The ‘Night of the Big Wind’. The personal account of John O’Donavan of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland January 1839

The recent arrival of cold weather  and a conversation reminiscing with my mother about the strong wind wind that whipped the roof off her garden shed  a few years back,  reminded me of one of the Ordnance Survey Letters  written by John O’Donovan in 1839 while in Co Wicklow. The letter in question refers to what was known as the ‘Night of the Big Wind’/ ‘Oiche na Gaoithe Moire’, a terrible storm that swept across Ireland on the 6th-7th January 1839.  The storm cause a massive amount of damage around the country and  its effects were such that the event lived in the minds of the people for decades to come. The foricity of the storm was such that it made its way into oral history of the county.

Description of the Devastation caused by the ‘Night of the Big Wind’.

All across the country, hundreds of thousands of people awoke to the sound of the furious tempest, their windows shattered by hailstones, their brick-walls rattling, their rain-sodden thatched roofs sinking fast. As the wind grew stronger, it began to rip the roofs off houses. Chimney pots, broken slates, sheets of lead and shards of glass were hurtled to the ground. (Rather astonishingly, someone later produced a statistic that 4,846 chimneys were knocked off their perches during the Night of the Big Wind). Many of those who died that night were killed by such falling masonry. Norman tower houses and old churches collapsed. Factories and barracks were destroyed. Fires erupted in the streets of Castlebar, Athlone and Dublin. The wind blew all the water out of the canal at Tuam. It knocked a pinnacle off Carlow Cathedral and a tower off Carlow Castle. [3] It stripped the earth alongside the River Boyne, exposing the bones of soldiers killed in the famous battle 150 years earlier. Roads and railway tracks in every parish became impassable. All along the Grand Canal, trees were pulled up by the roots and hurled across the water to the opposite bank (Bunbury 2009)

For those of you who don’t know, the Ordnance Survey of Ireland was established in  the year 1824,  to  undertake a townland survey of Ireland and to map the entire country at a scale of 6 inches to one mile, for the purpose of the creation of a tax system. The mapping  was completed by 1842, and a full set of maps exists for each Irish county. The maps and later editions can be viewed on the Ordnance Survey of Ireland website.

The Ordnance Survey Letters are manuscripts containing the  surveyors’ field notes, commentaries and correspondence to the Ordnance Survey headquarters in Dublin  during the mapping. John O’Donovan (1806-1861) was a historian who worked for  the Ordnance Survey. He led the   information collection part of the project, many of the surviving letters were complied by him. The letters are of great use to historians and archaeologist as they provide information on placenames, details on topography and often detailed description of historic sites such as castles, ringforts and churches. The letters are also interesting as they occasionally  provide a ‘unique glimpse into everyday life in many parts of Ireland in the years leading up to the Great Famine’.

Ordnance Survey Letter –Rath na Riogh Meath (taken https://www.ria.ie/library/catalogues/special-collections/modern-manuscripts/ordnance-survey-ireland-archive

They also occasionally give a glimpse of the day-to-day lives of the compilers and their everyday trails and tribulations.

One of my favourite letters  dates to January 1939 and relates to  John O’Donavan’s journey from Baltinglass to Glendalough Co Wicklow and his stay at Glendalough during the ‘night of the Big Wind’. O’Donovan travelled with  Thomas O’Connor who also worked for the Ordnance Survey. The letter decribes the details of the journey and the stay at Glendalough with such detail, that you  almost feel you are withnessing the events unfolding. You also get a rare glimpse of the personalites of O’Donavan and his survey team.

According to the letter the pair travelled  first from the town of  Baltinglass to Blessington and then on to Glendalough.  The distance  between  Blessington and Glendalough was according to O’Donavan ‘only sixteen miles’ and was undertaken on foot. In modern Ireland where we all rely so heavily on cars and buses, the thoughts of walking sixteen miles  seems out of the ordinary but during the nineteenth most journeys were  by foot so O’Donavan and his companion were undaunted. The route from Blessington to Glendalough would have taken the pair over the mountains into the Kings River Valley through the Wicklow Gap and  on to Glendalough. This route was used by pilgrims visiting Glendalough  for centuries.

We left Baltinglass on Friday and travelled by car to Blessington, expecting to be able to get a car thence to Glendalough: but the Hotel Keeper would not send a car thither at the usual price per mile and I was not willing to give him more. So on the next morning, which promised to produce a fine hard day; we set out for Glendalough on foot across the mountains, thinking nothing of the distance, which is only sixteen miles around the road.

The initial part of the journey seems to have been quiet pleasant until  the weather changed and it began to snow.

We came on in very good humour for seven miles, stopping on the way to look at old churches, but when we reached the side of what they called the Cross Mountain, the day suddenly changed its aspect, the snow fell in luxuriant heavy leaves (drops) and before we reached the top of the mountain we found ourselves in the middle of a snow storm.

The onset of heavy snow caused some concern for O’Donavan.  Despite his companions wishes to keep going,  for safety reasons he decided  they should  head back towards civilisation, a wise decision given the remoteness of the area they travelled through and the lack of available shelter. The pair turned back and found shelter at Charley Clarke’s public house.

I stopped short and paused to consider what it was best to do. The clouds closed around us and the wind blew in a most furious manner. Here we met a countryman who told us that the distance to Glendalough was nine miles, that the road was for six miles uninhabited, and that the last flood has swept away two of the bridges. I got a good deal alarmed at finding ourselves a mile and a half into the mountain and no appearance of a cessation of the snow storm. I told O’Conor, who was determined to go on, that I would return, that I did not wish to throw away life to no purpose. I returned! (Coward) The whole side of the mountain looked like a sheet of paper horribly beautiful, but the wind was now directly in our face.

From O’Donavan’s account Clarke’s inn was a bit of a dump. The room was damp and cold  and if events happened today O’Donavan certainly wouldn’t have  given the inn a good review on Trip adviser.

 We returned three and a half miles and stopped at Charley Clarke’s public house, where we got infernally bad treatment. The next morning, I felt very feverish from having slept in a damp bed in a horribly cold room.

The  weather seems to have improved the following day and O’Donavan ‘ resolved’ to carry on with the journey to Glendalough. Having caught a chill from  the night before, he must have felt rotten as he began his journey.

  … seeing that the snow began to thaw and it being Sunday, I resolved to go on to the Churches[Glendalough]. I never felt so tired!

Although the  weather  had improved the conditions of the journey were far from pleasant. The heavy covering of snow  disguised  hollows in the ground which made the terrain more difficult to navigate. Having occasionally had to worked while sick in  winter on archaeological sites I can sympathise with and imagine how wretched O’Donavan felt  as he set forth.

Sinking thro’ the half dissolved masses of snow and occasionally down to the knees in ruts in the road, which proved exceedingly treacherous as being covered with the snow. One of my shoes gave way and I was afraid that I should be obliged to walk barefooted.

Snow in the Wicklow mountains 2009  (taken from http://evoke.ie/extra/ireland-weather-forecast)

We moved on, dipped into the mountain, and when we had travelled about four miles we met a curious old man of the name Tom Byrne, who came along with us. We were now within five miles of the Glen but a misty rain, truly annoying dashed constantly in our faces until we arrived at Saint Kevin’s Shrine. Horribly beautiful and truly romantic, but not sublime!

I came across this you tube video of Wicklow Mountains in the snow. Imaginine travelling on foot in these conditions.

 

When they finally arrived at Glendalough the pair booked into the local hotel.  Their feet and clothes must have been soaked, and  O’Donavan purcases a pair of wool socks. Having changed clothes they headed off to explore the ruins of  Glendalough, which must have been quite impressive in the snowy landscape.

Fortunately for us there is now a good, but most unreasonable expensive kind of a hotel in the Glen, and when I entered I procured a pair of woollen stockings and knee breeches and went at once to look at the Churches, which gave me a deal of satisfaction. (I looked like a madman!)

The ruins gave  O’Donovan ‘ a deal of satisfaction’ and he must have felt  the awfulness of the previous day was behind him.

However ,things soon began to go down hill  when they returned to the hotel later that evenining.  Following a ‘bad dinner’ they retired to their beds, unaware one of the worst storms Ireland had ever seen was on its way. O’Donavan’s mind was full of work  he writes that could not sleep, thinking of all he had to do and for fear of further snow.

We got a very bad dinner and went to bed at half past twelve. I could not sleep but thinking of what we had to do and dreading a heavy fall of snow, which might detain us in the mountain. O’Conor fell asleep at once.

Around 1 o’clock the storm hit Glendalough.

At one o’clock a most tremendous hurricane commenced which rocked the house beneath us as if it were a ship! Awfully sublime! But I was much in dread that the roof would be blown off the house.

O’Conor seems to have been obvious to what was going on around him and continued to sleep soundly much to O’Donavan’s annoyance.

I attempted to wake O’Conor by shouting to him, but could not.

The wind continued unabated. Around 2 o’clock things took a nasty turn when the window of their room blew in. With difficultly  O’Donavan managed to close the shutters of the window, holding them shut with his body, only moments later for them to be  blown open again by another gust of wind and O’Donavan thrown across  the room with the force of the wind.

About two o’clock the storm became so furious that I jumped up determined to make my way out, but I was no sooner out of bed than the window was dashed in upon the floor and after it a squall mighty as a thunderbolt! I then, fearing that the roof would be blown off at once, pushed out the shutter and closed it as soon as the direct squall had passed off and placed myself diagonally against it to prevent the next squall from getting at the roof inside, but the next blast shot me completely out of my position and forced in the shutter.

Only now did O’Conor wake up!!

This awoke O’Conor who was kept asleep as if by a halcyon charm!

O’Donavan closed the shutters again and his companion went to seek help from the hotel staff. Eventually the ‘man of the house’ secured the window.

I closed the shutter again despite of the wind and kept it closed for an hour when I was as cold as ice (being naked all the time). O’Conor went to alarm the people of the house, but he could find none of them, they being away securing (saving) their cattle in the outhouses which were much wrecked by the hurricane. The man of the house at last came up and secured the window by fixing a heavy form against it.

Poor O’Donavan spent the rest of the night in the kitchen. I get the sense that the hours that followed were not any less dramatic.

I then dressed myself and sat at the kitchen fire till morning. Pity I have not paper to tell the rest.

The next day the damage of the storm became clear, many homes in the area were  badly damaged.

A tree in the Church Yard was prostrated and many cabins in the Glen much injured. The boat of the upper lake was smashed to pieces. The old people assert that this was the greatest storm that raged in the Glen these seventy years. We go on to-night to Dublin by the coach which passes here at one o’clock. O’Conor returns to Blessington to finish the barony of Lower Talbotstown.

Being on a tight scheduled the pair boarded a  stage coach and head on their way and so the letter ends.

The letter above was taken from The Ordnance Survey Letters of Wicklow referenced below.

References

Bunbury, T. 2009.’ The Night of the Big Wind’ http://www.turtlebunbury.com/history/history_irish/history_irish_bigwind.htm

Burke, M. 2016.’An Irishwoman’s Diary on the ‘Night of the Big Wind’- January 6th, 1839. The Irish Times, Tue, Jan 12, 2016. http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/an-irishwoman-s-diary-on-the-night-of-the-big-wind-january-6th-1839-1.2492876

Corlett,C. & Medlycott. J. 2000.The Ordnance Survey Letters – Wicklow. Published by Roundwood & District Historical & Folklore Society and Wicklow Archaeological Society.

http://blessington.info/history/historypage4b.htm

http://www.christiaancorlett.com/#/os-letters-wickow/4574917300

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Killamery High Cross Co Kilkenny

The Killamery  high cross is  a wonderful hidden gem,   just off the main Clonmel to Kilkenny Road, about 5 miles south of Callan. The  cross is located at the site of the early medieval monastery of Killamery. Today  the site is dominated by a Firsts Fruits church, dedicated to St Nicholas. The church was  built in the year 1815 with a gift of £900 from the Board of First Fruits and was in use until the early 1900’s. During the 19th century it was a rectory, in the diocese of Ossory and it  formed the corps of the prebend of Killamery, in the gift of the Bishop; the tithes amount to £280.

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St Nicholas First Fruits Church at Killamery

Killamery or Chill Lamraí  in Irish translates as the Church of Lamraighe and it gives its name to the townland and the civil parish where the site is located.

The patron saint the early medieval monastery was St Gobán. The Martyrology of Óengus  records the saints feast day as the 6th of December. In later centuries the site became associated with another saint, St Nicholas of Myra whose feast day is also on the 6th of December. Little is know about the early history of the site  and it is not until the 11th century  that it appears in the historical records. The Annals of Four Masters in 1004  record the death of Domhnall son of Niall the abbot of Cill-Laimhraighe. During the later medieval period site appears to a have had a parochial status. An Anglo-Norman Motte is located c.100m to the southwest of the site.Mottes were earth and timber castles composed of a large artificial pudding bowl shaped earthen mound with a wooden palisade around the summit, enclosing a timber tower known as a bretasche (Farrelly & O’Brien 2006, 289).

According to Grey (2016, 278)

The townland of Killamery appears to have been See lands from an early date, until the bishop exchanged the townland with William Marshal for the townland of Stonycarthy, between 1192 and 1231. Marshal granted the townland to de Albin (Tobin) and it remained in the hands of the Tobins (Brooks 1950, 252-61), until it was forfeited in Cromwellian times by James Tobin. The church of Killamery became the prebendary of the diocese of Ossory on the establishment of the chapter and continued to form the corps of the diocesan chancellor until at least the fifteenth century (Carrigan 1905, iv, 311-20).

Today little remains of the earlier church settlement. During the 19th century much of the remains relating to the early medieval and medieval of Killamery  was destroyed. The Ordnance Survey Letters of Kilkenny (1839, 120) state

The foundation, between three and four feet high, remains on the south-east side of the churchyard or burying ground, measuring 23 feet by 18, walls 2 feet nine inches thick; this part would appear to have been the Quire of the Church, as vestiges of  some more extensive building may be traces, projecting to the west from it. There is a yew three within the area of the choir five feet in circumference , and two white thorns of good growth near it (Herity 2003, 120).

In 1853 the Kilkenny Archaeological Journal recorded a visit by  Mr Dunne who described

A portion of the ancient chancel wall which enclosed the tombs of the family of Lee had been destroyed only the week before he visited it, and the stones had been used for a wall near the police barrack. The body of this ancient place of worship, with its ivy-covered arch, had been taken down in the year 1815 to serve for material for the present parish church, and the moss-covered stones that were uprooted on this occasion were thrown into a common shore (Stokes & Westropp, 1896/1901, 572).

A small number of early medieval features are found in the graveyard beside the First Fruits church. They include an early medieval, cross slab, a bullaun stone, high cross and a holy well.

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Historic graveyard at Killamery containing  high cross, cross slab and bullaun stone.

The cross slab a large rectangular slab of stone with a large  latin cross set within a frame above the cross is the inscription  OR AR THUATHA. The  slab is set on its side against a large block of stone.

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The high cross dates to the ninth century it is elaborately decorated and sits on a stone plinth.

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East face of the cross at Killamery

A panel on the base of the western face seems to contain an inscription which MacAlister  transcribed as OR DO  MAELSECHLAILL. “OR DO”  means pray for and he identified Maelsechnaill as high king of Ireland who reigned  AD 846 to 862 (Harbison 1994, 78).

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West face of high cross at Killamery

Above the whorl at the centre of the head of the west face is a panel showing one figure holding a child as another approaches from the right-perhaps Adam and Eve at Labour. Beneath the whorl is a figure flanked by angels, possibly God creating the Seventh  Day…The hunting scenes on the arms of the cross (Harbison 1994, 79).

The eastern face of the  high cross depicts interlaced animals.

The sides of the cross are also highly decorated. The ends of the arms  have scenes from the bible the southern arm  Noah in the Ark and the northern arm a scenes from  the life of St John the Baptist.
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Northern side of the high cross at Killamery

According to the Ordnance Survey Letters (1839) stations were performed  there on Good Friday during the mid 19th century. It was

frequently visited by persons afflicted with head ache, on which occasion the mitre, which is loose is taken off the cross and put three times on the patient’s head, at the time reciting some prayers, after which a cure may be expected to follow (Herity 2003, 120)

 

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The ‘mitre’ cap stone on top of the high cross was used to cure headaches in the 19th century.

A large bullaun stone  is located close to the high cross. Its base is worn through . Megalithic Ireland blog makes note of a second bullaun stone at the site which I did not see. I really hope I missed it and it has not disappeared from the site.

 

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Stokes & Westropp (1896/1900, 378) recounted the presence of a third bullaun stone at the site and that it marked the grave of St Gobban.

There is a tradition that a bullaun, i.e. a cup-marked stone, probably
a rude font, lay at the side of the grave of Saint Goban at one time, but
that it was broken in pieces by the Palatines of New Birmingham, in the
County Tipperary.
A small and very unusual holy well is found on the north side of the graveyard.
The well is marked by a large granite boulder. One side of the  stone has been shaped in to  gable shape over a recess.
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St Nicholas holy well Killamery 2014

When I visited the site in the summer of 2016 the well  was dry and a rectangular recess normally filled with water from the well was visible at the base.  The well was dedicated to St Nicholas of Myra. In the past a pattern or patron day was held here on December 6th  the feast day of the saint. The tradition of pilgrimage here has long died out. Evidence of the saints importance to the area is illustrated by dedications of the nearby church and school at Winegap to the saint. Interestingly the feast day of the founder St Gobán, coincided with that of Saint Nicholas of Myra. St Nicholas was a very popular Norman saint and it is possible that his association  with the site was linked to the establishment of the Anglo-Norman  settlement of Killamery and  was used to replace the earlier cult of St Gobán.
Although not directly related to the early medieval monastery. In 1850’s a sliver pin brooch was found  by a labourer digging in a field within the parish of Killamery. It was said the man accidental broke the pin with a blow from the spade.The broach dates to the ninth century and was made in Ireland but the design was influenced by Viking design (Whitfield & Oskasha 1991).  The pin shows evidence of Viking-style stamped ornament on the pin. The broach  has an inscription  on the back which probably reads: CIAROD[UI]RMC[.R]. According to  Whitfield & Oskasha (1991, 59) ‘text contains a male personal name, probably CIAROD[UI]R MAC [.R]. It can be interpreted as ‘[the possession] of Ciarodur son of [-]’ It is likely Ciarodur was the owner of the broach (ibid, 60).
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Killamery Broach from  The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory http://rootsweb.ancestry.com/~irlkik/pics/index.htm

Reference

Crawford, H. 1913. A Descriptive List of Early Cross-Slabs and Pillars (Continued). The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 3(3), sixth series, 261-265.

Farrelly, J. & O’Brien, C. 2002.  Archaeological inventory of County Tipperary.  Vol. I, North Tipperary.  Dublin: The stationary office.

Grey, R. 2016.Settlement clusters at parish churches in Ireland, c. 1200-1600 AD. Thesis NUI Galway.https://aran.library.nuigalway.ie/handle/10379/6061

Harbison, P. 1994. Irish High Crosses.Drogheda: The Boyne Valley Honey Company.

Herity, M. 2003. Ordnance Survey Letters of Kilkenny. Vol.1 & 2. Dublin: Fourmasters Press.

Whitfield, N., & Okasha, E. (1991). The Killamery Brooch: Its Stamped Ornament and Inscription. The Journal of Irish Archaeology, 6, 55-60.

Lewis,  1837 Topographical Dictionary of Ireland Vol. 1, 123.

Stokes, M. & Westropp, T. J/ 1896/1901.’Notes on the High Crosses of Moone, Drumcliff, Termonfechin, and Killamery. (Plates XXVIII. to LI.)The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy , Vol. 31 (1896/1901), pp. 541-578.

Irish Halloween Traditions

Introduction to Halloween

The first day of winter is upon us, in ancient times this day was celebrated as the festival of Samhain  ( 1st  November). The eve of this day was also of great importance and was known as Oíche Shamhna ( night of Samhain)  or  Hallowe’en. The name Hallowe’en derives from the fact this is the evening before the Feast of All Saints (The Hallowed Ones).

Where I’m from everyone pronounces  the ‘a’  in Halloween. I asked my parents about this and they told me this was how they and my grandparents  had always pronounced the word. Ive been doing a lot of driving recently  and I  have noticed that everyone on the  radio pronounces the ‘a’ as a ‘o’ saying  Holloween. I wonder is this a new development?

Halloween Traditions

When I was a child Halloween was pretty low key in our house but great fun.  We  usually celebrated the event with our cousins who lived near by and we would play bobbing for apples, where a large basin of water was placed on the table and we each took turns fishing the apples out  of the basin. This was no easy feat as you had to  use your  our teeth,  keep your hands behind your back.  We would eat lots of sweets and tell ghost stories. I don’t remember dressing up in costume but we always had a plastic masks  that we bought at the pound shop or made from a cereal box. There was always barm brack a type of light fruit cake which I hated but would pretend to eat in the hope of getting the slice of cake with the coin inside. Traditionally, a ring  and a coin were baked into the cake. If you got the coin would be rich and if you got the ring you  would get married.

I visited the National Museum of County Life  at Turlough Park  Co Mayo this summer. The museum has a really interesting exhibition on the old  Halloween traditions celebrated in Ireland. The  wearing of masks is an old Halloween tradition in Ireland and the exhibition includes a number of  Irish traditional Halloween Masks called Fiddle Faces. There was a long standing tradition of gangs of masked boys going to each farm house in the district in order to receive food or money, doing mischief if they were not well received.

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Halloween Masks called Fiddle Faces at the National Museum of Ireland

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Halloween Masks called Fiddle Faces at the National Museum of Ireland

Children with Masks © RTÉ Stills Library 3013/099

Child wearing a Halloween mask from the RTE archives.http://www.rte.ie/archives/exhibitions/895-halloween/288361-halloween-test/

Hallowe’en was also known as ghost night or spirit night and the souls of the dead were expected to return to the family home. Evil spirits were also thought to be active and people avoided travelling alone on this night (Museum of Country Life website)

It not surprising then that special crosses were made and placed above the door to protect the home from bad luck for the coming year.

Another very old  tradition was the carving of turnips into a figure known a Jack O Lantern. In my opinion the turnips are terrifying  when compared to the pumpkin.

According to folklore, the Jack O’Lantern is named after a blacksmith Stingy Jack who tricked the devil into paying for his drinks. Unable to enter heaven or hell when he died, the devil threw him a burning ember.He was left to wander the earth carrying it about inside a turnip – or should that be a pumpkin? (Fowler 2005)

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Jack O Lantern on display at the Museum of Country Life Co Mayo

Irish immigrants took the tradition of Jack O’Lantern to America where pumpkins were substituted for turnips. The Jack O Lantern below was traditionally carved in (Fintown) Baile na Finne, County Donegal Gaelltacht, c. 1903 .

Jack O Lantern below was traditionally carved in (Fintown) Baile na Finne, County Donegal Gaelltacht, c. 1903 National Museum of Ireland .

This Halloween Cross is from Barr Thráú, Iorrais, Mayo and is on display at the National Museum of Ireland-Country Life.

If you can I highly recommend a visit to the Halloween exhibition at the Museum of Country Life.

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Halloween Display at Museum of Country Life

For anyone who would like to find out more about Ireland  Halloween traditions there  is   wonderful account  provided  by  Irish Archaeology.ie also see the links below.  Duchas.ie also has lovely presentation available as a pdf of old Halloween traditions in Ireland.

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Duchas.ie presentation as pdf on Halloween traditions

The RTE Archives also have a really great collection of video and audio relating   Halloween Customs and Traditions in Ireland.   I really enjoyed this audio clip where

  Folklorist  Barbara O’Flynn tells Marian Richardson about the different ways Halloween is celebrated in urban and rural areas. She says bonfires and trick or treating are customs associated with the eastern half of Ireland, but they are now spreading throughout the country. Halloween was traditionally marked in the West of Ireland by playing practical jokes, like throwing cabbage against people’s doors or switching gates on farms.Divination is still widely practised, with four plates used to foretell death, marriage, prosperity or travel. The return of the dead remains a big part of Halloween, and an example of the overlapping of Christian and pagan traditions, which is seen throughout Irish folkore ( RTE Archive)

The tweet below also has links to the RTE Halloween Archives.

Happy Halloween everyone.

Further Reading On Halloween

http://www.museum.ie/Country-Life/Featured-Topics/Halloween
http://irishfireside.com/2011/10/27/halloween-finds-its-roots-in-irish-folklore/
Fowler, J. 2005.Turnip battles with pumpkin for Hallowe’en  at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/4383216.stm
Danaher, K. 1972. The Year in Ireland. irish Calender Customs. Mercier Press.
http://www.duchas.ie/download/15.10.23-halloween.pdf
http://irisharchaeology.ie/2015/10/halloween-in-irish-folklore/
http://irishfireside.com/2011/10/27/halloween-finds-its-roots-in-irish-folklore/
http://www.museum.ie/Country-Life/Featured-Topics/Halloween
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The National Museum of Ireland and the proposed taking by Seanad Éireann of its facilities

This blog post has been re blogged from the Early Medieval Archaeology Project blog. The post was written by Prof Aidan O’Sullivan of the School of Archaeology at UCD and provides a fantastic discussion of implications of the proposed taking by Seanad Éireann of facilities belonging to the National Museum of Ireland

Early Medieval Ireland and Beyond

144905-national-museum-of-ireland-archaeology-and-history

Aidan O’Sullivan,

UCD School of Archaeology

Thursday 20th October 2016

Introduction

The National Museum of Ireland in Kildare Street, Dublin, is one of our premier cultural heritage institutions. It is the treasurehouse of our national archaeological collections amongst other things. It is the place where we keep the things that can be used to tell the story of our 10,000 years on this island.

The National Museum of Ireland’s and its staff’s responsibilities are enormous; including the curation, management and protection of our archaeological and material culture heritage, and the communication of knowledge about this heritage to the widest possible audience, both in Ireland and to people all over the world. It is also a place for the education of our children about our ancient past, as can be seen the throngs of school children and students that move though it every day.

It was recently reported on Tuesday 18th…

View original post 1,319 more words

Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland at Montserrat in Spain

Recently I paid a visit to the medieval pilgrim shrine of the  holy statue of the Blessed Virgin of Monserrat in Spain.

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View of the monastery of Montserrat

The shrine is located at a Benedictine abbey at Montserrat, around  40 miles from Barcelona in the province of Catalonia. The abbey is a working monastery and home to  80 monks. The monastery is overshadowed by majestic  mountains. The name Montserrat is derived from Catalan and means ” serrated mountain”.  When you stand back and look at this jagged and rocky mountain you can see why the name was chosen.

Religious activity in the area can be traced back to early medieval times. It is said that a hermitage dedicated to  the Blessed Virgin, was constructed here some time between the sixth-ninth centuries. According to legend  the statue which is the focus of the pilgrimage was carved by St Luke and brought to Spain and hidden in cave at Monserrat. In the year 880 some shepherds were grazing  sheep in the mountains when they saw a light and heard otherworldly singing. When the shepherds when to investigate  they found the statue in a cave.

Following the discovery of a statue of  the Blessed Virgin and Christ Child, the site gradually evolved and by the eleventh century abbot Oliba of the Monastery of Ripoll established a small monastery here beside the chapel of Santa María. A small Romanesque church was built beside the monastery and the image of the Virgin placed inside.

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View of the  valley below the monastery at Monserrat

My pilgrimage to Monserrat began in Barcelona when I boarded a coach at 6.45am. I arrived at the monastery at 8am. Monserrat is a very important tourist destination and attracts vast numbers of tourist each year so  the site is always busy throughout the year. My early morning start meant that  I  and my fellow travelers were able to arrive  just as the shrine opened  and  experience the place without the  bustle of crowds, who arrived later in the morning.

The Vewpoint of the Apostles is the first  monument that tourists who arrive by car or coach see. It is named after the Chapel of the Apostles which was demolished in the  early twentieth century.  It offers spectacular views of the valley below.  It is located beside a piece of sculpture known as   The Stairway to Understanding . The Stairway  is a concrete monument 8.7m high created in 1976 by Josep Maria Subirachs. The sculpture consist of  nine blocks  placed one on top of the other that represent the different beings of creation from the more material to the most spiritual.

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From this point you walk  along an avenue known as Passeig de l’Escolania or the Choir Walk, passing the buildings where the  which houses the choristers.

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As you approaching of basilica of Montserrat you are at all times aware of the mountains that tower of the monastery.

The monastery also houses the Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat, a publishing house that is the oldest printing press in the world, still in operation. Its first book was printed in 1499 and you can buy many of its modern publications in the monastery gift shop.

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Approaching Plaça de la Crue (Square of the Cross)

As you approach the basilica  and the Plaça de la Crue you pass by a wonderful sculpture of Saint George carved by Josep Maria Subirachs, an identical statue of the saint carved in a different darker type of stone is found in the La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. St George along with Our Lady of Monserrat is a patron saint of Catalonia.

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St George by Josep Subirach.

The monastery buildings are constructed from polished stones quarried from the mountain. When the sun shines on the stone it gives it a lovely warm golden colour which blends into the surrounding mountains. From the  Plaça de la Crue  you enter into the atrium in front of the basilica.

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From the Plaça de la Crue you enter into the atrium

The atrium of the basilica is surrounded by buildings constructed in the eighteenth century. The mosaic floor is particularly impressive and was designed by Fr Benet Martinez (1918-1988).

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Mosaic floor in the atrium at Monserrat

The floor is a reproduction of a design by  Michelangelo for the Campidoglio in Rome.

 

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Facade of the bascilia  at Monserrat

The current facade of the basilica was created in 1901, above the door are  sculptures of Christ and the twelve apostles.

The statue of Our Lady of Monserrat  is located in the basilica above the high altar.

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High altar within the basilica church.

 

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Stairs leading to the shrine of the statue of Our Lady of Monserrat.

The shrine is very elaborate and  its walls are covered in gold mosaic and marble. The ceiling depicts the four archangels.

 

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View statue from top of stairs

The statue  of Our Lady of Monserrat is  Romanesque, polychrome statue  95cm (38inch) in height. The statue depicts Our Lady in Majesty. Mary is in a seated position with the Christ Child seated on her lap. In her hand she holds a sphere  which symbolized the universe. Her left hand is placed on the Christ Child’s shoulder and is symbolic of his omnipresence. The Christ Child holds a pineapple in his hand  the symbol of  eternal life, with his other hand he offers a blessing. The image is popularly known as La Moreneta (the Dark One), due to the dark colour of the Blessed Virgins skin, a result of age and  centuries of candle smoke. Pope Leo XIII proclaimed Our Lady of Montserrat Patron Saint of Catalonia in 1881.

 

The statue in turn sits within a silver shrine. According to the Monserrat website

In 1947, the image was enthroned in a silver altarpiece, paid for by popular subscription and installed in the upper section of the basilica apse.

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Our Lady of Monserat behing glass

Today the statue is  protected behind glass. There is an opening for the globe held in Mary’s hand.  This opening allows the globe to be accessible to devotees. Modern pilgrims will often touch, kiss, rub rosary beads and cloth against  he globe it as they pray before the statue.

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The statue of Our Lady of Monserrat  holds a globe symbolizing the cosmos in her hand.

The statue looks out  the basilica church.  It must be quiet a sight  to see the church full with pilgrims.

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View of the basilica church from Shrine of the Lady of Monserrat from above the altar

Monserrat has been a pilgrim destination from at least the twelfth century when the current statue was created. Many miracles  were recorded in medieval times and Alfonso X el Sabio in the thirteenth century  recorded some in Cantiagas de Nuestra Señora (Talbot 2010, 454). Throughout the late medieval period the statues was visited by countless pilgrims including St Ignatius Loyola.

In recent centuries the shrine has had a more turbulent history. The monastery was sacked by Napoleon in the early nineteenth century destroying much of the medieval fabric luckily the statue survived after being hidden by the monks. In the twentieth century 23 custodian monks were shot during the Spanish Civil war. Today the site continues to attract pilgrims and it is also one of the most popular tourist destination in Catalonia.

The side chapels and the grounds of the monastery are filled with wonderful sculpture by Spanish artist. If you follow this link it will you can experience a virtual tour of Monserrat Cathedral and shrine.

Montserrat is also famous for the boy’s choir called  L’Escolania who trace their history back to 1223 .  The Boy’s Choir performs at least two times a day for most of the year at the Montserrat Basilica they also give concerts around the  world . They specialize in a type of singing known as Gregorian chanting.

 

Useful Links & Sources

Virtual tour of Monserrat Bascilica http://www.montserratvisita.com/en/virtual

Esteve Serra i Pérez, 2016, Monserrat. Geocolor.

Talbot, L. 2010. ‘Monserrat’ In Taylor, L. et al. Enclyopedia of Medieval Pilgrimage. Boston: Brill  p453-454.

http://comenius-legends.blogspot.ie/2010/07/la-morenetta-black-virgin-story.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_of_Montserrat#Description

http://www.montserratvisita.com/en/spirituality/our-lady

Catalan Caminos

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Holy Cows. The Miraculous Animals of the Irish Saints: Part Five St Ita and the Beetle

St Ita and her donkey featured in my last post on The Miraculous Animals of the Irish Saints. There is another great story about St Ita  and a beetle which I really want to share with you.  As well as running a monastery for nuns Ita was also the foster mother to many Irish saints including St Brendan and St Mochaomhóg,  who was her nephew.  They along with other saints  came to study at the school attached to  Kileedy (Gwynn & Hadcock 1988, 392; Ó’Riain 2011, 377).

Ita followed a very strict and devote lifestyle  and the ninth century Martyrology of Oengus tells that Ita engaged in sever fasting and ‘she succoured great grievous disease’.

 

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Stain glass window by Harry Clarke of St Ita of Kileedy Honan Chapel UCC

The Martyrology also depicts  Ita as a very kind and caring person.  It was said she once let a stag beetle as ‘big as a lap-dog’ suckle at her side. The beetle caused much damage eating ‘the whole of one of her sides’ which the saint endured without letting anyone know (Stokes 1984, 44–45).

One day the nuns at Kileedy saw the beetle . You can only imagine the scene  of horror when the nuns were confronted with  this mutant beetle strolling the monastery and its not surprising they killed the creature.

Ita  soon missed the beetle and having searched in vain for it asked her nuns ‘Where has my fosterling gone?’ (Stokes 1984, 44–45). The nuns told Ita what they had done  but upon hearing the news of the beetle’s death the saint  became very sad.  According to the Martyrology of Oengus she then asked God to send her the Christ child to foster and he was sent to her as an infant and she composed a poem which begins ‘Jesus, who is nursed by me in my little hermitage’ (ibid).

References

Killanin , L. & Duignan, M. 1967. The Shell Guide to Ireland.  London: Ebury Press.

O’Riain, P. 2011. The dictionary of Early Irish Saints. Dublin : Four Courts Press.

Stokes, W. 1905. The Martrology of Oengus the Culdee. London: Printed for the Henry Bradshaw Society.

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Finalist in Littlewoods Ireland Blog Awards 2016

I’m delighted to have reached the finals of the Littlewood Ireland Blog Awards 2016 in both the  Education and Arts and Culture categories.  There are lots of amazing blogs in each category so its  fantastic to have gotten this far.

Blog finals

 

A big thank you to all who voted for my blog and for all your support and kindness.  Thanks also to Littlewoods Ireland for sponsoring this years blog awards.

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