‘Achadfada’ Baptistgrange, a medieval monastic grange in Co Tipperary

A few weeks back I paid a flying visit to the site  Baptistgrange  the site of a medieval  monastic grange or farm located a short distance from the village of Lisronagh, in Co Tipperary. Baptistgrange is often referred to as Achadfada or Achfada in historical sources.

The grange was owned by  the Augustinian monastery of St John the Baptist, Dublin (Power 1938, 6; Gwynn and Hadcock 1988, 216). Food and other raw materials were produced here in Tipperary for consumption in at the main monastery at St John’s in Dublin.

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Church and graveyard at Baptistgrange

As with most places in south Tipperary the grange enjoys a great view of  wonderful Slievenaman.

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View of Slievenaman from Baptistgrange

I didn’t get much time to walk around the site. The remains of a deserted village are located to the northwest of the grange church while a the site of a castle is located to the west .  The Civil Survey (1654-6) refers to this castle as ‘an old broken stump of a Castle with an old broken Bawne’ (Simington 1931, vol.1, 193).

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Aerial view of Baptistgrange taken from Bing Maps

Following the dissolution  the grange was leased out and in 1541 it leased to the countess of Ormond (Simington 1931, vol.1, 193). By the  16th century Baptistgrange was described as having a

‘fortilage or castle, with a hall, etc. 51 acres and 12 cottages, leased in 1541 to the countess of Ormond at £4’ (Gwynn and Hadcock 1988, 216).

The grange church still survives and it situated at the centre of a historic graveyard.

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Church and graveyard at Grangebaptist

The church is covered in dense vegetation so it was impossible to inspect closely.  Only part of the west gable is visible but as the west end of the  church is very close to a field boundary it was difficult to photograph.

According to Power the church  was divided between the nave and chancel with ‘a triple chancel arch’ which had collapsed by 1930’s.

At either side of the former altar, in north and south side walls respectively, is the usual lighting ope. An unusual detail at this place is a projecting slab evidently a credence or a statue plinth; this is set in the east gable…corbels project from the side walls near their western end; these, instead of putlocks, supported wooden gallery beams… (Power 1938, 60).

The presence of a triple chancel arch is very rare  in Ireland and it is such a pity that  the Baptistgrange  arch is no longer intact. Power (1938, 60) goes on to say

By triple arch here is not meant as an arch of three receding orders as in so many Hiberno-Romanesque example, but an arcade, or series of three arches, which run right across the church interior to form division into nave and chancel. Only two other examples of this arrangement are known to the writer, scil: in the Cathedral of Clonmacnoise and in the ruined church of Templeoan, Co Cork, respectively. Doubtless there are other Irish examples unrecorded.

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Image of triple arch at Baptistgrange taken from Power, P. 1938 ‘Some old churches of Decies’, JRSAI, Vol.68, 55-68 Fig.2

References

Gwynn, A., & Hadcock, R.N., 1970. Medieval religious houses of Ireland. Dublin. Irish Academic Press.

Power, P. 1938 ‘Some old churches of Decies’, JRSAI, Vol.68, 55-68.

Simington, R.C., 1931. The Civil survey, AD 1654-1656. Vol I: county of Tipperary: eastern and southern baronies. Dublin. Irish Manuscripts Commission.

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Killamery High Cross Co Kilkenny

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.

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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.

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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.

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The high cross dates to the ninth century it is elaborately decorated and sits on a stone plinth.

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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).

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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).

The eastern face of the  high cross depicts interlaced animals.

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.
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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)

 

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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.

 

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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
County Tipperary.
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.
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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.
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).
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Killamery Broach from  The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory http://rootsweb.ancestry.com/~irlkik/pics/index.htm

Reference

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.

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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Templecronan and the Relics of St Cronan Co Clare

Templecronan  is one of my favourite pilgrim sites.  The site is an early medieval monastic settlement dedicated to St Cronan.  It is located on farmland in Co Clare near the village of Carran. To get to the ruins you need to cross through some fields but a number of signposts guide the way.

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View of Temple Cronan Co Clare

Very little is known about the history of Templecronan or  the people who lived here and most of what we know about the site  is gleamed from the archaeological record.  The  site  is located  in a townland  called Termon/ An Tearmann  which means church or glebe lands.

Today the most prominent feature at the site is a small rectangular shaped multi-period church. The fabric of the walls  contain traces of cyclopean masonry, a common masonry style for churches in early medieval Ireland  and  a  blocked up linteled west doorway with inclined jambs. These features, suggest an early stone church was  at the site  and was remodelled in during the  Romanesque period (1020-1170 A.D).

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View of the  west gable of Templecronan church

Romanesque features within the church include a round-headed  window in the east gable and corbels decorated with Hiberno-Romanesque animal heads in the west gable. There are also a number of Romanesque heads incorporated into the fabric of the walls.

Further remodelling was carried out in the fifteenth century with the addition of a pointed  finely carved doorway in the north wall.

 

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Fifteenth century doorway in the north wall of Templecronan

Traces on an ecclesiastical enclosure can still be found in the surrounding landscape.

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Archaeological evidence for pilgrimage at Templecronan is represented by two outdoor reliquaries located  close to the church.  Outdoor reliquaries were  built to house the relics of a saint or holy person who was normally the founder saint. Some may have been built over the original grave of the saint.  At Templecronan the reliquaries/shrines are a type known as  gable shrine. They are triangular-shaped structure made up of two long flat flag stones and two smaller triangular-shaped stones arranged like a tent and orientated east-west. The short length of the shrines suggests they were used to house disarticulated skeletons/corporeal remain (Edwards 2002, 240).

Most  scholars agree that the gable shrines are among of the earliest types of outdoor reliquary and suggest a date of seventh or eighth century.  However  Carlton Jones (2006, 138-139) suggest that both the shrines at Templecronan  were  contemporary with Romanesque carving at oratory. Only targeted excavation would answer this question definitively although excavation of a gable shrine at Illaunloughlan Island, Co. Clare  dated the shrine to  second half of the eighth century .

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View of  gable shrine known as St Cronan’s Bed at Templecronan.

The shrine located southeast of the church is known as St Cronan’s Bed and local tradition holds this was  the burial -place of St Cronan.  The second shrine is found  northeast of the church in the adjacent field defined by modern field boundaries.

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Gable shrine to the northeast of the Templecronan church

The presence of the gable shrines strongly suggests that pilgrimage was taking place here as early as the eight century  and the construction of the shrines represents a period of great devotion to the saints associated with the site. The site appears to have fallen out of use in the late medieval period and devotion the the shrines gradually ceased.

Further evidence of pilgrimage is found at a holy well located a short distance from the church. The well is  also dedicated to St Cronan and known as  St Cronan’s holy well/Tobar Chronain.

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Pathway leading to St Cronan’s holy well

The holy well is  located at the base of a rock outcrop and defined by a dry-stone circular wall.

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Stone wall surrounding St Cronan’s holy well

The  holy well  is a simple spring. A large  penitential cairn of unknown date  is found beside the well within the enclosure. It is not possible to know if the well was part of early medieval pilgrimage at Templecronan but it was a place of pilgrimage in the nineteenth century.

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The Ordnance Survey Letters for Clare 1839 state that ‘stations are performed but no distinct patron day is remembered‘. A quick search of nineteenth century sources has failed to turn up any further information about the well.  Today the well and its surrounding are well cared and I noticed some coins left beside a small modern religious statue which suggests it may be still visited.

Templecronan is one of many wonderful site in Co Clare and is certainly worth spending some time exploring.

References

Edwards, N. 1999. The Archaeology of Early Medieval Ireland. London: Routledge.

Jones, C. 2004. The Burren and The Aran Islands. Exploring The Archaeology. Cork: The Collins Press.

Marshall, J. & Walsh, C. 2005. Illaunloughan Island: An Early Medieval Monastery

  in County Kerry. Bray: Wordwell.

http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coclare/folklore/folklore_survey/chapter14.htm

 

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Kilmolash Church Co Waterford

Kilmolash church  is  one of my favourite  places to visit. It is located close to the Cásan na Naomh (path of the saints) an off-shoot of the ancient road from Lismore to Ardmore called  St Declan’s Road. Its roughly  about  5 or 6 miles from the historic town of Lismore,  the site of the great monastery of St Cathage/Mochuada .  Kilmolash started out its life as an early ecclesiastical site dedicated to St Molaise who was  venerated locally on the 17th of January.  There is no evidence written or physical  to suggest that the site was at any time a place of pilgrimage, although this can not be ruled out completely. The annals record that the site was plundered by Norsemen in AD 833.  In AD 912 Cormac Mac Cuileannan, bishop and vice abbot of Lismore, King of Déisi is also recorded as the abbot of Cell-Mo-Laise (Kilmolash).  Suggesting Kilmolash was in the sphere of influence of Lismore.  By the later medieval period the church had become the parish church for the parish of  Kilmolash.

Today the site consists of the ruins of a  multi-period church surrounded by a  D-shaped graveyard. The graveyard is defined by a  wooden fence and an earth and stone bank. The   modern by-road follows the curve of the graveyard.

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Kilmolash church Co Waterford

The church  is  rectangular in shape and consists of a nave and chancel divided by a rounded chancel arch.  The nave and east wall are largely late medieval in date while the chancel walls appear to be much earlier,  possibly even 12th century in  date (O’Keeffe 2003, 171).

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This little church has many interesting architectural features and the west wall is particularly striking with its finely carved doorway with hooded moulding and  holy water stoup.

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West gable of Kilmolash church

The  fabric of the building is constructed from sandstone and is in a poor state of repair and in need of some form of conservation especially the north and south walls.

 

A  double belfry  survives in the west gable  positioned  over an ogee-headed gallery window.

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The nave and chancel are divided by a chancel arch. The  arch is made of dressed stones, one of which bears  the  inscription Feare God, Honer the Kinge, Anno Dom 1635. Beneath the chancel arch is a large ogham stone. The inscription is worn but only the letters   ‘NN’ can be identified (MacAlister 1945, vol. 1, 285-6). The stone also has two  inscribed crosses located close to the ogham text. For more information on ogham stones  visit Ogham in 3D project website.

The most unusual feature at the church is rare piece of Romanesque sculpture positioned  over a flat linteled door  in  the west end of the north wall.  The carving in question is a finely carved rosette stone (Power 1898, 91; O’Keeffe 1994, 129-32).  A similar type rosette stone is found at Coole Abbey.

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A flat lintel door in the north wall of the church. Note rosette stone over the lintel

Unfortunately the  rosette stone is not in-situ and was it was originally part of a larger composition. The carving is ‘rendered in low relief, the flower is carved onto a block of square stone and was highly stylized  within a frame of  beads‘  (O’Keeffe 2003, 171).  The stone likely dates to first part of the 12th century.
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Rosette stone at Kilmolash church

The graveyard surrounding the church contains many fine examples of eighteenth and nineteenth century gravestones and one late medieval gravestone with a figure carved on it found on the north side of the church. Today only the head can be discerned with some difficulty. The ITA files state that the head was believed to be the head of St Molaise (ITA files).

 

A fragment of a font is also  found in the graveyard and likely the same as the one identified by Buckley in 1898  and found in the graveyard wall  and  kept in the church (Power 1898, 92). In 1894 Redmond recorded that ‘… a holy well exists in a field adjoining the church, but that it was covered in many years ago, and now no trace of it can be found’ (Redmond 1894-95, 155).

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Fragment of medieval font in the graveyard at Kilmolash

Given its roadside location Kilmolash is easy to get too and a wonderful place to pass a some time and I highly recommend a visit.

References

Buckley, M. J. C. (1896) Notes on Kilmolash Church, Near Cappoquin, Co. Waterford, WAJ vol. 2, 212-20.

Buckley, M. J. C. (1896) Notes on Kilmolash Church, Near Cappoquin, Co. Waterford, WAJ vol. 2, 212-20.
Buckley, M. J. C. (1899) Ecclesiological gleanings and jottings in Waterford and elsewhere. (continued) WAJ vol. 5, 44-8.

Macalister, R. A. S. (1945)  Corpus inscriptionum insularum Celticarum, 2 vols. Stationery Office, Dublin.

O’Keeffe, T. (1994) Lismore and Cashel: reflections on the beginnings of Romanesque architecture in Munster. JRSAI vol. 124, 118-52.

O’Keeffe, T. 2003. Architecture and Ideology In the Twelfth Century.  Dublin: Four Courts Press.
Power, Rev. P. (1898) Ancient ruined churches of Co. Waterford, WAJ vol. 4, 83-95, 195-219.

ITA Files

http://www.crsbi.ac.uk/site/2317/

http://www.libraryireland.com/topog/K/Kilmolash-Decies-Without-Drum-Waterford.php

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The Birthplace of St Colmcille

Tradition holds St Colmcille was born at  Gartan in Co Donegal. The exact location of the saints birthplace is open to discussion. One tradition says the saint was born on a stone called the Leac na Cumha in the townland of Lacknacoo.

Leac na Cumha or the Stone of Sorrow is stone set into a large  oval-shaped mound with a U-shaped setting of stones that opens to the north.

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Leac na Cumha in Lacknacoo

The Leac na Cumha is located along th south-eastern edge of the mound. It is a flat slab of stone and its surface is covered in prehistoric rock art. The art  consists of cup-marks c. 0.1m in diameter.

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Leac na Cumha is covered in rock art

It is here on this stone that the saint is said to have been born.  The site was marked on the 1st ed. (1836) OS 6-inch map as St Colmcille’s stones. Close to the mound is an enormous stone cross erected by Cornelia Adair in 1911.

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Stone cross at Leac na Cumha in Lacknacoo

In the nineteenth century

it became commonplace for emigrants to spend their last night here on the Leac na Cumhadh – the Stone of Sorrows. As Colmcille had decided to exile himself to Scotland, they thought that sleeping here – where he was born – would make their sadness easier to bear (http://www.colmcille.org/gartan)

 

A short distance away are the ruins of an early medieval ecclesiastical site at Churchtown – Ráth Cnó . Tradition holds this was the  place where St Colmcille’s family lived.  It was said his family gave this land  to the church so that a monastic settlement could be built here. The site over looks  Lough Akibbon and Lough Gartan.

The site is still used as a turas by pilgrims who walk barefoot between the five marked stations. Believers follow the turas between Colmcille’s feast day on 9th June and the end of the turas season on 15th August, performing a series of prayers and actions at each stop (http://www.colmcille.org/gartan/3-03).

The most prominent features on the site is a small church marked as St Colmcille’s chapel on the 1st ed (1836) OS 6-inch map.

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Medieval church at Gartan

According to the Donegal Archaeological Inventory this is probably the chapel described in 1622 as being in repair and having a thatched roof.

To the north of the church is a graveyard, at the  centre of which  are the foundations of a building  said to be a monastic building.

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Possible foundations of a monastic building

Two stone crosses also survive at the site and are part of the pilgrim stations.

 

Below the site is a holy well dedicated to the saint.

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St Colmcille’s holy well at Gartan

 

Both of these sites are part of the Slí Cholmcille  and directions can be found on this website.

Useful Links

http://www.colmcille.org/gartan/3-03

http://www.colmcille.org/gartan/3-02

Pilgrimage at Kilgeever Church and Holy Well Co Mayo

Last year I was delighted to write a  guest blog post about of  the pilgrim site of Kilgeever in Co Mayo. This post was a guest blog for the very informative heritage blog The Standing Stone.ie. This is a great blog and worth checking out as it has lots of varied and interesting content. At the moment I am working  on some research concerning this area of Mayo and as the site is fresh in my mind  I have decided to repost my guest post.

Pilgrimage at Kilgeever Co Mayo.  Originally posted on the Standing Stone Blog

Kilgeever/Cill Ghaobhair is located in the most scenic of setting on the slopes of Kinknock around 3km outside of Louisburg in Co Mayo. The site is part of the Clew Bay Archaeological Trail.

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View of the medieval church at Kilgeever from the small laneway that leads to the site.

Local folklore holds that St Patrick came to Kilgeever having completed his fast of forty days and nights on the summit of Croagh Patrick. It is said that Patrick decided to build a church here and that he later sent St Iomhair one of his disciples completed the task. Some traditions would suggest that “Kilgeever” is the anglicised version of “Cill Iomhair” or the church of Iomhair. The Ordnance Survey Letters of 1838 translates the name as St. Geever’s Church.  Curiously neither variants of the saint’s name are found in Ó’Riain’s Dictionary of Irish Saints.

Alternatively the name may derive from Cill gaobhar, ‘the near Church’ (Corlett 2001, 130) or as the Schools’ Manuscripts Essays  for Louisburg(1937/38) state

Kilgeever- according to the interpretation of most people means “the windy church”.

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View of Kilgeever Church and graveyard.

Almost nothing is known about the history of the site but it appears to have functioned as a parish church in the late medieval period. Today the site consists of the ruins of a multi-period medieval church surrounded by a historic graveyard, a holy well and penitential stations. At least three early medieval cross slabs are associated with the site suggesting some sort of early medieval activity. If there was an early medieval monastic settlement here as the name ‘abbey’ would imply no physical remains survive above ground.

Traditionally pilgrims visited here on the 15th of July the Feast of the Apostles and on Sundays.  The Ordnance Survey Letters of 1838 refer to a pattern formerly held on the 15th of July. There was also a tradition of visiting the site on the last Sunday of July. For some pilgrims it is a key component of their pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick and having completed their pilgrimage on the summit of Croagh Patrick they descend the mountain and end their pilgrimage at Kilgeever.  The ITA Files 1944 also makes reference to pilgrims visiting here from the 15th of August to the 8th of September with the annual pilgrimage day being the 15th of August.

Fig.3

Holy well at Kilgeever

The main focus of devotion at Kilgeever is a small holy well located in the northwest corner of the historic graveyard that surrounds the medieval church.

The Ordnance Survey Letters of 1838 state

It is a good spring and much frequented by pilgrims especially for Sundays and on the 15th of July when a pattern is held, now at Louis Borough but which was formally held at the this well.

The traditional pilgrim stations begin at this holy well, located just inside the entrance to the historic graveyard. The well is known locally as “Tobar Rí an Dhomhnaigh” or “Our Lord’s Well of the Sabbath” and the 1st ed. (1839) Ordnance Survey Map record the name of the well as Toberreendoney (Anglicisation of the former).

The Pilgrim Rounds

The pilgrimage begins with the pilgrim walking clockwise around the well forming his/her intentions. The pilgrim then kneels at the well and recites 7 Our Fathers (Paters) & 7 Hail Mary’s (Aves) and the Creed.

Fig. 4

Holy well Kilgeever

The pilgrim stands and circles the well 7 times while reciting 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Marys and the Creed.  Once the perambulation is completed, the pilgrim kneels again at the well and recites 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Marys and the Creed. It was not uncommon for pilgrims to pick up 7 stones from the well as an aid to counting the rounds dropping one stone as each circuit of the well was completed.  The use of stones to count prayers is a common practice at Irish many Irish pilgrim sites especially those with complex prayer rituals.

The pilgrim then walks to the three flagstones located to the south of the well where he/she recites 5 Our Fathers, 5 Hail Marys and the creed while kneeling.

The pilgrim then proceeds to a small rock outcrop known as St Patrick’s rock where he/she kneels and rites 3 Our Fathers, 3 Hail Marys and the Creed. This stone is reputed to bear the tracks of St Patrick’s Knees (ITA Files). In modern times some pilgrims have inscribed crosses on this rocks and others around where the stations are performed.

Fig.5

St Patrick’s Rock

The pilgrim then walks to and enters the medieval church at the centre of the graveyard.

Fig.6

Kilgeever church is a multi-period church with a fifteenth doorway.

Within the interior of the church the pilgrim kneels and again recites 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Marys and the creed and pray for the souls of the dead.  In the 1940s it was common for pilgrims to leaving the church following along the west wall (ITA Files).

Fig.7

Pilgrim cross carved by modern pilgrims on 19th century graveslab within Kilgeever Church.

Some pilgrims continue a modern practice of scratching a cross into a late 19th century graveslab belonging to  the Mac Evilly family. When I visited the site in 2014, a number of  tiny stones were left on the edge of the slab. Other accounts suggest that in the mid-twentieth century pilgrims were in the habit of leaving votive offering in the aumbry within the church. This tradition was not noticed on my visit but a number of religious objects were left at the well.

Fig.8

Some votive offerings left at the Kilgeever Holy Well

Having left the church the pilgrim walks back to the well via a stream that runs the length of the western side of the graveyard.  If the pilgrim’s stations are being performed on behalf of a living person the pilgrim is to walk in the waters of the stream to the well. If the pilgrimage is being performed for the dead, the pilgrim walks along the edge of the stream.

Fig.10

Stream running along the western side of the site.

The pilgrimage is completed when the pilgrim circles the well a further 3 times prayer in honour of the Blessed Trinity. Before leaving the Holy Well pilgrims  are invited to pray for Henry Murphy of Castlebar who had the cross erected over the well (as indicated by an inscription on the cross).

A photo dating to the 1890s and part to the Wynne Collection at Mayo County Library shows pilgrims kneeling in prayer at the holy well in bare feet. This photo confirms what was a common practice at the time for people to complete such pilgrimages barefoot and even today at a small number of pilgrim sites pilgrims continue this practice.  The photo also shows that the well has changed little over the years with the exception of the  addition of the  cross which now surmounts it.

Fig.11

Early Medieval Cross Slab with an outline Greek cross found at Kilgeever. This is one of three cross slabs from the site.

Kilgeever is one of the most peaceful and tranquil places  to visit and it is just one of many interesting sites around Clew Bay area.

Fig.9

View of the east gable of Kilgeever church.

References

Corlett, C. 2001. Antiquities of west Mayo: The Archaeology of the Baronies of Burrishoole and Murrish. Bray: Wordwell.

Higgins & Gibbons 1993: J.G. Higgins & Michael Gibbons. ‘Early Christian monuments at Kilgeever, Co Mayo’. Cathair na Mart, 13, 32–44.

Irish Tourist Association Files for Mayo 1944.

The Schools Collection, Louisburgh (roll number 5128/9), Volume 0137, Page 005, 006,  026, 027 (http://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4428011/4368055)

http://www.louisburgh-killeenheritage.org/page_id__85.aspx

http://www.logainm.ie/en/37369

http://www.thestandingstone.ie