Participants needed for Ireland’s Holy Wells County-by-County Project

Ireland’s Holy Wells County-by-County  is a very exciting project set up and run by Dr. Celeste Ray  Professor of Anthropology at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.  Celeste has been carrying out research on Irish holy wells since 2000 and has spent a lot of time researching Ireland wells.  The project came about thanks to National Geographic Funding  and Celeste is currently in Ireland carrying out  fieldwork and research and promoting the National Database to be given to the National Folklore Collection.

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Holy well at Ahadagh Co Cork photo by Amanda Clarke

 

What is Ireland’s Holy Wells County-by-County  Project?

Ireland’s Holy Wells County-by-County  is a community-sourced survey of Ireland’s holy wells and their associated traditions. This citizen-research initiative encourages young people to interview their older neighbors and relatives and add their knowledge of well lore to a national database that will be given to the National Folklore Collection.
This freely-accessible and searchable resource will be an invaluable document of holy well sites, beliefs, and stories for generations to come.

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Brochure of Ireland’s Holy Wells County-by-County

Holy Wells County-by-County Project Flyer 2017

What can you do to participate in the project?

As this is a is a community-sourced project so volunteers are need to populate the site with information about holy wells from their locality or region in Ireland.

So how can you help?

Do you know of a holy well which should be included in this project?  Then go to the project website at  http://ihwcbc.omeka.net

 

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The website allows you to easily  uploads information on holy well(s) such as location,  accounts of traditional prayers or rounds, folklore about the well, along with photographs and video.  I uploaded  information on a holy well and its very straight forward process.  If you find the holy well you want to up load is already populated but you have additional information, stories or  photos  you can contact the project directly and they can up date the entry.

To learn more about the County-by-County survey, contact Dr. Celeste Ray at cray@sewanee.edu  or 087 091 7817 (Irish number valid through November 5th) or have a read Holy Wells County-by-County Project Flyer 2017

Celeste Ray is also  author of a wonderful book on the origins and history of holy wells called The Origins of Ireland’s Holy Wells. 

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The Sam Maguire Cup and the Ardagh Chalice

Today is the All Ireland Senior Football championship where Mayo will play against Dublin for the title of All Ireland Champions and trophy know as the Sam Maguire.  You might be thinking what connection has this event to do with archaeology but  the trophy presented to the winners of todays match was  inspired by one of Ireland’s most  treasured artefacts the Ardagh Chalice.

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Original Sam Maguire (1928_Sam_Maguire_cup,_GAA_museum.jpg ‎(369 × 316 pixels, file size: 93 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg)

Most Irish people know a little or have at least heard of the Ardagh Chalice. For those of you who havent it is a stunning two-handled chalice discovered in the nineteenth century near the village of Ardagh Co Limerick. The chalice is  what is known as a calyx ministerialis and was used to  dispense Eucharistic wine to the congregation during the mass.

The chalice is small, only 17.8 cm in height and  19.5cm in diameter, excluding the handles.  It has a complex design made up of 50 different parts.

 

 

The National Museum website has a detailed description of how the chalice was made.

The bowl and foot are made of beaten, lathe-polished silver, the stem is cast gilt-copper alloy. It is decorated with gold filigree, granulation, multi-coloured enamels, a large rock-crystal, amber, malachite, knitted cast, stamped and openwork metal objects.

A girdle of ten filigree panels of animal ornament and interlace encircles the bowl between the elaborate handles. Below it, incised on a dotted background are the names of the apostles in an elegant script familiar from contemporary manuscripts. Animals and a design of human heads, lightly engraved, spring from the lower border of the inscription below the handles and medallions. The medallions, one on each side, in the centre of the bowl, are cast bronze frames in the form of a cross of arcs within a circle, embellished with gold filigree scrolls, simple coiled serpents in beaded wire on gold foil and enamels. The stem is elaborately decorated with La Tène designs, animal ornament, fret patterns and a honeycomb-like interlace in cast gilt-copper alloy. The foot of the chalice is large and is decorated on both the under and the upper surfaces. A great roundel of cast ornament, filigree beasts and a rock crystal with a surround of amber glued with a malachite paste, decorate the interior of the foot and conceal the end of the large pin which holds bowl, stem and foot together.

Where did the Ardagh Chalice come from and how was it found?

The story of how the chalice was discovered is as fascinating as how it was made. The Ardagh Chalice was found as part of a hoard of artefacts that included  a bronze chalice and four gilt-silver brooches ranging in date from the eight to the tenth century A.D.

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Ardagh Chalice and bronze chalice and four gilt-silver brooches ranging in date from the eight to the tenth century A.D  image taken https://thesilvervoice.wordpress.com/tag/ardagh-chalice/

The hoard, was discovered in 1868 in a ringfort ( an enclosed early medieval settlement) at Reerasta Rath near the village of  Ardagh, Co. Limerick. Its thought by some that the hoard was  concealed here during the tenth century A.D.

 

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Looking north from the interior of Reerasta Ringfort, with the ‘Black Hill’ Hillfort in the background. The hoard is thought to have been discovered in the western part of the fort taken Know Thy Place website..

 

The story of the hoard’s discovery is very dramatic  one, according  to the Limerick Diocesan website

It was discovered in September 1868 by two men digging potatoes in a ring fort at Reerasta, Ardagh. They were Jimmy Quin and Paddy Flanagan….. The Sisters of Mercy owned the land and Mrs. Quin rented about 15 – 20 acres from the nuns. Jimmy was her son and Mr Flanagan was a workman employed at the time by the Quin family. It has been suggested that it was he who actually found the chalice but that Quin took all the glory. He felt aggrieved by the situation and felt obliged to leave the employment of the Quin’s. On his death he was buried in the Paupers’ graveyard in Newcastlewest.

The other man, Quin, later emigrated to Australia where he died. Mrs Quin sold the items to the Bishop of Limerick, Dr. Butler, at the time for £50.00. Dr. Butler in turn sold the chalice to the Royal Irish Academy for £500….. The chalice itself was one of a number of objects found at the time. There was also a smaller bronze chalice as well as four ornate brooches, which collectively became known as the ‘Ardagh Hoard’.

There is a note in “Treasures of Thomond” by Bishop Jeremiah Newman, regarding the Ardagh chalice. Bishop Newman found an interesting entry in the Earl of Dunraven’s papers on the chalice. Mrs. Quin had about twenty years previously to the 1868 discovery found a gold chalice fifty yards west of the fort. This chalice was lost when “…One day her children took it out of the house to play with and … she never saw it again.”

One of the items found was a wooden cross, which came into the possession of a Curate, Fr O’Connor. He kept the cross, which he thought to be relatively valueless. Later he passed it on to a young man with whom he was very close. This man died at a young age and his mother kept the cross. Begley later came across this artefact in the mother’s house. She explained the story to him. According to Begley:

“The image of our saviour is carved on one side, and has an antique appearance. On the other side the emblems of the Passion are cut by a later and ruder artist, beneath which are the figures 727, evidently intended for 1727, the date of the year”

Begley believes that this date helps to pinpoint the year of concealment of the chalice. He believes that this year could have been around 1740 as at that time the penal laws were being rigorously enforced. Another factor which would tend to point to the validity of this theory is the fact that according to local tradition mass used to be said in the Rath near the site of discovery during penal times……

 

 

The description of the wooden cross sounds very much like a penal cross a type of wooden cross manufactured  and sold to pilgrims visiting Lough Derg in the eighteenth century. Im working on a post about these crosses so  wont go into too much detail here.The Limerick Diocesan website also states

According to tradition, mass used to be said in the Rath where the discovery was made, in the penal times. The chalice may have been used on these occasions to distribute communion to the multitude that assembled there. Perhaps when the alarm was raised to signify the approach of soldiers, and in the hurry of the moment, the chalice was hidden to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. This would be supported by the condition in which the items were found, with neither case nor covering to protect them, suggesting that they were buried in a hurry. The person who placed them in the earth (Begley hinted that it might have been a Fr Bermingham, as he had to leave the area in a rush due to an alleged assault) may never have had an opportunity of returning to the place to retrieve them.

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Reerasta Rath near the village of  Ardagh, Co. Limerick image taken Silvervoice Blog

Today the chalice is on display in the National Museum of Ireland Kildare Street but signage which bears its image and a memorial in stone in the village, show how it is still connected to the local memory in Ardagh.

The Sam Maguire Cup

As noted at the start of this post, the Sam Maguire cup, the much coveted prize for the winners of the G.A.A. All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, is  modelled on the Ardagh Chalice.

The cup was commissioned in the 1920s to commemorate Sam Maguire  a Cork man who captained the hugely successful London Hibernian team to many All-Ireland finals in the early 1900’s. According to wikipedia the  commission to make the cup was given to

….. Hopkins and Hopkins, a jewellers and watchmakers of O’Connell Bridge, Dublin. The silver cup was crafted, on behalf of Hopkins and Hopkins, by the silversmith Matthew J. Staunton of D’Olier Street, Dublin……..

Kildare was the first county to win the “Sam Maguire Cup” in 1928 after defeating Cavan 2-6 to 2-5. The original trophy was retired in 1988 as it had received some damage over the years. The GAA commissioned a replica from Kilkenny-based silversmith Desmond A. Byrne and the replica is the trophy that has been used ever since.

Fionn Fitzgerald and Kieran O'Leary lift the Sam Maguire.

Kerry players Fionn Fitzgerald and Kieran O’Leary lift the Sam Maguire.Image: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan taken http://www.the42.ie/gaa-football-championship-predictions-2015-2101011-May2015/

The best of luck to both teams today and the next time  you are in Dublin pop into the National Museum and pay a visit to the Ardagh Chalice.

Sources

https://thesilvervoice.wordpress.com/tag/ardagh-chalice/

http://knowthyplace.wordpress.com/tag/ardagh-chalice/

http://www.limerickdioceseheritage.org/Ardagh/hyArdaghChalice.htm

http://www.museum.ie/en/list/artefacts.aspx?article=bfcd87b3-c3b1-489c-84f3-5c8bc08cc471

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Holy Wells of Cork. Tobar Mhuire, Lady’s Well, Titeskin

I so delighted that Amanda Clarke of  Holy Wells of Cork, has agreed to write a guest post. Amanda has been doing wonderful work recording the holy wells of Cork.  I will let Amanda tell you about her project and all about the wonderful Tobar Mhuire in Titeskin.

Tobar Mhuire, Lady’s Well, Titeskin by Amanda Clarke

Background to Holy Wells of Cork

A year and a half ago, on St Bridget’s Day, I started a new project with an intention to visit and record all the holy wells in County Cork. Alarmed by how many wells seemed to be disappearing, both physically and from folk memory, this seemed to be a necessary and interesting, if possibly foolhardy, venture! So far I have visited just over 200 wells (there are 356 recorded in the National Monuments’ Archaeological Inventory) and have discovered an astonishing variety. Some have vanished, some are flourishing and most are somewhere in between. Sometimes, though, you find a holy well that remains with you, one that seems to have just about everything: a long history, is fairly well documented, still contains all its sacred signifiers, has cures and miracles associated with it and is still thriving and revered in the 21st century.

Lady’s Well, Tobar Mhuire, Titeskin

Tobar Mhuire, or Lady’s Well, is to be found in the townland of Titeskin in East Cork, not far from Cloyne. The well is approached down a trackway and stands alone in a green field, instantly evocative and attractive. The first thing you notice (after the huge and insensitively placed pylon) is the tall and impressive ash tree and the little whitewashed wall curling around it – the well was once known as Whitewell.

 

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Tobar Mhuire, or Lady’s Well, is to be found in the townland of Titeskin in East Cork, not far from Cloyne.

 

Coming closer you can see that see that the wall is literally embraced by the tree, its roots sweeping out like tentacles over the masonry. The tree is considered to be several hundred years old but the wall must be even older, standing when the tree was but a sapling.

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The well, elm tree & whitewashed wall at Tobar Mhuire

The wall is stone built and gleamingly whitewashed, neatly circular and undulating, a small opening with rough steps leading down into its centre. Overlooking the whole thing is a whitewashed niche containing a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM), a cross on the top.

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Steps lead down to the well  at Tobar Mhuire

Inside a rather unsympathetic metal lid protects the well, but lift it up and the water is abundant and cold, a bit plant-strewn but still clear. Like other holy wells, the water is considered special: it is said to remain warm in winter and cold in summer and to never run dry. Cups are available should you wish to sample the water.

 

 

 

A wonderful source for investigating holy wells is the Schools’ Folklore Collection. In 1937 all National Schools in the country were asked to take part in a folklore survey. 5,000 schools took part and 50,000 children were asked to interview older members of the community for their memories and to record their answers. One of the questions specifically referred to holy wells. The whole thing is now online and can be found at: http://www.duchas.ie . There are several entries referring to Lady’s Well and this one shows how little the physical features of the well have changed over the years and gives some information about the special properties of the water:

There is a holy well situated on our lands at Kilteskan in the parish. It is enclosed by a circular wall in fairly good repair. A very large ash tree is growing on the western side. The tree appears to be very old. There is an outlet from the well on the northern side to carry away the surplus or overflow of water which is fairly large and which never seems to vary in quantity in any weather. Even in the very driest of weather the quantity from the well seems the same as in the wettest winter. A curious fact about the water is that it seems warm in winter and very cold in summer (School’s Folklore Collection 223-227:0395).

Water from a holy well should only be used for healing purpose and not for domestic usage. One woman took some water home for her kettle and was astounded to find a trout in it and the water resolutely refusing to boil:

… There is a trout in the well and I was told my grandmother brought a jug of water from the well to make tea. But though she did her utmost to boil the water she could not do so. She then took the water back to the well, and in pouring out the water she saw the trout coming out of the kettle. She again filled the kettle and had no trouble boiling it. It is said that anyone who sees this trout is instantly cured of any disease.

The trout is an interesting reference. Many holy wells are said to contain blessed fish, usually eels, trout or salmon. Seeing one was considered extremely fortunate and a sign that your prayers would be answered.

Like many other wells, the water at this Lady’s Well contained a cure, particularly effective it seems for blindness and lameness. The same young writer from the 1930s describes some of the cures attributed to this well:

 A man came to visit the well. He was crippled and had two crutches. When he had the rounds finished he went to a pool formed by the overflow of the well. and washed his legs in it. He was instantly cured. It is said he left his crutches under the tree. Another cure is that of a little boy of seven years old who was unable to walk. He was brought in a perambulator to the well by his parent who washed him in the water outside the well. He was instantly cured, His father in thanksgiving put a statue of the blessed Virgin in the tree over the well. This boy’s father also in thanksgiving promised to visit the well every pattern day for as long as he lived. He has not come now for three years. Another lady was cured of deafness. She also in thanksgiving had erected a beautiful statue of Our Lady. This statue is about three feet high and last year was covered with a concrete shelter at the order of the cured lady.

The overflow pool is still there and this is where limbs and other afflicted parts would have been washed, the water from the holy well itself being used for drinking.

 

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Overflow well, for bathing limbs

 

The statue and concrete shelter once given in thanks, remain too, now dateable to the early 1930s thanks to the entry in the Folklore Collection. The statue is rather beautiful;  Our Lady has a wistful expression, her hands in prayer, now adorned with rosaries.

Another statue, also enclosed in a niche, hangs in the tree; could this be the one given by the grateful father? Other offerings of rosaries and cards are still evident and it is clear that the well is active and much revered.

The well, like many others is dedicated to Our Lady or the Blessed Virgin Mary (so far 31 out of 200 wells I have visited have been dedicated to the BVM). It is even said that she appeared here. The annual pattern day or pilgrimage to this well is the 15th August, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, and a Mass is still conducted here on that date. Traditionally devout pilgrims were expected to visit eight days before and eight days after this date. Rounds were paid whereby a prescribed route was followed going clockwise around the well, prayers being said at certain stations or stopping points.

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Pilgrims, early twentieth century, from Cork Past & Present website

This photograph shows pilgrims paying the rounds sometime in the early twentieth century. The statue in the tree is there but the larger statue and its niche built into the wall have yet to arrive. The tree is still just outside the wall but getting closer.

One stopping place or station still  remains: a remarkable carved stone.

 

On one side there is a depiction of Christ crucified, arms aloft and the letters INRI still discernible above his head. On the other side is a head in profile, usually interpreted as the BVM with a halo. Look carefully and you can still see a faint inscription which reads: Seven Pater Nosters and Seven Ave Marias. The Honour 1731. Both sides of the stone bear inscribed crosses, marked by hundreds of pilgrims over the years – another feature of paying the rounds.

After the rounds were completed it was common to leave offerings, followed by drinking water from the well. For those people too sick to travel to the well, a bottle could be taken home. Sometimes rags were also left in trees. These are usually known as known as rag trees. In Scotland rag tress are known as clootie trees. They could either be left as an offering or the rag could be applied to a diseased area, then hung on the tree – as the rag deteriorated so did the disease of the sufferer. The rag tree is still flourishing today.

 

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Rags Tree at  Tobair Muire

Its seems it was once a well of importance and some controversy, judging by another entry in the Schools’ Collection:

As regards Tobair Muire, so famous was the Well even as recent as the seventies that a special Correspondent was sent by the “Irish Times” or “Cork Constitution” to investigate and report on the Pattern there. It need scarcely be said, have regard to the intensity bitter religious and political prejudices of the “Ascendancy Party” of those distant days that the writer was anything but sympathetic respectful or even truthful. He was replied to by the then Parish Priest Canon Smiddy the eminent Irish Scholar and Archaeologist. The reply was published in pamphlet form and had an immense sale. The Well had a great vogue up to about the middle of the last century; pilgrims coming not alone from remote parts of the County but from various part of the country at large … Many remarkable cures are said to have occurred in the last century, but the cult has fallen away and badly needs reviving. (0393:004/005)

I wish I could find a copy of the phamphlet but Canon Smiddy would be reassured to see that the well continues to assert a quiet presence and  relevance into the 21st century. A very special place.

Many thanks to Louise for inviting me to contribute a guest blog on her wonderful and informative site.

For more information about my project please visit: holywellsofcork.com

If anyone has any information about holy wells in Cork I would be delighted to hear from you.

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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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Holy Cows. The Miraculous Animals of the Irish Saints: Part 8, St Patrick and his Goat

I cant believe that I have reached number eight  in my series of blog posts on the Irish saints and their animals. St Patick has previously featured with his miraculous cow  and he makes an appearance again on account of his association with a magical goat.  I’m very grateful to Christy Cunnliff the Galway Archaeological  Field Officer for telling me about this story. Christy also writes the Galway Community Archaeology Blog.

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Group of wild Irish Goats Image taken from http://www.oldirishgoatsociety.com/

As far as I know the story of St Patrick and his goat occurs in folklore in only two areas of Ireland,  Co Galway and Co Dublin. If anyone has come across this story or variation of it elsewhere in the country  Id be delighted to hear from you.

The story of St Patrick and His Goat from Co Galway

St Patrick and his goat appear in the folklore of east Co Galway in the parish of Abbert/Monivea. The saint is  associated with a small holy well-known as  Tobar Padraig (St Patrick’s holy well) located in Monivea parish graveyard.

Tobar Phadraig Monieva Co Galway

According to tradition  St Patrick rested at the well and baptised the local people, indeed a rock at the side of the well with a slight depression is  said to have been created by the saint when he knelt beside  the well (Cunniffe 2016, 3). The holy well was once a place of pilgrimage and a large pattern day took place on the feast of the saint.  The wall surrounding the well has a plaque dating to 1688 that depicts the saint standing on a serpent. Over time  devotions  waned but the well is still visited by a small number of people.

 

In another tale from the area when St Patrick arrived to the area he was accompanied by a goat. The Schools Collections recorded in the late 1930’s  mentions two versions of  this tales. In both tales milk is stolen from the goat and the saint places a curse on the area.

The Schools Collections for the parish of Crumlin  records that

Patrick’s Well is a mile east of this school. There is a graveyard there and a blessed/holy well in it. Next to the well there is a stone/flagstone which has old writing on it. The people believe that St Patrick spent the night there on his journey to Cill Benín. It is said that someone milked a goat that St Patrick had with him that night and he cursed the people of the area. People would travel there long ago on St Patrick’s Day. There would be fighting and the priest put an end to these travels/pilgrimage. This happened about 80 years ago ( Crumlin School,  The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0082, Page 186 translated from Irish by Paul Devane).

 

Tobar Phádraig

Crumlin School,  The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0082, Page 186

A second version of the tale was also recorded in the Schools Collection  at Kiltullagh

When St. Patrick was in Ireland long ago. One day he was travelling through Monivea and he had a Goat with him. He went into the church to pray, and whilst he was inside somebody in Monivea milked the Goat. St. Patrick was vexed, and when he was leaving Monivea he looked back and said that he hoped Monivea would be neither better or worse. So Monivea stands the very same way ever since and it is not better or worse (The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0034, Page 0475  Kiltullagh, Co. Galway).

St Patrick and His Goat in Co Dublin

A variant of the tale is found on the east coast of Ireland in North Co Dublin at Skerries.

According to legend St Patick spent time in Skerries Co Dublin, and his presence in the area is remembered by a hollow in rock on the seashore which is called St Patrick’s footprint.  According to local legend

When St. Patrick was expelled from Wicklow by the pagan natives he sailed northwards and landed on a small island off Skerries, which is now known as St. Patrick’s Island in his honour. When the saint arrived on this island he had with him a goat, which was his companion and source of milk.

From this island St. Patrick came to the mainland to convert the local people. While St. Patrick was ashore on one of these visits some people from Skerries went out to the island and stole his goat. They killed the goat, cooked it and feasted on it. When St. Patrick went to the island he found his goat missing.

This made him very angry and in two giant strides he reached the mainland. The first step took him to the back of Colt Island and the second to Red Island, where he confronted the people of Skerries.

When they tried to deny interfering with his goat they found they could only bleat. When they were prepared to tell the saint the truth their voices returned. Where St. Patrick stepped onto Red island his footprint is to be seen in the rock to this day. Since then the nickname Skerries Goats is given to the people of the town to remind them of this deed (http://www.skerriesparish.ie/history).

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St. Patrick’s footprint can be seen on the rocks near the Springboards, the tidal bathing place on Red Island image taken (https://m0.herfamily.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/13140617/print.org

The Schools  Collections for Holmpatrick notes

In Skerries there is a bathing place called the “Spring Board”
In one of the rocks there is a hole in the shape of a man’s foot-print .
The people of skerries say it is the foot-print of St, Patrick; that when he was on one of the Island he stepped over to the mainland , where the “Spring Board” are now
This story is told by all the inhabitants of Skerries.  (The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0784, Page 91 Holmpatrick (roll number 14180)

Bronze Plaque to St Patrick’s Goat at Skerries Church image taken http://irishheraldry.blogspot.ie/2015/05/heraldry-at-skerries-holmpatrick.html

 

Earlier Origins for the tale of St Patrick and his goat
Both of these tales  seem to have evolved from a much older story earlier.  In earlier versions of the  story, the goat is eaten after being stolen and its bleating alerts the saint that it is in the stomach of the thief.
 The Life of St Patrick by Jocelyn written in the twelfth century  (published in The Most Ancient Lives of Saint Patrick, edited by James O’Leary)  in a chapter entitled  Chapter CXLVIII: A Goat bleateth in the Stomach of a Thief)  recalls the theft and eating of the saints goat. Once Patrick recovered the goat he cursed the thief to be marked with beard of a goat.
The blessed Patrick has a goat, which carried water for his service; and to this the animal was taught, not any article but rather by a miracle. And a certain theif stole the goat, and eat, and swallowed it. And the author or instigator or the theft is  enquired: and one who by evident tokens had incurred suspicion, is accused; but not only denieth he the fact, but adding perjury unto theft, endeavoreth he to acquit himself by an oath. Wondrous was the event to be told, yet more wonderful to come to pass. The goat which was swallowed in the stomach of the thief bleated loudly forth, and proclaimed the merit of Saint Patrick. And to the increase of this miracle it happened, that at the command, nay rather at the sentence of the Saint, all the posterity of this man were marked with the beard of a goat (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/18482/18482-h/18482-h.htm#chap6148).
A more paired down version of the  story is found in the  text the Tripartite Life of Patrick (Three Middle-Irish Homilies on the Lives of Saints Patrick, Brigit and Columba).  This is the earliest example of a saint’s Life written in the Irish language. It was begun in the ninth century and modified in the twelfth century.
In this version of the tale we are told that members of the  Uí Meith Mendait Tire ( whose territory was near Tara) stole and ate St Patrick’s goat and following their denial of the act the goat bleated  from in their stomachs altering the saint to their treacherous deed.

And Patrick blessed the Assembly of Telltown, so that no one should ever be killed there at, and that only one should be killed at Rath Airthir, and he left his altar a Domnach Patraic. And Patrick went from thence into the territory of Ui Meith in Mendait Tire, and he tarried not in Armagh at that season, and he left holy elders of his people at Tech-talai. Then three of Ui Meith Mendait Tire stole (and ate) one of the two goats that used to carry water for Patrick, and came to swear a lie. It bleated from the bellies of the three. ‘My debroth’ said Patrick, ‘the goat himself hides not the stead wherein he is.’He afterwards went to the men of Bregia and mightily preached the word of God unto them, and baptized and blessed them.

It’s fascinating to see how the story of St Patrick and his goat has survived  and adapted through the centuries before becoming established in the folklore of East Galway and North Co Dublin.

As an aside while looking into the story I came across the Old Irish Goat Society

The main aim of the Society is to preserve and promote the Old Irish goat, the original and only landrace breed of goat in Ireland. The society was formed in October 2006, by a small group of enthusiasts who realized that the breed was rapidly heading towards extinction, but that its gene pool could be preserved if assertive action were taken.

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To find out more about the old Irish Goat and conservation efforts check out the society website.

References

Cunniffe, C. 2016. Tobar Padraig Holy Well , A Significant Local Pilgrimage Site. Galway Community Archaeology Advisory Project   Heritage Week August Unpublished Report.

O’Leary, J. 1874. The Most Ancient Lives of Saint Patrick: including the Life by Jocelin, Hitherto Unpublished in America, and His Extant Writings. Illustrated with the Most Ancient Engravings of Our Great National Saint; With a Preface and Chronological Table. New York: P. J. Kenedy, No. 5 Barclay Street.

Schools’ Collection, Volume 0784, Page 91Holmpatrick, Co Dublin (https://www.duchas.ie)

Schools’ Collection, Volume 0034, Page 0475  Kiltullagh, Co. Galway(https://www.duchas.ie)

Schools’ Collection, Volume 0082, Page 86 Crumlin School, Co Galway(https://www.duchas.ie)

Stokes, W. (ed).  1877. Three Middle-Irish Homilies on the Lives of Saints Patrick, Brigit and Columba. Calcutta : [s.n.].http://celt.ucc.ie/published/T201009/index.html.

http://irishheraldry.blogspot.ie/2015/05/heraldry-at-skerries-holmpatrick.html

http://www.skerriesparish.ie/history.htm

http://oldskerries.ie/the-legend-of-st-patricks-footprint/

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Monkeys, Mermaids and the Evil Eye. Medieval Stone Sculpture at Kilkea Castle and Graveyard

A few weeks back I visited Kilkea Castle which has just reopened as at Hotel and Golf course.  The castle was once the seat of the Fitzgeralds, Earls of Kildare.

 

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Kilkea Castle

 

The castle and surrounding demesne has a long and interesting history. For this short post Im just going to highlight a few of the many interesting features carved in stone that date to the late medieval period.

Within the gatehouse of the castle is a really interesting stone called the The Evil Eye Stone.

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The Evil Eye Stone Kilkea Castle

The carving is built into a stone in the guard-room above the bawn entrance to Kilkea Castle. It depicts a man engaged in a sexual act with a semi-human creature with the head of dog or wolf while another beast appears to be having sexual intercourse and eating the man at the same time while a bird pecks at this chest. Gary Dempsey has created a wonderful 3D model of the stone using photogrammetry (see reference section also for the link).

According to Lord Walter Fitzgerald (1896, 27) this stone was an ‘evil eye’ stone.

The idea of the “Evil Eye” is that a person unknown to himself may possess it, so that by admiring or looking at a human being, beast, or crop, &c., he would unintentionally cause it to sicken or be blighted by its evil influence; to prevent the present day, the peasants will add “God bless it” or “God bless you” when taking any special notice of anything; while in the old times grotesquely cut carving were built into castles near the entrance in order to attract the “Evil Eye”, and so prevent its evil influence from affecting the dwellers in them.

 

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View of Kilkea Castle from Graveyard.

 

A number of other interesting carvings are found close to the castle in the graveyard.

The graveyard is a circular shaped raised area enclosed by a stone wall and a series of   large trees around periphery.  At the  centre of graveyard are the ruins of  a late medieval church.

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A sixteenth century chapel  dedicated tot the Blessed Virgin abuts the north wall of the chancel of the church. The Fitzgerald mortuary chapel is located at the west side of the nave of the church. The burial-place of Lords of Leinster the Fitzgeralds are found within the church defined by a iron railing.

There area a number of  late medieval carved stones including two stone fonts in the graveyard.

 

 

Within the church there are several interesting late medieval carved stones. One is a stone plaque called the Monkey Stone dating to the sixteenth/ seventeenth century is set into the west wall of the church. The plaque depicts a monkey with collar and chain holding a helmet in one hand (Fitzgerald 1899-1902, 240-1). The monkey is part of the Fitzgerald Coat of Arms.

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Close by is another  carving of a limestone panel with a mermaid carved in relief. She hold two long strands of her hair in her right hand and in her left hadn she holds a comb/mirror. The lower part of her body is shaped like a fish and a snake-like creature is biting her tail’ (Fitzgerald 1899-1902, 241).

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Mermaid plaque at Kilkea Church

 

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Illustration of a carving of  Kilkea mermaid (after Fitzgerald 1898-1902, 241)

 

A third  plaque bears the coat of arms of the Fitzgerald family

carved in false relief with a heater shaped shield with helmet and lynx above. Below the shield in the lower corners are two small shields; the left one has the arms of Fitzgerald impaling Keating while the right has the Fitzgerald arms impaling Geidon. Below are the initials: I K 1630 SG (Fitzgerald 1899-1902, 240-1)

 

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Plaque with the Fitzgerald coat of arms

 

The remains of a broken late medieval chest tomb are also found within the Lady Chapel.

 

The graveyard also has some fine examples of late eighteenth and early  nineteenth century gravestones.

 

 

You might also be interested in an earlier post on the pet cemetery at Kilkea Castle.

References

Fitzgerald, W. 1 Kilkea Castle ournal of the County Kildare Archaeological and Historical Society, Vol.II, No.1.  2-34.

Fitzgerald, W. 1889-1902. ‘William Fitzgerald of Castleroe and his tomb in Kilkea churchyard’, Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological and Historical Society, Vol.  III, 229-253.

Evil Eye Stone https://skfb.ly/6sVVX

 

St Mac Duagh’s Hermitage Co Clare

 

St Mac Duagh’s Hermitage is located in the townland of Keelhilla(Kinallia’Kinahulla) in the Burren Co Clare.  According to tradition, the site was chosen by St Colmán Mac Duagh as a hermitage because of its isolation and solitude. The saint lived  here as a hermit for seven years before leaving and setting up his great monastic foundation at Kilmacduagh.

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‘What a dismal and gloomy spot!’  wrote Eugene Curry when speaking of St Mac Duagh’s Hermitage.  These remarks were recorded in the Ordnance Survey Letters of Co Clare in 1839. In my experenece this description could not be more further from the truth.   I consider  St Mac Duagh’s hermitage to be a very scenic, peaceful and beautiful place.

Curry visited  St Mac Duagh’s Hermitage on the 23rd October  1839 when carrying out his survey of the antiquities of  Co Clare.  He set off from Corofin and headed across the a karst limestone landscape of the Burren. The ground he travelled over was ‘uneven surface of limestone rock‘. The experience left Curry ‘fatigued‘ mentally and physically by the time he arrived at the ‘dismal valley‘.  The hermitage is located at the base of  Slieve Carrana cliff face in the townland of Keelhilla.  It is very clear from  his writing that his spirits were low by the time he arrived

What a dismal and gloomy spot! I walked thither on the 15th October from Corofin and I never felt so fatigued after having walked for miles across that country on the uneven surface of the limestone rocks. What an enthusiastic recluse St Colman, the son of Duach must have been to have retired from the busy scenes of life to contemplate eternity and uncertainty of human fate in the dismal valley then thickly wooded and haunted by wolves!

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View of the  Burren Co Clare from the path leading to St MacDuagh’ s Hermitage

The site has little changed from the time of the Ordnance Survey with the exception of the growth of  scrub and trees surrounding  the site.

 

 

 

 

 

The archaeological features at the hermitage are  surrounded by a low wall composed of large moss-covered boulders.

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View of enclousure surrounding church at St Mac Duagh’s Hermitage

The most imposing remains at the site are the remains of a small church or chapel, The Ordnance Survey Letters  described the structure as

The little oratory of Mich Duach in this wild valley  through much dilapidated is still easily recognised to be a church of his time. It was very small, and only one gable and one side wall remain.

Today the church is in poor condition only the east gable stands intact, the other  walls remain in a varying state of preservation. Ní Ghabhláin (1995, 73) dates the church to  late medieval period and there is no sign of later alterations.

 

 

 

 

 

Above the church  is a small cave found in the cliff face. The cave was  ‘called Mac Duach’s Bed or Leaba Mhic Duach‘ as the St Comán was ‘accustomed to sleep every night‘  (Ordnance Survey Letters).

 

 

 

 

I’m not sure  you could call St Colmán a true hermit as during his  retreat from the world he was accompanied by his servant. There is a lovely story about St Colmán’s servant.

One  day his servant  complained that he was hungry and St Mac Duagh replied that God would provide.  There was a banquet at the time King Guaire’s castle in Kinvarra and at that moment  the dishes of food suddenly rose and floated out  the window. The surprised king and his men followed the dishes and were led to St Mac Duagh and his servant. But when the king’s party arrived at the hermitage  their feet became rooted to the stone and they couldn’t move.  Luckily for the king and his men, St Mac Duagh was able to perform a miracle and free them, whereupon the king was so impressed with St Mac Duagh he asked him to found the monastery of Kilmacduagh on the lowlands near Gort. While this was taking place St Mac Duagh’s servant was eating King Guaire’s food with gusto but unfortunately had grown so accustomed to the meagre diet he received in the service of St Mac Duagh that the banquet food killed him. Theses traditions are preserved to this day in the name of the track that leads to the hermitage, Bóthar na méisel, or  ‘way of the dishes’, and the nearby  ‘Grave of the Saint’s Servant’ (Jones 2006, 93).

The road  Bóthar na Méisel is still pointed out in the landscape running towards the hermitage as is the site of the servant’s grave. The bóthar is not a made road rather a distinct weathering of the limestone and  the name may possibly remember an earlier pilgrim route from the west.

map of st mac duagh

1st edition Ordnance Survey map (1842) depicting the Boher na mias and the grave of St Mac Duagh’s Servant.

An early medieval bullaun stone  is one of the earliest features at the site.

 

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Bullaun stone at St Mac Duagh’s hermitage

 

There are no historical records to suggest pilgrimage occured at the site during the early or late medieval period.   However pilgrim is seldom recorded during the early/late medieval period so the silence of the records cannot be seen as definitive evidence of pilgrim not taking place. St Colmán was a significant saint with a very strong cult in the region. Close to the church are two leachta (leacht singular), low,  rectangular, drystone-faced cairn.  This type of monument occurs at other early medieval ecclesiastical sites known to have been places of pilgrimage such as Innishmurray Co Sligo.  Leacht seem to have had a variety of  funtions  some may have marked a special grave, such as that of the site’s founder saint, and others may have served as a focal point for outdoor services and others were penitianal stations. We known that the leachta  at St Mac Duagh’s  were used during the 19th century  as penitiential stations. Ní Ghabhláin (1995, 73) notes that one of the leachta was built over the rubble on the medieval church suggesting that its construction may be post medieval. It could also represent the  rebuilding of an earlier structure during this period.

 

 

 

 

Westopp in the early 1900’s  recorded a number of round stone on top of one of the leachta.

we find several of these stones and a flat slab with two parallel shallow flutings (each with one end rounded), lying on the altar.

 

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Image of stones formerly located on on the leacht at St Mac Duagh Hermitage (Westropp 2000, 36).

 

Unfortunately the whereabouts of the stones are at present unknown but  they may have functioned in the pilgrim rituals of post medieval pilgrims. Westropp noted

St. John’s altar at Killone ‘Abbey,’ and those at Kinallia and Ross, appear to be used only as a rude rosary to keep count of the prayers and ‘rounds’ offered at these shrines.

Another focus for pilgrims to the site, at least in the 19th century if not  long before,  was  the holy well dedicated to St Colmán Mac Duagh, known  as Tobermacduagh. The well is still an active place of pilgrimage and the water is believed to cure back ache and sore eyes.

The well is a natural spring encloused by a circular wall with a gap allowing access to the water. The  gap/entrance to the well interior is covered by a large flat stone which acts as a lintel.  The well is over shadowed by a tree covered in an eclectic mix of votive offerings.

 

 

 

 

The Ordnance Survey Letter’s for Clare (1839) state

Immediately to the east of Templemacduagh at Kinallia is Tobermacduagh, at which Stations are performed and a “Pattern” held on St. Mac Duagh’s Day, said to be last day of summer, but this must be an error, as St. Colman Mac Duagh’s Day is the 3rd of February.

and that

There are also here two altars or penitential Stations at which pilgrims perform their turrises or rounds on the “Pattern Day” or on any day they wish.

This short decription suggest pilgrims circled the leachta in prayer as part of the pilgrim rituals.

Westropp (2000, 36) writing in the early  1900’s  recorded that

on the last day of summer rounds are performed at the two altars of the oratory of St Colman Mac Duagh at Kinallia.

Both  reference to pilgrimage taking place on the last day of summer may impy that it was once a Lughnasa site.

Frost (1893) in The history and topography of the county of Clare, from the earliest times to the beginning of the 18th century  records pilgrimage taking place  on the 3rd  of February.

The place is still visited by pilgrims on the Saint’s day, February 3rd.

This date coincides with the begining of Spring and the festival of Beltane. It is possible that the times of the pilgrimage changed from the site the Summer to Spring or that Frost was taking on board what the Ordnance Survey Letters had said  and changing the date to correspond their thinking.

I’ve been told  a communtiy  pilgrimage still takes place here   on the feast day of the saint 29th of October. I’m hoping to investigate this further.

The holy well is visted throughout the year. The tradition of tieing rags and other items  to the tree beside the well is pretty recent. The practice also has a destructive effect on the holy well as  people climb on the wall enclosing the well and loosen stones damaging the walls. Tony Kirby has written a very interesting report on the practive of votive offerings at the site  and you can read this report by following the links embedded here and in reference section.  The report notes other damage at the site such as graffiti carved on the church walls and on the rag tree caused by a minority of pilgrims and tourists.

As pilgrims and visitors to holy places like St Mac Duagh Hermitage we need to consider how our visits can impact the site and others like it. We should all avoid damaging walls by climbing on them, resist the urge to carve out names on stones and trees and if attaching offerings to  trees use biodegradable materials  and avoid plastic, wire etc items which could in the long-term damage the tree.

 

 

 

 

Reference

Frost, J. 1893.  The history and topography of the county of Clare, from the earliest times tot he beginning of the 18th century. Dublin, Printed for the author by Sealy, Bryers & Walker.

Jones, C. 2006. The Burren and The Aran Islands. Exploring the Archaeology. Cork. The Collins Press.

Kirby, T. 2016 VOTIVE OFFERINGS DEPOSITION AT ST COLMAN MAC DUAGH’S HERMITAGE, EAGLE’S ROCK, KEELHILLA.Prepared for the Burren/Cliffs GeoparkLIFE project March 2016

Ní Ghabhláin, S. 1995. Church and Community in Medieval Ireland: The Diocese of Kilfenora. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 125, 61-84.
O’Donovan, J. &  Curry, E. 1939. The Ordnance Survey Letters of Co Clare.

Westropp, T. 188-1901. The Churches of County Clare, and the Origin of the Ecclesiastical Divisions in That County. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (1889-1901), 6, 100-180. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20488773

Westropp, T. reprint 2000. Folklore of Clare: a folklore survey of County Clare and County Clare folk-tales and myth. Clasp Press.

https://www.clarecoco.ie/recreation-culture/publications/rian-na-manach-a-guided-tour-of-ecclesiastical-treasures-in-co-clare-8938.pdf

 

 

 

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