Killeen at Lankill near Aughagower

Located down the field, past the ‘lone tree’ at Lankill near Aughagower is a Killeen, or children’s graveyard which dates all the way back to famine times. Catholic teaching at that time was that unbaptized children had not yet been cleansed or purged of original sin therefore they were not allowed to be buried in regular graveyards. It is said that grief-stricken families during the Irish Famine would sneak into the graveyard at night and bury their unbaptized children. Small rocks were used instead of a headstone, to mark the burial site. As far as it is known, the last child that was buried in this Killeen, or children’s graveyard was in the 1960’s (Michigan State University, 2009).

Tochar Phadraig goes through Lankill in an area north-west of Tavanagh. Adults were also buried in the graveyard in Famine times, but it is reported that later only unbaptized children were buried there. Keville writes, “The area occupied by the graveyard and church is known as the Cillín.” (Keville, 1982).

Two priests are also buried in the graveyard. The graves have two markers. The first is a small headstone on which a cross has been carved. The second is simply a heap of stones. The headstone is 2 feet high and 1.5 feet wide and the aforementioned incised cross is about 1 foot high. It is apparent that the small headstone was made from an ordinary stone as the undressed edges highlight. Keville (1982) writes on page 16 that “There is no inscription on the stone—nothing but the cross and no one seems to know anything about the two priests” (Keville, 1982).

The origins of the place name ‘Lankill’

The following paragraph is taken from the article entitled ‘Aughagower’ (1982) by John Keville.

Lankill, as a place name is translated into Irish as “Lann Cille.” In his “Names of Places,” Joyce writes, “The word (lann or land) is Irish, but in its ecclesiastical application it was borrowed from the Welsh…. It is not found extensively in local nomenclature, and I cannot find it at all in the south.” Rev. J. Ryan in his work “Irish Monasticism” states that ‘lann’ is the ordinary word for monastery. He notes that the word passed through three stages of etymology, where in its earliest form it meant ‘land enclosed for a special purpose.’ Next it came to mean ‘monastery’ and then it came to mean ‘church.’ In Irish Gaelic the word was prevalent in the compound word ‘ith-lann’ which was a corn enclosure or haggard. The modern Irish word ‘iothlann’ bears this out. In the Teutonic languages it is cognate with ‘land.’ According to both Rev. Ryan and Joyce the word is not uncommon in the east of Ireland. For example, ‘Lann Leire’ is Dunleer in Louth, ‘Lann Beachaire’ is Kilbarrack in Dublin. Interestingly, the name is unknown in Connacht outside of the parish of Aughagower where there is a ‘Lann Mór’ and a ‘Lann Cille.’ Keville (1982) writes that “Lankill probably means ‘the enclosure of the church or monastery.” Keville (1982) goes on to write that “In a list of Land Denominations mentioned in the Grant by James I to Sir Theobald Burke (Tiobóid na Long) in 1617, the spelling of the former place is Lankilly, which goes to show that the present-day Irish rendering of the place-name as Lann Cille is quite correct.”

The Altar at the Killeen

Surrounded by the above Killeen, this particular altar was built during Penal Times. It marked the place where secret masses would be held by Catholic priests. On top of the altar is a plate of stone with crosses engraved on both sides. The cross engraved on the bottom side is considerably more worn.

During times of British occupation those caught practicing Catholicism could be killed, so it was not uncommon for Catholic religious activities to take place in caves or forests, where people could easily hide themselves and where people could keep ‘look out.’

It is said that this altar is where 28 priests were ordained. However, this ordination was seen by Sean na Sagart—the notorious priest hunter, hired by the local British ruler in the area. Sagart allegedly waited for the service to end. After that he hunted down and killed the priests, but the exact number of priests killed is unknown.


  1. ‘Aughagower’ by John Keville. Cathair na Mart. 1982. Journal of Westport Historical Society Vol. 2 No.1. pp 16-22.

  2. Michigan State University, Study Abroad Programme. (2009). Altar. Internal Report: Folder 3, Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail—Clogher Environmental Group Ltd. Unpublished.

  3. Michigan State University, Study Abroad Programme. (2009). Killeen. Internal Report: Folder 3, Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail—Clogher Environmental Group Ltd. Unpublished.

  4. 2d Graphic Design (1998-2017) Available at: Accessed 15th of September, 2023.