The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

Kilnaboy, Co Clare, Southern Ireland

Irish grid reference: R 2713 9158. The monastic site of Kilnaboy is situated right beside the R476 Kilfenora road, some 2 miles to the north of Corofin. Lake Inchiquin (Lough Inchiquin) is 1 mile to the south. Kilnaboy churchyard is a famous monastic site that dates back to 540 AD, when St Inghine Baoith founded a convent here. In the 12th century a church was built on that site. Part of a round tower can still be seen as well as a Tau cross. But, most interesting of all the artefacts here is what, I myself, would call vulgar though others might disagree? It is the sheela-na-gig figure over the door of the church. And what a sight it is too, but nice all the same. The place-name Kilnaboy means ‘Cell of Baoith’ or ‘Church of the daughter of Baoith’.

The roofless church dates from the 12th century but in the 16th century another church was built over that, but it is probable that a much earlier foundation stood on the site. On the gable end wall, at the western end, is the so-called ‘Lorraine Cross’, a double-armed or double-branched medieval cross. Over the doorway, the famous sheela-na-gig stares down at you in all its vulgarity. This is probably a pagan diety of the old religion. She displays her over-sized genitalia as a sign of fertility. The sheela is thought to be the cow goddess, Boand, who was also goddess of the river Boyne. St Inghine Baoith, the founding abbess of Kilnaboy monastery in the 6th century, takes her name from this old fertility goddess but, as was usually the case, the early Celtic (British) church very quickly turned her into a Christian saint. A similar thing happened to St Bridget of Kildare.

A tau-cross shaped like a letter “T” used to stand on nearby Roughan Hill but for the sake of safety it was taken to The Clare Heritage Centre at Corofin. This strange-shaped cross is 4 foot high and, on each arm two human heads are carved. Maybe they were ecclesiastics or biblical characters? The cross probably marked the local boundaries. The ruined, roofless church is fairly plain in structure. There are a number of niches in the walls that may have once contained religious statues or other relics. Not much of the round tower survives today, just the bottom section of its foundations.

On the north-eastern shore of nearby Lough Inchiquin there is a holy well, Toberinneenboy, which is one of two wells dedicated to St Inghine Baoith of Kilnaboy, also known as St Innywee. Her feast-day is still celebrated (locally) on 6th May.