By John Fogarty
There is an old boreen in the townland of Rathcoole, situated in quiet Tipperary countryside near the medieval town of Fethard. Driving past you’d hardly spare it a second glance: just another rutted boreen leading to nothing of consequence, you might think.
But if you were to follow it, as I did once on the morning of All Souls’ Day, it would lead you on between high stone walls and through mysterious tunnels formed by over-hanging whitethorn, until you come to a sacred place: the ruined remnant of a little church, and its sloping graveyard of grass-grown, crooked headstones, enclosed within mottled, limestone walls.
All cloaked in silence and cold November mist.
I sat on the stile in the graveyard wall, almost expecting a figure to come ghosting out of the past and the mist-shrouded church. Six centuries have passed, new worlds have been discovered, empires have come and gone, world wars have been fought and faded into history, since Norman stonemasons began their work at Rathcoole.
For centuries people crossed fields and came down that old boreen to reach the little church. Now it stands roofless, windowless, no sanctuary light glows, its altar is gone. There is no remnant of a soaring spire to be seen, no high windows to draw the eye heavenward.
There are no ostentatious crypts or mausoleums, no sculptural masterpieces raised to honour the rich, the high-born, or the famous – and impress the living – in that almost-forgotten churchyard. Only the names of quiet country people who lived ordinary lives are chiselled into those headstones. People as hidden in their final resting place as they were in the lives they lived.
Rathcoole church has no legend of a saint, famed for holiness and cures, that might draw pilgrims down the boreen craving miracles.