Church of the Teeth in Aughagower
The name Aughagower comes from the Gaelic words Achad Fobuir—which means ‘field of the spring.’ The Annals of history state that Aughagower had a large population and was a place of importance especially dating back to pagan times. (Mayo-Ireland.ie, Aughagower’s pilgrim past, 2023). The census of 2002 gives the population of Aughagower as 875, however, it is a fact that before the Irish famine the population of Aughagower was around 12,000 (Visions of the Past, 2017).
One highlight of Aughagower is the round tower which dates back to the 12th century, but Aughagower initially came to prominence due to its strong association with St. Patrick. The Annals say that St. Patrick stayed in Aughagower before climbing to the top of Croagh Patrick— maybe because Aughagower lies only five miles from the mountain (Mayo-Ireland.ie, Aughagower’s pilgrim past, 2023).
Patrick is said to have drawn crowds in Aughagower to hear his words, and the people and their tribal leader were baptised. Additionally, the lord of the area donated land on which Patrick was said to have built a church. It was called “church of the teeth” or Teampall na bhFiachal in the Gaelic language (Mayo-Ireland, Traces…, 2023). There is currently a church, which is now in ruins, which is said to have been erected by St. Patrick himself. A monastery and school were built later on the site. It has been named “the church of the teeth” or Teampall na bhFiachal, because of a line of rocks which can be seen from the church, which resemble a set of teeth. As previously mentioned, it was said that St. Patrick might have built the church, but it has since been decided that the church was built after the arrival of St. Patrick. However, it is believed that the church had been erected on top of a smaller temple, ‘Teampall Na bhFiacha,’ with which Patrick might have had a connection (Michigan State University, 2009). It should be mentioned that Brian Mannion, in his (1998) work ‘Aughagower and its Patrician Sites and Connections’ states that it is objectively difficult to decide on an established history of the Church of the Teeth. He sees the available chronicles of the past as part history and part “legends.” However, he does say about the site, “That it has a name and is shown on OS maps means it was important” (1998, p 9). Folk narrative also has it that the bell from the church is buried somewhere under the surrounding bog (Michigan State University, 2009). The church of the teeth is located about 150 meters north of the round tower (Mayo-Ireland.ie, Aughagower’s pilgrim past, 2023)
The monastery in Aughagower was founded by St. Senach. While in Aughagower, Patrick ordained a son of the chieftain who was named Senach. They climbed Croagh Patrick together and Patrick made Senach the Bishop of the See of Aughagower—the first episcopal See in County Mayo (Mayo-Ireland, Traces…, 2023). Patrick’s message was so powerful that Oengus, son of Senach also joined the priesthood—even though he was a married man. So, both father and son were left in charge of the new diocese by the time Patrick left Aughagower (Mayo-Ireland, Traces…, 2023). Thusly, Aughagower became a notable Patrician centre. Senach’s daughter, Mathona, went on to became a nun and also founded a convent (in Aughagower) not too far from the church that was possibly built by St. Patrick (Michigan State University, 2009).
Going back in time, Aughagower was a site of strategic importance as it lies at the midpoint of Tochar Phadraig-- which is the route that originally connected Rathcruachan (the seat of the kings and queens of Connacht) going through Aughagower, all the way to Croagh Patrick at the end of the trail (Ballintubber Abbey, n.d.). Tochar Phadraig later became a crucial part of the pilgrim path from Ballintubber Abbey to Croagh Patrick (Visions of the Past, 2017).
Ballintubber Abbey (n.d.) Tochar Phadraig—the Pilgrim Path to Croagh Patrick. Available at: https://www.ballintubberabbey.ie/tochar-phadraig-the-pilgrim-path-to-croagh-patrick/ Accessed 13th of July, 2023.
Castlebar.ie (2012). The Influence of St. Patrick on Mayo Heritage. Available at: http://www.castlebar.ie/General/THE-INFLUENCE-OF-ST-PATRICK-ON-MAYO-HERITAGE.shtml Accessed 12th of July, 2023.
Mannion, B. (1998). Aughagower and its Patrician Sites and Connections. Cathair na Mart, vol. 8 no1. Pp 8-9.
Mayo-Ireland (2023). Aughagower’s Pilgrim Past. Available at: https://www.mayo-ireland.ie/en/towns-villages/aughagower/aughagower-history-pilgrim-past.html Accessed 12th of July, 2023.
Mayo-Ireland (2023). Traces of Saint Patrick in Aughagower, History of Co. Mayo. Available at: https://www.mayo-ireland.ie/en/about-mayo/history/saint-patrick-aughagower.html . 12th of July, 2023.
Michigan State University, Study Abroad Programme. (2009). Church of the Teeth. Internal Report: Folder 3, Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail—Clogher Environmental Group Ltd. Unpublished.
Visions of the Past (2017). Aughagower Round Tower & Church, Mayo, Ireland. Available at: https://visionsofthepastblog.com/2017/02/02/aughagower-round-tower-church-mayo-ireland/. Accessed 12th of July, 2023.