Some masons marks at the Rock of Cashel

I ended up at The Rock of Cashel  in Co Tipperary a few weeks ago.  The Rock, one of Ireland’s most famous tourist attractions, is  chock-a-block with interesting architectural and archaeological remains.

In my opinion large sites like the Rock deserve several visits. From my own experience each time  I return I see something new that I missed on previous visits.  This visit was no exception as I discovered some tiny  mason’s marks I had never noticed before.


View of the Rock of Cashel

A recently  conversation about masons marks found at medieval sites in South Tipperary was on my mind during my visit.   I asked  one of the tour guides  if there were any at the site and she directed me to  a number within the main Cathedral church and a building known as The Hall of Vicars Choral.

The Cathedral Nave

A group of at least three masons marks are located on a large column against the West wall of the nave of the  Cathedral church. The church is a Gothic church without aisles built-in the 13th century. A residential tower of  15th century date was inserted into West end of the nave.  The column  is built against the exterior  wall of this tower within the nave.


Column built against the west wall of the nave of the church and the residential tower.

There are at least three tiny masons marks on the column. It takes patience to find them, if you are in a hurry  ask a tour guide to point them out.


Linear masons mark

The marks are so tiny, I  used my pen for scale for the ones I could reach.  They are hard to make out and there  may very well be more  that  I missed.


Masons Mark at Cathedral at the Rock of Cashel


Masons Mark at Cathedral on the Rock of Cashel

As I was leaving the Cathedral  I noted two more square masons mark in the outer doorway of the porch, which projects from the S wall of the nave and was the main entrance to the cathedral.


View of main entrance, porch in the South wall of the Cathedral on the Rock of Cashel.


Masons marks on the door of the porch leading into Cathedral Church at The Rock of Cashel.

The Hall of Vicars Choral

Additional masons marks are found in The Hall of Vicars Choral a two storey building  of 15th century date that  forms part of the enclosure of the site.

The upper level of the building  comprises of a hall for the Vicars, within is a large fireplace  found in the south wall with the inscription



Fireplace with inscription in The Hall of Vicars Choral.

Within the inscription are what appear to be  some masons marks the figure of eight and diamond shape with a   circle attached.


Possible masons marks within the inscription of Fireplace of The Hall of Vicars Choral.



Possible masons marks within the inscription of Fireplace in The Hall of Vicars Choral.

In the next room from the hall  (an  area restored as  a kitchen),  I noticed  another masons mark on the west wall on the south side of  another fire-place.


Masons mark found in The Hall of Vicars Choral.

For details on opening times  and admission cost see

I look forward to visiting the Rock again. I am sure that I will find something  new that I have not noticed before.

A Late Medieval statue of the Pietà from Kilcormac Co Offaly

Kilcormac is a small village in Co Offaly, situated on the N52 approximately 13 miles south-west of Tullamore and 10 miles north-east of Birr.

Located within the  Catholic church, The Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary,  built-in 1867, just off the main street, is a late medieval statue of the Pietà.


16th century Statue of the Pietà at Kilcormac church Co Offaly. Image taken

The statue is carved from a block of solid oak and measuring five feet by three.  It was created by very a skilled craftsmen. Today the statue is covered in layers of modern paint which obscure some of the intricacies of the carving but

In the anatomy of the Christ every muscle and vein are deftly shown; while the rich broken-edged folds of the Virgin’s drapery express and exuberance suggesting that the statue dates  no earlier then the late 16th century (MacLeod 1947, 62).

Local tradition holds the Pietà came from Italy through a member of the Magawley family of Tremona, in Kilcormac.  It originally stood in the old parish church administered by the Carmelites.  A Carmelite priory had been founded at Kilcormac in the late 1430s by the O’Molloy family, it was later dissolved during the Reformation and reverted to the role of parish church.  The date of the statute suggests it was likely donated after the dissolution of the priory after St Mary’s became the parish church.

Following  a  period of persecution during  the penal times the  statue was taken from the church by a group of local men and hidden in  Derrydolney Bog about a mile from the medieval  chapel of Kilcormac, to protect it from iconoclasts.   At the time Emancipation  the last surviving member of the group now a very old man was carried into  to the bog  on his deathbed where he pointed out the hiding place. The statue was  then dug up and returned to the local community and was  at a later date placed in the modern church at Kilcormac.   According to the Irish Own

It almost left the parish some years after that when a priest, who was moving to Borrisokane, took it with him! However the parishioners brought it back and it has remained in the parish church of Kilcormac to this day.

Today it is housed in the modern church (MacLeod 1947, 62) and  there is great devotion to the statue in the area.  The statue is well worth  a visit if you are in the area and give a glimpse of the  type of objects the one adorned our late medieval churches.


MacLeod. 1947. Some Late Medieval Wood Sculptures in Ireland. JRSAI Vol. 77, No. 1, 53-63.

Ireland’s Own Summer Annual 1988  article on the statue reprinted by the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society .


A Selection of Irish Sculpture depicting the Crucifixion from Early and Late Medieval Ireland

To mark Easter  I have decided to share some photos of the carvings of the Crucifixion & Resurrection of Christ found on Irish Sculpture  dating to the Early and Late Medieval period.   This imagery was popular in medieval times, for Christian believers, ‘Christ’s suffering and death brought the promise of redemption a theme emphasised by the crucifixion’ (Stalley 1996, 16).

Cross Slabs

One of the earliest representations of the Crucifixion is found on a  9th/10th century cross slab on the island of Inishkea North, off the coast of County Mayo. The slab depicts  the figure of  a triumphant Christ nailed to the cross, with a wide smiling on his face.


Inishkea North, county Mayo: crucifixion slab (Image taken


High Crosses

Many early medieval High Crosses   incorporate scenes of the  Crucifixion,  usually located at the centre of the cross as at the  Durrow High Cross in Co Offaly. The majority depict two soldiers,  Stephaton and Longinus, on either side of the Christ figure, one offering vinegar to the dying Christ, the other piercing his side with a lance.


Crucifixion scene on the Durrow High Cross.

Or Muiredach’s High Cross  Monasterboise, Co Louth, created in the 9th/10th century.  On both crosses the lance-bearer and sponge-bearer are placed  on either side of Christ.


The crucifixion scene on the Monasterboise High Cross, Co Louth.

The Crucifixion is also  found on the shaft of the 8th century Moone High Cross, Co Kildare.  The Christ figure is dressed in a long robe.


Crucifixion scene on the Moone High Cross Co Kildare.

Below is the Dysert O’Dea High Cross  from Co Clare.   It dates to the twelfth century and belongs to the later Romanesque series of crosses dominated by high relief figures of the crucifixion and bishops or patrons. Christ is depicted  in a robe with a pleated skirt with his hands out stretched.

Late Medieval Cross at holy wells

One of my favourite crosses dates  to the  late medieval period  and is found at St Ciaran’s holy well at Clonmacnoise Co Offaly.  It has a simple figure of Christ and  the inscription over head reading ‘Repent and do penance’.  It is part of the modern pilgrim stations at the holy well.


Late Medieval Tombs

In late medieval  Ireland the Crucifixion often appears on  funerary monuments such as chest tombs.

A fine example is found as part of  the Creagh Tomb at  Ennis Friary.  The  Creagh Tomb was  built in 1843 but it  incorporates parts of earlier medieval tombs from the Friary. The Office of Public Works are carrying out conservation work on the Creagh Tomb and part of the Friary. The panels are currently on display at Ennis Friary which is open to the public. I highly recommend a visit to the Friary which is full of  many interesting features. 

The Creagh Tomb Image taken Ennis Friary Facebook page

 The bottom of the monument incorporates the ‘passion panels’ from the McMahon tomb and  depictions of Christ and twelve apostles taken from another royal tomb. 

The Betrayal of Christ- the panel depicts the figure of an archbishop alongside a scene depicting the betrayal of Christ.   Judas can be seen in the centre of the panel betraying Christ with a kiss.  Peter stands on the left sheathing sword.  Malchus, a Roman soldier, is on the ground below him holding his left ear with his right hand.  According to the Gospels Peter attempted to prevent Christ’s arrest by attacking one of the soldiers and cutting off his ear with a sword. Christ miraculously restored the soldiers ear and condemned the action saying: “All who take the sword will perish by the sword”.


betryal christ

Figure of an archbishop from MacMahon tomb and scene of the betrayal of Christ ( from

The Flagellation of Christ  – Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, ordered  scourging of Christ before crucifixion. In this depiction, Christ embraces a column with his hands bound.  There are four executioners, two on either side of the central figure. Each hold scourges of three knotted lashes.


The flagellation of Christ on the Creagh Tomb (taken

The Crucifixion the panel shows Christ in the center on a cross surrounded on either side and at the foot of the cross by a host of angels. Roman soldiers appear to the left and right of the panel. The soldier Longinus on the left is piercing Christs side with a spear. At the base of the cross four figures the Blessed Virgin, St John, Mary Magdalene and another male figure. Two angels  hold chalices under the hands of Christ and two more kneel at the base of the cross.


Scene of the crucifixion from The Creagh Tomb. TARA (Trinity’s Access to Research Archive) URI

The Entombment of Christ – on the evening of the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for Christ’s body wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid it in a tomb.  Some Christian traditions hold that Joseph was Jesus’ uncle – but the gospel of Mark, states that Joseph was not a follower of Jesus, but a pious Jew who wished to ensure that the body was buried in accordance with Jewish law, according to which bodies could not be left exposed overnight. The figure on the left overseeing the entombment is thought to represent Joseph of Aramathea and the tiny figure kneeling holding Christs hand is thought to represent Mary Magdelene.

Franciscan Friary, Ennis, County Clare – Creagh Tomb, Entombment of Christ, (Taken from Gothic Past,

The Resurrection of Christ – Christ is depicted  emerging from the tomb  stepping on a sleeping solider.  His right hand is held aloft in blessing and in his left hand he holds a cross which has a banner affixed.  The Roman soldiers are  dressed in medieval armor.

Resurrection of Christ  from -The Creagh Tomb at Ennis Friary

Another very interesting depiction of the  Resurrection of Christ is found on a 16th century tomb  at St. James Church, Athboy, County Meath. Christ is shown  stepping from the tomb on to a sleeping soldier.  Two soldiers stand within the tomb on either side of the Christ. The Christ figure  holds a cross in his left hand and his right hand is raised in blessing.

Resurrection relief on E. end of S. side of tombSt. James Church, Athboy, County Meath (image taken (

Resurrection relief on E. end of S. side of tombSt. James Church, Athboy, County Meath (image taken Gothic Past

A 16th century example  of  the Crucifixion is found in the North wall of  South Chapel of the North Transept of the Cathedral Church at the Rock of Cashel Co Tipperary.  Christ with a sorrowful expression is shown nailed to the cross wearing a crown of thorn. Mary stands with clasped hands  on the left hand-side of the cross. She  is dressed in a pleated dress with an Irish style mantle known as a brat pulled up over her head. St John stands on the right hand side of the cross. He is also wearing  pleated garment and mantle, his right hand  is raised to his face in a gesture of sorrow.


Crucifixion plaque found at the Rock of Cashel.

In the North side of the chancel of Holy Cross Abbey in Co Tipperary, an end slab of a chest tomb is built into the wall under the existing mensa.  The scene  depicts  Christ flanked on either side by St John and Mary within ogee-headed niches.  St John has been broken off the panel.  Mary stands with her hands joined in prayer  with her hair loose over her shoulders.


Crucifixion on chest tomb at Holy Cross Abbey


Have a very Happy Easter everyone.


Hunt, J.  Irish Medieval Figure Sculpture. Vol.1. Dublin: Irish University Press.

Stalley, R. 1996. Irish High Crosses. Dublin: County House.

Ennis Friary Facebook page and information boards.

To find out more about Ennis Friary Check out their Facebook Page

St Patrick’s Cabbage

In County Longford  the watercress plant was  traditionally known as St Patrick’s Cabbage.


Watercress  is  peppery tasting plant and was traditionally  an important food in Ireland.  It was also held to have medicinal properties.


Mac, Coitir, N. 2006.  Irish Wild Plands, Myths, Legends and Folklore.  Cork: The Coillins Press.

Some traditional St Patrick’s Day customs: Part 1

Tomorrow is St Patrick’s day, the feast day of Ireland’s National Saint.  This post will briefly look at some traditions and customs  associated with this day, such as the wearing of  symbols of the saint.

I have been reading  Irish Trees by Niall Mac Coitir, a wonderful book full of interesting folklore and mythology concerning Ireland’s native trees.   In the section on Sally or Willow trees , the author

Willow Tree (image Tree Council website)


refers to an old custom from  Cill Rialaig Co Kerry that relates to St Patrick’s Day.  On St Patrick’s day  the people would wear  a ‘cros cipín dóite’ or ‘cross of charred pin’.   The ‘cross’  was made  of burnt sally twigs and worn on the right arm.

Throughout the rest of the country it was and still is, a common practice for people to wear a plant called shamrock upon their person.

The wearing of a symbols for St Patrick on his feast day appears to be quiet an old tradition  Thomas Dinely in 1681 noted

The 17th day of March yeerly is St Patrick’s, an immoveable feast when the Irish of all stations and condicions  wore crosses in their hats  some of pins, some of green ribbons, and the vulgar superstitiously  wear shamroges[shamrock], 3 -leaved grass…. (Danaher 1972, 58).

Dinely provides the earliest accounts of  the wearing of the shamrock. According to folk tradition  the shamrock was used by St Patrick as a metaphor for the Holy Trinity during his missionary work.  The shamrock is not referred to in any medieval accounts concerning Patrick and the earliest written record of this tradition dates to the 18th century (Mac Coiter 2006, 38).

St. Patrick depicted with shamrock in detail of stained glass window in St. Benin’s Church, Wicklow, Ireland (Andreas F. Borchert [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (, CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons )

In  1726 botanist Rev Dr Threkeld who identified shamrock as white clover and noted

This plant is worn by the people in their hats on the seventeenth day of March (Mac Coitir 2006, 38).



On St Patrick’s day the shamrock is normally pinned to a coat or jumper.


Dinely’s account also mentions the wearing of St Patrick’s day crosses. This is now an extinct tradition and refers to the wearing of homemade badge.  Mac Lir in 1890 gives an account of these  crosses  what they looked like and and how they were made

For a week or so preceding the National Festival, the grown members of the family are occupied in making “St Patrick’s Crosses” for the youngsters, boys and girls; because each sex have a radically different “Cross”. The  “St Patrick’s Cross” for boys, consists of a small sheet of white paper, about three inches square, on which is inscribed a circle which is divided by elliptical lines or radii, and the spaces thus formed are filled in with different hues, thus forming a circle of many colored compartments Another form of St Patrick’s Cross is obtained by drawing a still smaller circle, and then six other circles, which have points in the circumference of this circle, as their centre, and its centre as their circumferential point, are added; after which one large outer encompasses the whole, thus forming a simple and not inartistic attempt at imitating those circles or bosses of Our beautiful Celtic cross pattern. The many spaces, concave, convex or otherwise, thus formed are then shaded in; each a different hue and constitutes the “St Patrick’s Cross”….(Danaher 1972, 60)

He goes on to say that  little boys wore their crosses on their caps (Danaher 1972. 60).


St Patrick’s Day Cross , County Kildare (Danaher 1972, 61)


For the girls Mac Lir notes the cross

is formed of two pieces of card-board or strong thick paper, about three inches long, which are places at right angles, forming a cross humette. These are wrapped or covered with silk or ribbon of different colors, and a bunch or rosette of green silk in the centre…. (Danaher 1972. 60).

The cross was then worn pinned to the chest or shoulder  of the girl (Danaher 1972. 60).  Examples of these crosses are to be found in  collections of the National Museum of Country Life.


Badge and St Patrick Gallery.jpg

An example of a badge on display in the National Museum of County Life



There are other  old customs associated with St Patrick’s Day and I hope to discuss them further in another post.



Danaher, P. 1972. The Year in Ireland.  Cork: The Mercier Press.

Mac, Coitir, N. 2003.  Irish Trees, Myths, Legends and Folklore.  Cork: The Coillins Press.

Mac, Coitir, N. 2006.  Irish Wild Plands, Myths, Legends and Folklore.  Cork: The Coillins Press.

Tobarnalt Co Sligo, images from the past and present

Tobernalt is a very popular holy well in St John’s Parish, in Carraroe townland, a short distance from Sligo town. The well is regard by many as being a place of healing and  is visited throughout the year.

Below is a drawing of Tobernalt by William Wakeman in 1882.

Wakeman illustrated the Holy Well at Tobernalt on 23 July 1882 when it comprised of the mass rock and well. At the end of the 19th century another altar was added by the convent of the Sisters of Mercy, which was made from stones collected from the edge of Lough Gill (1).


Below is a photo of the well  taken  in the early 20th century.  The image is part of the Lawrence Collection.  It was likely taken by Robert French  who was the chief photographer of the collection and  responsible for photographing three-quarters of the Lawrence Collection.

Tobernalt Co Sligo

Tobernalt Co Sligo from the Laurence Collection in National Museum of Ireland


Many alterations occurred in 1921 through the work of the locals and Fr Divine of Carraroe. The great storm ‘Debbie’ destroyed much of the site in 1961 when two large trees fell. Restorations, new shrines and the construction of the small bridge were made that year (2).

I visited the site in October 2014 . Below are some photos of the well  from my visit. As you can see the well itself is pretty much the same but  the area around the well has been landscaped over the years. With the inclusion of stone steps and paths and a large grotto behind the well.


Tobarnalt Co Sligo 2014

Tobarnalt Co Sligo 2014 Image taken in the same direction as the image from the Laurence Collection.


Tobarnalt October 2014


Grotto behind the holy well at Tobarnalt 2014







Shopping list from 1919

I recently came into the possession of a wonderful  little notebook.  The book was used by a shop in 1919 to record customer purchases  bought on credit.


Sample page from shop notebook recording credit purchases.

The notebook  which is an example of the wonderful penmanship, provides a list of the purchased and  cost of goods.  It also provides a glimpse into  rural life in 1919.

The main purchases were candles, matches, salt,  tea, bread, tobacco, cigarettes, snuff and pipes with occasional purchases of eggs, starch, pipes, and polish.

It’s easy to forget that people in rural Ireland  would not have had access to electricity  in 1919.  Although many  towns and parts of cities were supplied with electricity prior to Independence many people did not get electricity until the 1940s and some till the 1970’s  (Mac Philib 2011).  So its easy to see why candles were  on everyone’s shopping list.

In modern Ireland we all know the dangers of smoking tobacco, so I was surprised to see cigarettes , tobacco and snuff mentioned so often and purchased by approximately 99% of the customers.  Snuff a rarity today was especially popular and  turns up on almost every page of the notebook.  Some people purchased it along with cigarettes.  I wasnt sure exactly what snuff  was.  I remember an elderly neighbour who I used to visit as a child  taking snuff which she kept in a small tin in her apron pocket .  According to Wikipedia Snuff is a smokeless tobacco  made from ground  tobacco leaves. It is inhaled or “snuffed” into the nasal cavity and was very popular .

Reading this book also  made me realize how self-sufficient people were.  There is never a mention of  dairy products, vegetable or meat.  In rural Ireland  most people had access to milk and butter they produced themselves and they also would have grown their own vegetable.  No mention of  treats such as chocolate or coffee which I certainly couldnt live without.


Mac Philib, D. 2011. Rural Electrification. A changed Ireland.