St Mullin’s, County Carlow

St Mullin’s, County Carlow


On the east bank of the River Barrow is St Mullin’s, a place of history and of legend. A monastery was founded there in the 7th century by St Moling, a prince, poet, artist and artisan, as well as a priest. It is said that he dug a mile long watercourse with his own hands to power his mill – a task that took seven years. He became Bishop of Ferns, died in 697 and was buried at St Mullin’s. St Moling’s watercourse is still there, but the original monastery burnt down in 1138. An abbey was built on the site late, in the Middle Ages. A 9th century High Cross stands outside the remains of the abbey and there are also some domestic medieval buildings, including one that has an unusual diamond shaped window.

The most notable monument in the packed little churchyard is a penal alter, used in the days when the anti-Catholic penal laws were in force. A Norman motte, once topped by a wooden castle, stands outside the churchyard, and when Mass was being said at the alter some of the congregation would climb the motte to act as lookouts.

A number of South Leinster Kings are buried in the churchyard, among them the warrior Art MacMurrough. There is also the grave of Father Daniel Kavanagh, who died in 1813 and is said to have had the gift of healing. People still claim that to cure a tooth ache you should take a pinch of the earth from outside the churchyard and exchange it for a pinch of clay from Father Kavanagh’s grave. Then say a brief prayer, pop the clay into your mouth and walk down the hill to wash it out with water from St Moling’s well – not forgetting to leave an offering.

Every summer on the Sunday before July 25, Mass is held at the penal altar for thousands of people, who visit the graves, draw water from the holy well and take their distresses and ailments to Father Kavanagh and St Moling.

The finely proportioned 19th century Church of Ireland church at St Mullin’s is no longer in use, but there is talk of turning it into a museum. Protestants and Catholics lie side by side in the churchyard, and a story is told in the village of the days when, because there were only a handful of Protestants in the neighbourhood, the local Church of Ireland bishop was thinking of closing own the church. The distraught vicar had a word with the Catholic priest, who had a word with his flock, and on the day of the bishop’s visit Catholic families filled the Protestant church, joining in the responses and lustily singing Protestant hymns. The bishop went home delighted and the church remained open.

St Mullin’s is a real hidden gem that is steeped in history and worth a visit on your Ireland tours.