COGHLANSTOWN; By Ronald F. Eustice
COGHLANSTOWN, pronounced Cocklanstown, (also called Ballycotelan) is a townland in the Parish of Ballymore-Eustace, and lies on the northern bank of the River Liffey, near Harristown Station in County Kildare, Ireland. The name has in the course of centuries, undergone various changes; it appears in ancient documents under the following forms: Ballycotelan, Ballicutland, Bally-cutlane, Cotlanston, and finally Coghlanstown. As the sept of MacCoghlan or Coghlan, belonged to the western portion of the King’s County, we may conclude that this townland took its name from an Anglo-Norman resident probably of the name of Cotlan; at which period a castle was erected, and a church built, dedicated to St. James, as a Blessed Well, dedicated to him, is still pointed out close to the old churchyard.
The Eustaces of Ballycotelan were a very early branch of the family. For five generations the FitzEustaces (later Eustace) held the Castle of Ballymore. The castle at Ballymore, situated at a vital crossing of the River Liffey, it was considered to be one of the most important forts on the English Pale. The fortress protected the territory from intrusions by the native Irish septs that lived in the vastness of the Wicklow Mountains, whom the Eustaces and other Anglo-Normans had dispossessed in the 12th and early 13th centuries.
As early as 1355, Geoffrey FitzEustace and the Sheriff of Kildare had been ordered to inspect and report upon Ballymore Castle and other defenses of the Pale. Major General Sir Eustace Tickell in an article titled “The Eustace Family and Their Lands in County Kildare” published in the Journal of the Kildare County Archaeological Society, Volume XIII, Number 6 (1955) speculates that Sir Maurice of Ballycotelan, Thomas FitzOliver, Constable of Ballymore Castle in 1373, and Roland FitzOliver of Castlemartin were brothers. He states, “If so, this would afford the link between the FitzEustaces of Castlemartin and the powerful Ballycotlan branch.”
The Churchyard of Coghlanstown, containing extensive ruins of a Church dedicated to St. James, lies near the Stonebrook demesne, on the opposite side of the public road, and four miles from Kilcullen bridge in the Ballymore-Eustace direction. The Church ruins are in a very fair state of preservation. Internally they measure 50 feet in length by 17 feet in breadth; the walls are 3 1/2 feet thick.
In the West Wall there is a built-up doorway with a window above it; the gable is surmounted by a little belfry.
In the North Wall there is an arched entrance leading into the Church, with a small, square niche on either side of it. Close to this entrance, inside the Church, there is a doorway leading to a flight of steps which wind up to another doorway in the wall about seven feet from the ground. Externally there is a square projection where this staircase is placed. This peculiar and unusual feature in ecclesiastical architecture was connected with a pulpit, which was reached from the staircase. Between “the pulpit stairs” and the east wall is an ogee-headed window, and near the latter a square niche known as ‘‘a Locker,” which was placed to the left of the altar.
In the East Wall there is a handsome little ogee-headed window of two lights; there is also a square niche to the right of where the high altar stood.
In the South Wall, near the east end, is a niche called “a Piscina,” out of which the perforated saucer-like stone has been removed; two more ogee-headed windows in good preservation are pierced in this wall; and then opposite to the entrance in the north wall there is a wide, arched recess, lit by a narrow round-headed window, causing a projection in the wall on the outside; this recess probably served as a Baptistery. The head of a rude, square font, pierced in the middle, lies sunk in the ground near the recess; it is formed out of a rough block of granite about 2 feet square.
There are two objects of special interest—a granite cross base and a seventeenth-century limestone cross-shaft. The cross-base is situated in the north-eastern portion of the burial-ground; it consists of a roughly squared granite boulder, 32 inches by 21 inches, having a socket in it 10 inches deep, with sides measuring 15 inches by 9 1/2 inches; the cross itself is not to be found inside the churchyard and is likely the cross erected in the ditch a few hundred yards in the Ballymore Eustace direction. The limestone cross-shaft in the church was erected to the memory of one of Roland Fitz Eustace in the seventeenth century. In its present fractured condition it is 2 1/2 feet in length, with sides of 10 and 7 inches; at the upper end it is encircled by a projecting portion which contains the socket (5 1/2 by 2 1/2 inches) in which the head of the cross was fixed. Along the projecting band ran an inscription in Roman capitals, 1 3/4 inches high, of which only a few letters are now traceable.
The sides of this cross shaft each bear a sculpted shield above a fluted panel; the designs on them are: -
1. In incised letters: “Euftace Lord Portlester” with the date 1462. This refers to Sir Roland FitzEustace, Knight, (son of Edward FitzEustace, Lord Justice of Ireland who died in 1454). Sir Roland was created Baron Portlester, County Meath in 1462 and was the founder of New Abbey, near Kilcullen Bridge in 1486. He was buried at New Abbey ten years later in 1496. His daughter Joan married Maurice FitzEustace of Coghlanstown, constable of Ballymore Eustace, who died 1520. Their son Christopher Eustace of Coghlanstown joined with his cousins and others during the Silken Thomas Rebellion and was executed;
2. Two fleurs-de-lis, the coat of arms of a family that has not been identified;
3. The FitzEustace Coat of Arms: “Or , a saltire gules,” above which is an Earl’s coronet and which should have been a Baron’s if correctly cut;
4. A serpent, probably representing the arms of the town of Naas.
Half mile to the east of the Coghlanstown churchyard on the road to Ballymore Eustace (almost directly across from Hazel House Bed & Breakfast), there is a small plain unringed granite cross set up in the ditch by the roadside in the Stonebrook demesne. The cross stands 4 1/2 feet above the ground, and measures 31 inches across the arms; the sides are 14 inches and nine inches in width. There is a tradition passed down through generations that the cross was being conveyed from Tipperkevin to Coghlanstown and when the cart on which it was carried broke down, the cross was erected on that spot.
Sources: The Eustace Family and Their Lands in County Kildare” published in the Journal of the Kildare County Archaeological Society, Volume XIII, Number 6 (1955).
Photos by the author.