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.
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 . https://www.offalyhistory.com/reading-resources/history/history-by-place/kilcormacs-hidden-treasure