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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Balla Co Mayo

Balla in Co Mayo  has very ancient roots, and was once the site of a thriving pilgrimage.   Balla was also located along the route  of the well-known pilgrim road/route  the TocharPhádraig. Tradition holds that Tóchar was  a medieval road  that linked Croagh Patrick to important settlements such as Aghagowel,  Ballintubber and Balla and used by pilgrims up until the 19th century when travelling to Croagh Patrick.

Despite its connections with the Croagh Patrick pilgrimage, Balla was not founded by St Patrick but folklore tells that the saint rested here while travelling through Mayo. The  modern village developed around the site of a seventh century monastery founded by St Crónán also known as a Mo-Chúa. The saint was educated by St Comghall of Bangor and  he died in AD 637.  Like St Laserian, Crónán choose to settle  at Balla because of a divine sign. It was said that a cloud guided the saint to Balla  and upon his arrival a spring  burst from the ground. Such signs confirmed to the saint that this was where his church was meant to be. We know little of the early settlement established by Crónán. It was seldom mentioned in historical sources and  all that survives of the early monastery are the partial remains of a round tower  found within a historic graveyard.

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Balla Round Tower

The tower survives to a height of circa 10m. During the nineteenth century it was used as a bell tower for the local catholic church. Lalor estimates it once stood at a height of 30m.  The tower has two doors the lower of which appear to be a late medieval insertion.  The lintel of this door  re-used an early medieval cross slab. Today the slabs  decoration is quite faded and difficult to see. The upper door has traces of Romanesque moulding on its lower course suggesting  a 12th century date for the construction for the tower. The  changes in masonry  style and the stones size within the upper door and the surrounding masonry suggest  this section was a later rebuild (O Keeffe 2004, 79-80).  Apart from the re-used cross slab the fabric of the tower also incorporates two bullaun stone  within the walls.

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In the 1830s a church was recorded in the vicinity of the tower, the church has  long since disappeared although a late medieval altar still survives to the north-east of the tower.

The site of the spring which burst forth from the ground on the arrival of Crónán also survives and is located to the west of the graveyard along a small lane that runs along the side of graveyard from the carpark in the community centre.  The holy well  which burst forth to welcome Crónán to Balla is today known as  Tobair Mhuire (Lady Well).  When I visited the site in 2014 the well was choked up with silt and the rest house was in a poor state of preservation.

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Tobar Mhuire Holy Well at Balla

The ruins of a 17th century building that was built as a shelter for blind and lame pilgrims  is located beside the well.

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Bath House at Balla Holy Well

There are no historical accounts of pilgrimage during the medieval period but the well and monastery were the focus of a very popular post medieval pilgrimage. The post medieval pilgrimage likely developed from an older pilgrimage tradition. The construction of  the rest house in the 17th century suggests a sizeable flow of pilgrims here at the time. The well was probably once dedicated to St Cronán/Mo Chúa but by the 17th century, if not long  before, its was firmly associated with the Blessed Virgin and stations were performed here on the 15th of August. A pattern day festival was also held on this date.  Lewis in 1837 noted the well

is attended by great numbers of the peasantry at patrons held on the 15th of August and  8th of September(Lewis 1837, 102).

The waters of the well were held to have healing properties and were especially good for sore eyes.

According to the Ordnance Survey Letters of Mayo of 1838

There  are also two little pillars, of mason work , called by the people, Station monuments (Leachta), and used as such, on top of which, are two small stone crosses, one on each, and in which are fixed (in the work of which are placed) two stones, one in each, with inscriptions on them, dated 1733; both are written in English, and under one of them are the words ‘Sun tuum praesidium fugimus, sancta Dei genitrix’. that is – Under your protection, we fly, Holy Mother of God.

These pillars and crosses appear to have acted as pilgrim stations but are no longer present at the site.   The pillars may have been replaced  two cairns of stones which also acted as pilgrim stations. The cairns were recorded by The Schools Manuscripts Essays for Balla (roll no. 1146, 178 ) in 1937 beside the well but are no longer present at the site

are two heaps of stones with a cross on each lying down. Beneath those heaps two priests are supposed to be buried. St Cronan himself is said to be buried somewhere near the spot (Balla B roll no. 1146, p 178).

The The Schools Manuscripts Essays state to obtain a cure

sight has been restored to some people who perform the stations. Several Our Fathers and Hail Marys have to be repeated at each heap of stones and at the well (Balla B roll no. 1146,  p 178)

As devotion to the well ceased the cairns of stones were removed in the ensuing years.

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The 19th century devotional rituals engaged in by pilgrims were quiet complex and know as the Long Station. It was said that 15,000-20,000 people would attend the main days of pilgrimage arriving on the eve of the feast during this period (Rynne 1998  183).

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Charles Green, An Irish ‘Patern’ at Balla County Mayo – The ‘Long station’, engraved by Eugène Froment, in The Graphic 11 (23 January 1875), between pp. 96 and 97. Ill. 899 [899]. Green himself described the churchyard scene on p. 78. (Image taken http://www.maggieblanck.com/Mayopages/Irishancestors.html)

Prayers began in the graveyard among the  tombstones  the bare foot pilgrims  would kneel and say a Pater, Ave and Gloria ( Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be to the Father)  seven times, they then crawled on their kneels to what was known as the high altar (the altar from the medieval church) within the graveyard ,  one Pater and fifteen Aves  were recited as they made their way to the altar. At the altar they said the litany of the Blessed Virgin, seven Aves and seven Glories. The pilgrims  then walked around the graveyard seven times  saying fifteen decades of the rosary. Returning to  the altar they said the  Pater, Ave and Goria five times.  From here they continued to the well and at each  cairn(mound) near the well they said five Pater Ave and Gloria.  The pilgrims then entered the rest house and said a Pater Aves and Gloria five times, after which they turned three times around. The pilgrim rest house was described as unroofed in the Ordnance Survey Letters in 1838. Leaving the rest house pilgrims  then went to the well and made the sign of the cross with its waters saying one ave each time. This  completed the stations (Rynne 1998, 183).

The Schools Manuscripts Essays for Balla  also recount a version of the Long Station and it appears by the early 20th centurythe  penitential aspect of the pilgrimage had lessened slightly with people now wearing shoes for most of the station.

The rounds are done by the people on the knees from a particular slab to the altar on the opposite side of the graveyard saying while doing seven Our Father, seven Hail Marys and seven Glories. Them the people walk around the graveyard even times and they repeat the same prayers. When the people reach the graveyard gate they go on their knees to the altar again and they go down to the Blessed well  and take off their shoes and stockings and walk around the well three times  and then drink the water. After  that they make the sign of the cross on a stone nearby so that the station would be blessed (Balla C roll no. 1146, p 34-35.)

Relevant to the decade of commemorations and showing how in times of crisis holy wells and local saints were turned to for help and protection

During the Black and Tan regime people from Balla did the stations for the protection of Cronan for Balla  (Balla B roll. no. 1146)  p179

This reaction of the people of Balla to seek protection from their saint  is not surprising when one considers in June 20th 1921  the Black and Tans burned the town of Knockcroghery in Co Roscommon.

The rise of pilgrim sites like Knock in the later 1800’s sent the  pilgrimage at Balla into a steady decline and today the  pilgrimage that took place here is a distant memory.

If you visit Balla be sure to go to the local community centre where there is a great display dedicated to the history of the site and the area.

References

The Schools Manuscripts Essays, Ball Áluinn (Balla) (roll number 1146) http://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4427833

Green, C. 1875. ‘An Irish ‘Patern’ at Balla County Mayo – The ‘Long station’’, engraved by Eugène Froment,  The Graphic 11 (23 January 1875), between pp. 96 and 97. Ill. 899 [899].

Herity, M. 2009. (eds.) Ordnance Survey Letters Mayo. Fourmasters Press.

Lalor, B. 1999. The Irish Round Tower. The Collins Press.

O’Keeffe, T. 2004. Ireland Round Towers.  Tempus Press.

Rynne, E. 1998. ‘The Round Tower, Evil ye, and Holy Well at Balla Co Mayo’s’  in C Manning (ed) Dublin and Beyond the Pale. Studies in honour of Paddy Healy. Bray: Wordwell in association with Rathmichael Historical Society pages 177-184

 

Ardpatrick Co Limerick

St Patrick is associated with many wonderful sites around Ireland,  Ardpatrick Co Limerick is one of my favourite. Located on the edge of a village of the same name, the site is about six miles south of Kilmallock on R512, on the road to Kildorrery in the county of Cork. Sitting on top of a large hill  the site consists of  the ruins of an early medieval  ecclesiastical settlement,  consisting of a ruined church surrounded by a modern rectangular graveyard and the stump of a round tower.  The site is held to date to early medieval period and the partial remains of  large  enclosure that once surrounded the site is still visible. Within the enclosure are earthworks of possible buildings, fields banks, enclosures and a road.

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View of Ardpatrick from the air ( Bing maps)

The name Ardpatrick comes from the Irish ‘Ard Phádraig’  which means the ‘Height or Hill of Patrick’.  According to local tradition St Patrick founded a monastery here in the 5th century.

A story in the late 9th century work Bethu Phátric, The Tripartite Life of St Patrick, tells us that when Patrick sought a site for the church on Ardpatrick, Derbhall, the local leader, opposed him. He told him that he would believe only if St Patrick removed part of the mountain wall to the south so that he could see Loch Long in the land of Fir Muí Féinne. St Patrick prayed and the mountain melted forming a gap, Bealach Leáite, the Pass of the Melting (Dowd 1896, 49; Limerick Diocesan Heritage).

In the ensuing centuries the  Ardpatrick was ruled by abbots drawn from the Déisí, the ruling Sept of An Déis Bheag, the territory in which the monastery was situated. The church became a very important and powerful site. It had strong links with Armagh and collected Munster contributions to Armagh. Torlogh O’Connor plundered the church at Ardpatrick in 1127AD and in 1129 Cellach, bishop of Armagh, died at Ardpatrick  on Monday 1 April.  The O’Langans were hereditary coarbs of Ardpatrick and the lands here remained in their possession and a group  known as the ‘Clerks of Ardpatrick’,  up to the 16th century (Fleming 2009 ,6).

Ardpatrick Archaeological remains

As the name suggest the ruins  at Ardpatrick sit at the top of a large hill to get to the summit you follow  a small track from the edge of the  village.

The hill is steep but when you reach the top of the hill you will be rewarded with magnificent views of the surrounding countryside.

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Today the all that remains of this once great site are the ruins of multi period church  which is covered in a thick growth of ivy which makes it difficult to examine in detail.  According to Ó Carrigáin (2010 131)

‘ apart perhaps from the north end of the west wall, none of its fabric seems to be medieval. It does incorporate large blocks that probably come from a per-Romanesque church.

 

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View of the ruins of the church at Ardpatrick

A number of carved stones from windows etc are found scattered around  the site and the interior of the church is filled with historic graves.

The church and graveyard are surrounded by a rectangular walled  enclosure.  Ó Carrigáin (2010, 131-132) points out that one of the stones in the stile at the  west end of this enclosure  incorporates an upside down door lintel which was part of an earlier pre-Romanesque church.

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Upside down door lintel reused in stile. This stone likely came from a pre-Romanesque church that once stood at the site (Ó Carrigáin 2010, 306).

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In the past a holy well stood to the southwest of the church.

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1st ed. OS 6 inch map of Ardpatrick

The well is now filled in but was once circa 40 feet deep, faced with stone, and had steps leading to it.  According to legend, cattle are said to have been cured by its water. People visited the well seeking cures for lameness, rickets and rheumatism also used it.

According to the Folklore Collection Schools Manuscript of 1937

There is a holy well now nearly filled up on the hill here. The water lay about 15ft from surface, people said that if on looking down you did not see your reflection in the water you would die before the current year ran out.

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Carved detail of a window embrasure in the church fabric

Outside the graveyard  wall are the stump of a 11th-12th century round tower  built of dressed stone. Given its location it must have dominated the landscape when built. The tower collapsed in a storm in 1824 and local legend tells of a peal of 7 silver bells which once hung in the tower.

 

 

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According to the Schools Manuscripts (1937) folklore about the tower said that the tower was destroyed

When Murrough the Burner was coming from Cashel his soldiers burned Ardpatrick village which my informant says stretched west by south from the old tower. A party of soldiers on guard in the tower were playing cards. They played on top of a powder keg. One of them ‘hit the keg a welt of his fist’ upsetting a candle into the powder. The resulting explosion damaged the tower which was still further damaged by lightning.

It was also said that a subterranean passage supposed to exist between the round tower & the old abbey.

Another interesting feature that survives at the site are the traces of an ancient road way.

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Aerial view of site (Bing Maps) showing the line of the Rian Bó Phádraig

The old road known locally as the Rian Bó Phádraig has discussed this road in a previous post of St Patrick to find out more follow the links.

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The remains of the old road known as the Rian Bó Phádraig.

 

 

References

Fleming, J. 2009.  The formation of the church in Limerick’. In Limerick History and Society, 1-15.

https://pilgrimagemedievalireland.com/2016/02/03/holy-cow-the-miraculous-animals-of-the-irish-saints-part-three-st-patricks-cow-and-the-rian-bo-phadraig/

http://www.limerickdioceseheritage.org/Ardpatrick/textArdpatrick.htm

Irish Folklore Collection Schools Manuscripts Ardpatrick Co Limerick http://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4922041

ÓCarrigáin, T. 2010. Churches in Early Medieval Ireland. London: Yale University Press.

Ó Danachair, C. (1955). The holy wells of Co. Limerick. JRSAI Vol. LXXXV, pt. II, pp. 193-217.