St Mac Duagh’s Hermitage Co Clare

 

St Mac Duagh’s Hermitage is located in the townland of Keelhilla(Kinallia’Kinahulla) in the Burren Co Clare.  According to tradition, the site was chosen by St Colmán Mac Duagh as a hermitage because of its isolation and solitude. The saint lived  here as a hermit for seven years before leaving and setting up his great monastic foundation at Kilmacduagh.

img_4644

‘What a dismal and gloomy spot!’  wrote Eugene Curry when speaking of St Mac Duagh’s Hermitage.  These remarks were recorded in the Ordnance Survey Letters of Co Clare in 1839. In my experenece this description could not be more further from the truth.   I consider  St Mac Duagh’s hermitage to be a very scenic, peaceful and beautiful place.

Curry visited  St Mac Duagh’s Hermitage on the 23rd October  1839 when carrying out his survey of the antiquities of  Co Clare.  He set off from Corofin and headed across the a karst limestone landscape of the Burren. The ground he travelled over was ‘uneven surface of limestone rock‘. The experience left Curry ‘fatigued‘ mentally and physically by the time he arrived at the ‘dismal valley‘.  The hermitage is located at the base of  Slieve Carrana cliff face in the townland of Keelhilla.  It is very clear from  his writing that his spirits were low by the time he arrived

What a dismal and gloomy spot! I walked thither on the 15th October from Corofin and I never felt so fatigued after having walked for miles across that country on the uneven surface of the limestone rocks. What an enthusiastic recluse St Colman, the son of Duach must have been to have retired from the busy scenes of life to contemplate eternity and uncertainty of human fate in the dismal valley then thickly wooded and haunted by wolves!

img_4750

View of the  Burren Co Clare from the path leading to St MacDuagh’ s Hermitage

The site has little changed from the time of the Ordnance Survey with the exception of the growth of  scrub and trees surrounding  the site.

 

 

 

 

 

The archaeological features at the hermitage are  surrounded by a low wall composed of large moss-covered boulders.

img_4668

View of enclousure surrounding church at St Mac Duagh’s Hermitage

The most imposing remains at the site are the remains of a small church or chapel, The Ordnance Survey Letters  described the structure as

The little oratory of Mich Duach in this wild valley  through much dilapidated is still easily recognised to be a church of his time. It was very small, and only one gable and one side wall remain.

Today the church is in poor condition only the east gable stands intact, the other  walls remain in a varying state of preservation. Ní Ghabhláin (1995, 73) dates the church to  late medieval period and there is no sign of later alterations.

 

 

 

 

 

Above the church  is a small cave found in the cliff face. The cave was  ‘called Mac Duach’s Bed or Leaba Mhic Duach‘ as the St Comán was ‘accustomed to sleep every night‘  (Ordnance Survey Letters).

 

 

 

 

I’m not sure  you could call St Colmán a true hermit as during his  retreat from the world he was accompanied by his servant. There is a lovely story about St Colmán’s servant.

One  day his servant  complained that he was hungry and St Mac Duagh replied that God would provide.  There was a banquet at the time King Guaire’s castle in Kinvarra and at that moment  the dishes of food suddenly rose and floated out  the window. The surprised king and his men followed the dishes and were led to St Mac Duagh and his servant. But when the king’s party arrived at the hermitage  their feet became rooted to the stone and they couldn’t move.  Luckily for the king and his men, St Mac Duagh was able to perform a miracle and free them, whereupon the king was so impressed with St Mac Duagh he asked him to found the monastery of Kilmacduagh on the lowlands near Gort. While this was taking place St Mac Duagh’s servant was eating King Guaire’s food with gusto but unfortunately had grown so accustomed to the meagre diet he received in the service of St Mac Duagh that the banquet food killed him. Theses traditions are preserved to this day in the name of the track that leads to the hermitage, Bóthar na méisel, or  ‘way of the dishes’, and the nearby  ‘Grave of the Saint’s Servant’ (Jones 2006, 93).

The road  Bóthar na Méisel is still pointed out in the landscape running towards the hermitage as is the site of the servant’s grave. The bóthar is not a made road rather a distinct weathering of the limestone and  the name may possibly remember an earlier pilgrim route from the west.

map of st mac duagh

1st edition Ordnance Survey map (1842) depicting the Boher na mias and the grave of St Mac Duagh’s Servant.

An early medieval bullaun stone  is one of the earliest features at the site.

 

IMG_4687

Bullaun stone at St Mac Duagh’s hermitage

 

There are no historical records to suggest pilgrimage occured at the site during the early or late medieval period.   However pilgrim is seldom recorded during the early/late medieval period so the silence of the records cannot be seen as definitive evidence of pilgrim not taking place. St Colmán was a significant saint with a very strong cult in the region. Close to the church are two leachta (leacht singular), low,  rectangular, drystone-faced cairn.  This type of monument occurs at other early medieval ecclesiastical sites known to have been places of pilgrimage such as Innishmurray Co Sligo.  Leacht seem to have had a variety of  funtions  some may have marked a special grave, such as that of the site’s founder saint, and others may have served as a focal point for outdoor services and others were penitianal stations. We known that the leachta  at St Mac Duagh’s  were used during the 19th century  as penitiential stations. Ní Ghabhláin (1995, 73) notes that one of the leachta was built over the rubble on the medieval church suggesting that its construction may be post medieval. It could also represent the  rebuilding of an earlier structure during this period.

 

 

 

 

Westopp in the early 1900’s  recorded a number of round stone on top of one of the leachta.

we find several of these stones and a flat slab with two parallel shallow flutings (each with one end rounded), lying on the altar.

 

11_2_charms

Image of stones formerly located on on the leacht at St Mac Duagh Hermitage (Westropp 2000, 36).

 

Unfortunately the whereabouts of the stones are at present unknown but  they may have functioned in the pilgrim rituals of post medieval pilgrims. Westropp noted

St. John’s altar at Killone ‘Abbey,’ and those at Kinallia and Ross, appear to be used only as a rude rosary to keep count of the prayers and ‘rounds’ offered at these shrines.

Another focus for pilgrims to the site, at least in the 19th century if not  long before,  was  the holy well dedicated to St Colmán Mac Duagh, known  as Tobermacduagh. The well is still an active place of pilgrimage and the water is believed to cure back ache and sore eyes.

The well is a natural spring encloused by a circular wall with a gap allowing access to the water. The  gap/entrance to the well interior is covered by a large flat stone which acts as a lintel.  The well is over shadowed by a tree covered in an eclectic mix of votive offerings.

 

 

 

 

The Ordnance Survey Letter’s for Clare (1839) state

Immediately to the east of Templemacduagh at Kinallia is Tobermacduagh, at which Stations are performed and a “Pattern” held on St. Mac Duagh’s Day, said to be last day of summer, but this must be an error, as St. Colman Mac Duagh’s Day is the 3rd of February.

and that

There are also here two altars or penitential Stations at which pilgrims perform their turrises or rounds on the “Pattern Day” or on any day they wish.

This short decription suggest pilgrims circled the leachta in prayer as part of the pilgrim rituals.

Westropp (2000, 36) writing in the early  1900’s  recorded that

on the last day of summer rounds are performed at the two altars of the oratory of St Colman Mac Duagh at Kinallia.

Both  reference to pilgrimage taking place on the last day of summer may impy that it was once a Lughnasa site.

Frost (1893) in The history and topography of the county of Clare, from the earliest times to the beginning of the 18th century  records pilgrimage taking place  on the 3rd  of February.

The place is still visited by pilgrims on the Saint’s day, February 3rd.

This date coincides with the begining of Spring and the festival of Beltane. It is possible that the times of the pilgrimage changed from the site the Summer to Spring or that Frost was taking on board what the Ordnance Survey Letters had said  and changing the date to correspond their thinking.

I’ve been told  a communtiy  pilgrimage still takes place here   on the feast day of the saint 29th of October. I’m hoping to investigate this further.

The holy well is visted throughout the year. The tradition of tieing rags and other items  to the tree beside the well is pretty recent. The practice also has a destructive effect on the holy well as  people climb on the wall enclosing the well and loosen stones damaging the walls. Tony Kirby has written a very interesting report on the practive of votive offerings at the site  and you can read this report by following the links embedded here and in reference section.  The report notes other damage at the site such as graffiti carved on the church walls and on the rag tree caused by a minority of pilgrims and tourists.

As pilgrims and visitors to holy places like St Mac Duagh Hermitage we need to consider how our visits can impact the site and others like it. We should all avoid damaging walls by climbing on them, resist the urge to carve out names on stones and trees and if attaching offerings to  trees use biodegradable materials  and avoid plastic, wire etc items which could in the long-term damage the tree.

 

 

 

 

Reference

Frost, J. 1893.  The history and topography of the county of Clare, from the earliest times tot he beginning of the 18th century. Dublin, Printed for the author by Sealy, Bryers & Walker.

Jones, C. 2006. The Burren and The Aran Islands. Exploring the Archaeology. Cork. The Collins Press.

Kirby, T. 2016 VOTIVE OFFERINGS DEPOSITION AT ST COLMAN MAC DUAGH’S HERMITAGE, EAGLE’S ROCK, KEELHILLA.Prepared for the Burren/Cliffs GeoparkLIFE project March 2016

Ní Ghabhláin, S. 1995. Church and Community in Medieval Ireland: The Diocese of Kilfenora. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 125, 61-84.
O’Donovan, J. &  Curry, E. 1939. The Ordnance Survey Letters of Co Clare.

Westropp, T. 188-1901. The Churches of County Clare, and the Origin of the Ecclesiastical Divisions in That County. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (1889-1901), 6, 100-180. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20488773

Westropp, T. reprint 2000. Folklore of Clare: a folklore survey of County Clare and County Clare folk-tales and myth. Clasp Press.

https://www.clarecoco.ie/recreation-culture/publications/rian-na-manach-a-guided-tour-of-ecclesiastical-treasures-in-co-clare-8938.pdf

 

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Pilgrimage at Clonmore Co Carlow

Clonmore, Co Carlow is located 3½ miles south of Hacketstown and 9 miles east of Tullow in the north-east corner of the county, close to the Wicklow border. The modern village developed around the site of an early medieval ecclesiastical settlement.

20130205_125721

View of St Johns Church of Ireland Church Clonmore and road that runs through the monastic site.

Clonmore was founded some time in the sixth century, by St Maodhóg also known as ‘Mogue’. The saint was a member of the Ua Dúnlaing tribe who were the  ancestors of the Uí Dhúnlainge Kings of Leinster. He is not the same as St Maodhóg of Ferns and the two are often confused because they had the same name.  Maodhóg of Clonmore was mentioned with other Leinster saints in poem attributed to St Moling as the ‘golden vessel’ (Ó’Riain, 2011 431). His feast day seems to 11th of April (ibid , 432).

Little is know about the early history of Clonmore. The deaths of abbots of Clonmore are recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters in the years  771, 877, 886, 919, 920 and 972 . The annals also record that the monastery was burned in 774, attacked by the  Vikings in 834 and 835 and in 1040 by Diarmait mac Mael-na-mBó.

The site appears to have been a place of pilgrimage during the early medieval period. An early medieval poem written by Brocán  Cráibhtheach tells that Clonmore housed a vast collection of relics of the saints of Ireland. The collection included the little finger of St Maodhóg cut from  the saint while alive at the request of Onchú a saintly relic collector who amassed a vast collection of relics of Irish saints. St Maodhóg agreed to part with his finger  on the condition Onchú’s collection of relics remained at Clonmore. Onchú was also said to have been buried here at Clonmore. His feast day was recorded as the 8th of February. Interestingly local tradition identifies the area where Onchú was supposed to be buried in Clonmore graveyard. Clonmore was also associated with St Fíonán Lobhar.

The site of Maodhóg’s monastery  is  believed to be located  on the west side of the village beside a small stream. A  modern road runs through the centre.  A historic graveyard containing a large collection of early medieval crosses is found on the south site of the road. St John’s Church of Ireland  church and  churchyard is located on the north side of the road. There are no surviving  traces of the monastic enclousre or  buildings.

St John’s church was built  c. 1812 it  is surrounded by a triangular shaped graveyard. To the west of the church is a large solid ringed granite high cross known as ‘St. Mogue’s Cross’.

 

Killanin & Dugnan (1967, 304) mention an ‘ancient stone tough’ in the vicinity of the cross but I on  my visit I could not find it and  I hope it has not been stolen.

The historic graveyard on the south side of the road  is a rectangular area enclosed by a wall and it  contains a large number of early medieval cross slabs.  Some of the crossslabs are set in lines among rows of 18th and 19th century gravestones.  According to Harbison (1991, 179),  in 1975 all the loose stones crosses and cross slabs were gathered up by a local work party under the supervision of the then County Engineer, Michael O’Malley, and set upright in neat rows within a small paved area enclosed by kerbing at the north-western corner of the graveyard.

376

Paved area containing early medieval cross slabs at the north-western corner of Clonmore graveyard.

The head of second high cross is found in this paved area and the shaft and base are located a few meters to the northeast. According to Ryan in the History and Antiquities of the County of Carlow local people in the 19th century believed the cross had been destroyed by Cromwell.

 

 

Harbison (1991) has identified  24 early medieval  cross slabs in the graveyard. The crosses  include Greek crosses with expanded terminals incised or sunk into the surface, Latin crosses incised and carved in relief (by far in the majority) and  4 ringed crosses.

 

 

An ogham stone is also found in the graveyard Harbison believes it to be located in its original position  and noted that

Eddie McDonald has pointed out to me that local tradition places the tomb of St Onchuo between it and the South Cross less than 2m away from it (Harbison 1991, 177).

CW009-028021- E face

Clonmore Ogham Stone/CW009-028021 image taken from http://webgis.archaeology.ie/historicenvironment/  (White 2016).

The stone has been analysised by the wonderful Oghan in 3D project who state that

Faint traces of Ogham lettering on the SE angle … much worn and clogged with lichen’. ‘[The first two strokes of] R are lost by the fracture, and the I is broken and hard to recognise’ (Macalister 1945, 18). With the naked eye alone it is difficult to be certain that any inscription survives today. On the 3D model it is possible to make out faint traces of ogham. The 3D data was analysed by Dr Thierry Daubos of the Protecting the Inscribed Stones of Ireland project in Galway in an attempt to clarify the text (3D Analysis). Unfortunately, the scores and notches are too worn for any certainty except to confirm the presence of an ogham inscription. Macalister’s E is possible but the N may be an S and his final I looks more like a consonant, possibly C, with scores to the left of the stemline. Nevertheless, Macalister’s reading is given below as certainty is no longer achievable and it is possible that the inscription was less worn when he read it.

During the 18th and early 19th century St Mogue’s (Maodhóg) holy well  was the focus of pilgrimage. The well is located a few meters from the high cross beside St Johns Church ,on the north side of the road the bisects the monastic site, Today the holy well  sits within a landscaped community prayer garden. In times past the well was the site of a pattern on the 31st of January/1st February, the same day as the feast of the saints name sake St Maodhóg of Ferns, during the 18th century.  The Ordnance Survey Name books  for Carlow written in 1839, describe the well as

a small well with a stream running therefrom. A patron used to be  held here on Saint Mogue’s day, the 1st  of February but has been discontinued  30 years past.

 

The Antiquities and History of Cluain-Mor-Maedhoc published in 1862

it was until recently resorted to by peasantry for miles around for the cure of many diseases, it is now nearly unknown and neglected, and suffered to choke up with grass and weeds.

The Schools Collections  in 1939 stated that

The well is resorted to at the present time for the cure of sore eyes, warts or any skin growths -even for cancer (Clonmore School The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0909, Page 165).

For cures to be affective, water was taken from the well and applied to the hurt

This has to be done on three successive Fridays according to some; others say that it may be done on any day (Clonmore School The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0909, Page 165).

The earlier descriptions of the well make no mention of a well house and a photo in the Schools Collections from the 1939  shows the well as being open and enclosed by a low stone wall with the bullaun stone known as the wart stone sitting on the side of the wall surrounding the well.

PageProxy.aspx

St Mogue’s well  taken The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0909, Page 166

Today the  well is covered by a well house and the small bullaun stone/wart stone is found within the  house ( built post 1930).  To cure warts it was said the pilgrim needed to take  from the well and pour it into the hallow of the stone and then apply to  the afflicted area (O’Toole 1933, 114; Clonmore School The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0909, Page 111).

Directly opposite the well and prayer garden in the field on the south side of the road is a large four basin bullaun stone. The stone was once located at the centre of the field but was moved  to the easten edge during land improvements and now  sits at side of stream known as Church Brook.

 

 

The stone is a large granite boulder  about 2m in lenght with three deep depression about 30cm in diameter , the fourth is  a shallow depression.

According to folklore the stone was originally located at the monastic site but following raids by the Danes( Vikings) it jumped three times.  In the first jump it landed at the site of the St Mogue’s holy well and causes the well spring up,  the stone then jumped to the castles and from here to its former location in the field.

At that time all the land around there was poor and wet but when it lighted there it said:-
“Here I will stay till the destruction of the world and I vow that his farm will turn into fertile land, the most fertile in the parish of Clonmore and no one will interfere with me, and no grass will grow over me and I will be here till the end of time”. (Clonmore School The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0909, Page 111)

Apart from the early medieval remains Clonmore also has a large Anglo-Norman Motte and a stunning 13th century castle.

363

Clonmore castle located a short distance from  the site of  Clonmore  monastery

References

Brindley, A.L. and Kilfeather, A. 1993 Archaeological Inventory of County Carlow. Dublin. Stationery Office.

McCall, J. 1862. The Antiquities and History of Cluain-Mor-Maedhoc. Dublin : O’Toole

DEPARTMENT OF FOLKLORE, U.C.D Schoolbook vol 0909, Clonmore (1939)

Harbison, P. 1991. ‘Early Christian Antiquities at Clonmore, Co. Carlow’ Proceeding of the Royal Irish Academy Vol.91 C, 177-200.

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

Macalister, R.A.S. 1945 Corpus inscriptionum insularum celticarum. Dublin. Stationery Office.

O’Toole, E. 1933. ‘The Holy Wells of County ‘, Béaloideas, Iml. 4, Uimh 2 pp. 107-133.

Ordnance Survey Letters for Co Carlow. http://www.askaboutireland.ie/reading-room/digital-book-collection/digital-books-by-subject/ordnance-survey-of-irelan/

Ryan, J. 1833. The history and antiquities of the county of Carlow. Dublin: Richard Moore Tims.

White, N. 2016.  ‘CW009-028021 , Ogham Stone Clonmore’ http://webgis.archaeology.ie/historicenvironment/( accessed 24/01/2018).

 

 

 

A Day Trip to the Parish of Kilmovee Co Mayo

Last summer I spent a day exploring some of the archaeology sites in the parish of Kilmovee Co Mayo. Kilmovee is located a short distance from the town of Ballaghadreen in  Co Roscommon.  Local man, Tommy Horan  was kind enough to act as my guide for the day.

The parish gets its name from St Mobhí. Kilmovee or Cill Mobhí in Irish, means the church of St Mobhí. It is said he  came to the area as a missionary, continuing on the work of St Patrick.

IMG_8447

Bullaun stone known as Na Trí Umar Bheannaith in townland of Rushes

The day began in the townland of Rusheens West with a visit to one of the largest bullaun stones I have ever seen. The stone is known as Na Trí Umar Bheannaithe/The Three Holy Water Fonts.  The  bullaun stone is a large boulder with three large depressions.  It sits on a plinth against a wall at the side of a small byroad. Folklore tells that the stone was transported from Killericín and placed in its current position.

255

Bullaun stone known as Na Trí Umar Bheannaith in townland of Rusheens West

From the bullaun stone we travelled on to the site of a holy well called Tober na Bachaille/The Well of the Crozier. The holy well is located in marshy field. As the site is  on  a working farm so permission should be sought before gaining access.

205

Field where Tober na Bachaille/ The Well of the Crozier is located.

Folklore tells that when St Mobhí came to the area as a missionary he needed somewhere to baptise new converts.  Not having a suitable water source the saint struck the ground three times with his crozier and three wells sprung up on the spot.

It is thought there was originally three wells  here but today only one well is visible.  The well is very overgrown  and a small blackthorn tree  grows beside it. The well is a spring  enclosed by a low stone wall.  The location of single well is marked on the 1st ed. (1839) OS 6-inch maps which could suggest that the three springs are within the well enclosure. Unfortunately the Ordnance Survey Letters  relating to Mayo fail to mention the well.  The Folklore Commission National Schools Essays provides an origin tale for what it calls the three Blessed Wells in the parish.

St Movee’s sister was a nun and she lived in Sligo. One day she came to Kilmovee to see her brother and the church. She was passing down through Barralackey and there was a boy minding cows. He told her he would help her and he told her that the Ardeull people thought she was a witch and that they were to follow her. He said he would go with her to the church only he had a long way to bring water to his cows. She was very thankful to him and said he would never again be short of water and she — [can’t read the word] on a rock and water filled in it and is there still. In three long steps she reached the church and every step she gave a well sprang up three well in succession and these are called the ‘Blessed Wells’ (NFSC  Cloonierin 114:52).

 

Tober na Bachaille is no longer visited by pilgrims and as a result it has become overgrown.  Local knowledge may shed more light on the well(s) and traditions relating to pilgrimage.

View Tobar na Bachaille.

View of Tobar na Bachaille

To the north of the well is a large stone built penitential cairn or leacht. Sitting on top of the cairn is a stout Ogham Stone.

View of penitental cairn with ogham stone beside Tobar na Bachaile

View of penitential cairn with ogham stone beside Tobar na Bachaile

Macalister noted that the ogham stone, once acted as a ‘kneeling stone’ and sat on the low wall surrounding the holy well. The stone had moved to its current position by the 1940’s (Macalister 1945, 7-9).  An ogham inscription is found along one of the edges of the stone. Macalister identified this inscription as AlATTOS MAQI BR…. He also suggests that the top of the stone was deliberately cut away by a mason during the building of the wall around the well (ibid).

Ogham stone beside Tobar na Bachaile

Ogham stone beside Tobar na Bachaile

From the holy well we  traveled on to  the ruins of a medieval parish church called An Teampall Nua also known as St Patrick’s church.  Local folklore recalls that  when the church was first built it was called the ‘New Temple’.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

All that remains of the church are the chancel and parts of the nave walls. The walls of the church have been rebuilt and incorporated architectural fragments of windows and doors.  A chancel arch still survives in relatively good condition and appears to have been remodelled in the past. The original arch was rounded and built of cut sandstone, it was later altered and filled with masonry and replaced with a smaller  to a pointed arch defined by vousoirs. The exterior of the church is surrounded by rubble masonry that likely came from the church. In 1838 the Ordnance Survey Letters for Mayo described the church as on

on the East gable of which there is a window about 6 feet and 6 inches broad. Part of side walls remain, West gable is perfect (Herity 2009, 288).

DSCF2062

The church is surrounded by a historic graveyard and mass is said here once a year.

Our day concluded with a visit to a large ringfort called  An Caiseal located in the townland of Kilcashel/Coill an Chaisil, which means ‘the wood of the stone fort’.

The ringfort is very well-preserved and is on private land so permission must be obtained before entering.  The fort   measures 30m in diameter and is constructed of a single circular wall which is 5m thick and 3m high.

View of exterior of Caiseal ringfort

View of exterior of Caiseal ringfort

The fort is entered through a formal linteled entrance.

Linteled entrance

Linteled entrance

The interior contains the ruins of two house sites and a souterrain.

379

The top of the walls are accessed from the interior via four sets of V shaped stone steps.

Stone steps in interior walls of ringfort

Another interesting feature of the fort is  a creep-way that links two internal wall-chamber within the walls.

The wall  chambers appear to be aligned to the morning sun.

For three mornings, light goes into the back of the chambers which are two meters deep and joined at the back by a six meter passage way. Each morning the new sun has moved on half a meter on the back of the wall. There is about 20meters of the back wall (of the Caiseal) that is traversed by the sun. This means that the sun shines only for about  40 days  on the back wall twice a year. This is between Winter solstice and both equinoxes…  The first  chamber was lit on the 5th of October, the Second was lit on or about the 21st of October, but due to the curvature of the wall it is still in the chamber on the 24th …

Two months later the sun will again be shining in the this chamber on the 20/21 February as the days lengthen (Mac Gabhann no date 10-11).

20160330_104123

Image of the chamber being illuminated by light (Mac Gabhann no date 10-11)

For a more detailed discussion of the archaeology of this site see the Kilcashel project website. My day in Kilmovee was a brilliant experience and  it reminded me of the  wealth of local archaeological and historical sites that are to be found within and around all Irish villages. So really you don’t need to travel very far to find wonderful historic and archaeological sites to visit.

As many of the sites we visited were on private land, permission was always obtained before going to the sites.  If anyone is interested in visiting the area please contact the Kilmovee Community & Heritage Centre, the people who work here are so helpful and will be able to help you find out if  access is possible. Contact details and opening hours can be found on the Kilmovee website  and Facebook page (see links below). The community centre also houses a wonderful Heritage Centre called ‘Cois Tine’ (beside the fire). The  centre is design is based  on a traditional Irish cottage  and holds lots of information, photographs about the parish history, archaeological sites and folklore connected to the area. I recommend a visit to the Heritage Centre  before any exploring as it is a great way to begin a trip around the parish.

If you are in the area I would also highly recommend a visit to Urlaur Abbey located just a few miles from Kilmovee. Located on the edge of Urlaur lake the Friary built circa 1432 is one of Ireland’s best kept secrets.  Its setting alone is worth a visit.

References and useful links

Herity, M. 2009 (ed) Ordnance Survey Letters of Mayo. Dublin: Fourmasters Press.

Macalister, R. A. S. 1945. Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum,Vol I. Dublin: Stationery Office.

Mac Gabhann, S. no date. Cill Mobhí. A handbook on local history and Folklore.

NFSC  Cloonierin 114:52 after http://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4427915/4357560

http://www.kilcashel.com/archaeology.html

http://www.mayo-ireland.ie/en/about-mayo/archaeology/archaeology-overview.html

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

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.

Burren 207

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.

Burren 224

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.

IMG_6179

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.

IMG_6177

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.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Photo Essay of Pilgrimage to Caher Island Co Mayo

Today is the 15th of August, the Feast of the Assumption. It is one of the busiest days in the Irish pilgrim calendar. One of the most spectacular pilgrimages to take place on this day occurs on Caher Island/Oileán na Cathrach off the coast of Mayo.

In 2014 I joined  with pilgrims in the annual pilgrimage to the island. This pilgrimage is a bit of a  journey if you don’t live in Mayo but worth any effort. Access to the island is also very much dependant on weather conditions so there is a risk of arriving and finding the boats are not going. I travelled from Cork to the town of  Louisburg in Co Mayo before continuing onto Ronnagh Pier. I then got on a boat organised by O’Malley Ferries  and  with other pilgrims sailed out to Caher Island. Boats also go from Inishturk island.

20140815_095442

Ronnagh Pier Co Mayo

Caher Island a small uninhabited Island around 128 acres in size. It lies halfway between Inishturk Island and Ronnagh Pier off the coast of Mayo. The island contains the ruins of a small early monastic site and has a very fine collected of early medieval cross slabs. I plan to write a more detailed post about the archaeology and history of pilgrimage on the island in the coming months.

IMG_3328

Heading for Caher Island

The waters around the island are treacherous so only an experienced boatmen familiar with the area can land safely.  The island has no pier so you have to climb up the rocks along the shore to get  to land.

DSCF2645

Pilgrims at Caher Island

The island was also known as Oileáin na Cathrach, Cathair na Naomh and Cathair Pádraig.  St Patrick is said to have spent time here following his 40 day and nights on Croagh Patrick.  Folklore also  says the island is the  end of a mythical road called the  Bóthair na Naomh/Saint’s Road, that ran across the sea  up to the summit of Croagh Patrick.

Kilmyshall (1 of 124)-3

Arriving by boat at Caher Island

Today devotions on the island are focused around the small rectangular stone church.

Kilmyshall (1 of 124)

Church at Caher Island

Within the church is a small altar with  a cursing stone known as the Leac na Naomh. The stone is a large conglomerate stone.  In times past people would swear on the stone to prove they had told the truth or in more sinister cases to make curses or cause storms.

 

In times past a complex series of pilgrim stations existed on the island . The pilgrim landscape  incorporated the church a large number   leactha  in the surrounding  landscape and a holy well on the north side of the island. Leachta  the plural for leacht  is a type of dry-stone altar that predominantly dates to the early medieval period.  The majority of the leachta at Caher Island are surmounted by decorated early medieval cross slabs.

Today pilgrimage rituals are focused around a mass held outside the church. A large leacht in front of the east gable is used as an altar.

IMG_3220

Priest saying mass at Caher Island

Some pilgrims will also include a visit to Tobar Mhuire/ Mary’s well, a holy well  located on the north side of the island. They will normally visit the well before the mass takes place.

IMG_3139

Tobar Mhuire Caher Island

For many people  this pattern day or pilgrimage is an integral part of the annual pilgrimage to climb Croagh Patrick on the last Sunday in July with some feeling their pilgrimage is only complete once they have climbed the mountain and visited  Caher Island some weeks later.

DSCF2635

Pilgrims on Caher Island 2014

Following devotion pilgrims leave the island and travelled by boat to the nearby island of Inishturk for food and refreshments  at the community centre before heading back to the mainland. There is a great atmosphere on Inishturk with plenty of good food  and music and a visit here was a fantastic way to end such a great day.

Pilgrimage to Caher Island is one of the best pilgrimage experiences  I have had. The island is a fascinating place and I cant wait to get back there again  for a visit and to write more about the islands rich pilgrimage history.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Useful Links

http://www.inishturkisland.com/?pagid=caher-island

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/archaeological-find-shines-light-on-ancient-religious-rituals-1.1636852

Save

Save

Save

Save

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.

IMG_4470

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).

IMG_4475

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.

 

IMG_4477

Fifteenth century doorway in the north wall of Templecronan

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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 .

IMG_4499

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.

IMG_4516

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.

IMG_4522

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.

IMG_4525

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save