The Killamery high cross is a wonderful hidden gem, just off the main Clonmel to Kilkenny Road, about 5 miles south of Callan. The cross is located at the site of the early medieval monastery of Killamery. Today the site is dominated by a Firsts Fruits church, dedicated to St Nicholas. The church was built in the year 1815 with a gift of £900 from the Board of First Fruits and was in use until the early 1900’s. During the 19th century it was a rectory, in the diocese of Ossory and it formed the corps of the prebend of Killamery, in the gift of the Bishop; the tithes amount to £280.
St Nicholas First Fruits Church at Killamery
Killamery or Chill Lamraí in Irish translates as the Church of Lamraighe and it gives its name to the townland and the civil parish where the site is located.
The patron saint the early medieval monastery was St Gobán. The Martyrology of Óengus records the saints feast day as the 6th of December. In later centuries the site became associated with another saint, St Nicholas of Myra whose feast day is also on the 6th of December. Little is know about the early history of the site and it is not until the 11th century that it appears in the historical records. The Annals of Four Masters in 1004 record the death of Domhnall son of Niall the abbot of Cill-Laimhraighe. During the later medieval period site appears to a have had a parochial status. An Anglo-Norman Motte is located c.100m to the southwest of the site.Mottes were earth and timber castles composed of a large artificial pudding bowl shaped earthen mound with a wooden palisade around the summit, enclosing a timber tower known as a bretasche (Farrelly & O’Brien 2006, 289).
According to Grey (2016, 278)
The townland of Killamery appears to have been See lands from an early date, until the bishop exchanged the townland with William Marshal for the townland of Stonycarthy, between 1192 and 1231. Marshal granted the townland to de Albin (Tobin) and it remained in the hands of the Tobins (Brooks 1950, 252-61), until it was forfeited in Cromwellian times by James Tobin. The church of Killamery became the prebendary of the diocese of Ossory on the establishment of the chapter and continued to form the corps of the diocesan chancellor until at least the fifteenth century (Carrigan 1905, iv, 311-20).
Today little remains of the earlier church settlement. During the 19th century much of the remains relating to the early medieval and medieval of Killamery was destroyed. The Ordnance Survey Letters of Kilkenny (1839, 120) state
The foundation, between three and four feet high, remains on the south-east side of the churchyard or burying ground, measuring 23 feet by 18, walls 2 feet nine inches thick; this part would appear to have been the Quire of the Church, as vestiges of some more extensive building may be traces, projecting to the west from it. There is a yew three within the area of the choir five feet in circumference , and two white thorns of good growth near it (Herity 2003, 120).
In 1853 the Kilkenny Archaeological Journal recorded a visit by Mr Dunne who described
A portion of the ancient chancel wall which enclosed the tombs of the family of Lee had been destroyed only the week before he visited it, and the stones had been used for a wall near the police barrack. The body of this ancient place of worship, with its ivy-covered arch, had been taken down in the year 1815 to serve for material for the present parish church, and the moss-covered stones that were uprooted on this occasion were thrown into a common shore (Stokes & Westropp, 1896/1901, 572).
A small number of early medieval features are found in the graveyard beside the First Fruits church. They include an early medieval, cross slab, a bullaun stone, high cross and a holy well.
Historic graveyard at Killamery containing high cross, cross slab and bullaun stone.
The cross slab a large rectangular slab of stone with a large latin cross set within a frame above the cross is the inscription OR AR THUATHA. The slab is set on its side against a large block of stone.
The high cross dates to the ninth century it is elaborately decorated and sits on a stone plinth.
East face of the cross at Killamery
A panel on the base of the western face seems to contain an inscription which MacAlister transcribed as OR DO MAELSECHLAILL. “OR DO” means pray for and he identified Maelsechnaill as high king of Ireland who reigned AD 846 to 862 (Harbison 1994, 78).
West face of high cross at Killamery
Above the whorl at the centre of the head of the west face is a panel showing one figure holding a child as another approaches from the right-perhaps Adam and Eve at Labour. Beneath the whorl is a figure flanked by angels, possibly God creating the Seventh Day…The hunting scenes on the arms of the cross (Harbison 1994, 79).
Western wheel of face high cross at Killamery
Western face of wheel of cross at Kilammery the side arms depict a hunting scene
Figure at base of wheel of the western face of high cross at Killamery perhaps depicting creation day
Central boss of wheel of high cross on the western face
The eastern face of the high cross depicts interlaced animals.
Drawing of decoration of the easern face of the high cross
Interlinked serpents on the east face of the high cross at Killamery
Interlinked serpents on the east face of the high cross at Killamery
The sides of the cross are also highly decorated. The ends of the arms have scenes from the bible the southern arm Noah in the Ark and the northern arm a scenes from the life of St John the Baptist.
Northern side of the high cross at Killamery
According to the Ordnance Survey Letters (1839) stations were performed there on Good Friday during the mid 19th century. It was
frequently visited by persons afflicted with head ache, on which occasion the mitre, which is loose is taken off the cross and put three times on the patient’s head, at the time reciting some prayers, after which a cure may be expected to follow (Herity 2003, 120)
The ‘mitre’ cap stone on top of the high cross was used to cure headaches in the 19th century.
A large bullaun stone is located close to the high cross. Its base is worn through . Megalithic Ireland blog makes note of a second bullaun stone at the site which I did not see. I really hope I missed it and it has not disappeared from the site.
Stokes & Westropp (1896/1900, 378) recounted the presence of a third bullaun stone at the site and that it marked the grave of St Gobban.
There is a tradition that a bullaun, i.e. a cup-marked stone, probably
a rude font, lay at the side of the grave of Saint Goban at one time, but
that it was broken in pieces by the Palatines of New Birmingham, in the
A small and very unusual holy well is found on the north side of the graveyard.
The well is marked by a large granite boulder. One side of the stone has been shaped in to gable shape over a recess.
St Nicholas holy well Killamery 2014
When I visited the site in the summer of 2016 the well was dry and a rectangular recess normally filled with water from the well was visible at the base. The well was dedicated to St Nicholas of Myra. In the past a pattern or patron day was held here on December 6th the feast day of the saint. The tradition of pilgrimage here has long died out. Evidence of the saints importance to the area is illustrated by dedications of the nearby church and school at Winegap to the saint. Interestingly the feast day of the founder St Gobán, coincided with that of Saint Nicholas of Myra. St Nicholas was a very popular Norman saint and it is possible that his association with the site was linked to the establishment of the Anglo-Norman settlement of Killamery and was used to replace the earlier cult of St Gobán.
View of the back of boulder over St Nicholas holy well Killamery
Bouder marking St Nicholas holy well at Killamery
Recess at base of boulder at St Nicholas holy well Killamery
Although not directly related to the early medieval monastery. In 1850’s a sliver pin brooch was found by a labourer digging in a field within the parish of Killamery. It was said the man accidental broke the pin with a blow from the spade.The broach dates to the ninth century and was made in Ireland but the design was influenced by Viking design (Whitfield & Oskasha 1991). The pin shows evidence of Viking-style stamped ornament on the pin. The broach has an inscription on the back which probably reads: CIAROD[UI]RMC[.R]. According to Whitfield & Oskasha (1991, 59) ‘text contains a male personal name, probably CIAROD[UI]R MAC [.R]. It can be interpreted as ‘[the possession] of Ciarodur son of [-]’ It is likely Ciarodur was the owner of the broach (ibid, 60).
Crawford, H. 1913. A Descriptive List of Early Cross-Slabs and Pillars (Continued). The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 3(3), sixth series, 261-265.
Farrelly, J. & O’Brien, C. 2002. Archaeological inventory of County Tipperary. Vol. I, North Tipperary. Dublin: The stationary office.
Grey, R. 2016.Settlement clusters at parish churches in Ireland, c. 1200-1600 AD. Thesis NUI Galway.https://aran.library.nuigalway.ie/handle/10379/6061
Harbison, P. 1994. Irish High Crosses.Drogheda: The Boyne Valley Honey Company.
Herity, M. 2003. Ordnance Survey Letters of Kilkenny. Vol.1 & 2. Dublin: Fourmasters Press.
Whitfield, N., & Okasha, E. (1991). The Killamery Brooch: Its Stamped Ornament and Inscription. The Journal of Irish Archaeology, 6, 55-60.
Lewis, 1837 Topographical Dictionary of Ireland Vol. 1, 123.
Stokes, M. & Westropp, T. J/ 1896/1901.’Notes on the High Crosses of Moone, Drumcliff, Termonfechin, and Killamery. (Plates XXVIII. to LI.)The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy , Vol. 31 (1896/1901), pp. 541-578.