by Paul Mullins
RATHASPECK, a parish, partly in the barony of BALLYADAMS, but chiefly in that of SLIEVEMARIGUE, QUEEN’S county, and province of LEINSTER, 5 miles (N. E.) from Castlecomer, on the road to Athy; containing 4032 inhabitants. This place derives its name, which signifies “the Bishop’s Fort,” from a rath near the old church. Here was anciently a small religious establishment, probably a cell to that on the townland of Clonpierce, about two miles distant: the foundation of both is attributed to the O’Mores.
The parish is bounded on the south and south-west by the county of Kilkenny, and contains 8097 statute acres, as applotted under the tithe act. Here are the extensive coal mines of Doonane, worked by a company; they are drained by a steam engine, and supply stone coal to all parts of the surrounding country, which is principally conveyed by carriers.
There are about five other works in the same range: the shafts are first sunk through clay, then succeeds a hard green rock, and next slaty strata, in contact with which is the coal: it is worked on either side by regular gangs, each member having a specific duty; the number of each gang is about thirty, and when the pit is double worked there are sixty; each crew works ten hours, but they are particularly observant of every kind of holiday. Gracefield is the seat of Mrs. Kavanagh; Corbally House, of the Rev. W. Pasley; and Inch, of W.Conner, Esq.
The living is a rectory and vicarage, in the diocese of Leighlin, and in the patronage of the Bishop: the tithes amount to £300. The church was built, in 1814, by aid of a gift of £220 from the late Board of First Fruits, and for its repair the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have lately granted £253.
In the R. C. divisions the parish is partly in the union or district of Mayo and Doonane, and partly in that of Ballyadams; it contains two chapels, one at Doonane, and the other at Wolfhill belonging to the union of Ballyadams. The parochial school, at Mullaghmore, is supported by £23 per annum from the incumbent; and there is a school at Gracefield, supported by Mrs. Kavanagh. In five private schools about 200 boys and 130 girls are taught; and there are two Sunday schools.
The present church of Rathaspeck was erected out of the ruins of the ancient religious buildings, under the site of which there were formerly three vaulted chambers, in one of which was a well of the purest water. A tract of about 4 acres, contiguous to the church, has long been remarkable for the quantity of human bones found in it, which circumstance is traditionally accounted for by the ravages of a plague.
About a quarter of a mile north of the church is Miltown castle, or Ballyvuilling, consisting of a square tower and some other remains of a fortified mansion of unknown antiquity, with a modern dwelling-house annexed: the surrounding fosses are now occupied by stagnant fish-ponds. Numerous relics of antiquity have been found, including ancient Anglo-Irish coins, a short sword of brass, and a brooch; and at Miltown castle spear-heads and other curiosities have been discovered.