His burial took place at Brosna; the mourners included his brothers, Rev Maurice Neligan and Michael Neligan.[12]


The Schools


In 1933, the school house at Knockaclarig, Brosna was completely destroyed by fire, with some suggestion it was malicious.  Tenders were sought for its rebuilding the following year.  Knockaclarig remains open, as do the schools at Brosna and Knocknagoshel.


Mein National School was erected in 1892, as shown by a plaque still displayed on the building.  In 1966, its closure, along with Knocknagoshel, Knockbrack, Toureenard and Loughfouder, was being mooted.[13]  Mein school closed in July 1969, and was in the ownership of Junior Browne in 1974 when it was advertised for sale.  The building was subsequently utilised as a restaurant and is, or has recently been, up for sale.[14]


Mein National School, subsequently used as a restaurant


Loughfouder (Lackbrooder) National School was replaced by a new schoolhouse which opened in 1966.[15]  Knockbrack National School closed in 2003; the building has since fallen into disuse.[16]  Toureenard National School closed in September 1988 and is today in ruin.


Survivor: Loughfouder National School (left) remains open while Knockbrack (centre) and Toureenard have long fallen silent



[1] Letter from Peter Robinson, Laughtfouder, Knocknagoshel, 23 May 1903 in Kerry People, 30 May 1903. 

[2] ‘Whatever may be said of the Knocknagoshel chapel, the people of that parish in their day acted nobly, and were far ahead of the rural districts that surrounded them in their zeal for the spread of religion, and their posterity today have proved that they are worthy descendants of their ancient Milesian ancestors.’

[3] Rev Moriarty’s predecessor, Rev Richard Naughten, died at the parochial residence on 9 March 1866 at age 80.  Rev Moriarty’s appointment was therefore in 1866.  The auction of Rev Naughten’s house contents at Feale Bridge was detailed in the Tralee Chronicle, 16 March 1866.  They included a mahogany telescope table, telescope books, three cwt of well saved bacon, new fly car and harness with 7-year-old mare, and about 800 stones of Prime Leather Coat Potatoes.

[4] The following notice relates to Knocknagoshel National School: ‘Mr T O’Sullivan of Sneem, well-known in Kerry as an ardent cyclist and an enthusiastic Gael, has lately been appointed principal teacher of the Knocknagoshel National School near Castleisland.  Since his arrival, Mr O’Sullivan has done a great deal to de-Anglicise the people of the district by teaching Irish to his pupils … He has had powerful help from Father Walsh, Sunday’s Well, Cork’ (An Claidheamh Soluis, 19 August 1899).

[5] ‘He conceived the idea of building a suitable chapel at Knocknagoshel.  He mooted the matter at first in what seemed to be but a hint; but it soon appeared to the people that what was at first but a hint was soon to assume a practical shape; and some eight of nine years ago he levied a parochial rate-in-aid and gave £100 a year out of his own income to encourage the people in their efforts to assist him for the honour of God’ (Kerry People, 30 May 1903).  

[6] Letter from Peter Robinson, Laughtfouder, Knocknagoshel, 23 May 1903 published in Kerry People, 30 May 1903.  Mr Robinson concluded his letter with a four stanza verse in praise of Father James Neligan, the last verse of which was: ‘He has left us mementos of chapels and school/The teachers will miss his paternity,/And beseech the Almighty so kindly That rule/To crown him in bliss for eternity.’ 

[7] Irish Examiner, 22 January 1877.

[8] Donovan may have been alluding to Very Reverend Canon Patrick Augustine Sheehan (1852-1913) who wrote many clerical novels including My New Curate (1900) and Luke Delmege (1901).

[9] ‘Past Parish Priests of Brosna’ by T M Donovan, Kerry Reporter, 23 August 1930.  ‘A predecessor of Fr Pat’s, the Rev Father Toohil, was parish priest of Brosna in the time of the Famine.  His successor was the Rev Fr Richard Naughton, a wise and good priest who died greatly respected and regretted by his flock.  The Rev Fr Nelligan succeeded Father Moriarty; he was a zealous pastor, a scholar, and a true friend of his people.  But the predecessor of all these priests in the parish of Brosna, whose memory is still green in the hearts of the faithful people of East Kerry, was the Very Reverend Bartholomew Shine, OP, who was the first Dominican to appear in Kerry after the Order was driven out of Ireland to the Continent by the Penal Laws.’ 

[10] Cork Examiner, 22 June 1888. 

[11] Kerry Evening Star, 21 Mary 1903.

[12] Funeral report, Kerry Evening Star, 25 Mary 1903.

[13] ‘Facilities for the children at present attending the small two-teacher school at Mein could best be provided by closing this school and conveying them by transport service to Knockbrack National School which is about three miles away’ (Irish Examiner, 14 March 1966). 

[14] The Ingram family opened a family-run restaurant known as The Travellers’ Rest in 1983 (a photograph of Eileen and Peter Ingram outside their business premises was published in The Kerryman, 5 May 1989).  In 1996, it was re-opened under a new name, The Captain’s Table, by Captain Nabil Najib Elias of Knocknagoshel. 

[15] Further reference at this link  There are new buildings on the site of the old school.

[16] Further reference at this link ‘Kiss me, my little wife’: Parnell recalled in Knockbrack School Records.’