History of Desertserges

A Short History of a Very Long Time at St Mary’s Desertserges, Co. Cork

By Judith F. Hubbard-Jones 2008

Desertserges – meaning ‘Seargus’ or ‘Fergus’ hermitage. This hermit is thought to be a member of the Celtic Christian monastic Community at Kinneigh, believed to have been founded by St Colman around 617/19. We don’t know exactly where the hermitage of Serges was – some historians say it was a few meters east of the present church and that is probably where the original church stood. The present church was built in 1805.

There was also a little church of Kilcolman close to Desertserges – the name now lives on as a townland. Desertserges was an easy half day’s walk away for a fit person through the scrub and woods that grew in this area at that time, and across the river. All hermits belonged to a monastic community even though they spent much of their time in solitude. It is believed that the site at Desertserges may well have been sacred before Christianity. Looked at from the air the graveyard is fairly circular in shape, which is often an indication of huge antiquity. The early Christians often adopted sites that were already sacred.

Desertserges was one of the seven parishes of the ancient Diocese of Kinneigh. Celtic Christianity had developed separately from Rome and it wasn’t until the Synod of Kells in 1152 (after a long process) that the church was (in theory – see below) finally brought into line with the mainstream church structures under Rome. This was when diocesan boundaries were established.

Today both the local Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic parishes closely follow these ancient boundaries.

A Simplified History of the Anglican Church in Ireland

The Irish parliament at Dublin (a body who could not act without royal approval) established the Church of Ireland in 1536-1537, declaring the separation from Rome and recognizing King Henry VIII as the head. Queen Mary (Bloody Mary) in 1553 declared the Church of Ireland dissolved and formally reintroduced Roman Catholicism; Elizabeth in 1558 declared her intention to re-establish the Church of Ireland, decisions in the direction of which the Irish parliament took in 1560.

Documents which enacted these decisions can be found in archives; in reality, the reformation had little impact on the communities in Ireland, outside of English-controlled Dublin, where even Roman Catholicism was still only a partially implemented structure, under which much of the old Irish church tradition (of pre 12th-century/Synod of Kells) survived. Rebellions against English rule continued; while English policy in pre-reformatory times spent relatively little attention on Ireland, Irish resistance to English rule now was identified with new Irish or Tridentine Catholicism, and measures of suppression were undertaken, which included the establishment of “plantations” of English settlers.

Trinity College was founded in 1591, intended to become the centre of (protestant) education in Ireland. After a Spanish force had landed in Ireland in 1601 to support an Irish rebel (the force was defeated by the English), in 1605 all Roman Catholic priests were ordered to leave the country; all Irish had to become members of the Church of Ireland.

Incumbents at Desertserges

The following are shortened notes about the Incumbents at Desertserges (the only records left giving us a tiny glimpse of the past) are taken from W. Maziere Brady – Clerical and Parochial Records of Cork, Cloyne and Ross. Published Dublin 1863 and J.H.Cole – Church and Parish Records of the United Diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross Published Cork 1903. Thanks to RCB Library, Dublin (Annotations by Judith F Hubbard-Jones 2008 = JFH)

1591 – D. LONG “R. de Disertsergis Vicar” Long was Treasurer at Cork (St Finbarre’s Cathedral)

1615 – ROBERT SUTTON AM appears as Vicar of Desertserges and vicar of Kilbrogan and Ballinadee. “Church and chancel in good repair and with books.” (This would at least mean a Bible and a Prayer Book in English for the clergy to read from.JFH)

1632/3 – JOHN SNARY is Vicar of Desertserges and Kilbrogan He was instituted on 29th March and installed 31st March. He earned £26-6s-8d a year. In 1639 he is still vicar.

1661 – HUGH DUNSTERVILLE vicar of Desertserges and priest at Kilbrogan. In 1663 he also became Archdeacon of Cloyne diocese.

1666 – BARNABAS HONEYCHURCH vicar of Desertserges on the death of Hugh Dunsterville. He also become vicar of Murragh which was close on the other side of the river.

1682 – DANIEL LORD AM Vicar of Desertserges and Rector of Murragh, Garrivoe and Kilowen; all vacant on the death of Barnabas Honeychurch. In 1692 he also become priest in charge at Kilbrogan. He appears in registers from 1682 to Nov. 3rd 1704 (His name appears on the Murragh chalice and paten now belonging to St Patrick’s, Farranthomas. JFH)

(All clergy above appear to be also Vicar Choral at St Finbarre’s Cork JFH)

1704/5 – JOHN HUNGERFORD 12th Jan. Vicar Desertserges. He was also priest in charge at Island, Ross.

1723 – JEMMETT BROWNE AB became Vicar on the death of John Hungerford. In 1733 J Brown became Dean of Ross. (He doesn’t seem to have been at Desertserges for long! JFH)

1724 – HARTT SMITH AM 13th Feb. Vicar of Desertserges. In 1733 he became Treasurer of Ross.

4th August 1750, the bishop certifies that Hartt Smith, in 1747, built from the ground a fit parsonage house and out buildings on Desertserges Glebe, at an expenditure of £181-0s-11d of which the First Fruits gave £100. The value of Desertserges Vicarage is certified at £145.

1761 – WILLIAM PRATT AB 6th May became vicar of Desertserges on the death of Hartt Smith. In 1769 he becomes Dean of Cloyne

1769 – BELLINGHAM SWAN AM 3rd June. Vicar of Desertserges. From 1768 to 1798 he was also a Vicar Choral of Cork. He was a son of Edward Swan of Kilriske, Co Dublin. His mother June was daughter of Sir Daniel Bellingham, Lord Mayor of Dublin. Bellingham Swan was born in 1703 and matriculated in T.C.D. on 8th Sept.1719. He died 2nd October 1798 and according to these dates was 95 years old at his death. A statement in ‘Easton’s Human Longevity’ that he was 102 is therefore incorrect. He married twice and had two daughters and two sons by his second wife.

1798 – MOUNTIFORD LONGFIELD AM Vicar of Desertserges on the death of B. Swan. 1830 – the Protestant population is 432. 1837 – Gross population 6,629. One curate is employed at £75 a year. 72 acres of glebe land valued at 20s per acre, £72. Diocesan schoolmaster is paid 19s-6d. (a term? how often? JFH) Desertserges glebe house is reported to be unfit for the residence of the incumbent, to be small, damp and incapable of being improved; built about the year 1748. The glebe house is occupied by a yearly tenant who resides and keeps the house aired. The incumbent is resident in the benefice.

1805 – One church, capable of accommodating over 200 persons, built about the year 1805, at the cost of £553-16s-11d raised by parochial assessment and private subscriptions. Morning service is celebrated in the church once on Sundays, and on the principle festivals. Sunday evening service is performed in a school house in a remote part of the parish. The sacrament (Holy Communion) is administered eight times a year.

1846 – 17th Sept. A faculty is granted for new pews in the church. (The ones we have now. JFH) From1793 to 1809, M. Longfield was also in charge of Timoleague, Ross diocese; and from 1809-1850 also Rector of Templenoe and Kilcroghan in Artfert diocese.

(1829 Catholic Emancipation. In 1838 a Roman Catholic Church was built at Ahiohill funded mostly by Protestant landowners. JFH)

1850 – JAMES GOLLOCK AB Vicar of Desertserges 16th Oct 1850 The old glebe house is condemned as being unfit for residence. On 29th Dec. 1852 the vicar obtains a certificate of £1,231 for a new glebe house, completed in 1855.

1860 – The church and glebe house both in good order. Divine service once on all Sunday mornings in the church and on Sunday evenings in a licensed place of worship at Maulnarougy; also on chief festivals etc. Sacrament monthly and on festivals; average communicants 55. Children are catechised on Mondays and Sundays. 88 children are on rolls of the two Church Education Schools. (Teachers -William Green at Desertserges and John McCarthy at Maulnarouga also spelt Maulnarogy JFH) The average attendance is 45. The Protestant population is 437. James married Wilhelmina F. Elrington and had a son who died young and two daughters. One married into the Longfield family.

James Gollock died at Desertserges 21st October 1881 aged 81 years. (The Gollock family where originally Huguenots from Holland.JFH)

(1869 – The Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland – no longer the State Church. JFH)

1881 – WALTER LAMB – curate of the parish from 1855. Walter Lamb was made Rector on the death of James Gollock. Walter Lamb having been clergyman of Desertserges as Curate and as Rector for forty four years, died there on 24th October 1899.

After the Disestablishment, parts of this parish (Cashelmore, Moneens, Knocknagalough and Dangan) where taken away and joined to Kilmalooda and Ballymodan. The Church of Ireland population is now about 220. There are two places of worship – Desertserges Parish Church and Maulnarogy School House.

1865 – A new chancel added. (Two grave plots had to be removed and the remains taken to the new RC Churchyard at Ahiohill. JFH) Divine Service is held on Sundays and chief festivals in the parish church at 12 noon. Holy Communion, first Sunday and festivals. In Maulnarogy School House at 4pm. Rector’s stipend was £250 pa. Desertserges NS has more than 30 children on roll.There is a branch of the Girls Friendly Society and the Church of Ireland Temperance Association.

William Andrews Lamb son of Walter was Rector of Kilmeen 1902 – 22.

(David Lamb, great grandson of Walter, recalls that there was at one time a very good ecumenical relationship between Walter Lamb and the local Roman Catholic priest. Often the two men would go fishing together and woe betide any parishioner, of either persuasion, to disturb these two gentlemen as they enjoyed each others company. One day a Roman Catholic parishioner came to arrange a funeral. He was told by his priest – the corpse could wait; the very fine salmon couldn’t! JFH)

1899 – GEORGE BERFORD FAIRBROTHER MA 23rd Nov made rector on the death of Walter Lamb. He went on to be rector of Schull (1909-37) and died in 1941.

1909 – ISAAC HENRY McCONNELL TCD BA married and had three daughters. died 1st May 1948

1922 – WILLIAM ANDREWS LAMB son of Walter Lamb





(1960 – Desertserges, Murragh and Kilowen put together as one Union. JFH)

1960 – HENRY HYNES instituted 24th April. Lived at Kilowen Rectory

1973 – DAVID JOHN PATRICK LLEWELLYN AKC instituted 3rd August. Lived at Kilowen Rectory until 1976, moving into the Rectory at Ballineen. Retired 1983. Died 2005, aged 88yrs.

(Since then all incumbents of the Kinneigh Union have lived at Ballineen. JFH)

1976 – Desertserges part of Kinneigh Union (Desertserges, Kilmeen, Kinneigh, Murragh (church now at Farranthomas,) together with the two redundant churches of Ballymoney and Kilowen. JFH)






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