St. Mary’s Church has been used by the Church of Ireland congregation in the area since it was originally built in 1633.
A stone slab set in the western side of the tower reads: ” This church was first built by the Rt. Hon. Sir William St. Leger, the Lord President of Munster, anno Domini 1633, the Right Honourable Arthur Viscount Doneraile, anno Domini 1726.”
The Spire of the church enjoys fame for the fact that it gave its name to the term ‘Steeplechasing’. The first account of any race where natural fences were jumped dates from 1752 between a Mr O’Callaghan and a Mr Edmund Blake, the race being from the church in Buttevant to the steeple of the St. Leger church in Doneraile. The original spire was blown down in 1825.
FOUR STAINED GLASS WINDOWS IN THE CHURCH are of interest: – The East window to the memory of Robert Crone (1 878) depicts the four different acts of mercy referred to in the closing portion of the 25* chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel:- “I was hungry and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty and ye gave me drink, naked and. ye clothed me; 1 was sick and ye visited me “. The stunning East Window is particularly notable as it was fashioned by stained glass masters Heaton, Butler and Bayne of London in 1878. The second window depicts the Saviour as “The Light of the World “- a memorial to Godfrey Levinge (1898). The third, “The Good Shepherd” is to the memory of Warren Tulloch, son of the Rector Rev. W, H. Perrott, (1898) while the fourth window, an abstract design is to the memory of Arundle Hill and his wife Thomasina (1873)
The exterior Ornamental Plaster Trefoils around the windows and interior woodwork were added in 1815.
A RING OF SIX BELLS was presented by Lady Castletown of Upper Ossory in 1890 in memory of her father the 4th Viscount Doneraile, and the parish still enjoys the privilege of being one of the very few country Churches which can boast a peal of bells. Recently there has been a most encouraging revival of interest in the bells and a resident team has re-cornmenced practice. The bells were cast by John Taylor & Co., Loughborough, Leicestershire, England, who were also founders of the bells of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.
The bell which originally called people to worship as far back as 1636 still sits in the porch of Doneraile church.
The following video was recorded as part of a Ballyhoura Development CLG project involving the survey of historic graveyards in parts of north Cork and south Limerick. St. Mary’s was surveyed by a group of volunteers from the Doneraile area.
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St Mary’s Church
This is one of the most fascinating towns in North Cork, steeped in history from ancient times. It stands at a crossing of the Awbeg River where it runs through a gentle valley before entering the steeper gorge further south.
In the area there are chamber tombs from maybe 2000 B.C.
In the 1500’s the town was the property of Edmund Spencer the poet who wrote most of ‘the Fairie Queene’ while he lived at Kilcolman Castle. Many of the geographical references in that poem are to the Doneraile area.
Spencer had extremist views about how the native Irish should be dealt with and was burned out of Kilcolman in 1598, his infant son dying in the blaze. He died soon after in London, penniless and broken.
Spencer’s estates were taken over by the St. Legers who built Doneraile Court and who lived there until recent times, being the major political power in the area for many centuries. They are associated of course with horse racing.
The original Steeplechase horse race was organised between the steeples of Buttevant and Doneraile churches in 1752. Unfortunately the steeple at Doneraile was since demolished. The present tower of the church has the only peal of six bells in an Irish country church, and they are still rung every week.
A famous parish priest of Doneraile in the late 1800’s, Canon Sheehan, wrote novels which are still valued as sources of background information to life in the area at that time.
More recently the TV personality Fanny Craddock lived in the area and brought many famous visitors to Doneraile.