The Old Graveyrad in Tuam - Temple Jarlath

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Temple Jarlath Tuam
53° 30' 51.9372" N, 8° 51' 11.5452" W


Eachtra have been monitoring works associated with the Tuam water supply scheme for the past year. The ‘big dig’ as it is known locally has seen all of the streets in the town excavated in order to replace the water and waste water pipeline services and to add additional Broadband, Gas and ESB ducting. As Tuam is such an historic town we have been monitoring the excavations in an attempt to identify and record features associated with its long history. The monitoring brief has meant I have walked past and around Temple Jarlath hundreds of times. A large steel and wooden tower has been erected on High Street to enable entry to the ruined church and graveyard located on the raised ground inside the boundary wall and railings. It has however remained resolutely locked anytime I attempted to get in for a nosey around. Today as I walked past the gate on the southern side of the enclosure was open so I finally managed to get in for a look. 

Temple Jarlath in Context

St Jarlath a member of the local noble clan the Conmaicne founded a monastery at Tuam a generation or so after St Patrick in the fifth century. The Vikings may have plundered this foundation as little is known about St Jarlath or his early church however according to brief mentions in the annals it did survive in some form into the 11th century. The exact location of the original foundation is unclear and debate continues and different theories have been proposed. As the Heritage Council’s study of planning and development in Tuam makes clear the O’Connors chose to make Tuam their provincial stronghold and built numerous churches and monasteries in order to embellish it. This proliferation of religious houses and ecclesiastical foundations in a small town has led to a certain amount of confusion and uncertainty regarding the exact location of various features associated with the town’s history. This profusion of religious features is matched only by the numbers of schools and bakeries which can be seen and smelt during a wander around the town. 
Temple Jarlath consists of a ruined 13th century parish church with a fine pointed triple light transitional east window and a later tower to the west all located on the eastern side of a raised D-shaped graveyard. Carved romanesque heads inset into lozenge decorated frames around the window probably came from an earlier church. According to the Archaeological Survey of Ireland the curving enclosure wall to the east along Church Lane and to the south along Sawpit Lane probably preserves the line of an earlier ecclesiastical enclosure. Tony Claffey author of the fabulous Tuam Historic Towns Atlas believes that the site of Temple Jarlath was probably newly chosen for a re-established settlement built by Áed Ua Conchobair or ‘Áed of the gapped spear’, in the eleventh century. The Tuam Herald records on the 2nd of October 1852 that the graveyard at Temple Jarlath was ‘overcrowded with famine dead’. The Church went out of use when another parish church was built further north along Church Lane in the 18th century and according to Costello (1902) reporting in the Journal of Royal Society of Antiquaries the graveyard was shut for burials in 1885.

 Temple Jarlath Today 

Today the graveyard and church have a certain air of abandonment however the space is a haven of peace in the heart of the bustling town. The grass is regularly cut  but has started to encroach across the majority of the ledger slabs which are grouped in clusters around the graveyard. Lines of large yew trees break up the interior into rectangular sections. The gravel paths are worn and remarkably cut across the floor plan of the ruined church. Grave memorials have been placed against the curving south eastern boundary wall and further along this wall to the east piles of stone have become overgrown with weeds. There are no upright grave memorials within the graveyard. A number of chest tombs and pedestal tombs are grouped around and within the ruined church. A burial vault of the O’Connor/Donnelan family abuts the eastern end of the north wall of the church. Two stories of a square tower abuts the western gable of the church and has been converted into a tomb by the Egan family. Most of the memorials appear to date to the 18th and 19th centuries.

Newly Excavated Early Christian Burials 

Last year while monitoring slit trenches excavated in advance of the pipeline works along sawpit Lane just to the south of Temple Jarlath human remains were identified in one of the trenches. Following consultation with Martin Reid from the then Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government it was proposed that Eachtra would excavate a 1 m wide trench for approximately 100 m in advance of the pipe-laying along Sawpit Lane. In total 16 skeletons were carefully identified, recorded and excavated. Teeth from two of these skeletons have recently been dated to around 700 AD. These early dates for two burials in such close proximity to Temple Jarlath will require careful consideration and analysis as they possibly suggest that the graveyard and enclosure substantially predate the re established settlement in the 11th century and that they may be associated with St Jarlath’s original early Christian foundation. 
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