Extract from John Wright — Offaly one hundred years ago
— reprint of King's County Directory, 1890
The abbeys and monasteries of Eglish included Drumcullen and Killyon, Rathlibthen (Ralyon) and others. Drumcullen is said to be from Druim, a hill, and Cullion, a holly, for which tree it seems to have been noted; but a more probable derivation is from the Cullen Sept, subordinate chiefs in the neighbourhood. At Killyon, St. Kyran, the elder, founded a nunnery, probably the first in Ireland, for his mother Laidana, and there are remains of a religious establishment on the road from Parsonstown to Kinnitty. Mr. Archdall calls it Killadhuin, which is derived from kill, a cell, and Laidana, St. Kyran's mother's name. Some years ago considerable remains of this nunnery were standing. The loopholes of a flanking tower commanded the outside of two walls of a quadrangle. The remains of the gatehouse shew it to have been capable of being firmly secured with chains. In 1847 there was opened an underground room, in which was found a curious iron key and a number of peculiar-made bottles, besides broken drinking glasses. There were also dug up iron keys of antique shape, knives, short horns, and a cooking hearth. This latter was in the middle of the quadrangle, and consisted of a circular basin about ten feet in diameter, and two and a-half deep. There were stones lying round exhibiting marks of having been subjected to intense heat, and these proved that the people adhered to the last to the primitive custom of their ancestors in their cooking. The only remains now standing of the interesting relic is the crumbling ruin of a gable-wall.
The "manor of Killyon, with the castles, towns and lands of Rathure," were the property of MacCoghlans, in the time of James II., but they forfeited them in the following reign, and they were granted to John Argill, of Ross Castle. It is now the property of John V. Cassidy, J.P.
There is still signs of a large fort in the neighbourhood of Thomastown. These lands were in 1669 granted to Edward Smith, and they are now owned by P. V. Bennett, D.L., who improved the village.
As stated above, St Ciaran, of Saighur, now Seirkierans, established a nunnery. Another origin is given in an old legend, which is characteristic of the times, when facts and fictions were mixed up in grotesque confusion:- "A young lady came most opportunely to Ciaran, and he converted her, and built her a neat little cell close to the monastery, and he invited other holy virgins to visit her, and amongst them the ever-bashful virgin Bruinneach, the daughter of a noble lord of Munster, and Ciaran's mother had been very much attached to her, being a foster-child of her's, and was most amiable and accomplished in her manners. But as the chieftain of the dal Fiachra heard of her extraordinary beauty, he came with a large body of Kearnes and took her away by force of arms. His name was Dima, and he kept her in his castle for a considerable time. . . And Ciaran came to Dima and asked him to allow the lady to return home. But Dima would not allow her to leave him, and said 'she should not go unless the screeching of the Heron awoke him in his bed the next morning. It was then winter, and the ground was thickly covered with snow, except the spot on which Ciaran and his disciples resided.'"
"The following morning, although contrary to the bird's nature, a Heron was perched on the top of every house in the Dun, and when Dima heard it he became greatly alarmed, and came in all haste where Ciaran was and knelt down before him, and suffered the lady to return home. . . . And Ciaran brought her to her cell, which is called Cill Liadhain Kill Lyon or Kill Lean]. Still Dima was very much attached to her, and became sorry for parting with her so silly, and he came a second time to take her off by force; but God did not permit him, as it was the wish of Ciaran, his holy mother, and the lady herself; for at the moment that Dima reached the village Bruinneach swooned away and died, and Dima was sorry for that, and addressing Ciaran said to him, 'Why bast thou killed my wedded wife . . . .and now you shall not dwell here."
Ciaran then said to Dima that it was not in his power to do that of himself, but that God may permit him for a season to do evil, and therefore he would not depart, but would remain in spite of him."
"Dima departed in great rage, and threatened to exterminate Ciaran, hut the vengeance of heaven overtook himself for his evil-doings, for on reaching his castle he found it on a blaze of fire, with all the out-offices; and he had a son of whom he was very fond, and in the confusion caused by the fire was forgotten asleep in Dima's bed; but his mother seeing that there was no chance of saving him, cried out in a loud voice and said, 'My loving child, I bequeath thee to Ciaran, of Saighir, and I leave you entirely in his hands;' and when the house fell in and the fire quenched, the infant was found unhurt and asleep; and as Dima saw this he went to where Ciaran and the Bishop Edus were, and he received absolution from Ciaran; and Dima presented him his two sons, viz., Donough, the infant whom Ciaran saved from the fire, and another son, and their posterity for ever after them; as also the monastery, rents, and emoluments arising from interments, And Dima returned to his own house in great joy; and he received many blessings from Ciaran."
Ciaran, not wishing that his foster-sister should so soon depart this world, and knowing that Dima would not annoy her any further, proceeded to where her body had been interred and there prayed to the Lord for her recovery; and she immediately arose from death to life and lived for a long time after."