Community in County Cork rallies to protect local historical site

In the final part of our four-part series on Cork’s Beautiful Ruins, RICHARD GORDON visits Templebreedy, an old church and graveyard situated on a hillside in Crosshaven, County Cork
Community in County Cork rallies to protect local historical site

St Matthew's, Templebreedy in Crosshaven Pictures: Richard Gordon

THE relic was poised gracefully atop the hill as it pierced the sleepy sky of dusk. Its dark silhouette appeared to be watching over something.

To see this abandoned beauty positioned so starkly and high above its surroundings felt juxtaposed and unnerving. No-one was around. The place was silent except for the odd breeze that hissed through brambles and shook leaves.

The gate into Templebreedy. Picture: Richard Gordon
The gate into Templebreedy. Picture: Richard Gordon

The hedges and trees and barrels of hay that lay in the field before the building suggested antiquity. From where I stood at the base of the incline, it felt like I was gazing back in time.

The Church of St Matthew’s of Templebreedy parish was built in 1778 in a revival Gothic style. 

The turret and spire is of the early English style of architecture. The turret being the ornamental square shaped tower and the spire is the pointed addition at its peak. The estimated price for its construction is said to be £288.

As it’s positioned at one of the highest points around the harbour, it can be seen from many angles and offers panoramic views, looking down into Crosshaven and out into the water, across to Roches Point lighthouse.

Some of the old headstones at the graveyward.
Some of the old headstones at the graveyward.

On your way to St Matthew’s, you’ll pass The Old Rectory which nestles into the base of the hill and was built in 1815. Today it is renowned for its beautiful array of gardens and horses can be seen roaming about their lawns.

Crosshaven was once a popular holiday destination for Corkonians and it’s said that St Matthew’s Church couldn’t withstand the barrage of parishioners that would flock to this point of congregation.

Due to its exposed vantage point, the Irish winters that battered against the shores of Crosshaven over a 90-year period left the building in a precarious state. The roof was tattered after decades of gruelling weather and members of the congregation would often have to endure moments where rainfall would burst through and soak those who were there to worship.

Looking out through the large window in the church, across to Roches Point lighthouse.
Looking out through the large window in the church, across to Roches Point lighthouse.

The small parish of Templebreedy spreads over the western portion of Cork harbour and its northside is bounded by the estuary. It spreads from Owenboy in the east to Carrigaline in the west. Ciarraighe Cuirche once ruled that same land, and before them, in the tenth century, it was the land of Corkonian Vikings and Ostmen. After a Norman invasion, there were several transfers of power until it ended up in the hands of the Earls of Desmond, who eventually had it confiscated from them after the Desmond rebellions in the sixteenth century.

The name Templebreedy can first be seen in historical documents from the 16th century.

The old name; Temple breedy (Union of), is still in use by the Church of Ireland. The catholic parish is now known as Crosshaven, which for about two centuries was united with Carrigaline but in 1982 it was re-established as a separate unit.

‘Goatscaping’ has recently been introduced to the burial grounds that surround St Matthew’s.

The community has set up a 'Save Our Steeple' campaign, to help preserve the church and graveyard.
The community has set up a 'Save Our Steeple' campaign, to help preserve the church and graveyard.

The idea behind this is to allow these incessant chewers to roam the premises and unearth grave sites that have been submerged by vegetative growth and forgotten by time. Due to their ravenous appetites for all things garden, they keep walkways clear and control any excess becoming overgrown.

Ruminant animals, with their four-chambered stomachs, are favoured for this endeavour due to their rather delicate style of grazing, as opposed to human-powered machinery such as strimmers and mowers.

When old and fragile headstones are unearthed, they carefully prune around them and cause minimal damage to the buried artefacts.

The goats and sheep with their summer jobs have proven to be great assets for the clean-up of the grounds. Once they have cleared away the heaviest portion of scrub, the locals of the ‘Save Our Steeple’ campaign will finish off the job by hand.

The first step involved grazing goats, which happened during the summer of 2020. The second step was when sheep took over during the summer of 2021. The third and final step requires human effort to polish up the final bit of landscaping.

The ‘Save Our Steeple’ campaign began in 2020 and it’s part of a community effort to prevent the cherished history of Crosshaven from fading away and to revive the church and graveyard from a state of disrepair.

A GoFundMe was set up to assist with the final stages of the restoration effort and to save the ruin for future generations to enjoy. Their target hasn’t quite been met yet and if you would like to donate a few euros to a very worthy and noble cause, the link is below.

https://www.gofundme.com/f/save-our-steeple-templebreedy-crosshaven-cork You can also find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/templebreedysaveoursteeple/

You can read Richard’s full series on the link below 'Cork Ruins'

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