A visit to the Claypipe Centre at Knockcroghery Co Roscommon

Over the course of my career as an archaeologist the  most common artefact I have found on site is  the clay pipe.   I have a particular soft spot for  clay pipes  so on Thursday morning last, as I was driving through Co Roscommon, I had to detour to visit the  Claypipe Centre at Knockcroghery.

During the  18th and 19th century clay pipes or “Dúidíns” as they were known in Ireland  played an important role in Irish everyday life and custom, especially regarding wakes and funerals.

Their association with traditions, along with the pleasure of “taking a puff”, led to their growth in popularity throughout the country but most particularly in the rural communities of Ireland. They were often associated with storytellers who would keep an attentive crowd in suspense in the midst of a story while having a smoke from his dúidín.
Clay pipes were also particularly prominent at wakes, where trays of tobacco filled pipes, Guinness and whiskey would be provided for the mourners. As soon as a person died, relatives or friends would buy a number of items for the funeral ceremony and these typically included a half barrel of porter, a gallon of whiskey, snuff, tobacco, and of course clay pipes.
It may seem strange now, but the clay pipe was one of the most important parts of any wake and was considered improper to be without them. A gross or more was usually purchased and this would then be filled with a twist of cheap tobacco, and passed around to all the mourners in the room.
Traditionally, the shank of the clay pipe was dipped into some Guinness or whiskey, a process that scaled the mouthpiece and imparted a good flavour to the clay for the smoker. Upon receiving the pipe it was customary to say “Lord have mercy” and in time the pipe became known as a “Lord ha’ mercy”.

(Taken from  Clare Library website).

Pipes were  smoked by both men and women. As a general rule the small the pipe bowl the older the pipe.

Vegetable gardener for the Belmont house (image http://resources.teachnet.ie/jfarrell/2007/carlow/Oldphotographspurcell/gentry.htm)

Vegetable gardener for the Belmont house smoking a clay pipe (image http://resources.teachnet.ie/jfarrell/2007/carlow/Oldphotographspurcell/gentry.htm)

Clay pipes were produced in vast amounts in Ireland  and  Knockcroghery was one of the main centres of production for the Irish clay pipe industry. Pipes were produced here for over 300 years and towards the end of the 19th century, seven   families were involved in the industry in the village each with their own kiln.  Production ceased when the village was burned by the Black & Tans in 1921. Turtle Bunbury has written an excellent article on this event.

Excavations at the Hamilton family clay factory at Winetavern Street in Belfast  produced numerous clay pipes. This excavation and others around the country have shown that pipes occurred in a variety of forms some were plain while others had elaborate decorations. Interestingly many  pipes were decorated with political slogans while others had symbols of societies such as the masons.  The Knockcroghery pipes were inscribed with the names of their producers – O’Brien, Curley, Cunnane and Murray  or  inscriptions such as “Home Rule”, “Who dares speak of ’98?”, “Support Irish industry”, “Repeal” and “Parnell” (Bunbury).  The Winetavern excavation uncovered


 …twenty-seven types of late nineteenth-century pipes, ranging from the ‘cutty’ (a small, plain pipe), through those embellished with masonic symbols (compasses, plumb bobs, wheat sheaves, fruit) to pipes bearing more overtly political symbols and slogans (the Red Hand of Ulster, ‘Home Rule’ and ‘Gladstone’). Clearly, the Hamiltons tailored their production for a range of customers and markets (Donnelly & Brannon 1998).


Ethel Kelly has reviving the tradition  of Irish clay pipe making at the Claypipe Visitor Centre at Knockcroghery .

Ethel  produces  clay pipes in the traditional fashion.  A visit to the centre is a wonderful experience  as you can learn about the history of clay pipes, see and participate in demonstrations of  clay pipes being made.



If you are passing through Roscommon  do stop here for a visit.


Donnelly, C & Brannon, NF 1998, ‘Trowelling through History: Historical Archaeology and the Study of Early Modern IrelandHistory Ireland, vol 6, pp. 22-25.





Launch of 2015 Douglas Hyde Conference

The 2015 Douglas Hyde Conference  was launched today at Áras an Uachtaráin.  

Áras an Uachtaráin

Áras an Uachtaráin

As a speaker at this years conference I was delighted to be able to attend.  This was a most  appropriated setting for  the launch of a conference dedicated to Douglas Hyde Ireland’s first President.  I must give a big thank you to Michael O Dea chair the Conference and Mary Mullins Arts Officer with Roscommon County Council for organising this event.


Theme of Douglas Hyde Conference “Saving the notes of nationality: a celebration of the protectors of Irish heritage”


The theme of this years conference is

“Saving the notes of nationality: a celebration of the protectors of Irish heritage.”

There is a very interesting and diverse line up. I will be presenting a paper at the conference  on protecting pilgrimage sites and holy wells.


Line up for 2015 Douglas Hyde conference

The conference will be held next Thursday July 16th 2015 in the BMW Conference Room, The Square, Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon and there are still places available.

For anyone interested in attending  information about the conference can be found by following this  link http://www.roscommoncoco.ie/en/Services/Comm_Ent/Arts_Office/the-douglas-hyde-conference.html



Pilgrimage at St Patrick’s Holy Well Marlfield Clonmel

Last week on the 25th of June I attended an event at St Patrick’s holy well at Marlfield Clonmel.  This is one of my favour holy wells and it has a rich history which I have discussed in a previous post.


St Patrick’s Holy Well Marlfield, Clonmel

The well is visited throughout the year but each Summer the people from the village of Marfield and surrounding parishes in Clonmel  town, come to the well for an annual gathering that takes the form of a mass.

This year the mass was held at 8pm and a large crowds  attended. Mass was celebrated by Bishop Cullinan, the new Bishop of the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore.


Bishop Cullinan the new Bishop of the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore.

People gathered in front of the old medieval church others sat around the holy well and the boundary walls.


People gathered in front of the old medieval church

The waters of the well  were bubbling forth  in the background , birds singing. Despite the crowds the site was very peaceful.


People standing around the well during mass.

The large crowds emphasized the size of the area around the well which really is quiet vast. There was a real festive feeling with lots of singing and live music.


Pilgrims at St Patrick’s holy well

I look forward to returning to the well later in the summer .


Writing on walls in 18th century Kilkenny

I was sorting through old photos and came across this one of  graffiti dating to the 18th century  on the wall of St Mary’s church in Kilkenny city.  Most of the writing are initials HL MG  JD  but there is one name and date,  T Hoyne Feb 1777.  A second stone has the initials T.H.


Graffiti in the wall of St Mary’s  Cemetery surrounding St Mary’s church Kilkenny city


Part of a tomb in wall of St Mary’s cemetery.

I am going to do some investigating to see if I can find out anything about T Hoyne and I will keep you posted on what I find.  Another interesting feature in the graveyard wall is part of late medieval  tomb.

At present the site is off limits to the public as St Mary’s church is currently being restored and a team of archaeologists led by Cóilín Ó Drisceoil of Kilkenny Archaeology are currently excavating at St. Mary’s in advance of a new museum being constructed.


The Hidden World of the Irish Medieval Park

I am  delighted to present a guest post by  Fiona Beglane who is the author of a wonderful book on  deerparks in Medieval Ireland.  Hunting and the keeping of deer was such and important part of medieval life in Ireland but to date it has received little attention in academic or popular books.  This is a topic  I know little about so I was delighted when Fiona agreed to write a guest post  to share her knowledge and her research on the topic.


Anglo-Norman Parks in Medieval Ireland


The Hidden World of the Irish medieval park

Over the last couple of decades there has been increasing interest in both medieval archaeology and in landscape studies. Until recently very little work has been done on medieval parks in Ireland although these were an important part of the manorial landscape particularly for large, important manors that had castles at their centres. This blogpost will look at what the parks were used for, where they are and what we know about them.

The castle and park at Dunamase, Co. Laois

View of the castle and park at the Rock of Dunamase Co Laois

My research has shown that some of the recorded medieval parks can still be identified in the modern landscape. Medieval parks where I have carried out detailed surveys include those at Loughrea, Maynooth, Nenagh, Dunamase, Glencree and Carrick, Co. Wexford, while parks at places like Oakpark, Co. Carlow and Kilkenny are now under more recent demesne landscapes.

Medieval parks were enclosed areas of land surrounded by a wall, hedge, ditch or palings (a wooden fence) or by a combination of these, and in fact the word park means ‘enclosure’. In Ireland the recorded high medieval examples range between four acres and 913 acres, with the majority having a land area of between twenty and two hundred acres. In an ideal world, the lord owning of one of the largest parks would have kept a herd of fallow fallow deer which would have provided venison for the table, but this was out of reach for the vast majority of park owners who had more humble enclosures. Parks were important for growing large trees to provide timber for construction, and by enclosing these the trees were protected from being take for firewood, charcoal burning or general carpentry. Smaller pieces of wood such as coppiced poles and firewood could also be deliberately produced within parks and were important resources within the manors, both for the lord’s use and for his tenants. The vast majority of parks in Ireland also seem to have been used for pasturing cattle and other animals, which were protected from theft while they were enclosed. These could belong to the lord or to his tenants and could even include animals impounded by the court, for example on non-payment of fines.

The ditch forming the southern park boundary at Carrick   Co. Wexford

The ditch forming the southern park boundary at Carrick Co. Wexford


I have found documentary evidence of at least forty-six parks in Ireland up to c.1400, all of which are from areas of the country held by the Anglo-Normans. They are mostly in the east of the country, with a few examples in Anglo-Norman areas of the west and south. They appear in a variety of documents including Inquisitions post-mortem, court records, patent rolls, church and manorial records. The most detailed of these can include descriptions of land areas, the layout of a manor, livestock within the park and the value of grazing lands, and as such they can provide a valuable resource for understanding medieval land use and mind-set.

Many of the parks are difficult to physically find in the modern landscape. In some cases the site of a recorded medieval park has been lost under urban sprawl, although sometimes the pattern of the road system has fossilised the park boundaries. Other parks fell out of use fairly shortly after being created and so there is little evidence of their location. Place names can sometimes be helpful, however it is important to be cautious. The very common place name ‘Deerpark’, is post-medieval and would not have been used for a medieval park, while townlands or areas of land called ‘Park’ can be of high medieval or of later origin. Using maps and detailed fieldwork it has been possible for me to identify the location and boundaries of some of the Irish medieval parks. These include u-shaped, sub-rectangular and oval shapes and they can be bounded by lakes, rivers or roads on one or more sides.


The River Slaney formed the northern park boundary at   Carrick, Co. Wexford

The River Slaney formed the northern park boundary at Carrick, Co. Wexford

Before the Anglo-Normans arrived in Ireland the country was divided into a large number of túatha or petty kingdoms. There is evidence that many of the parks were constructed on land that was woodland in this earlier period, which would make practical sense. In some cases, there were also prehistoric or early medieval monuments within them, and there was place name evidence to show that the Anglo-Norman lords deliberately enclosed symbolically-important land. By doing this, the new owners aimed to control access to memories and monuments of the past and to demonstrate their control over the local population.

Glencree, Co. Wicklow

Glencree, Co. Wicklow

Parks were key features within the medieval landscape and have long been ignored. It is now possible to find these in the modern landscape and they can help us to understand how and why people in the past used the land in the way that they did. Parks had both practical and symbolic purposes ranging from enclosing deer and cattle though timber production to being used as a symbol of status and authority. If you would like to know more, then check out my recent book  Anglo-Norman parks in Medieval Ireland.

Beglane, Fiona. 2015. Anglo-Norman parks in medieval Ireland: 1169-c.1350. Four Courts Press, Dublin.
Beglane, Fiona. 2015. ‘The social significance of game in the diet of later medieval Ireland’. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. 115C: 1-30.
Beglane, Fiona. 2014. ‘Theatre of power: the Anglo-Norman park at Earlspark, Co Galway, Ireland’ Medieval Archaeology. 58: 307-17
Murphy, Margaret & Kieran O’Conor. 2006. ‘Castles and Deer Parks in Anglo-Norman Ireland’, Eolas: Journal of the American Society of Irish Medieval Studies, 1: 51-70

Dr Fiona Beglane is a lecturer of archaeology at IT Sligo. Her research interests focus on zooarchaeology, hunting, medieval archaeology, medieval landscape and settlement and the use of scientific techniques in archaeology. She has a particular interest in integrating scientific and social/cultural interpretations of archaeology and in examining the interaction of humans and animals. She can be contacted at beglane.fiona@itsligo.ie

Pattern Day at Old Leighlin 2015

Each year on the 18th of April, the feast day of St Laserian (also spelt Lazerian), sunshine or rain, the people of the village of Old Leighlin and the surrounding areas come together to take part in a pilgrimage whose roots date back to medieval times, in honour of their patron saint.  I had the honour of attending the pilgrimage in 2013 when the pilgrimage was held in the evening time.  This year  Laserian’s feast fell on a Saturday and the pilgrimage was held in the afternoon.


St Laserian as depicted in the east window of Old Leighlin Cathedral created by renowned Irish stain glass artist Catherine O’Brien.

Laserian, also known as Molaise is the patron saint of Old Leighlin and his name means flame of fire.  According to The Dictionary of Irish Saints complied by Pádraig Ó’Riain, Laserian was born circa 566 AD, into an aristocratic family in Ulster. His father Corieall Curaidh was part of the ruling dynasty known as the Ulaidh, while his mother was daughter of Aodhán son of Gabhrán, King of Scotland. A medieval account of the saints Life, suggests Laserian spent the first seven years of his life in Scotland before returning to Ireland to be educate by St Munna of Taghmon in Co Wexford. As a young man he turned his back on his privileged background to devote his life to God. Laserian following in the footsteps of many other Irish saints, left Ireland to live as a hermit on a small island, off the coast of the Isle of Arran in Scotland. This Island is now known as Holy Island and the site of the saint’s cave in which he lived is still to be found.


Holy Island (© User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons; http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHoly_Isle_from_Lamlash.jpg)

Some years later Laserian left Scotland and travelled to Rome where he was ordained as a priest by Pope Gregory the Great. While in Rome he was inspired to return to Ireland to preach and work as a missionary. Directed by an angel the saint travelled through Leinster searching for a suitable site for a monastery. He stopped briefly at Lorum near Bagnalstown but continued on his journey until he reached Old Leighlin. Upon arrival he found a monastery already established by St Gobban. St Gobban sensed it was God’s will for Laserian to stay at Old Leighlin and relinquish control of the monastery to him. He then set out with a small group of monks and founded a new monastery at Kilamery in Co Kilkenny.

One early 20th century folklore tale from the area tells that as Laserian arrived at Old Leighlin a spring well, now the focus of modern pilgrimage burst forth from the ground. Laserian is credited with performing many other miracles at Old Leighlin and also with resolving the Easter controversy in the southern half of Ireland, at a synod held at Old Leighlin in 630 AD. Tradition holds that Laserian departed this world on the 18th of April in 639 AD.

Despite the passage of time devotion, memory and connection to the saint is very much alive at Old Leighlin and each year the local community comes together to celebrate the saint’s feast day. The celebration takes the form of an ecumenical service presided over by the Anglican Bishop of the United Diocese of Cashel , Ferns, Leighlin, Lismore, Ossory and Waterford and the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese Kildare and Leighlin, highlighting the importance of St Laserian within both diocese.
This years’ service began at 4pm on a sunny Saturday afternoon at the Cathedral church, built on the site of Laserian’s monastery. Following opening prayers and hymns, a procession from the Cathedral to the holy well was led by Bishop Denis Nulty of the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin and Rev. Robin Bantry White representing the Right Reverend Michael Burrows, Bishop of the Diocese of Cashel, Waterford, Lismore, Ferns, Ossory and Leighlin, who was unable to attend this year’s celebration. They were joined by Rev George Cliffe, representing Rev Tom Gordon of Old Leighlin, George Kidd (Lay Reader at Old Leighlin), Fr Tom Lalor PP of Leighlinbridge and Deacon Patrick Roche of Leighlinbridge and in turn by pilgrims from both churches.


Procession to St Laserian’s holy well

The procession left the Cathedral grounds, heading up the road, through the village to St Laserian’s holy well. Old Leighlin is one of only a handful of modern Irish pilgrimages which still incorporates a procession and is a wonderful sight to behold.
As the procession approached the well, the pilgrims were greeted by the music of a local brass band. Once the pilgrims had settled around the well, the ceremony continued with a reading from the gospel, poems, hymns and prayers in honour of the saint.


Bishop Denis Nulty, Rev. Robin Bantry White, Rev George Cliffe, George Kidd (Lay Reader at Old Leighlin), Fr Tom Lalor PP of Leighlinbridge and Deacon Patrick Roche of Leighlinbridge.


The service ended with the blessing of the waters of the well and the signing of the hymn O Great St Laserian.


Many of those present went to the well to take the holy water either to drink or to carry home in plastic bottles. The pilgrimage finally ended with the traditional gathering in the local community hall for a very welcome cup of tea and a chat.


Pilgrims taking water from St Laserian’s holy well

The Old Leighlin pilgrimage has its roots in medieval if not early medieval times and while aspects of the pilgrimage have changed through the centuries, a strong connection to the saint and places associated with him such as St Laserian’s holy well and the Cathedral church, remain constant. In modern times Laserian’s feast day continues to have a relevance to local people. On this day by coming together people renew their links to their saint, their locality and cements bonds and friendships within the wider community and long may it continue.


Ó Riain, P. 2012. A Dictionary of Irish Saints. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

A History of Pilgrimage to Monaincha, the Holy Island of Loch Cré

Monaincha in North Co Tipperary was one of medieval Ireland’s most important pilgrim destinations. It’s a site I have visited many times and have a great fondness for. Located  a few miles from the historic town of Roscrea it is a wonderful place to visit.   I am delighted to present a guest blog post  by historian and organiser of the wonderful Roscrea Conference  George Cunningham about the history of Monaincha.  George has carried out much research on the site over the years.  This post provides an over view of the pilgrimage history  of what was at one time one of Ireland’s most important pilgrim destinations. A History of Pilgrimage to Monaincha, the Holy Island of Loch Cré by George Cunningham Monaincha also know as the 31st Wonder of the World, the Island of the Living, was once Munster’s most famous place of pilgrimage.

View of  of approach route to Monaincha Abbey and pilgrim site.

View of approach route to Monaincha Abbey and pilgrim site.

Yes, indeed, there is an island of the living in the heart of Ireland a little more than three kms east of the town of Roscrea on the provincial borders between Munster and Leinster. This now drained Holy Island (in fact there were two islands as Giraldus Cambrensis attested in the 12th century) sits surrounded by cutaway bog. Its noble ruins consist of a beautiful 12th century Hiberno-Romanesque nave and chancel church with a later transept, and a twelfth century high cross placed on an earlier base.


Romanesque Doorway of the surviving church at Monaincha.

The cross was re-erected in the late 1940s (using a cement shaft!) and features the crucified Christ in a long robe in the style of pilgrim crosses from Lucca in Italy. Similar features may be seen at nearby Roscrea and at Cashel.


High Cross at Monaincha depicting the crucified Christ in a long robe in the style of pilgrim crosses from Lucca in Italy.

The island was the retreat of neighbouring saints, Canice of Aghaboe and Cronan of Roscrea, both of whom used the place as a sanctuary of personal peace. It became a main centre for the Céli Dé and pilgrims were attracted to it from all over Ireland and from abroad. The Augustinian Canons continued the pilgrimage tradition in the 12th century and the prior of the Island – usually an O Meachair from the ruling clan of the area – figures prominently in the Papal letters during medieval times. A huge revival of pilgrimage at the beginning of the 17th century saw thousands flock to the site to do the ‘rounds’. A diary of a German pilgrim Ludolf von Munchhausen, who travelled from northern Germany, as a curious tourist rather than as a pilgrim, in Spring 1590/91, has been recently translated. The martyred bishop of Down and Conor, Conor O’Devany was here shortly before he was executed. Monaincha received the same plenary indulgences remission as famous continental sites such as Santiago de Compostella.

monaincha dec 2010 049 ed 4

View of Monaincha on a frosty day.

In the 18th century the new landlords, the Birches reserved the place for their own burials and its fame faded into folk memory, albeit always known as ‘the Holy Island’ although it was drained over 200 years ago. Its exquisite Romanesque architecture in its remote bog setting always attracted the aficionado but it wasn’t until the early seventies that its history and international importance began to be appreciated locally and the pilgrimage to the island revived. The Cistercians of Roscrea held vespers there during the millennium conference in 2000 the first time in centuries that the psalms rang out across the great red bog of Éile. An app guided tour from Roscrea to Monaincha narrated by George Cunningham may be sourced from the site  http://www.roscreathroughtheages.org

References and Links


App guided tour for Roscrea town  http://www.heritagetrails.ie/explore/roscrea-heritage-trail/

App guided tour for Monaincha   http://www.heritagetrails.ie/explore/monaincha-heritage-trail/