Tibohine is according to accounts of old people one of the oldest parishes in Ireland. It is in North West Roscommon and lies between Frenchpark and Ballaghaderreen. It is rather a small parish now but some years ago it stretched from Boyle to Castlerea and in the other direction from the east side of Ballinagare to Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo.
About 20 years ago I got the following history of Tibohine from an old man, then about 95 years of age. According to his stories, which other old men also told at the time, Tibohine had got its name from a house or monastery built by a bishop Baethin (Hence Tigh Baethin -Tibohine) on his journey from Cruacha (seven miles east of Tibohine). St. Patrick and his companions journey were through the valley of Tibohine. On their way, they were held up by the terrible sight of a bloody conflict between two chieftains who were having one of their customary fights over their herds. The field where this fight took place was strewn with dead and dying people and was red with blood. To this day it is called, by local people, Gortnafulla (Gort na Fola) and is a place dreaded by young and old at night lest they might see the ‘Taibhsi ag troid mar a deirtear’. To the east of the field is a townland called Baile na Fola where the battle or fight was started.
According to the story, St. Patrick and his followers stood for a short time and viewed the awful slaughter. St. Patrick raised his staff and prayed and after a little time was seen by the leaders of the combatants. On seeing the strangers standing near with their quaint garb (as it appeared to the Irish) the battle stopped and the leaders approached the strangers.
The leaders and their fighting men seemed to lose their great desire for blood and revenge when St. Patrick gently but firmly spoke to them of the great slaughter. In his customary quiet and diplomatic manner, St. Patrick spoke and the chiefs and their followers who a short time before were killing each other, stood side by side in silence and listened to the unknown man who held them under a spell.
As the sun began to go down, the chieftain invited St. Patrick and his followers to partake of his hospitality and assigned to them one of the forts as a dwelling place during their stay in the district. This fort is still called Lios Adain or the Fort of the Fire as St. Patrick is supposed to have lit a fire there as he did at Slane.
St. Patrick remained for some time in the district and was very successful in his converting chiefs and people. As he was accustomed to doing he instructed a chosen few and these were afterward to be the priests. The chief pointed out the extent of the territory ruled by him and that was now to be spiritually ruled by one of the chief’s sons, Baethin, who was consecrated Bishop by St. Patrick some time afterward. Some of St. Patrick’s Roman companions remained there for some time after St. Patrick moved further west and it is supposed that they gave Baethin and his friends the idea of building a stone house.
Before this, all their dwellings were of wood on the tops of the forts the remains of which are still very numerous. Their names are given to townlands:- Lios an gCul, Lios a Coirce, Liosain, Lios Dubh etc. all in the parish.
The house that this Baethin built was situated was a short distance from the scene of the battle in Gort na Fola and the remains of it are still to be seen in the Tibohine graveyard. Nothing now stands except a portion of the side walls and part of one gable. According to my informant, he remembered when the side walls were much longer and when the vaults underground were empty and often visited by people attending funerals.
His story goes, that Baethin had his church there and his dwelling house and that he had quite a large number of monks living with him. He pointed out to me in his own fields and others that run to the graveyard wall where he had over 70 years before that dug up the hearths of the one-time huts of the students who came to Baethin’s monastery. He said they were quite close to each other and stretched for about 500 yards across in a straight line. These were met when the farmers were tilling the land and dug deep to get up the soil which they used to burn to improve crops about 60 and 70 years ago.
Up to about 40 years ago the only manure that farmers had for their crops was got by putting down fóidfíní as they called them in their tillage fields and putting the stiff clods of dartanna créafóige on top to be burned. The ashes were then scattered on the surface).
During the tillage operations, one farmer found a gold cross which belonged to a bishop. This was over 100 years ago and it was, I understand, given to the then Bishop of Elphin.
The land to the south of Baethin’s House and the ‘Scholars Huts’ belonged to Baethin and was very good, rich land. The scholars tilled and had a fort for their own, Lios a’Coirce. He described how they lived and ground their corn into flour with their querns which were found in great numbers in and around the site of the huts. The old man’s account of the students’ lives and ways of living seemed very correct and he told me he heard all the stories by the fireside in his young days. He certainly never read any books in his time. He also remarked that St. Patrick was a very clever man and to avoid jealousy among the chiefs that he always left a bishop of the place over each particular high chiefs clans.
Baethin’s house continued to be the Church of the place down to the 17th Century when it was destroyed by fire by the Ffrenchs, ancestors of the present Lord de Freyne whose ‘Big House’ is about 1.5 miles away and who afterwards became landlords of the property on which ;: ‘Baethin’s House’ was built. These Ffrenchs, he informed me, were soldiers who came over with Cromwell and made their way to Co. Roscommon where they seized the Castle of the Irish Chief O’Gara, Loch Ui Gahra is the name of a lake in the district Lough Gara and Frenchpark became the name of the old Irish spot called Dim Gadhra and is to this day.
When the church was burned down, that is Baethin’s House, the church was again built about 700 yards away on O’Connor Don’s property in the townland of Carragarriffe. This was a small building and lasted for about one generation. Nothing of the church remains now. He pointed out a heap of stones in the corner of a field, which he said was all that remained. These have since, I understand, gone to the making of roads. He did not know why this church came to be changed back again to within forty yards of the original Tigh Baethin and church but apparently it was a more convenient place. Early in the nineteenth century or probably the end of the eighteenth a church was erected in O’ Connor’s property almost beside the original church. This was a long thatched building and continued as a church until about 90 years ago when the present Tibohine R.C. Church was built again on the De Freyne Estate almost side by side with Tigh Baethin.
The thatched building that had before that time been a church was then used as the first National School in Tibohine and continued as a national school till 1914.
The graveyard around the old monastery is very old. Part of it had been used as a burial place for the monks since Baethin’s time and when it became a general burial place it served the country for miles around and even before the walls of the old Tigh Baethin were pulled down graves were made inside the building and the underground chambers used as the place became congested. The graveyard is still in use but is very overcrowded and badly kept.
Written by Padraic O’Tiomoin An Scoil Donn Bealach a’Doirin
Told by Ed. Timon
Age 95, Tibohine, Frenchpark.