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  • Writer's pictureHugh MacMahon

Domhnach or Donagh?

Many of the oldest churches in Ireland were called Domhnach (meaning Lord’s Day) and are associated with St Patrick. The shorter form ‘Donagh’ can be found across the country.

Once such is Donaghmore (the Big Donagh) outside Navan in Meath. St Patrick is said to have established a church there, putting it in the care of a holy man named Cassan.  Little is known of Cassan except that he went to Rome as a pilgrim and on his return became ‘Abbot, bishop and director of the School’ at Donaghmore. Patrick had left some items behind including a patena (plate used at Mass) which became the focus of pilgrimage there.

However, if Cassan was one of the earliest Christians how could he have been to Rome and returned to a church that had already developed into a monastery and school?

The account of Patrick’s visit to the area says he founded a church at nearby Donaghpatrick which sounds more convincing (‘the Donagh of Patrick’ – more on that later).

Such are the questions that face you when you try to unearth the history of what undoubtedly was an important foundation but whose origins are forgotten.

Whether Patrick was there or not, today you can see that Donaghmore deserved its name, ‘Big Donagh/ Church’. It stands on an imposing rise and its sturdy Round Tower is a sign of later prosperity, few communities could afford one.  There is an unusual crucifixion over the tower doorway and carved stone heads on either side.

The church was replaced in the 13th century by a new and larger structure. Only the western end and belfry of this church remain though there is an ancient Celtic cross in the grounds and some interesting monuments.

One is the millstone of a local miller which was used as his grave stone and another, more recent, is for the ‘Croppy Boy’ who ‘died for Ireland’ in the Rebellion of 1798. 

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