Freshford is situated on the banks of the Nuenna river which flows through the heart of the village. The river name is the Anglicised spelling of An Uaithne which means Green River. The moss growing on the riverbed still bestows a pleasant green hue to the flowing water as it did when inspiring its name, perhaps fifteen hundred years ago.
Around 400 A.D. the first settlers came from Munster in search of new lands. At the time north Kilkenny was known as Mágh Airgid Rois, the Plain of the Silver Birch. The invaders came from Muskerry in West Cork led by Cucraí, son of Duach. Having come so far into Ossory, they stopped on the banks of An Uaithne and broke new or fresh ground amongst the Silver Birches, which was called simply, but meaningfully, Achadh Úr or Freshfield. Unfortunately the descendants of our Norman conquerors later mistranslated this as Freshford because the Irish word Achadh, meaning field, sounded like the Irish word Áth, meaning ford. Thus we got our present day placename.
Evidence of the original settlement location was presented by the modern day phenomenon of an aerial photograph taken by the Ordnance Survey. When experts viewed the photograph they saw that the last remaining sections of the inner and outer enclosures of the early Christian settlement were still clearly visible near the church site. When the photograph was studied, an imaginary line was drawn from the section of ditch, still visible to the experts, in an arc from Prince's Bridge to Old Bridge Street to show us the dimensions of the settlement around the church grounds. The existence of both inner and outer enclosures is regarded as evidence of a high-prestige site. The chief buildings and sacred or ritual features were located within the inner enclosure while the more mundane activities were contained within the outer enclosure.
Today most of the inner enclosure, has been replaced by block walls but the remnant of the outer enclosure is today the northern boundary of the local national school separating the Scoil Lachtaín site from the houses on Kilkenny Street. The presence of the plant "Alexander" which is associated with medieval sites, was also recently documented, meaning that Freshford may be one of the few "living relics" of an early monastic site.
The invaders, in need of more land, continued their conquest eastwards through north Kilkenny. Leaving Achadh Úr, they cheekily called the next townsland Bánta na Maoinigh, the Fields or Plains of the Munstermen. They continued their conquest eastwards and renamed the territory, known today as Three Castles, between Achadh Úr and and Cill Chainnigh, as Bán Ua nDuach, the Plain of Duach, in honour of their patriarch in Cork. Miraculously it has retained its grand old Irish name to this day.
A large settlement grew in Achadh Úr coinciding with the spread of Christianity in Ireland. Our patron saint Lachtain arrived late in the 6th century. He was born around the year 550 in west Cork, son of Toirbín and Senecha. He studied at Bangor in Co. Down under St. Comhghall. After ordination he came to preach God's word amongst his kinsmen or cousins in Ossory. He founded a church here which acquired imortance because Lachtain is referred to as Bishop in some annals and he is listed as the third Bishop of Ossory.
In time Lachtain returned to his own people and founded a church at Cill na Martra in Cork. This translates as Church of the Relics and refers to the Shrine of St. Lachtain's Arm which was made for his relics but was confiscated during the Reformation. It was brought back from England in 1884 and can be seen today in the National Museum in Dublin. A holy well on the Kilkenny Road is known to this day as Tobar Lachtaín. In days of old it was the scene of an annual pattern and water from Tobar Lachtaín is reputed to hold a cure for ailments of the eye. Lachtain died in 622 and his feastday is celebrated on 19 March.
The greatest claim to fame of this grand old site is of course the Hiberno Romanesque church doorway. It was built around 1150 and has survived more or less intact to this day. The porch over the doorway was actually added when the church was rebuilt in 1730 but the doorway itself puts the site on a par with many of the ecclesiastical sites around Ireland. However, it is ironic that just as it acquired its iconic doorway and 12th century church, Achadh Ur's days were numbered. The Synod of Rathbrassil in 1111 defined the Irish dioceses as we more or less know them today and Achadh Úr was subsumed into Ossory.
St. Lachtain's Church of Ireland was renovated during the first decade of the 21st century. A Service of Thanksgiving took place in August 2012 to mark the completion of the restoration works.
- History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory, Canon Carrigan.
- St. Lachtain's Church, Conservation Plan, Heritage Council, 2004.
Compiled by local historian Ned Kennedy