The Ui Fiachragh’s church at Ardstraw was reputedly founded by St Patrick and was under the charge of a bishop. By the early Seventh Century it was a monastery founded by St Eugene and a place of great importance. So important, in fact, that in 1099 it was recorded as having a stone church. This is earliest record of such a building in the north of Ireland outside of Armagh. The building would have had a steep roof echoing the form of its timber predecessor and all would have been enclosed by a circular wall similar to the graveyard boundary of today. The bridge below was a favoured place for negotiations between local lords in conflict, with agreements sealed in the church. The graveyard was the burial place of kings. Not just the Ui Fiachragh, but, on occasion, their overlords the Ui Neill and a branch of their successors in the medieval period: the O’Neill’s.
Closer to Strabane is the ruin of Camus Juxta Mourne Church. Reputedly founded by St Colgan in 586 it is the original parish church of what is now Strabane town. As with Ardstraw, the original church would have been in timber. The present stone built church is a rebuild of the medieval church and was ruined in the 1642 Rebellion. It has a small window on its east gable with a round head -the form of the Romanesque architectural style introduced to the island from Europe from the tenth century onwards.
Badoney Church in the Glenelly Valley is another early foundation reputedly associated with St Patrick and also a medieval parish church. There is little to see of this period in the modern graveyard apart from a marked hump and loose rubble, however, a small cross which is considered to be from this age was taken into the church for safe keeping in 1978. Such features are often associated with church sites and prefigure the more ornate high crosses of later generations.
Ardstraw Bridge and Old Graveyard
Camus Juxta Mourne
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