Ivy Chapel

The Ivy Chapel burial-ground is situated about 1.25 miles from the town of Mountmellick in a south-east by southerly direction and stands on an eminence of the Ridge Road leading to Portlaoise. It has been a burial site since pre-Christian times. The chapel itself dates back to medieval times. It was known as (Kilungay) Kilmongan.

The site was linked with the Priory of St. Maignead in the 7th century. Of the ancient church which occupied the site there is now no trace whatsoever - the whole area being covered over with grave sites. Indeed, it was recorded by Ld. Walter Fitzgerald, writing in the Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society in 1904, that the only trace of the building then visible was "portion of a limestone window-sill with a central mullion, the very foundation having disappeared."

The same writer considered that the mound on which the church stood closely resembled a circular pagan burial-moat. While the resemblance is certainly there it is not certain that the mound was used as a place of interment before the advent of Christianity. Churches were often built within the precincts of older habitations, i.e. forts, but it is very dubious that they were erected on sites used by the pagan people of earlier times as resting places for their dead. Such was the strength of St. Patrick's conversion that even the Ogham-stone, the monument of pre-Christian burial, is often found today marked with a cross, most likely signifying a mental attitude wishful of cleansing the stone of its "paganism." Why was it called the "Ivy Chapel"? Perhaps a glance through the pages of history will help to solve this mystery.

During the 1860s there was a slackening-off of the infamous Penal Laws and, though not by any means abrogated, advantage was taken, because of the laxity of their enforcement, to build chapels for the needs of the Catholic worshippers. But they were not relaxed to the extent that the Priest could build a church, for a church was a superior edifice and as such, was the sole prerogative of the established church. So the place of worship used by our forefathers of two centuries ago was, if not a quarry, rath or hill-side, designated by the name "chapel."

On the basis of sound historical fact, the term "Chapel" must have been appended during the latter quarter of the eighteenth century, perhaps somewhere about 1780, which means that the name "Ivy Chapel" is, roughly, two-hundred and twenty-five years old. It does not take ivy very long to grow and, even in the days of partial emancipation, if not perhaps a couple of centuries earlier, this ruin might have been overgrown with ivy. Victims of the famine are buried in the graveyard at the Ivy Chapel. It continued to be used as a graveyard for the local community up until the late-20th century.


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