St Molua, to whom the parish church is dedicated, was born in Ardagh of the Ruling Sept of Corca Oice in 554 AD. His father, Carthach, was a member of the Uí Fidhgheinte from East Limerick, and came from a distinguished family. His mother Socla was a native of Ossory. Even in his childhood days, his great holiness was notable. Molua spent his youth herding cattle and once his father found him asleep in a field with an angel watching over him. On a visit to Munster, Comhghall, Abbot of Bangor, became acquainted with Molua, whom he took to Bangor. When Molua came of age he decided to study for the religious life.
It is claimed that Molua could lay down in the sea and remain untouched by the water. Sometime after his ordination and installation as Comgall's confessor, Molua returned to found many monasteries including one at Ardagh. He also founded monasteries in Laois, and in Monaghan. Molua's motto was "A little here and a little there!" Molua performed most of his miracles on the sick. Once, on seeking the release of a prisoner from a high king, he turned corn-seed into gold but when the prisoner was freed the corn-seed returned to its normal state.
The ruins of the church in the present cemetery stand on the site of Molua's church and monastery. In Ardagh, his sixth century monastic settlement was facilitated by a grant of lands from the local king. St Molua's monastery was the site of a monastic bishopric until after 1100AD when the Irish Dioceses were reorganised. Ardagh then became a rural deanery. St Molua himself died in 623, but his monastic buildings probably survived until the wars between Dal gCais and Ui Fidhgeinte in 1178.
Molua was said to have been an incredibly devout and religious saint. Begley tells us that he wrote a rule for the guidance of his disciples. On presentation to St Gregory the Great, the latter exclaimed publicly "The Saint who composed this rule hath drawn a hedge round his family which reaches to heaven".
Although this rule has been lost, we are informed that it divided the day into thirds: one devoted to prayer, one to reading or study and the third to manual labour.
The saint died someplace in the bog between Roscrea and Clonfert in the year 608. His nearest companion Stellan administered the last sacraments to him. It is claimed that no saint ever got as glorious a welcome in heaven as Molua. Where he should be buried became a bone of contention between his followers in Munster and those in Leinster where his first monastic settlement had been established. Eventually it was decided that the saint would be buried in Leinster.
Various miracles have been attributed to Saint Molua. One of the more noteworthy of these involved St Munchin. It is said that as Molua lay in state, Munchin visited his coffin and after touching it regained the sight in one of his eyes, which he had previously lost.
Dr. Robert De Lacy was born in Dromadda, in the Parish of Athea. A brilliant student, he became President of the Irish College in Bordeaux before being appointed Bishop of Limerick in 1738.
His memory is preserved in the neighbouring town of Newcastle West, where the street on which he resided, is to this day known as 'Bishop Street'. He died in Limerick in 1759. By his own wishes he was interred in the tomb of his ancestors in Ardagh. The ancient roadway along which his funeral cortege passed on its way to the Village is still known as 'Bothar an Easpaig' [the bishop's roadway].
Dr Young, Bishop of Limerick later erected, at his own expense, a massive slab over the prelate's grave with the following inscription:
"Beneath this stone are deposited the mortal remains of the Rt. Revd. Robert De Lacy, who was R.C.B. of Limerick for 21½ years. He departed this life August 4th 1759. R.I.P."
It is recorded that in 1774 Dr John De Lacy S.T.D., P.P. Ballingarry, Notary Apostolic and cousin of Bishop Robert, was buried at Ardagh in the family vault. In the 1870's a very ancient and inscribed vault was found at the foot of Dr Lacy's tomb. It was assumed from its position to belong to the Lacy's. When it was opened, two skeletons were found in it facing west. With this orientation they were undoubtedly priests. Dr Butler, then Bishop of Limerick, came especially to Ardagh to inspect the remains. He suggested that a memorial should be erected to commemorate the dead priests. Over 100 years later the site is still not marked save for a rough slab of concrete.