Heritage Week 2017 Walking Tour of Medieval Sculpture and Folk Art in Fethard

On Thursday last I led a walking tour of the medieval walled town of Fethard in Co Tipperary for the Fethard Historical Society as part of Heritage Week.

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The medieval town walls surrounding Fethard town( image Tipperary Tourism).

There are so many interesting sites  and features within this walled town it would take you a day or more to explore them all properly.  The aim of my tour was to highlight some of the lesser known  carvings  in the town such as heraldic plaques and masons marks.  the tou

The tour began at the  newly restored Tholsel Building  which now houses the Fethard Horse County Exhibition.The Tholsel  was first built as an almshouse by the Everard family circa 1610 and it subsequently  housed the Fethard Corporation until it was abolished in 1840.

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Fethard Tholsel

The building itself is very impressive but there are three very interesting plaques incorporated into the facade of the building, facing out over the main street in the town.

Crucifixion Plaque at the Tholsel Building Fethard

There is a lovely crucifixion plaque with a very  hipster Christ figure nailed to the cross. The figure of Christ has long hair, a beard and moustache.The  cross  stands on a skull and cross-bones. The symbol of  the skull and cross-bones is known as memento mori. It was used as a visual tool or a reminder to the passer-by of his/her own mortality.

Crucifixion Plaque at the Tholsel Building Fethard

The  Christ is flanked  on either side  by  Our Lady and St John. Underneath the crucifixion scene is a latin inscription  which translates as

Dame Amy Everard, formerly Roche, relict of John Everard the younger, took care to affix these insignia on 10th May 1646, which the Everard founders and patrons of this building wished to do and were unable, being overtaken by death.

Beside the crucifixion plaque are two heraldic plaques. The use of  heraldic emblems first began in the twelfth century when they were used on banners and shields of knights as a way to identifying knights  on the battle field. They quickly became symbols of family name and lineage   and were by  aristocratic families.

Everard & Roche Heraldic Plaque at the Tholsel Building Fethard

The plaque above  represents the two arms-bearing families of the Roches and the Everards. The  families were united through marriage and the union is be represented heraldically  on the shield of arms of the plaque. The husband’s symbols are on the viewer’s left, and the wife’s on the viewer’s right. In heraldic language the viewer’s left is the right, or dexter, side of the person bearing the arms, and the viewer’s right is the bearer’s left, or sinister.

The shield  is divided per pale/ vertically. On the  dexter side we see the Ermine field. Ermine is a black pattern based on the white winter fur with black tip at the tail of stoats. The fur was much sought after in medieval times and it was used for the linings of medieval coronation cloaks and some other garments of  high-ranking peers and royalty. Above the ermine pattern are two silver mullets or stars the symbols of the Everard family.  The sinister side depicts three fish swimming horizontally, the technical term for which is fish niant depicts the symbols of the Roche family. Over the shield is a helmut  known as a helm this was very common motif in the sixteenth century heraldry. Sitting on top of the helm  is a pelican  wounding its breast with its beak to feed its young with its own blood.  The pelican, is one of the few female beasts used in heraldry. In  medieval mythology the female pelican wounded herself  to feed her chicks. This symbol of sacrifice carries a particular religious meaning and  is symbolic of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Over the pelican is a wreath or mantel. Below the crest is the ‘Everard  motto Virtue consists in action’. Under this again are the initial JE and AR  for   John Everard  and Amy Roche.

 

Plaque of Butlers of Dunboyne on the Tholsel Building Fethard

The second heraldic plaque depicts the symbols of the Butlers of Dunboyne. The plaque has   a central crest, divided into quarters. The 1st and 4th  quarter show  three scallop shells over a chief indented. The second quarter  had three covered cups  refer to the office of the Butlers as the Chief Butler of Ireland. A title held from the late 1100’s when it was first  given to Theobald Walter. Many branches of the Butler family used the covered cup in their coat of arms. The third quarter has a fess, this is  a thick band  which represents le Petit  of Meath.  If coloured the fess would have been black on a silver background. Over the shield is the helmut with ostrich feathers. On either side of the shield are what is known as supporters- a lion standing and a horse standing on their back legs. Under this is the motto The Fear of the Lord is the Fountain of Life. The name James  Donboyne is under the coat of arms but looks like a later addition.

From the Tholsel we headed to Chapel Lane via Madame Bridge. Here we spent time looking at  a nineteenth century plaque in the wall of a cottage. This plaque has been discussed on the  Irish Folk Art Blog.

Nineteenth century folk art plaque at Chapel Lane Fethard

The  tour ended at the Augustinian Abbey  founded c. 1306. The friars lived here until the time of dissolution of the monasteries in 1540. The abbey  then passed into the hand of Edmund Butler the Baron of Dunboyne.  In nineteenth  century the  Augustinians established a presence here again and the current building was rebuilt in the 1820’s.

The abbey is a very interesting place and deserves a much more detailed post. The abbey has a very fine  collection of fifteenth century masons marks.

The current building is multi period building. It is in the section dating to the fifteenth century that the masons marks occur. They are found on the very fine arches leading into the modern Lady Chapel.

Double archway leading into Lady chapel with masons marks

During the fifteenth century the Lady chapelthe chapel of the Butlers of Dunboyne.

Masons’ Marks were used by stonemasons for hundreds of years to identify their work in order to demonstrate their skill and to receive payment. They seem to have begun in Ireland following the Norman invasion and the adoption of the Gothic style of architectural in the mid to late thirteenth century. Each mason had his own registered mark which he scratched or chiseled on to  the stones he carved. By looking and studying masons marks on different buildings it can be possible to identify the same mason and see the different  places he worked.

Thirteenth century masons marks then to be angular lines often  crossing lines. In Ireland by the fifteenth century masons marks had become very depicting masons marks had become very elaborate and many clearly show influence of older Irish traditions  like the use of knotwork and interlace.  Some are very fifteenth century Irish masons marks are very elaborate and its hard to tell if they are decoration or masons marks.  South  Tipperary has many fine examples of masons marks from this period for  examples Holycross Abbey, Cahir Priory, Kilcooley Abbey and the parish church in Cahir and Molough Abbey.

The Fethard masons marks consist of simple L shape incised design, a leaf,  several knots, a hand, a floral motif and elaborate interlace designs.

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Many thanks to all who turned out for the walk  it was lots of fun and I’m sorry I could not get a chance to chat with everyone.  As always I learned from those present  regarding  traditions of modern masons and masons marks and examples of folk art in South Tipperary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One comment on “Heritage Week 2017 Walking Tour of Medieval Sculpture and Folk Art in Fethard

  1. That looks a great walk – I love the hipster Jesus. I believe you did a repeat of your one in Cork too.

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