St. Canice’s Church, Kilkenny West, Co. Westmeath

January 2015

Sweet Auburn! loveliest village of the plain;

Where health and plenty cheered the labouring swain,

Where smiling spring its earliest visit paid,

And parting summer’s lingering blooms delayed”

These are opening lines from the famous Oliver Goldsmith poem ‘The Deserted Village’. Now you may wonder what this has to do with forgotten graveyards so let me fill you in.

The Rev. Charles Goldsmith, father of the famous poet and playwright Oliver, served as curate in St Canice’s Church from 1730 to 1747 and he is interred in the graveyard here. The church is located in the townland of Kilkenny West between Athlone and Ballymahon, it’s pretty much in the centre of Ireland as you look at a map of the country.

Oliver Goldsmith lived in the nearby parsonage at Lissoy from aged two until he went to Trinity College and it’s thought that much of his famous poem focuses on his time spent there.


Having grown up not far from here and with my mother’s family being from the locality I was always aware of the Goldsmith connection but I don’t ever recall having passed this church and graveyard. It’s a few kilometres off the main road but it’s easy to spot from the road with it being on an elevated site. A set of stone steps and iron gates lead to the church ruins, which was built c.1830 and is believed to be on the site of a former 13th century abbey founded by Rev. Thomas Dillon, son of Sir Henry Dillon – Lord of Drumraney.


Unfortunately many of the the graves are overgrown with grass and briars and it was difficult to make out most of the inscriptions, though one headstone was notable in design as it had a scroll shaped front on the monument (see below) but the inscription was illegible.


There are various headstone designs from high crosses to flat slabs to singular stone markers.


It was disappointing to see this graveyard being so overgrown and wild especially as it has some historic value. The Goldsmith International Literary Festival is held every May Bank Holiday weekend in nearby Ballymahon and a visit to Kilkenny West is usually part of the agenda…now wouldn’t it be good if people could actually navigate the graveyard without falling and breaking an ankle or being attacked by the brambles! I believe the festival committee are looking to raise funds to restore some of the sites associated with Goldsmith, hopefully this graveyard will be on the list of places they will include in their work.

There is also a mortuary chapel in the far right of the graveyard, amazingly it has an intact stone roof which is best viewed from the inside, this was built c.1680.  There is a stone plaque above the entrance with the following ” Within this chapel lieth the body of too secular Priests, Father Christy Dilon and Father Peter Dilon. Died in the year 1678. C. Y. Died 1680″


Within the chapel is a well preserved flat tombstone dedicated to members of the Dillon family who originally built it.

IMG_1440 IMG_1436

Here are a few other photos from my visit.


Above: View from the rear of the main church


Above: view from inside main church


Above: weeds and grass have taken over


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