The Story of Kilfinnane Old Graveyard, Co. Limerick

The medieval church ruins and graveyard of Kilfinane are in the townland of Kilfinane, in the parish of Kilfinane and in the barony of Coshlea. It is located on the northeast edge of Kilfinane town, on Castle St., with Kilfinane Castle to the west. 
The name Kilfinane in Irish is Cill Fhionain, meaning the church of Fionain ( The early English records call it Keilfinny or Keilfinane, and imply an earlier form, Coill Finghin, Finghin’s Wood (not cil or ‘church’). It's quite possible that there may have been a Drum-, Coill-, and a Cil Finghin here. Coill meaning ‘of the wood’ is the most appropriate as the surrounding hinterland was densely covered in woodland well into the later half of the 18th century, (
Saint Finnian founded a church here in the 7th century. It was used later as the protestant parish church which was dedicated to St. Andrew the Apostle and the feast day was celebrated on the 30th of November. It was valued at 10s in the 1418 church taxation of the Deanery of Kilmallock. Lewis (1837) recorded that the church was rebuilt in 1760. The present remains consist of a long rectangular building measuring 10.5m N-S x 23m E-W. It has four round-headed windows with cut sandstone voussoirs and impost courses inserted into the south wall and a large broken out window in the east gable. The north wall is supported by three large buttresses, and there is a flat-headed bell-cote on the apex of the west gable, (Archaeology .ie). It is without a roof and is very overgrown with vegetation. The interior of the church is now inaccessible.
The graveyard is polygonal in shape and surrounds the church. It measures  49m N-S x 62m E-W. The south side of the graveyard is bordered by townhouse property boundaries, and there were two entrances into the graveyard, one on the south side that opened onto the main street of Kilfinane and another on the southeast corner. The south entrance has been blocked up, and the graveyard can now only be accessed through an iron gateway on the north end of the west wall. The south boundary wall of the graveyard is shown as incomplete on a 1840 map, but both entrances are depicted on a 1897 map.
The site is in three sections; the old graveyard, the adjacent new cemetery annex, and St. Andrew’s Catholic parish church across the road.  All denominations are interred here.
In the old graveyard a total of 170 memorials were recorded during the Historic Graves Survey in 2012. Of this number, seven date to the 18th century. The oldest memorial recorded commemorates the burial place of Edmond Damyon who died in 1743, aged 9 years, (memorial no. 0043).
The following surnames are some of the surnames recorded; Slattery, Shanahan, Barrett, Felon, Wallis, McCoy, Sheedy, Moloney, Murphy, Vlancy, Hussey, Herbert, Fitzgerald, Hennessy, O’Keeffe, O’Neill, O’Sullivan, Cronin, Hosford, Hinchy, Fetton, Ryan, Naylor, Newe, Williams, Palmer and Ahern.
The church ruins contain architectural fragments from the medieval period that have been reused as grave markers. EXAMPLES?
Interesting facts
Kilfinane town owes much of its present layout to the Oliver family of Castle Oliver. They acquired 6500 hectares of land in this area from Sir Edmond Fitzharris whose ancestors had owned it since the 13th century. The Fitzharris lands were confiscated by the Cromwellians in the 17th century and granted to the Olivers, who remained in ownership of the area for the next two centuries. During this time they commanded a local military force, held seats in parliament and acted as magistrates in local courts.
The 9th century Kilfinnane brooch is made of gold and measures 5 cm in length and weighs approximately 9 grams. It is composed of a pinhead and a penannular ring, both decorated with stamped circles. This ornamentation is reminiscent of the decoration on Viking-style silver jewellery and because of this it is likely to date from the 9th century. As it is made of gold it makes it a very rare artefact. It is only the second pre-12th century gold brooch from Ireland- the other being the so-called “Dalriada Brooch’ from Loughan, Co. Derry. All other brooches of this type are of silver or bronze. (, National Museum of Ireland)
The brooch may have been found in this church or graveyard in Kilfinane. There is also the possibility that it was discovered on the site of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church across the road to the northeast when it was being built in 1835. This church was built on the site of an earlier church. Another theory suggests that since there is no abbey in Kilfinane, the brooch may have been found at ‘Abbey’ (ie. Abbey Ballinagoul) near Ballyorgan.
It was purchased by the National Museum of Ireland at an auction at Christie’s of London in 1992. Attached to it was a label which read “Early British-found at Kilfinan Abbey Co. Limerick’. It is now on view in the Treasury in the Kildare St. building of the museum.
John Walsh, a detective-inspector from the gold stealing detection unit in Australia was murdered while on duty. He died at Kalgoorlie, Western Australia,  April 1926, aged 65 years. There is a very elaborate memorial to him and his colleague who died with him. It is located at the police academy campus at Joondalup, Western Australia. John was buried in the catholic section of Karrakatta Cemetery, outside Perth.  He was originally from Kilfinane. Parents were Ellen née Bourke and James Walsh. John was born in 1862. He attended Ardpatrick national school, studied medicine in UCC but by 1881 he was in Sydney where he joined the police force. There are Walshs buried in Ardpatrick and may be descendants of this family, but no Walshs were recorded buried in Kilfinane graveyard.
This post was researched and written as part of a grassroots heritage tourism project ( in collaboration with Ballyhoura Development CLG (, Cork Co. Council ( and Limerick Co. Council ( The stories were initially gathered during a community survey of the graveyard. They form part of the Historic Graves Project Destination for Ballyhoura (