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Home > Villages > Mountrath > History

History of Mountrath

Mountrath probably derives its name from a fort in Redcastle about a mile and a half on the eastern side of the present town. The Irish name is Moin Ratha - meaning "the fort in the bog”. Redcastle Site, Mountrath. There was at one time a castle and fort in Redcastle - faint signs of which can still be seen today. The land in this area was very boggy. The town’s industrial development began in the 17th Century when Sir Charles Coote turned his woodland estate into an important and thriving centre for iron, brewing, cotton and farming. Although extensive parts of his estate were destroyed in 1641, his son regained the land and was honoured with the title Lord of Mountrath. Mountrath in times gone by was a prominent industrial town with a thriving ironworks, cotton mill and tannery, today it is a small market town.

Clonenagh Monastic Site
The most important monastery of ancient Leix. It was located on the Slige Dala (road of the assemblies) ensuring its importance in early medieval Ireland. This place - the name of which, Claineidhniach, signifies Latibulum hederosum, "the Iived retreat," - is remarkable for the celebrated monastery which was founded here by St. Fintan, about the year 548. - (Lanigan). This saint was born about the year 525; the place of his nativity is doubtful, beyond the fact that it was named Cluain.

The Monastery of Clonenagh ranked amongst the distinguished seats of learning in the kingdom, in early Christian times. It was called the Gallican school (Gael., i.e., a foreigner) from the great number of foreigners who resorted thither.

Great numbers flocked to this place to serve God under the guidance of our saint, amongst whom was St. Com-gall, afterwards the founder of the famous Monastery of Bangor, who passed some years under his direction. The discipline observed at Clonenagh was very rigorous; the fasting and abstinence were so severe that St. Canice of Aghaboe and other holy men remonstrated with St. Fintan on the subject. Yielding to their representations, he relaxed the rigour of his rule in favour of his community, but, himself, adhered to his former mode of life.

Today there remain two graveyards, the ruins of an early church, and a recently fallen penny tree.

About three miles from Clonenagh, in the present Parish of Raheen, are the ruins of this old church, said to have been formerly dedicated to St. Fintan. It measures 40 feet in length, by 18 in width. There is a small east window, a round-headed door in the west gable, and a Gothic-shaped aperture, seemingly a passage into the tower, higher up. The square tower, placed at the west end, is evidently of much more modern date than the church itself. From traces of plaster on the interior, it appears that this church had been in use, probably for Protestant service, at no distant date. St. Fintan is said to have resided at this place previous to his settling at Clonenagh. St. Fintans Well is hard by, a fine, clear spring, and accounted holy. It does not, it is said, occupy its original site, which was in the adjoining field; the owner of this field contrived to divert the spring to the place it occupies at present. An old tree, opposite the well, is popularly supposed to be connected with it. In some cavities in the trunk, water is said to be, at all times, found, to which healing properties are ascribed. An old stone causeway is said to have formerly extended between Cremogue and Clonenagh, portions of which may still be traced.

Roundwood House
Sometime about 1680 the old house, which is still intact at the rear of the main house, was purchased from Thomas Sharkey of Abbeyleix by a remarkable Quaker called Anthony Sharp. He moved a number of Quaker tenants down to the estate which then became known as Friendstown. His grandson, another Anthony, who was born and brought up in America , eventually inherited old Anthony’s English and Irish properties and decided in the early 1740s to build his main residence in Killinure, now Roundwood. He lived there until his death in 1781. The house was inherited by his grandson Robert Anthony Flood Sharp and in turn by his son William Edward when he was aged only one. He lost the property to mortgage holders in 1835 and in 1836 or 1837 it was taken over by William Hamilton, a cousin of the Flood Sharps. The Hamiltons remained until 1968 when Chetwode Hamilton and his wife Elizabeth sold the house and the remaining estate to the Land Commission. To save it from ruin the Irish Georgian Society purchased it in 1970. It remained in their hands until Frank and Rosemarie bought it in 1983. The house is the perfect Palladian Villa offering accommodation restaurant services.