Paupers graves at St Mary’s Collegiate church Youghal

Last week  I was lucky enough to go on a guided tour of the  St Mary’s Collegiate Church  in Youghal. The tour was led by archaeologist Dan Noonan. The church is an amazing building, filled with  many interesting features and I highly recommend  a visit.


St Mary’s Collegiate Church

The church is surrounded by a really interesting historic graveyard located in the north-western corner of the town walls. The graveyard has a very unusual  and interesting feature. This is a coffin-shaped recess built into the town walls.  Tradition has it the recess was used to hold a coffin for pauper burials.  Those who could not afford a coffin were place within this coffin temporarily during the burial process.


Recess for coffin in the graveyard wall of St Mary’s Collegiate church Youghal

The deceased was carried to their  grave  in this coffin and then they were removed and placed in the grave. The coffin was then returned to the wall  to await the next burial.


Engraving of the coffin-shaped recess dating to the 19th century

Id be really interested to know if anyone has come across anything similar at  other graveyards.

Heritage Week 2015: Walking tour of the Pilgrimage and Holy Sites of Cork City

This year for Heritage Week I have teamed up with geographer and holy well expert Dr Richard Scriven to give a walking tour of the pilgrimage and holy sites of Cork City.

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St Fin Barre’s Cathedral Cork City

The walking tour will begin at St Fin Barre’s Cathedral on 29th August 12:00 PM

The tour   is FREE !!!!  It   will take about  90 min  and will  taken in of sites such as  St Fin Barre’s Cathedral,  Nano Nagle’s grave,  the medieval statue of Our Lady of Graces at the Dominican Friary at  Popes Key and  a number of holy wells around  North Mall.   These sites are just some of the holy places that will feature in book on the holy  and pilgrim sites of Cork City that Richard and I are in the final stages of working on. Will keep you posted on that.


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Nano Nagle’s Grave


Please spread the word and I hope to see some of you there.

For any additional information contact me at

Abbey Well: The forgotten pilgrimage at Holycross abbey

Holycross abbey, Co Tipperary is one of my favourite pilgrim sites. During medieval times the abbey was famous for its relic of the true cross that attracted pilgrims from across Munster. In a previous post I discussed medieval pilgrimage at the abbey.

View of Holycross abbey Co Tipperary

View of Holycross abbey Co Tipperary

The abbey was also associated with a holy well. The well was recorded as ‘Abbey Well’ on the 1st, 2nd & 3rd ed. 6 inch Ordnance  Survey map of Tipperary. The  well  is located close to the west bank of the River Suir, c. 10m east of the chancel of the abbey church.

3rd ed 6inch Ordanance Survey Map showing location of Abbey Well

3rd ed. 6 inch Ordnance Survey Map showing  the location of Abbey Well

The earliest reference to the well and  its associated pilgrimage dates to 1628 when a man called John O’Cullenan was cured of pain after visiting the well ‘near the front of the abbey church and drinking its water three times’ (Hayes 2011, 13).  A Short Account of Holy Cross Abbey published in 1868 states the well was visited by pilgrims up to the beginning of the 1800’s when the pilgrimage was suppressed by the orders of Archbishop Bray. The book also makes note of  pilgrim rituals at the well. The rituals  included pilgrims going around the well on their knees three times before drinking the water. No doubt set prayers were also recited. In the ensuing years the wells importance declined and by the 1950’s  pilgrimage had ceased and the well was reduced to a wishing well.
The wells importance declined even further  and today the well is covered over. This took place when the  land  surrounding the well was landscaped and turned into a prayer garden  to commemorate the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979.
If anyone is interested in visiting Holycross abbey guided tours of the abbey are available on request (further information / 086-1665869). Also thanks to Kilkenny Archaeology for the references relating to the holy well.


C. M. E. A Short Account of Holy Cross Abbey /. Dublin: Edward Ponsonby, 1868.

Hayes, W. J. Holycross : The Awakening of the Abbey /. Roscrea: Lisheen Publications, 2011.

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

Vegetable gardener for the Belmont house smoking a clay pipe (image

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

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.