This is one of the first churches to be founded by St. Brigid. A Holy Well close by is dedicated to the saint. Killoughey cemetery contains the ruins of an old church. Tradition has it that the church was in use until it was burned to the ground during the Cromwellian period while the people were attending Christmas Mass. (c.1651) The graves around it have headstones dating from 1744. During 2001 some preservation work was commenced at Killoughey. In July 2002 an archaeologist from Dúchas visited the site and more work is being planned. Follow this link for some photos of the work to date.
A church commemorating St. Illand (also Illadan or Iolladhan, son of Eochaidh, bishop of Rathliphthen) who flourished in 540 A.D. stood in this townland. Illand is said to have been a descendent of Niall of the Nine Hostages. The monks had a school here where the sacred scriptures were taught and where secular learning was cultivated. A cemetery developed around the church. Rev. John O'Hanlon visited the scene in 1888 and found the church in ruins. The stone had been used to build a wall around the graveyard. Bishop Ussher in his Britannicarum Ecclesiarum Antiquitates states the church was in ruins in 1622. A Roman document says that Fr. Donal Molloy was in charge of Rathlihen church in 1636. Several documents report that a statue of St. Illand with a mitre on his head and a crozier in hand was to be seen at Rathlion. But by 1838, there was no evidence of it or information to be had about it.
On 17 March 1985, Mrs. Anne Daly went for a stroll which took
her past Rathlihen old cemetery and she was struck by the almost
inaccessible wilderness of the site. Assisted by her family she
began a cleaning-up project shortly afterwards and continued the
process over the next two and a half years until the site was
well-defined by paths and lawns and all of the old headstones
were re-positioned. Rev. Michael Moorhead, C.C., kept in touch
Local tradition had it that Rev. Edward Molloy, P.P., who had been martyred circa 1691, had been buried in the little vestry at the top of the church, now in ruins. On 10 June 1985, Mrs. Daly began clearing this area, taking care not to dig too deeply at the inner end of the vestry. As she prised up an old tree stump with her pick-axe, she noticed pieces of an old mortar slab. Beneath this slab she was stunned to find the headless skeletal remains of a body obviously that of the late Fr. Molloy. The grave was carefully closed and a slab of concrete was subsequently placed over it. Some time later Fr. Moorhead composed the following tribute to Fr. Molloy: 'To the glorious memory of Fr. Edward Molloy who, during Penal times, was condemned to be hanged and beheaded because he was a priest. His headless body was eventually buried here. God be praised in his martyrs'. These lines were inscribed on a stone plaque which now stands at the spot, attracting visitors to pray for his soul.
Situated in the townland of Rathlion beside the Mountbolus to Ballyboy road, Lady Well has long been a place of popular devotion, where according to tradition, many requests have been granted through the intercession of the Mother of God. Legend has it that this well was formerly on the hill opposite, but having been profaned there by unbelievers, it sprang up in its present position. Further, it is said to have been originally dedicated to St. Brigid. This latter tradition may well be true, as St. Brigid's name is closely associated with the parish, and it was not till nearly two hundred years after Brigid's death that Pope Severius in 695AD instituted the Feast of the Birthday of our Lady (8th September). Soon afterwards this festival became a day of very special devotion in Ireland ad many churches and wells were named in honour of her nativity (as is the church in Kilcormac). When Dean Cogan visited the well over one hundred years ago, he noted it was under the shade of an aged ash tree and enclosed with a circular wall, and so it remained until 1962, when local people erected the stile and stations, and built new walls, in which they inserted a plaque of the Madonna and stones from Bethlehem, Nazareth, Gethsemani, Croagh Patrick and Lough Derg. The traditional prayers offered at the well are the nine Hail Mary's and the Hail holy Queen. Time permitting, one may also meditate on the Joyful Mysteries, or the Wounds of the Lord on the Cross, as suggested by the stations. The Pattern Day at Lady Well was observed in former days on the first Sunday in September.
Another interesting feature of religious practice in the parish was the building of 'monument'. Fr. Shaw relates in his history that not only did the Chief of Firceall administer his own territory, but he was bound to assist the King of Meath in war when called upon. Battles were frequent enough events. If the result of the battle was favorable the victors returned with their dead to bury them locally. If they were not victorious it was usual that their dead could not be recovered. In this case a stone was brought back and placed on the monument in their memory. As part of a funeral procession the coffin of the deceased was placed on the monument and prayers were offered for those who were not buried in their own burial ground and were represented by the stones. There were at least two monuments in the parish of Killoughy, one at the Monument Cross close to Killoughy cemetery and another at Lowertown on the way to Rathlion Cemetery.
It is hard to appreciate today the importance of Cully in the history, not only of the Parish of Killoughy but also in the history of the whole area which made up Firceall. Cully was a Franciscan settlement which was established around 1677 and grew in size when the communities at Killeigh and Killurin were disbanded. Taking refuge at Cully, the friars were able to live in relative safety and provided the sacraments for Catholics covering a very large area. Fr. Caffrey was the last friar to live at Cully and had charge of Killoughy. He died in 1781. In 1786, Bishop Plunkett made an attempt to revive the convent in Cully but without success.
The Mass Rock became a very important site in the religious life of the parish during penal times. Mass was celebrated in the open. It is not certain how many mass rocks existed in the parish, but the site at Chapel Hollow near the north eastern boundary of Lowertownmore is well known. In 1960 the head of a statue known as the "Cully Angel" taken from the remains of the building at Church Hill was placed beneath the altar stone.
When James II became King of England in 1685, he granted freedom to all religious denominations to worship God as they saw fit. The following year, a diocesan synod was held in Meath and some fifty eight regulations were set down as to the practice of religion in the new freedom. One of the regulations stated that mass could no longer be celebrated in the open air and churches should be built for the celebration of the mass. Accordingly, the Friars of Cully set about building a church on the sand ridge at Ballyfarrell, known as Church Hill. The building was not roofed when King James was deposed and William of Orange was put on the throne, and today only sections of the Church walls remain.
In 1704 the Government brought in an act which allowed that there be one priest in each parish provided that they were registered. The priest would have to give his name, address, age, when, where and by whom he was ordained and the name of the parish in which he proposed to serve. He also needed two people to go to bail for his good behaviour, each paying fifty pounds. Accordingly in 1704, Fr. Brian Connor was registered as the 'Popish Priest of Killaghey'. Ordained in Roscommon, he lived at Cully. Being registered, he was entitled to build a church, provided he could secure the site from a protestant landlord. This he did, and the first Mountbolus Church was built in Rathkerregan near the boundary of Lowertown beg.
The most recent Church of Ireland church in the Parish of Killoughy was located at Blacklion. This church was built around 1818 at a cost of £830 with a seating capacity for about 250 people. More details of the Church of Ireland community in the Parish are found also in this publication.
The building of the present church at Mountbolus started in the 1830's. For a detailed description of the church at Mountbolus see the section on the Present Church.
A graveyard adjoins the church grounds at Mountbolus. Not far from the Church, Lowertown graveyard is a County Council graveyard which opened in early 1964. Some burials have taken place in recent years in Rathlion and Killoughy.
Other Religious Sites and Burial Grounds
There is evidence of churches at both Bunatern and Pallas. Bunatern, unlike the rest of the Parish, was in the Barony of Kilbride. At Bunatern tradition has it that there was a church, school and priest's residence. The ruins of the church are still evident. It is said that the community here was severely reduced as the result of a plague. Tradition associates St. Muireann with this church. A small cemetery was also present at this site. Records of the Bunatern dwelling were kept by the Jesuits in Rahan and were transferred to Loyola House in Dublin when the Society of Jesus moved from Rahan.
The Church at Pallas was erected by the Protestant community at Killoughy and was located at the Blue Ball at the rear of the present day Public House. It was built sometime after 1703 and appears on road maps from 1777. It was in use until the building of the church at Blacklion, which was erected around 1818. Remains of the walls of the church could be seen, even in recent times.
Local tradition has it that cemeteries existed in four other locations -Cooldorrough, Mount Pleasant, Killooly and Séanabhaile (Roscore). Famine graves also abound in many parts of the parish and an outbreak of cholera in the area in 1860 also made the provision of extra burial ground necessary.