Fenor Parish, which in medieval times was known as the Parish of Islandkeane, is in the Barony of Middlethird. The Parish lies between the Annestown River and Garrarus Strand. Fenor means ‘The Sunny Side of the hill’ and Fenor village and parish church are indeed on the sunny side of Ballyscanlan.
It is a parish rich in history and tradition. Traces of Iron Age habitation can be found on the promontory forts of Garrarus, Islandkeane, Kilfarassy and Woodstown.
Pre-Christian Fenor was an interesting place with strong pagan connections. The area on top of Ballyscanlan is called ‘The Breagans’ or the place of the Cairn. At Ballinaclough (the place of the stone) there is a remarkable dolmen and in Carrickvarahan there is a field called Ban-a-leacht (the field of the Cairn). The Deise, on being banished from Tara, settled in the area and here they built their Caher or Stone Fort. No trace of the Stone Fort remains today but the town land name of Caher or Stone Fort, long associated with the O’Faolain, the great Deise clan of the east of the county, does. The islands off the coast of Islandkeane the cliffs, ridges and the Ballyscanlan Hills are of basalt and there are traces of copper in the rocks along the coast from Veale’s strand to Annestown.
The South East of Ireland was relatively close to Wales and South West England and early Christian hermits searching for solitude settled on Oilean na gCaorach and Oilean na bFrancach off Islandkeane. Traces of their beehive huts are still visible on these islands. We do know that the Deise were converted by St. Declan from their worship of the sun god. Declan was himself the son of a Deise Chieftain and this conversion pre-dated the coming of St. Patrick by about thirty years. Kilfarassy or Cill-Fhear-Iosa (the church of the man of God) may have got its name from an earlier hermit.
After 1169, the Normans made their presence felt when the lands of the O’Faolain chieftains of the Deise, became Power lands. The old parish church of Islandkeane was built by the Knights Templar. After their suppression their property was taken over by the Knights of Malta. They retained ownership of church house and its lands until 1538/40 (the dissolution of the monasteries). Just 350 years ago Oliver Cromwell’s attack on Dunhill Castle ended the four hundred years of Power ownership and the folklore which surrounds the destruction of this fine building is still alive and part of the folk history of this parish.
Fenor Parish Church
The names Carraig an Aifrinn (The Mass Rock) and Ban an Aifrinn (the Mass field) in Ballygarron, and Carraig and Aifrinn in Carrickavantry indicate that the Penal Laws were enforced. The first two parish priests recorded by James Canon Power were Rev. John Fennell and Rev. James Fennell (1704-1763) and it is recorded that they lived in Carrickavantry. The present Parish of Fenor was recognised when the old Islandkeane Church was abandoned.
The first church in Fenor Village was built in the early 19th Century, possibly before 1826, on lands donated by Lord de la Poer of Gurteen, Kilsheelin. This church, called the Church of Our Lady of the Nativity, was smaller than the present church and seated approximately 250 persons. Father Dowley P.P., who had built the Parish church in Dunhill and the parish priest’s house, realised that the church in Fenor was not large enough for his community. He engaged the famous church architect Walter Doolin to prepare plans for the extension of Fenor church. Mr. Doolin surveyed the church, found that the walls were sound and could be retained and that an enlargement could take place at the east end of the church, two new transepts were built each 16′ back from the position of the original cast and a double roman arch opening into the transepts was erected, the arches supported in the centre by a very graceful pillar. The altar and sacristy were also added. The restored church was dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and was ready for use in late 1894. Sadly Father Dowley never saw the church completed. He died early in 1894. Walter Doolin in his memoirs says that of all the churches he designed Fenor Church was ‘the jewel in the crown’.
The first school in Fenor Village was a fine slated building built in 1826 on marginal land at the edge of Fenor Bog. Lord de la Poer of Gurteen also donated this land to the Parish. The school was fully paid for by local funds. There were 200 pupils on roll, 126 boys and 74 girls. In 1832 the Department of Education set up the National School System which would give free education to all children. In 1846 Rev. J. Joy, Curate of Fenor, made an application to the Commissioner of Education to have this school recognised as a National School. This school continued to be used until 1946 when the present school was renovated, it was extended in 1986 and today has over 90 pupils on its rolls.
In times of agrarian trouble (late 18th/early 19th Century) the Whiteboys and Seanaveists were active in the area. Local papers tell us that the men of Fenor marched to Ballylaneen to join the faction from that area en-route to the fair at Kilmacthomas. There they fought the Caravats from the Rathgormick/Clonea-Power area. As a result of one of these engagements a murder was committed in a Shebeen in Fenor. Peace was declared between factions in a field (still called The Peace Field) which lies just behind the Curate’s House in Fenor.
The Famine years of 1845-1848 cast a long and frightening shadow over the people of our Parish. The population fell by 20% and continued to fall for the next one hundred and twenty years. The lifeblood of our community, its young men and woman, continued to emigrate and scatter until the 1980’s. The land war achieved for farming families a degree of security, when the land acts made money available to enable farmers to purchase their lands. This, more or less, ended the landlord tenant system.
The early years of the twentieth century saw the young men of Fenor involved in the war of Independence, the Black & Tan war and the Civil war as well as the Great War of 1914-1918. These were also the years of the great Fenor football team, the golden era of Fenor G.A.A. The next fifty years saw the Blue Shirts, the Second World War, the Emergency, rural electrification, the EEC, television in every house and of course the Celtic Tiger. There is the ever present temptation to hanker after the certainties of the past; however the achievements of the present, are manifold and our parish shows all the signs of prosperity and well being that its hard working parishioners have achieved. There is a strong sense of identity permeating through every local organisation and club in the area and the vibrant progressive community is proud of its past and of its present.
Moin Fhionnurach (The Bog of Fenor)
The conservation of Fenor Bog is a unique Community Enterprise project that has been undertaken by the people of Fenor. In spring of 1999 this community of 140 householders purchased one of the last remaining Fen Bogs in Munster. This community recognised that their bog was in danger of being lost, as so many others have and that this was their last chance to preserve and conserve the valuable unique and intact fen of 32 acres for posterity. Fenor Bog is 10,000 years old and contains over 200 species of plant, bird, insect and animal; it is indeed a place of refuge for wildlife and visitors alike.