St Dympna

Some of the attendance at the well on 15 May 2011

A Novena dedicated to Kildalkey’s Patron Saint, St. Dympna, concluded  after the 10 o’clock Mass on Sunday 15th May with a visit to St. Dympna’s Well where the Rosary was recited.

St. Dympna’s  Well at Kildalkey was recorded as dried up on many occasions over the last two hundred years and in the 1930s a school child wrote that ‘as years roll on this holy well will probably be forgotten altogether.’ However the well and its traditions survived and a large group assembled there this year to commemorate the saint’s day on May 15th.

St. Dymnpna’s well, Tober Damhnata, is located in a field beside the old churchyard about half a mile north of Kildalkey village on the road to Athboy. Access to the well is gained through the cemetery. The remains of the church is sometimes called St. Dympna’s Abbey but the dedication of the abbey which existed at Kildalkey in the eighth and ninth century is unclear. 

Folklore states that the well has healing powers. It was said that when a person dips a  ribbon in the well and ties it around their head it will cure headache. In order to cure tootache the person must drink some water from the well. The well is said to keep away serious illness from its vicinity.

St. Dympna is said to have fled from her father to Kildalkey where she took refuge near the old Abbey. She was so sad with her situation that she began to sob and cried so much that a well sprang up at her feet. The well does not appear on any of the early Ordnance Survey maps. John O’Donovan recorded that St. Dympna, the virgin, was the patron of Kildalkey parish and was commemorated each year on 15th May. The well near the churchyard was much visited by people to obtain cures and on the feast day of the saint.  A great procession and sports were held annually and each person knelt and prayed at the well. In the 1860s and 1880s St. Dympna’s well was recorded as having dried up.

There was an effort made in the early twentieth century to revive the pattern at Kildalkey but it failed. By the 1930s the well was neglected and rarely visited. Cattle used to drink from the well, eroding the sides of the well causing it to close up.

In 1999 Kildalkey Active Retirement Association re-opened the well as one of their millennium projects. A wall was erected to protect the well and the restored well was blessed by Fr. Colm Murtagh on 1 October 2000. Kildalkey man, Frank Kelly, penned a poem to commemorate the restoration of the well and his poem and the story of St. Dympna is recorded on a commemorative plaque. Since the restoration local people have gathered at the well on the saint’s day.

St. Dympna is the patron saint of Kildalkey and the church, school and graveyard are dedicated to her memory. In the 1930s there were a number of ladies in the parish of Kildalkey named after St. Dympna including Dympna Harte, Dympna Murray and Dympna Corrigan.

In the seventh century Dympna, Damhnait in Irish, was the daughter of an Irish chieftain. Some stories state that her father was a pagan and her mother was a Christian. Her mother died when Dympna was young and the little girl was raised by a nurse.  Dympna grew up to be a beautiful girl and a rich chieftain sought her hand in marriage. Her father favoured the advantageous match. Dympna refused the offer of marriage as she wanted to dedicate her life to the service of God and so fled her home. Another version of the story was that as Dympna grew older she began to resemble her mother and her father who missed his wife so much that he wished to marry his own daughter.  Accompanied by her teacher St. Gerebernus, Dympna and her little band came to Kildalkey before fleeing to the continent. At Gheel, in what is now Belgium, they set up an altar to worship God and began to work with the sick and the poor. Her father followed the group to the continent and searched until he had found them. St. Gerebernus was seized and instantly beheaded. The king tried to persuade his daughter to come back to Ireland but she refused and so was beheaded by her own father as his soldiers refused to carry out the deed. Beside the altar a well sprang up and was dedicated to the memory of St. Dympna.  A holy shrine was erected at Gheel to St. Dympna and St. Gerebernus. The legend of Dympna was first written down about 1250. About this date the bones of an unknown man and woman were discovered at Gheel and the name ‘Dympna’ was found on a brick in one of the marble coffins.

St. Dympna is the patroness of the nervous, emotionally disturbed and the mentally ill. She is portrayed in stained glass windows in St. Patrick’s Church, Trim and St. Mary’s, Drogheda.


BALLAGHTALION COTTAGE Ballaghtalion, also spelled Balatalion, House is located near Kildalkey, on the Trim Road. John Potterton of Rathcormick leased 250 acres at Balatalion from Speaker Connolly in 1731.In 1756 his grandson, Thomas, was the first to live at Balatalion and it was probably he who built the house or added to the existing house at the rear. There was a pigeon house and in 1836 Ballaghtallion Cottage was described as very pretty. In 1835 it was the seat of Mr. T. Potterton. lexander de Courcy Potterton emigrated to Australia and New Zealand. He saw action against the Maori and taught French. He returned to Ireland in his seventies and is buried inAthboy. A brother, Frederick became Dean of Ardagh and married Julia Switzer, only daughter of John Wright Switzer, founder of Switzer‟s department store, Dublin. Another brother, Henry, went to America where he sought his fortune in the California Gold Rush, after which he disappears from family records. Another brother, Robert, was a schools inspector and wrote rhymes. In the 1901 and 1911 census Hubert W. Potterton and his family lived at Ballaghtalion. He bequeathed Ballaghtalion to his nephew, Henry Norman Potterton of Freffans, following his death in 1942. The house remained in the Potterton family until it was sold in 1972. Homan Potterton describes the house and its family connections in his book “Potterton People & Places.”

BALLINADRIMNA HOUSE Ballinadrimna is located in Athboy parish, a little distance from Kildalkey. Ballinadrimna was occupied by the Kellet family in the 18th century and it was probably they who erected the house in the 1780s. John Potterton acquired the house and property from the Kellets in 1819 and bequeathed it to his sons John and James. Harris Kellet held the mill and lands at Ballinadrimna in 1778. The house was attached to the old tower house and may date to the 1780s. In the 1830s Ballinadrimna was the residence of Mr. Thorogood and described as a good two storey slated house. The house is now a ruin. The east wall of the tower house survives to the first floor level. A new building is now on the site of the house. See „Potterton People & Places‟ by Homan Potterton.

CLONBARRY HOUSE Clonbarry or Clonbarron House is in Kildalkey parish, on a cul de sac on the road to Athboy. In 1835 it was described as a neat two storey house and the residence of Mr. Nangle. The Nangle coat of arms is on one of the outhouses. The Nangles were the major landowners in Kildalkey.In the twentieth century Clonabarron became a stud farm when the Nelson family took up ownership. Sir William Nelson lived at Clonbarron House from at least 1915. His wife, Lady Margaret Nelson, won the Grand National in 1915 with her horse, Ally Sloper. The Nelson family owned the Liverpool based Nelson Shipping Line. In 1923 Cathleen Bryan married Sir William‟s son, Sir James Hope Nelson who had recently divorced his first wife, an American. Lady Cathleen Nelson, born in 1899, was a pioneering female pilot, receiving her pilot‟s licence in 1932. An airstrip was laid down near the house. In 1933 Lady Cathleen was elected chairman of the Iona National Airways, one of Ireland first airlines in the country. Sir James Hope Nelson succeeded to his father‟s estates in 1922. Sir James Nelson bred Poolgowran the winner of the 1934 Irish Grand National. Sir James and Lady Nelson left Clonbarron in 1939 and took up residence in Loughbawn, Co. Westmeath. Sir James died in 1960 and is buried in a vault surrounding the O‟Connell memorial round tower in Glasnevin. In 1939 T.P. McIvor of Ardcath purchased Clonbarron for a sum of £2,250. Clonbarron was purchased by A.P. Reynolds in 1943 who operated a stud farm there with Richard McCormick as trainer. Later the Hon. Gerald Wellesley lived at Clonbarron. Various other families operated stud farm at the house during the twentieth century. In 1985 Clonbarron House and 166 acres was sold for £247,000.

CLONCARNEEL HOUSE Cloncarneel is located two kilometres north of Ballivor. Cloncarneel House was erected in the eighteenth century. A tall gabled house with a new entrance front was commissioned by Walter Dowdall in 1801. The design of the extensions were made by Francis Johnston who was then working on the Kells Courthouse. Just one room deep the house has an imposing doorway with a fanlight. Mulligan noted the striking feature of the windows which have twelve large panes on the ground floor and sixteen smaller panes on the first floor. The two storey house has Adamesque plasterwork over the sideboard recess in dining room. There is a wrought-iron balcony to first floor window over entrance. Cloncarneel has a number of out buildings. There is an arcaded outbuilding to the south. There is a central cobbled courtyard. Cloncarneel house, sometimes known as Clown, was held by the Dowdalls house in the eighteenth century. In 1835 Cloncarneel or Carnisle was described as a neat two storey house, the residence of Mr. William Allen. In the 1850s George Hopkins was renting the house from Jeremiah S. Murphy.In 1940s occupied by Cecil Samuel Faloon who produced sheep‟s cheese on the farm andgenerated his own electricity. The Potterton family held the house for a period and then the McNamara family.

CLONYLOGAN HOUSE Clonylogan House is located just east of Kildalkey on the road to Trim. The house may date to about 1850. A two storey over basement house it has a modern conservatory to the south. The land at Clonylogan was held by the Barnewalls of Trimlestown in medieval times. There was only a small building at Clonylogan in the first Ordnance Survey map of the mid 1830s. In 1830 Lord Darnley granted a lease of Clonylogan two hundred and fifty acres to Thomas Potterton of Balatalion. Arthur Potterton inherited the lease from his father and came of age in 1847. His brother and spinster sisters resided with him. His daughter, Eleanora, inherited the property on his death in 1890. Eleanora married Richard Walker of Woodtown West. In 1901 Thomas Eliot Potterton was living in the house but it was owned by Eleanora Walker. In 1911 it was owned by Eleanora Walker and lived in by William Bery White Spunner and his family. It was sold but purchased by the Potterton family in the 1960s. The house has been renovated. Most of the details relating to this house are from Homan Potterton‟s book, Potterton, People & Places.

KILDALKEY HOUSE Kildalkey House is two storey over basement house and is now the parochial house. Walter Nangle erected a house at Kildalkey in 1725. The current house may date from about 1840. It became the residence of the parish priest of Kildalkey and in 1903 the parish purchased the house. The Nangle family of Kildalkey sprang from Walter Nangle, the eight and youngest son of Sir Thomas Nangle, 17th Baron of Navan. Walter was born some time before 1561 and the family became well established at Kildalkey by the early 17th century. Jocelyn Nangle of Kildalkey was involved in the rebellion of the 1640s. Walter Nangle was born in 1700 and inherited the estate at Kildalkey on the death of his father in 1721. He married twice and was succeeded by his son, Edward. Edward’s son, James Francis Nangle, became a Justice of the Peace in 1797 and was appointed Deputy Governor of County Meath. James Nangle of Kildalkey died at his seat in 1812. He was born in Spain as some of the family had moved abroad during the penal days. He was succeeded by his uncle, Walter Nangle. Walter’s son, Charles, inherited Kildalkey in 1843. Charles married Cecelia, daughter of Richard Barnewall, of Bloomsbury, and the widow of John Connolly of Newhaggard. They lived at Newhaggard House. Charles died bankrupt in 1847 and the Kildalkey property left the Nangle family. The Hodgens family came into possession of Kildalkey estates. Thomas Hodgens bequeathed £1000 for the establishment of Almshouses at Kildalkey and an annual bequest of £60 for the inmates. The Hodgens family lived mainly in Dublin leasing out their Kildalkey estates.

MOYRATH CASTLE Moyrath Castle is located near Kildalkey. Moyrath Castle consists of a medieval tower with rounded corners and nineteenth century battlements which was re-modelled and a two storey house added. The castle was said to have been erected by Lord Geoffry de Montemarisco in 1219. The castle is probably a tower house of the fifteenth century. The Nugent family were a branch of the Earls of Westmeath family. Moyrath was purchased by William-Og Nugent, second son of William, first Baron Delvin, and from that time became the seat of the family, who took the name of Nugents of Moyrath. William’s grandson, Christopher, was living at Moyrath in 1499. Sir Thomas Nugent of Moyrath represented Westmeath in the parliament of Elizabeth I. Francis Nugent, son of Sir Thomas was born at Moyrath about 1569. Becoming a priest in the Franciscan Capuchin order, he was the founder of the Irish and Rhenish provinces of that order. He died in France in 1635. A descendant Sir Thomas Nugent was created a baron in 1622. The family managed to hold onto their lands at Moyrath during the Cromwellian confiscations but lived at Dardistown and then at Taghmon, Co. Westmeath. Sir Robert, son of Thomas, became the second baron and lived at Taghmon. His son, Thomas, succeeded in 1675. A supporter of James II, following the defeat at the battle of the Boyne, Thomas followed his king to France. Having two daughters the title became extinct on his death. The Ashe family seem to have held Moyrath in the seventeenth century. Thomas Ashe married the daughter and heiress of Nicholas Bailey who had acquired the monastery of Newtown-Trim following the confiscation of the monasteries. Henry, grandson of Thomas, lived at Moyrath. Henry’s son, Nicholas, succeeded to the estates at Newtown and when he died in 1656 his estates were inherited by his cousin, William Ashe of Summerstown. The Barnewalls of Trimblestown held Moyrath. Gerald Potterton, who gave a tour of the house to the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society in 2008, said that there was a curse associated with Moyrath. When the Barnewalls were dispossessed and forced to leave the castle Lady Barnewall pronounced a curse on the ancient castle of Moyrath. As she departed she flung open the carriage door and pronounced that there would be seven widows in Moyrath. Part of Moyrath was held by Speaker Connolly of Castletown. In 1753 Moyrath was leased by Thomas Potterton of the Rathcormick family. His son, Henry inherited Moyrath and then his son, Thomas, held Moyrath until his death in 1834. Thomas was concerned with regard to the title of the property and in 1801 he sold the property to his lawyer cousin for five shillings and a week later bought it back again for a similar sum. In the 1830s the castle was lived in by Henry Grattan M.P. for Meath. He was the landowner and leased Moyrath to the Pottertons. Henry Grattan, son of the great statesman of the late eighteenth century, was elected as M.P. for Dublin in 1826 and became M.P. for Meath in 1831. Grattan supported Repeal of the Act of Union. He served as M.P. for Meath until 1852. He died in 1859. The castle was inherited by Henry, son of Thomas. In 1835 the remains of the castle had been partially re-fitted and occupied as part of the residence of H. Potterton. In 1840 Henry married Susanna Tarrant, who came with a substantial dowry of £4000. Some of this dowry was expended on renovating Moyrath and constructing a farmyard. A stone arch bears the inscription HP 1841. Henry died in 1862 and his wife two years later. Their son, Thomas, came of age in 1872 and inherited Moyrath. In 1876 Thomas Potterton of Moyrath held 966 acres in County Meath. Three generations of Pottertons died young and the castle was sold to the Collins family in 1896. In 1901 James Collins and his family resided at Moyrath. In 1911 Frank Collins was living at Moyrath. In 1948 the property was sold to an Englishman, Major R. Lesley Johnson. Mr. Johnson was the seventh generation male occupant who sadly died suddenly in 1976.In 1984 Moyrath was purchased by the Potterton family and became home to Gerald Potterton and his family. Homan Potterton gives a good account of Moyrath in his book “Potterton People and Places: Three centuries of an Irish family.”

RATHCORMICK HOUSE Rathcormick House is located near Kildalkey. Rathcormick is named after a rath which is situated in front of the present house. Rathcormick is a large three–storey house dating to about 1770 which has been much altered internally. There were formal gardens at the rear of the house. There was an old burial grounds, Gortnakilly at the rear entrance gate. In 1641 the lands belonged to Sir Luke Fitzgerald. The lands were acquired by Thomas Bligh in 1703. John Potterton acquired a lease of three lives on Rathcormick from Thomas Bligh in 1710 and the Pottertons have lived there since. The property at Rathcormick included neighbouring Rathkenna and comprised 542 acres. The property descended through a number of Johns and Thomases. The family spread out from Rathcormick, holding lands at Balatalion, Clonylogan, Moyrath and various other places nearby. In 1835 Rathcormick was described as an old two storey house with considerable offices the residence of T. Potterton. Following the passing of the Wyndham Land Act of 1903 Thomas Elliot acquired the freehold in 1905. T.E. Potterton challenged the Land Commission in the 1930s and won the case. It resulted in a new law limiting the Land Commission. T.E. Potterton is one of the longest established and most respected firms in the Midlands, having been founded in 1886, moved to Trim in the 1960s. Pottertons opened Trim Livestock Mart, the first privately owned livestock mart in Ireland, in 1957 and Delvin Mart in 1965.St. Mary’s church was erected on Rathcormick lands in 1856 to serve the Pottertons and Kildalkey parishioners. The church was closed in 1963 and demolished a year later. Homan Potterton was the youngest ever director of National Gallery. Homan Potterton has written two books which tell the story of the Pottertons, Rathcormick and their various branches and properties. His memoir of growing up on a farm in County Meath in the 1950s is Rathcormick: a Childhood Recalled. Potterton, People and Places, Three Centuries of an Irish Family tells the story of the family and their branches.


Almshouses were set up by landlords prior to council housing. Some were for widows, others were for older people. In Meath we had at least three alms houses. One in Dowth, one in Athboy and one in Kildalkey. They are often targeted at the poor of a locality or their widows, and at elderly people who can no longer pay rent, and are generally maintained by the trustees of a bequest.

In 1832 Thomas Hodgins, a major landowner in Kildalkey, bequeathed £1000 for the erection of almshouses, and £60 per annum for the inmates, who must be natives of this parish. Thomas lived at Newtown House, Blackrock in Dublin and had been a timber and rope merchant but also developed a glassworks at Ringsend. His son, Robert, who lived at Beaufort, Blackrock inherited the Kildalkey estates.

Alms houses Kildalkey

The £1000 pounds was not enough to construct the Alms Houses so the other major landlord Lord Darnley had to contribute to the erection of the building. Dated to 1856 the building was described as catering for 25 men and 25 women or 50 men and 50 women. In 1871 there were 5 men and one woman in residence. In 1901 there was only one old woman living in the Almshouse. By 1909 the initial investment of £1000 had increased in value to £1664. 

The Almshouses was used as a school from 1888 until the current school was opened in 1931 and again more recently before the new school was erected. In 1930 the trustees of the Hodgins Charity said that Irish language classes could not be held in the Almshouse as they did not meet the original objectives of the charity. Yet by 1939 the local county committee of agriculture was holding classes on vegetable growing in the building.

In 1950 the trustees transferred the hall to the local diocese and into the control of the local parish. In 1951 the new hall was opened and named “St. Dympna’s Hall.” It had its own lighting plant as electricity had not yet reached Kildalkey. A new hall was built to the rear of the Almshouses in 1974. The hall underwent major refurbishment in 2007.