The original church probably was built of wood, but the present stone building dates from the 13th century

Kilmacowen church on the Coolera Cultural Trail was founded by Diarmuid, one of six sons of a Munster chieftain named Owen or Eugenius, in the 6th century AD. All of Owen’s sons followed a religious life. Diarmuid and a brother Cormac travelled into Connacht and Diarmuid settled in Coolera. He was given the site for the church and an endowment by Flann Dubh, a chieftain of the people of Uí Fiachrach, whose territory was in west Sligo. In Irish the name Kilmacowen means ‘the church of the sons of Owen’.

The church was abandoned some time in the Penal days, when coercive laws were imposed by the government on Catholics and Protestant Dissenters. On the north side of the churchyard there is a holy well, named for St Patrick, where a stone is said to bear the imprint of St Patrick’s knee.

A stone wall divides the graveyard into two parts – old and new. The first, older, part lies around the ruins of the church, the second part was opened in the early 1900s.

In the graveyard many finely-carved gravestones mark the resting places of local Catholic and Church of Ireland families. The oldest legible memorial marks the grave of Thady Keaghran who died in 1776 aged 70. There are also some carved-stone box tombs, a style of above-ground stone tomb that was made by skilled west Sligo stonemasons in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Kilmacowen is one of three historic church sites on the Coolera peninsula, the others being Killaspugbrone in Strandhill and the ruins of Templenabree on the L7520 near Ballisodare Bay, which is in ruins.

An ancient travel route from Connacht to Ulster once passed through Kilmacowen. Before there were proper roads and bridges, travellers often crossed over the sands of an estuary as it was easier than travelling inland. The crossing points were called in Irish fearsat. One such fearsat linked Coolera with the opposite side of Ballisodare Bay. The route entered Kilmacowen at the seashore at the townland of Carrowcrin. Travellers used to travel along the shores of Coolera until they came to Coney Island near Strandhill where they crossed the sands to the island and from there crossed into north Sligo.

The earliest school in Kilmacowen sat on a small plot of land near the entrance to the graveyard. Dating to 1846, it consisted of one room and was thatched. It closed in 1871 and Kilmacowen lacked a school until a new one was built in 1894. This was replaced by a modern school at Ransboro in 1981.

FROM HERE YOU CAN:

  1. Visit Carrowmore megalithic monuments and interpretive centre (L3508).
  2. Walk the shore of Ballisodare Bay at Kellystown and gaze across at the scenic Ox Mountains (L7520) or travel on to Culleenamore Beach (L35053) near Strandhill.
  3. Head to Strandhill (R292) to visit the traditional thatched Dolly’s Cottage dating to before 1837.

Take happy memories with you but leave no litter and respect the ancient monuments. Watch out for other walkers and traffic.