Mizen Magic 19: Church of the Angels

It’s called Cill Cheangail but that doesn’t make a lot of sense as cill is a small church and ceangail means to tie or fasten. But hereabouts people call it Killhangle (sometimes spelled Kilheangul) and now it’s clear – aingeal (pronounced angle) is the Irish word for angels. This is the Church of the Angels, reckoned to be Late Medieval (maybe fifteenth century) in date. For the exact location of this church, see my post Mizen Magic 17: The Delights of Dunmanus.

I am lucky to have Brian Lalor’s Sketchbook – quick records he made of his visits to  sites during field trips with the Mizen Historical and Archaeological Society in the 1980s. This kind of record is invaluable to show changes over time – the bullaun stone that Brian records in his sketch above can no longer be found.

Parish Churches, that is, churches built specifically to serve the people of the neighbourhood, rather than churches in monasteries to serve monks or friars, are a medieval phenomenon in Ireland. Along with the building of these churches came the practice of burial inside the church (for high-status individuals) or outside it (for the rest of us). Many of these burial grounds are in use up to the present day.

The church itself is in a ruinous state but enough remains to see some of typical attributes of a small parish church of this time, such as the one in the illustration (not by Brian) above. It’s a simple rectangular structure, oriented E-W, with the door in the south wall. Several small aumbreys (cupboards) are built into the south and east wall. There’s a window in the east wall which is missing almost all its dressed stone surround but we can surmise that it may have been ogee-headed.

The other window is in the south wall and this is an interesting one – there’s a flat-headed lintel visible from outside and inside the embrasure is splayed unevenly to admit more morning light, especially in winter.

Most of the interior is filling up now with debris and a large holly tree and only one headstone is examinable. The style of this headstone is echoed in others outside, leading to the conclusion that it was the shape and decoration style favoured by a certain local stone carver. It’s quite a striking and elegant form.

Most of the people buried in Killhangle could not afford a carved headstone. Instead, graves were marked with simple field stones. We are told that in times past old people could pick out the grave of a long-gone relative from a memory still held in the family of the size and shape of such field stones.

Inscribed headstones, for those who could afford them, did not become commonplace until the 18th century. Headstones dating to the 1700s are actually fairly unusual in West Cork so when Brian deciphered one in Killhangle, he recorded it (not an easy task – see how much lichen covers the surface now) and wrote up his findings for the Mizen Journal.

Alas, an eagle-eyed editor thought he had made a mistake in his drawing, by including the word ‘who’ twice and took it upon him/herself to eliminate the first ‘who’. This led to a second article titled ‘James Mullins Who Who” in which Brian restored the missing who and explained that Seventeenth and early eighteenth-century English usage on tombstone inscriptions favoured elaborate and often tortuous abbreviations and word arrangements in order to balance the lines of the inscription.

Poor little James was only 10 when he died on the eve of St Patrick’s Day in 1709. He must have been beloved indeed – a headstone all to himself when most people had none.

Another practise seen in Irish gravestones is the carved footstone. Where the footstone is engraved, it is usually with the initial of the person named on the headstone. In the example above and below, James Noonan first buried his beloved wife Mary. When he was laid to rest, his footstone was added, with his initials, J. N.  You can see the footstone at the bottom of my photograph, and Brian has illustrated it below along with another one with the initials J M.

Killhangle is beautifully located, near the coast and with a rippling brook running through it. It is well looked after and several of the graves have flowers and evidence of recent visits.

It is obvious that local people respect and care for the last resting place of their family members. For them, this church truly is the Church of the Angels.

Thank you, Brian Lalor, for allowing me to use your sketches and pick your brains.

13 thoughts

  1. Finola, Great to read this piece on Killhangle and to see the use of my small ephemeral, done-on-the-trot, sketches from the 1980s. I was particularly struck by the photo and corresponding drawing of the aumbrey & window corner and how, while the photo records, the drawing records and simultaneously interprets; parallel forms of seeing, essential in the study of antiquities. If you will allow a digression, when I worked in classical archaeology in Jerusalem during the 1970s, I produced what were then regarded as highly controversial interpretative drawings of the site. Recently, a US- based academic has unearthed parallel archival drawings from 1868, done by pioneering Jerusalem excavators, roughly 100 years before — and coming to the same conclusions as I did. His small free sketches were just a few lines but capable of conveying a wealth of information in a squiggle. My point? The drawn line is a threatened species, but essential to the study of the past.

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    • I agree! In particular when dealing with rock art, drawings are so much easier to decipher than any photograph. If done properly, of course, they are not an interpretation but a true representation – or as true as possible.

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  2. FinolaThank you for this lovely series which I have only just discovered.  How do I find the back issues and have you done one on Crookhaven?Joe O’Sullivan

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