19th century graffiti on the graveyard wall of Cloyne Cathedral

Last summer  while working on the  Spike Island Archaeological Project a colleague  told me about some old graffiti in the town of Cloyne, Co Cork.  I had visited Cloyne   a few weeks previous and had been singing its praises.  At the time  I was also undertaking a small social history project supervising  a group  students in the  recording and documenting of the prison graffiti left by the  modern inmates at the education block known as  Mitchell Hall on Spike Island.   I was immediately curious and took  another trip to Cloyne  later in the summer.

The Cloyne  graffiti looks like it  dates to the 19th century. It is  found on the exterior of the eastern graveyard wall. The wall defines the edge of a small little laneway that runs alongside the graveyard.  The graffiti is found on various stones from the top of the lane beside Church Street to where the lane starts to bends.  Many Irish medieval monuments  such as castles and churches  have graffiti left by people who lived in the 18th/19th century  such as  Trim Castle Co Meath.


Lane on the southern side of Cloyne Graveyard

My visit here was only a short one but  I noticed most graffiti consisted of people’s names.  I also noticed a possible maltese style cross design on one of the stones.


I could make out the initials J B; R B; W F on this stone

Below is a stone located towards the east of the lane, with the initials N R.


Stone towards the east of the lane with the initials N R.

Some of the stones have a surname followed by the placename Cloyne which suggest much of this was written by people native to the area.


Cloyne is written in the bottom right hand corner of the photo.

The stone below has the inscription J. Barry Cloyne


Inscription J. Barry Cloyne

Some of the inscriptions are more difficult to read and will take some patient deciphering.


Two stones with graffiti

I hope to come back during this summer and do some more detailed photographing and recording. As I walk down the lane I couldn’t help wonder about the people who wrote on this wall. Why did they do it? Did they sneak out  at night?  Did anyone get caught while writing?  These carving which were  probably seen as vandalism at the time provide a lasting link to past and individuals who lived in the town such J Barry of Cloyne.


Large stone with a lot of graffiti mostly initials such as JB Ed and a circle at the centre found at the western end of the laneway

I will keep you posted on any further discoveries.  If you are interested in ancient graffiti  I have put some links to some really interesting project happening in Ireland  and Britain that are worth checking out.

References Medieval Graffiti Projects






A day trip to Medieval Cloyne

I started this post last summer but I am only now getting time to finish it I can’t believe its been a year already!!!!

Last May I headed to the town of Cloyne which is in my opinion is one  of the best hidden gems of east Cork.   This sleepy town  was once the centre of a large early medieval monastic settlement  and  in the later medieval period the seat of the bishop  of the medieval diocese of Cloyne.


Round Tower on Church Street in Cloyne

The  placename Cloyne  which is  Cluain in Irish, means meadow or pasture (logainm.ie).  In medieval texts the  area  is often referred to as Cluain Uamha  or  the  meadow of the caves  This name derives from an extensive limestone cave system in the surrounding countryside.

The  early monastic settlement at Cloyne was founded by  St Colmán mac Lénín in the 6th century.  According to the annals Colmán was born around AD 530.  He had trained as a poet before  joining the church.  He was rewarded with the lands around Cloyne by the then King  of Munster Coirpre mac Crimthan, whom he had accompanied into battle and for whom he had  cursed the King’s enemies (Cotter  2013, 6).  Colmán found a monastery at Cloyne and resided here until his death.  In the following centuries Cloyne grew in size and strength and the annals tell that the monastery was plundered a number of times by the Viking between AD 822 and 916.

During the reorganisation of the Irish church in the 12th century, Cloyne was recognised as  an ecclesiastical see at the synod of Kells-Mellifont, in 1152 and it have jurisdiction over 133 medieval parishes. The first Norman bishop of Cloyne was Nicholas of Effingham (1284-1321) (Gwynn and Hadcock 1988, 65).   In the 15th century  the Diocese of Cloyne  expanded further when it was united with the see of Cork, a union which lasted from  AD 1429 to  1747.

Following the reformation the cathedral church at Cloyne came into the ownership of the Church of Ireland and the  centre of the Catholic diocese moved to Cobh. Since 1769 the Bishops of Cloyne, with the exception of Dr. Murphy, resided at Cobh (formerly Queenstown) on the north side of Cork Harbour. For a full discussion of the history of Cloyne diocese see the excellent book   A History of the Medieval Diocese Of Cloyne by  Paul MacCotter.


Ancient tower at Cloyne  1856 by Edward Gennys Fanshawe ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. All rights reserved. http://www.nmmimages.com

As you approach Cloyne the skyline is dominated by a large early medieval round tower.  The tower  is 30m tall with seven storeys  and  is located on Church Street, separated from the  footpath  by a low wall. The tower is the only upstanding evidence for  an early medieval church settlement  to have survived.


Round Tower on Church Street

The tower is entered through a square-headed door at the 1st floor level and wooden floors within are access by ladders at each level. Unfortunately due to insurance costs the tower  it’s not open to the public but it can be admired from the street.


Square headed doorway in Round Tower

The  top of the tower has a vaulted roof with battlements which were added after the tower was struck by lightning in 1748/9.

St Colman’s Church of Ireland  sits across the street. This building   has a modern appearance  but much of its fabric dates to the  medieval period.  The church was originally built c.1270-80.  It has a cruciform plan with an aisle-less choir, a nave with two aisles, two transepts and a chapter house projecting from the north side of the choir.


West wall of St Colman’s Cathedral Cloyne

The chancel/choir area of the church is still used for public  worship. The east window with its elegant reticulated tracery  could be early 14th /15th century in date but the stain glass in the window is  modern.


Chancel of Cloyne Cathedral with its eastern window with reticulated tracery.

The nave is very spacious and has two  aisles with five bays .


View of nave of church facing towards chancel

In 1642 the building was extensively repaired,   over the centuries additional  alterations were carried out with the building being repaired and restored on  at least five occasions between 1644 and 1893-4. If you look around there are still many medieval feature to be seen within and outside of the building.

Within the church there is  a double piscina (a shallow basin placed near the altar of a church, or else in the vestry or sacristy, used for washing the communion vessels) close to the entrance to the chancel.


There are numerous funerary memorials within the church   including  an alabaster effigy  George Berkeley former Church of Ireland bishop of Cloyne and renowned philosopher, located  in the  north transept.


Effigy of George Berkeley by Bruce Joy 1890.

A memorial to Bishop John Brinkley (c.1763-1835)  a celebrated astronomer and bishop of Cloyne is located  in the north aisle of the church. Also in the nave a large  carved limestone font and two late medieval grave slabs.


Limestone baptismal font

The  stone font was removed here from near Aglish, in Muskerry; it has an octagonal base, shaft and font, with plain panels and it is possibly late 14th/15th century in date ( Roe 1968, 13).

The grave slabs are set in the  floor of nave.  One has a  Latin cross, the second has a floriated cross  with  inscription and date 1577.   Local folklore holds that the marks of the devils feet are to be seen on the latter.


Late medieval grave slabs in nave of church

As you walk around the outside of the building more medieval feature become visible, two examples of which are  described below.  In the  north wall there is a pointed  hooded doorway of 13th/14th century date which provides entry into the church.


The door has a number of carvings including human face and  a flower located towards the apex of the door.


The exterior of  south wall of the south transept has  an elaborate  medieval window now blocked up. The remains include hood mouldings, foliate label stops and carved heads, all still visible if you look closely.


South wall of the south transept

The carved medieval heads includes what appears to be a bishop wearing a mitre


Below the bishop are  the  heads of a woman with a medieval head-dress and a man wearing chain mail perhaps representing  patrons of the cathedral.


Above Possible head of woman wearing headdress, Below   head of a knight.1-DSCF5724

Surrounding the cathedral  is a very fine  historic graveyard, with some lovely 18th and 19th century gravestones, many of which have  elaborate decorations. The graveyard has been recorded by Historic Graves  and you can find information about the inscriptions on gravestone at this link in the reference section.


Grave stone of William Leahy died 1805 aged 63



Grave stone of Michael Cralty who died April 2nd 1787



Power, D., Lane, S. et al. 1994. Archaeological Inventory of County Cork. Volume 2: East and South Cork. Dublin: Stationery Office.

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

MacCotter, P. 2013. A History of the Medieval Diocese of Cloyne. Dublin: The Columba Press.





A flying visit to Ballymore Eustace

Last weekend I paid a visit to  a number of sites located along the  Wicklow/ Kildare border.  I began my mini road trip,  which was cut short by the rain, with a visit to Ballymore Eustace. This is a small village located  in Co Kildare.

os map bally

Ballymore Eustace village

During the medieval period Ballymore was  part of a manor under the control of  the Archbishop of Dublin and the land around the eastern edge of the village is still known as Bishop’s land.  Historical sources record that a castle was built here in the 12th century.  In the 14th century  Thomas FitzEustace was appointed by the then archbishop as the constable of the castle.  This position was held by a number of his descendant and so  began the areas association with the family.   Ballymore was no backwater and was situated in a strategic location linking Kildare and the Wicklow mountains.  A  parliament was held here in the year 1389.  The castle no longer survives but evidence for an early medieval monastic settlement and later medieval church, is found  on the eastern outskirts of the village, at the site of the  modern Church of Ireland church, dedicated to St John. The earliest historical reference to a church at Ballymore dates to  1192.  Historical sources indicate this medieval church was  dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.  The presence of two high crosses and a number of early medieval grave slabs indicate that there was an important religious settlement  located at this site  from a much earlier  date.


25″ OS Map of St John’s Church of Ireland church at Ballymore Eustace

Today the site consists of a 19th century church built in 1820  surrounded by a  historic graveyard and mature trees.  This  is a very picturesque site and I would love to come back here on a sunny day.


St John’s church at Ballymore Eustace

The early medieval remains are scattered around the graveyard.   The most spectacular is a large granite high cross over 2m in height, located on the north side of the 19th century church.   The cross  has a narrow  shaft that  holds up  a solid ring and short arms and  it sits in a large undecorated rectangular base.


West face of high cross located on north side of church

The west face of the cross  has a central boss located at the centre of the  ring  of the cross head and a second boss at the top of the shaft.   A secondary inscription was inscribed onto the head of the cross and reads (anticlockwise) AMEN/NO (r) THE 9 ERECTED in 16/89/ BY/ AM WALL/ IHS.  The inscription  commemorates the crosses re-erection in 1689.


Inscription on west face of intact high cross

The east face of the cross  is plain with a boss at the top of the shaft  and moulding around the circle of the cross head.


A second  smaller high cross is located to the southeast  of the modern church.  This plain cross is also made of granite  but is not in as good repair as the larger cross.  The head of the cross was broken in the past and all that remains today is  the rectangular   shaft  which sits in a triangular base.


High cross at SE of graveyard at Ballymore Eustace

Traces of the medieval church  mentioned above still survive with  the footing of a wall in the south and a fragment of part of a window opening in the east wall still visible.  The  church was described as  being in good repair in the accounts of the Royal  Visitation of 1615 but it deteriorated greatly over the centuries.


Partial remains of a window in of the east wall of medieval church. Fragments of the window mounding found beside wall.

Along with the high crosses and the church there are  seven  early medieval grave slabs located around the graveyard.  The stones are very similar to those found    in the nearby graveyard of St Kevin’s Church of Ireland church and date to  around the 12th century.  One of the nicest examples is found close to the west wall of the modern church.


Early medieval cross slab at Ballymore Eustace

Apart from the  early medieval remains there are many interesting 18th and 19th century graves stones scattered around  the graveyard including the burial place of  the uncle of the Irish revolutionary Theobald Wolfe Tone  (1763 –1798).


The grave of Wolf Tone’s uncle at Ballymore Eustace

There are also  a number of  distinctive granite crosses  dating to the early 19th century.  I have seen similar  examples at other graveyards in the area.


19th century grave marker made of granite

Finally at the east end of the graveyard there  is a small stone,  located beside a large table top tomb,which looks like the base of a cross.  The water  from the stone   was used by local people as a folk cure to cure warts   (pers comm CJ Darby).

1-DSCF6151Unfortunately my  time here was brief but I look forward to returning again and spending more time looking  around . According to an information plaque at the site within the 19th century church there are additional medieval features  such as  a medieval font  which came from Coughlanstown and a  16th century effigy of a FitzEustace knight  brought here  from Old Kilcullen.  Unfortunately the church was not open on my visit but I hope to arrange a visit another day.


Corlett, C. 2003, The Hollywood Slabs – some late medieval grave slabs from west Wicklow and neighbouring Counties, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 133, 86-110.Corlett, C. 2003, The Hollywood Slabs – some late medieval grave slabs from west Wicklow and neighbouring Counties, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 133, 86-110.

Grogan, E & Kilfeather, A. 1997. Archaeological Inventory of County Wicklow. Dublin: The Stationery Office.



IHS Monogram/Insiginia on 18th and 19th Century Gravestones

As you know I am a big fan of the current movement to record historic graveyards and the great work being done by  Historic Graves and local communities around Ireland.  I  am amazed by the  many examples of 18th and 19th century  folk art preserved around the country in historic gravestones.


Gravestone from Tubbrid Co Tipperary

The majority of 18th and 19th century gravestones that I have encountered  bear the  monogram IHS at the top of the stone.  I have often wondered about its origins and meaning.  What follows is just some observation on this motif, I intend to delve deeper when time permits.

1-west cork 018

Gravestone with IHS motif from St Olan’s church Aghabullogue Co Cork

What does IHS Stand for ?

The three letters IHS are what is known as a  christogram. This is a  combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name of  Jesus Christ.

So IHS stands for the name Jesus.   You might be thinking  how can this be as there is no I or H in  the word.  The answer to the question is that in Greek  the word Jesus is written as ιησους’ it is transliterated as ‘ihsous’ . In Latin the name is written Iesus  and in English Jesus. The insignia ‘IHS’ comes from the Latinized version of the Greekιησους’. IHS, it is the first three letters of the Greek spelling of the Holy Name Jesus. According to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopaedia

In the Middle Ages the Name of Jesus was written: IHESUS; the monogram contains the first and last letter of the Holy Name. It is first found on a gold coin of the eight century: DN IHS CHS REX REGNANTIUM (The Lord Jesus Chirst, King of Kings).

The monogram became popular  after the 12th century when St Bernard  encouraged devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus and  it was widely used in Western iconography. St Bernadino of Sienna (1380-1444), a popular Franciscan preacher,  is said to have placed the monogram on a tablet and held them both  before a crowd of people and  rays  were said to radiate from the sign.   From that time on the IHS  was often depicted in a sunburst.  A number of 18th/19th century gravestones bear this design see photo below.


Rubbing of gravestone from Tubbrid Co Tipperary, note the  IHS is framed in a sunburst

Towards the end of the Medieval period IHS became a symbol  like the Chi-Rho ( Chi-Rho is the Greek letter Χ combined with the letter Ρ represents the first two letters of Christ (ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ) and it is the most common monogram of Christ).


IHS within Sunburst at St. Finbarr’s Church in Magheross, Carrickmacross (http://www.carrickmacrossworkhouse.com/index.php/headstones-crests-symbols)

Maere (1910) notes that sometimes

the H appears a cross and underneath three nails, while the whole figure is surrounded by rays.  IHS became the accepted iconographical characteristic of St. Vincent Ferrer (d. 1419) and of St. Bernardine of Siena (d. 1444). The latter holy missionary, at the end of his sermons, was wont to exhibit this monogram devoutly to his audience, for which some blamed him; he was even called before Martin V.  St. Ignatius of Loyola adopted the monogram in his seal as general of the Society of Jesus (1541), and thus it became the emblem of his institute (Jesuits).  IHS was sometimes wrongly understood as “Jesus Hominum (or Hierosolymae) Salvator”, i.e. Jesus, the Saviour of men (or of Jerusalem=Hierosolyma).

In Medieval England the name of Christ was considered powerful protection against demonic agents such as ghosts. ‘It was used apotropaically in England from the end of the 12th century, engraved on material culture in the abbreviated trigram IHS (from the Greek IHCOYC, Jesus)‘(Gilchrist 2008, 126). With this in mind its very interesting that one of four bells made for the west tower of  Ely Catherdral  in 1345-6  by John of Gloucester was named IHS.  Bells were meant to ward off evil and in Germany and parts of Scandinavia  pilgrim badges were incorporated into medieval bell moulds. There are also  examples of IHS  appearing on medieval grave slabs and holy water fonts  in England.

I dont as yet  know how old the use of IHS is in Ireland  but it  most likely  dates to medieval times.


IHS stone at the entrance to the  Augustinian Priory on  O’Connell St Limerick City.

A 17th century example is found at  Augustinian Priory on O’Connell Street Limerick City in Limerick.   The Limerick city Augustinians were originally based in the town of Adare Co Limerick but following the reformation moved into the city and eventually ended up at their current location.

The stone is located on the right as you enter the church from O’Connell St.  As you can see from the photo the insignia is cut in relief on to a rectangular dressed stone. The stone is  not original to the church, according to the Augustinians of Limerick Website.

 The stone is the original lintel stone dated 1633 from the order’s first chapel in Limerick at Fish Lane. The O’Doherty family saved this stone in 1933 when the buildings in Fish Lane were knocked for new houses. The stone was kept in their stonecutting yard until  brought to the attention of the Prior, Fr Vincent Lyons in 1961. Fr Lyons bought the stone and in October 1962, it was inserted into the wall of the church.


IHS stone at the Augustinian Priory Limerick City

The H has a cross extending from it and a heart underneath  which I assume  must represent the sacred heart.

IHS was appearing on  funerary monuments by the early 17th century. One of the earliest example I have come across  from my very limited search was record by Chris Corlett (2012).  He   notes that  IHS  is incorporated into the base of a cross on a stone commemorates a James Grace who lived in nearby Rathvilly (Co. Carlow) and who died in 1605 at Baltinglass Abbey Co Wicklow.

Robert Chapel (2012) records two early 17th century  grave slabs with IHS near Craughwell   in Co Galway, one  at Killogillen ( whoes inscription bears the date 1614)  and the other  at Killora (whoes incription  bears the date dated to 161(?) 9). This design becomes a very common feature of  18th and 19th century headstones. There are likely many other earlier examples but time has not allowed for a more intensive search.

A variant of this motif is the cross coming from the H with  three nails  arranged  underneath. This motif was used in late medieval period and was popularized in the fifteenth century by Franciscans and was eventually adopted by the Jesuits. It also  occurs  on the 18th and 19th century gravestones (see below).

 Father Ryan Erlenbush (2012) in his blog What does IHS stand For? The meaning of the Holy Name of Jesus

After three nails were added under the insignia (together with a cross above), some noticed that the inscription now contained a “V” below the IHS – so that we see IHSV.  In this form it was adopted by St. Ignatius as the symbol of the Jesuits. IHSV was interpreted to mean In Hoc Signo Vinces, “In this sign, you shall conquer”. It was taken as a reference to the victory which Constantine won against Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge on 28 October 312. Before the battle, the future Emperor saw a sign in the sky (probably the Greek chi-rho X-P, the symbol of “Christ”) and heard the words εν τουτω νικα, which is Greek for “In this [sign], you shall conquer”. The phrase was translated into Latin and it was noticed that the first letters of each word added up to IHSV – thus was born the legend that IHS stood for Constantine’s vision and the Christianization of Rome. Most certainly, in the Holy Name of Jesus we shall conquer every enemy – and the last enemy to be destroyed is death itself).


Gravestone with IHS and three nails at Newcastle graveyard Co Tipperary.

So it seems that the IHS motif has a long tradition in Ireland and the  stonemasons who made these stones  were drawing from a common  Christian tradition and iconography which can be traced back to the medieval period. This is a really interesting  topic and I hope to come back to it again.


Anon. Holy Name of Jesus,   at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07421a.htm

Chappel, R. 2012.’Workingman’s Dead: Notes on some 17th to 19th century memorials, from the graveyards of Killora and Killogilleen, Craughwell, Co Galway, Ireland. Part II. http://rmchapple.blogspot.ie/2012/04/workingmans-dead-notes-on-some-17th-to.html

Corlett, C. 2012, ‘ The Grace Memorial Stone at Baltinglass Abbey’, http://www.christiaancorlett.com/#/blog/4564514201/The-Grace-memorial-stone-at-Baltinglass-Abbey/3705554

Erlenbush, R. 2012. ‘What does IHS stand For? The meaning of the Holy Name of Jesus’ http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.ie/2012/01/what-does-ihs-stand-for-meaning-of-holy.html

Gilchrist, R. 2008. ‘Magic for the dead? The archaeology if magic in late medieval burials’ Medieval Archaeology, Vol 52, 119-159.

Maere, R. (1910). IHS. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved December 7, 2013 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07649a.htm