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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Holy Cow. The miraculous animals of the Irish Saints: Part 7, St Ciarán of Saighir and his cow

This is part seven in my series of posts about the saints and their animals. This post features St Ciarán of Saighir, the founder of the great monastery of Seir Keiran in Co Offaly and his cow.

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St Ciaran of Saighir.

Like earlier posts about St Ciarán of  Clonmacnoise, St Manchan of Lemanaghan and St Patrick the theme of the story relates to the theft of the saints cow.

 

 

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Site of St Ciaran’s monastery Seir Keiran Co Offaly

 

This story was recorded in the Irish  Life of St Ciarán of Saighir, compiled in the seventeenth century. The text recalls

a thief came westward over the Slieve Bloom, and stole a cow from Ciarán.

Below is a location map showing the  location of Slieve Bloom Mountains and the monastic settlement of Seir Keiran.

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After Google Earth location map of Seir Kieran monastic settlement and the Slieve Bloom Mountain range.

There is no mention of the cow having any miraculous abilities like the cows of the other saints, however, divine intervention stops the progress of the thief allowing the cow to escape and return to her rightful owner.  As the thief is crossing a river the waters rose and drowned him and the cow to the saint.

Mist and unspeakable darkness rose against him, and a river so strong in flood, so that he was drowned, and the cow returned to Ciarán again (BNÉ, Vol. II, 105).

irishmoiledcowcalf

 

Reference

Plummer, C. (ed.) 1922 reprint 1997 Bethada Náem nÉrenn. Vol.1, 2 Oxford.

 

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Holy Cows. The Miraculous Animals of the Irish Saints: Part 6, The Magical Cows of Kilmalkedar

Last year I began a series of post on the saints and their animals. Continuing with this theme this post will look at the folklore and legends of cows associated with the great ecclesiastical complex of   Kilmalkedar /Cill Maoilchéadair in the Dingle Peninsula, Co Kerry.

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Kilmalkedar medieval church part of the the Kilmalkedar Ecclesiastical Complex

The site of Kilmalkedar  consists of  a large ecclesiastical complex with archaeological remains dating from the early medieval to late medieval period.  It is dedicated to a little known saint called  Maolcethair, whose death was recorded in the martyrology of Donegal (Cuppage 1986, 308). The site was also linked to St Brendan and was  part of the  pilgrim landscape of the Mount Brandon. Unlike the previous tales about the saints and their animals ( Ita and her donkey, Patrick and his cow, Ciaran and his cow, Manchan and his cow), St Maolcethair  is not directly associated with any animal  but ecclesiastical complex has two interesting folk tales that relate to miraculous events associated with cows. These stories are embedded in the physical landscape.

The Cow and Thief’s Stone

One of the stories concerns the theft of a cow, a familiar theme from  the earlier posts in this series. The story goes that a thief tried to steal a cow from the community at Kilmalkedar. The cow bellowed, which woke up one of the monks.  One of the monks

‘caused the thief to stick in the stone  which he was climbing and the hoof of the cow to get embedded in the stone on which she had alighted from the fence. The thief set up a howling form pain and fright and prayed humbly for mercy and forgiveness. The holy man released him and warned him to sin no more. The imprints of the thief’s knees are to be seen to the present day and the impress of the cow’s hoof is also discernible’ ( Dingle Survey Files  after mss of John Curran, unpublished  OPW file).

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1st ed OS map of Kilmalkedar (1842) showing the site of the Cow stone and Theifs stone.

Until 1967 two stones  known as the cow  and thief stone were located on either side of the road close to the church and graveyard at Kilmalkedar,  they were set 150m south of the graveyard and some 350 yards northeast of (KE042-028). Both were recorded on the 1st edition OS map of 1842. Unfortunately the cow stone  has now disappeared, both stones  were set on either side of the roadway until at least 1967.  The  cow stone (KE042-02701) was located on the west side of the road and the thief stone (KE042-027) on the east. Killanin & Michael (1967, 96) described the two stones as standing stones and the Dingle Survey notes that the theif stone ‘stood 0.81m high at the base’ (Cuppage 1986, 323). However descriptions in the Dingle Survey Files suggest that the  cow stone was a flat stone.

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View of the road outside if Kilmalkedar Graveyard the Cow and Thiefs Stones were located 150m to the south.

A story recounted  by Mary Jane Leadbeater Fisher in her book Letters from the Kingdom of Kerry: In the year 1845 also records the tale but in her account the story is linked to another archaeological feature of the landscape, a large multi basin bullaun stone know as the Keelers or na Beirtí (Milk Coolers).

A cow is the subject of this legend—a cow of size and breed suited to provide milk for the giant race of those days. We saw the milk vessels, and if she filled them morning and evening, she was indeed a marvellous cow. In a huge flat rock were these milk pans; six large round holes, regular in their distances from each other, and nearly of equal size; they could each contain some gallons of liquid. This said cow gave sufficient milk for one whole parish; and was the property of a widow—her only wealth. Another parish and another clan desired to be possessed of this prize; so a marauder, endued with superior strength and courage, drove her off one moonlight night. The widow followed wailing, and he jeered her and cursed her as he proceeded. The cow suddenly stopped; in vain the thief strove to drive her on; she could neither go on, nor yet return; she stuck fast. At length, aroused by the widow’s cries, her neighbours arrived, and the delinquent endeavoured to escape. In vain—for he too stuck fast in the opposite rock; he was taken and killed. The cow then returned to her own home, and continued to contribute her share towards making the parish like Canaan, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” The prints of her hoofs, where the bees made their nests, are still to be seen in one rock ; and those of the marauder’s foot and hand in another, where he was held fast by a stronger bond than that of conscience (Leadbeater Fisher 1847, 48).

The ‘huge  flat rock’ she refers to seems to be  a large stone known as the Keelers or ‘Beirti’.  This is a large irregular, shaped bullaun stone (KE042-026007)  located 50-60m northwest of the Romanesque church at Kilmalkedar. The stone  has seven depressions of oval and circular shape with depths of 0.04-0.25 diameters 0.22-0.42m diameter. This stone is associated with a magical cow known who is known in folklore form other parts of the country.

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The  legendary cow was the  Glas Ghoibhneach,  she was said to a have been a marvellous milker.  The Glas Ghoibhneach translates as ‘the grey of Goibhniu’. Goibhniu was a mythical smith who likely derived from a god of the same name. The legend of the cow  is  very old and widespread across Ireland. According to O’hOgain

legend told of her all over Ireland describes how she filled with milk every pail put under her by her unnamed owner. However, a jealous woman claimed that she had a vessel which the Glas could not fill, and accordingly she brought a sieve and began to milk the great cow. The Glas yielded a continuous stream of milk, enough to fill a lake, but it all ran through the sieve. Eventually, she became exhausted by the effort and died.

The tradition from Kilmalkedar tells that the glas was milked into the basins of the rock by the monk from the monastery (An Seabhac 1939, 117). Interestingly additional stones associated with the magical cow are found a few miles to the southwest, the stones are  a pair of standing stones known as ‘Geata an Glas Ghaibhleann’ or the gate of Glas Ghaibhleann.

I would like to thank the wonderful archaeologist Isabel Bennett  for all her help with  pointing out sources for these  stones

References

An Seabhac. 1939. Triocha-Chéad Chorca Dhuibhne. Cuid IV. Dublin: An Cumann

le Béaloideas Éireann, 117.

Cuppage, J. 1986. Archaeological Survey of the Dingel peninsula. A description of

  the field antiquities from the Mesolithic Period to the 17th century A.D. Oidhrecht

  Chorca Dhuibhne. Ballyferriter: Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne, 308

Dingle Survey Files.

Ó hÓgáin, D. 1991. Myth, legend & romance an encyclopaedia of the Irish folk tradition

New York: Prentice Hall Press.

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

Leadbeater Fisher, M. J in her book Letters from the Kingdom of Kerry: In the year 1845. pub 1847. Dublin: Webb and Chapman

http://www.voicesfromthedawn.com/gate-of-the-cow/

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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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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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A Smiling Face at Kilmacduagh Co Galway

I recently was reminded about a really interesting carving I noticed on my last visit to Kilmacduagh, Co Galway.

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View of the monastic ruins of Kilmacduagh

Kilmacduagh is an early medieval monastic site founded by St Colman son of Duagh in the seventh century. The site is located a short distance from the town of Gort Co Galway. Today the surviving ruins of the monastic settlement consist of a round tower, a cathedral, two smaller churches and a small Augustinian abbey. I am planning to do a much more detailed post on the site in the coming months.

The cathedral is the largest of the  surviving buildings and also possibly the oldest structure at the site.  It was probably  originally built in the tenth or eleventh century it was extended in the twelfth century and remodelled  again in the fifteenth century.

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The church has many interesting features that are worth discussing in more detail  but for the purpose of this post I will  only highlight a very unusual carving.

The carving can be seen just inside the doorway of  the north transept, on the  right-hand side as you walk into the transept from the nave.

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View of the doorway of the north transept

The carving consists of  a large  face cut into a sandstone block of stone. It is an  oval shaped face, of a bald male, with two large ears, almond shaped eyes and a broad smiling mouth. All of his features combine to  giving the figure a rather happy expression and when  I first noticed the face I could not help but smile back.

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Smiling face carved into the entrance of the north transept at Kilmacduagh

The carving is  most unusual and I have not seen anything comparable in all my travels.  Are any of you aware of similar type carvings at other church sites in Ireland or Britain?  If I find out anything else about the happy face I will let you all know.

 

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