Walking The Saints’ Road in Co Kerry

Mount Brandon in Dingle Co Kerry is one of my favourite pilgrim sites. Traditionally pilgrims climbed in pilgrimage to the summit of the mountain on the 16th of May the feast of St Brendan.

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View of Mount Brandon from Reenchonail

I have just mapped the route of the Saints’ Road an old pilgrim path running from Ventry to the Summit of Mount Brandon using StoryMapJS.  So if for  virtual walk along the Saints’ Road follow the links below.

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Balla Co Mayo

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

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

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Balla Round Tower

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

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

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

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Tobar Mhuire Holy Well at Balla

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

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Bath House at Balla Holy Well

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

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

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

According to the Ordnance Survey Letters of Mayo of 1838

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

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

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

The The Schools Manuscripts Essays state to obtain a cure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

St Laserian at Lorum Co Carlow

I was hoping to have this post ready for the feast day of St Laserian  on the 18th of April   but better late then never.  St Laserian has strong associations with Co Carlow and I have discussed  the modern pilgrimage to St Laserian  at Old Leighlin Co Carlow in previous posts. The saint is also  associated with a place called Lorum  in Co Carlow.

According to folklore  when St Laserian returned to Ireland from Rome he set out in search of a location to build a monastery.  When he came  Lorum  (a few miles south-east of Muinebheag (Bagenalstown)) he stopped on top of a large hill . The saint was so impressed by the area that he decided to build a monastery here. God however had other plans for him, and while he knelt in prayer an angel  proclaimed ‘ Go where you shall see the first shinning, and there shall your religious house be established’ ( O’Toole 1933, 17).  Taking heed of the angel the saint  set off again on his search which ended when he arrived  Old Leighlin  which became the site of his  monastery.

Lorum (Leamdhroim in Irish) appears to have been the site of a religious foundation. Gwynn and Hadcock (1970, 397) recorded that Lorum was an early medieval monastery dedicated to  St. Laserian . Brindley notes in 1204 the Bishop of Leighlin was confirmed of his possession of lands including ‘Lenidruim’ (Lorum) (Cal. papal letters, 18). The church  at Lorum was valued at 3 marks in the 1302-06 ecclesiastical taxation of Ireland (Cal. doc. Ire., 250) and by the late 16th century it was in ruins.  The Ordnance Survey Letters for Carlow recorded Steward, writing in 1795, noted that the 18th of April, the feast of Laserian was celebrated at Lorum and  until  the  1830s a  pattern day was held here.

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Loram Church of Ireland Church

All trace of this monastery and medieval church have long disappeared.  Today Lorum  consists a stunning Church of Ireland Church  built circa 1830 with a historic graveyard  on its western side . The  curve in the road on the east side of this church may tentatively reflex the line of an earlier medieval enclosure.

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View of Lorum Hill showing the curve in the road on the east side of the church (taken http://map.geohive.ie/mapviewer.html)

Within the historic graveyard are the ruins of  a post medieval church. The structure is  in poor condition  and with the exception  of the west gable only the foot prints of the other walls survive.  The upstanding gable appears to incorporated  stones from an earlier church.

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Ruins of  post medieval church at Lorum.

The remains of an 18th century porch with red brick  in the fabric is  attached to the  exterior of west gable of the church.

 

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Porch attached to west gable of Lorum Church

In 1837 Lorum church was described as ‘an old building, containing two modern tombs of the Rudkin family, has been recently repaired’ (Lewis 1837, 312).  The Ordnance Survey Letters  for Carlow (1837-40) recorded that at ‘

Lorum, there was, it is said, an old Church before the present Parish one, which is now falling to ruin, was erected. The spot where it stood is shown in a field, a few perches to the northeast corner of the Parish Church  and a few yards to southwest corner of a Church (C of I church) which is now in progress of being built (O’Flanagan 1934, 311).

The ITA Survey of 1945 identifys the ruined church as the remains of an 18th century Church of Ireland Church and the medieval church as being located as a low-rise of ground inside the graveyard. Both churches were replaced by a  seven-bay Gothic Revival Church with buttresses and parapet built c. 1838 and designed  by Frederick Darley.

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Church of Ireland Church at Lorum built 1838

Close to the church are the ruins of a small post medieval house which shows signs of rebuilding and alterations.

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Post medieval building at Lorum

A plain granite base of a high cross provides the only physical evidence of early medieval  activity at the site.

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Base of high cross at Lorum

The remains of a second  early medieval cross are found 200m to the west of Lorum graveyard. The  cross is located on the north side of  east-west running bohereen.

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Bohereen leading to Lorum cross and cairn

The monument consists of  a medieval cross shaft set in a cross base  sitting on top of a cairn of stones and earth.

 

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Lorum is associated with two holy wells. According to ITA Survey (1945),  a well dedicated to St Laserian was located to the north  the old graveyard. The well was not recorded on the 1st ed OS 6-inch map for the area but the files state it was covered by well house  and located northnorthwest of the  church.  The farmer who owns the land the well was located on told me there was no longer a well here and he had not heard of a holy well in this location before.

A holy well dedicated to St Molaise ( the Irish for Laserian) is located to the east of the old church.  The 1st ed OS 6-inch  marked the well as St Molappoge’s well. The well which is now dry is  stone-lined  and rectangular in shape. It is  covered by  a  large lintel stone. The well is in reasonable condition but is no longer visited by pilgrims.

 

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St Molappoge’s  holy well

 

St Laserian is no longer  venerated in the area and all focus of the saint has moved to Old Leighlin.  This is a lovely place to visit and you can see why St Laserian wanted to settle here.

References

Brindley, A. 1993. Archaeological Inventory of County Carlow. Dublin: Stationery Office.

Gwynn, A. & Hadcock, R. N. 1970. Medieval Religious Houses in Ireland. Dublin: Irish Academic Press

ITA Survey of Carlow 1945

Lewis, S. A. 1995. A topographical dictionary of Ireland:London : S. Lewis & Co

http://www.buildingsofireland.ie/niah/search.jsp?type=record&county=CW&regno=10301911

O’Flanagan, Rev. M. (Compiler) 1934 Letters containing information relative to the antiquities of the County of Carlow collected during the progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1839. Bray.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A stroll along the shores of Lough Derg, Co Donegal

This is Pilgrim Paths week which reminded me of a recent visit to the shores of Lough Derg, Co Donegal.  Lough Derg lake is home to St Patrick’s Purgatory (located on Station Island) one of Ireland’s oldest and most popular pilgrim sites. Each year large numbers of pilgrims travel to the Island during pilgrim season that runs from May to September  to partake in an arduous penitential pilgrimage which can last up to three days.

A modern walk skirts along the shores of the lake and is open all year round.  This walk is a part of the Pilgrim Paths network of walking routes.  The network of routes known as pilgrim paths are a group of modern Irish walking routes that in many cases incorporate sections of or follow closely the route of older pilgrim routes some of which may be of medieval date. In 2014 National Pilgrim’s Paths Day was held to promote these routes by hosting a series of organised walks. The event proved very successful and  was repeated in 2015. As interest in the pilgrim paths has steadily grown in popularity the organisers will this year  host a series of walks that will extend from the 22nd March to  29th March.

The Lough Derg pilgrim path runs for 12km (7 miles) along the edge of the lake.

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Guidebook for the Lough Derg Pilgrim Path

A  few weeks back on a flying visit to Lough Derg, I walked a short section of this path. The pilgrim path beings in the car park of the visitor centre.  Its worth taking the time to stand and look out at Station Island.

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View of St Patrick’s Purgatory on Station Island in Lough Derg from visitor car park.

From the car park the path runs along a modern forestry tracks that hugs the lake edge  until it reaches  a point opposite Saints Island. In in medieval times this island was the site of an Augustinian monastery and acted as a gateway for pilgrims  who wanted to make pilgrimage to St Patrick’s Purgatory.

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View of Lough Derg Pilgrim Path.

I am working on a post about the medieval pilgrimage at Lough Derg, so I wont go into too much detail.   St Patrick’s Purgatory, the focus of the  medieval pilgrimage was a deep  artificial cave or pit into which pilgrims entered for a set period of time in the belief they would experience the torments of purgatory.  The cave has since been destroyed but the tradition of  making pilgrimage here survived and evolved to its current form.

The walk is not a very challenging one but every now and then you are rewarded with views of the lake and its islands.  There are also a number of interesting spots along the way. After walking for about 1.15km,  I came to a sign for  St Brigid’s chair. At this point I  left the main the track and follow a path down to the lakes edge.  The fencing along the path and the lakes edge is in poor state of repair so care is needed.  The chair is a large  rock at the water’s edge.

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I then return to the track  and after walking a few hundred meters or so I came to  another sign for St Daveoc’s/Dabheog’s Chair.

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Signpost for St Daveoc’s/Dabheog’s chair

I followed the track  leading into the forest until I came to a fence at the edge of the forestry, the chair is located on a height above this point. As I didn’t have enough time to explore properly I had to returned to the path without locating the chair. According to Harbison & Lynam St Daveoc’s/Dabheog’s chair  is   ‘partially natural, but it seems to have had one or two large blocks added to it, hinting that it may once have been a Bronze Age burial place’.   I am very grateful to Keith Corcoran who writes the Journey in Wonder blog for permission to use his image of St Daveoc’s/Dabheog’s chair.  As you can see from his photo its worth making the effort to find this site.

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View of Lough Derg from St Daveoc’s/Dabheog’s chair taken by Keith Corcoran.

St Daveoc’s chair is located close to the point where an older pilgrimage route marked as ‘ancient road’ on the first edition OS 6-inch maps  and traced back to Templecairn,  merges with the modern path.

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View of Station Island from circa 1km along the path

Back on the track I continued  walking until I came to St Brigid’s holy well. The well is located just off the forest track at the edge of the lake.

St Brigid's well Lough Derg

St Brigid’s well Lough Derg

St Brigid’s well is marked by a modern metal cross  now covered in rags, socks, ribbons, religious medals and beads. It is enclosed by a circle of sandstone stonework which also has a modern appearance.

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I went no further than this point but the  track continues from here along the edge of the lake  until it reaches a point opposite Saints Island. According to my guide-book the remains of the stones that formed part of bridge that would have brought medieval pilgrims across to Station Island, are still to be seen.

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Map of Lough Derg Pilgrim Path from (Harbison & Lynam 2004)

From Saints Island the path continues swinging around in a loop before joining back with the original track.  I really enjoyed my walk  and  I looking forward to  returning and walking the  path in its entirety in the future.

References

http://www.pilgrimpath.ie/

Walking the Pilgrims Path

Harbison, P. & Lynam, J. 2004. ‘Lough Derg. The Shore by Saints Island, Co Donegal. Medieval Irish Pilgrim Paths No. 3. Heritage Council.

 

Abbey Well: The forgotten pilgrimage at Holycross abbey

Holycross abbey, Co Tipperary is one of my favourite pilgrim sites. During medieval times the abbey was famous for its relic of the true cross that attracted pilgrims from across Munster. In a previous post I discussed medieval pilgrimage at the abbey.

View of Holycross abbey Co Tipperary

View of Holycross abbey Co Tipperary

The abbey was also associated with a holy well. The well was recorded as ‘Abbey Well’ on the 1st, 2nd & 3rd ed. 6 inch Ordnance  Survey map of Tipperary. The  well  is located close to the west bank of the River Suir, c. 10m east of the chancel of the abbey church.

3rd ed 6inch Ordanance Survey Map showing location of Abbey Well

3rd ed. 6 inch Ordnance Survey Map showing  the location of Abbey Well

The earliest reference to the well and  its associated pilgrimage dates to 1628 when a man called John O’Cullenan was cured of pain after visiting the well ‘near the front of the abbey church and drinking its water three times’ (Hayes 2011, 13).  A Short Account of Holy Cross Abbey published in 1868 states the well was visited by pilgrims up to the beginning of the 1800’s when the pilgrimage was suppressed by the orders of Archbishop Bray. The book also makes note of  pilgrim rituals at the well. The rituals  included pilgrims going around the well on their knees three times before drinking the water. No doubt set prayers were also recited. In the ensuing years the wells importance declined and by the 1950’s  pilgrimage had ceased and the well was reduced to a wishing well.
The wells importance declined even further  and today the well is covered over. This took place when the  land  surrounding the well was landscaped and turned into a prayer garden  to commemorate the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979.
If anyone is interested in visiting Holycross abbey guided tours of the abbey are available on request (further information holycrossabbeytours@gmail.com / 086-1665869). Also thanks to Kilkenny Archaeology for the references relating to the holy well.

References

C. M. E. A Short Account of Holy Cross Abbey /. Dublin: Edward Ponsonby, 1868.

Hayes, W. J. Holycross : The Awakening of the Abbey /. Roscrea: Lisheen Publications, 2011.

A History of Pilgrimage to Monaincha, the Holy Island of Loch Cré

Monaincha in North Co Tipperary was one of medieval Ireland’s most important pilgrim destinations. It’s a site I have visited many times and have a great fondness for. Located  a few miles from the historic town of Roscrea it is a wonderful place to visit.   I am delighted to present a guest blog post  by historian and organiser of the wonderful Roscrea Conference  George Cunningham about the history of Monaincha.  George has carried out much research on the site over the years.  This post provides an over view of the pilgrimage history  of what was at one time one of Ireland’s most important pilgrim destinations. A History of Pilgrimage to Monaincha, the Holy Island of Loch Cré by George Cunningham Monaincha also know as the 31st Wonder of the World, the Island of the Living, was once Munster’s most famous place of pilgrimage.

View of  of approach route to Monaincha Abbey and pilgrim site.

View of approach route to Monaincha Abbey and pilgrim site.

Yes, indeed, there is an island of the living in the heart of Ireland a little more than three kms east of the town of Roscrea on the provincial borders between Munster and Leinster. This now drained Holy Island (in fact there were two islands as Giraldus Cambrensis attested in the 12th century) sits surrounded by cutaway bog. Its noble ruins consist of a beautiful 12th century Hiberno-Romanesque nave and chancel church with a later transept, and a twelfth century high cross placed on an earlier base.

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Romanesque Doorway of the surviving church at Monaincha.

The cross was re-erected in the late 1940s (using a cement shaft!) and features the crucified Christ in a long robe in the style of pilgrim crosses from Lucca in Italy. Similar features may be seen at nearby Roscrea and at Cashel.

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High Cross at Monaincha depicting the crucified Christ in a long robe in the style of pilgrim crosses from Lucca in Italy.

The island was the retreat of neighbouring saints, Canice of Aghaboe and Cronan of Roscrea, both of whom used the place as a sanctuary of personal peace. It became a main centre for the Céli Dé and pilgrims were attracted to it from all over Ireland and from abroad. The Augustinian Canons continued the pilgrimage tradition in the 12th century and the prior of the Island – usually an O Meachair from the ruling clan of the area – figures prominently in the Papal letters during medieval times. A huge revival of pilgrimage at the beginning of the 17th century saw thousands flock to the site to do the ‘rounds’. A diary of a German pilgrim Ludolf von Munchhausen, who travelled from northern Germany, as a curious tourist rather than as a pilgrim, in Spring 1590/91, has been recently translated. The martyred bishop of Down and Conor, Conor O’Devany was here shortly before he was executed. Monaincha received the same plenary indulgences remission as famous continental sites such as Santiago de Compostella.

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View of Monaincha on a frosty day.

In the 18th century the new landlords, the Birches reserved the place for their own burials and its fame faded into folk memory, albeit always known as ‘the Holy Island’ although it was drained over 200 years ago. Its exquisite Romanesque architecture in its remote bog setting always attracted the aficionado but it wasn’t until the early seventies that its history and international importance began to be appreciated locally and the pilgrimage to the island revived. The Cistercians of Roscrea held vespers there during the millennium conference in 2000 the first time in centuries that the psalms rang out across the great red bog of Éile. An app guided tour from Roscrea to Monaincha narrated by George Cunningham may be sourced from the site  http://www.roscreathroughtheages.org

References and Links

http://www.roscreathroughtheages.org/index.html

App guided tour for Roscrea town  http://www.heritagetrails.ie/explore/roscrea-heritage-trail/

App guided tour for Monaincha   http://www.heritagetrails.ie/explore/monaincha-heritage-trail/

http://www.roscreaonline.ie/content.asp?section=291

James Rice: A 15th century Irish pilgrim to Santiago de Compostella

The names  and stories of the vast majority of  medieval pilgrims  have gone unrecorded in the Irish historical sources but thankfully there  are some  exceptions to this rule.   During the 15th century, two  pilgrimages of a Waterford  man  called James Rice to the shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostella were recorded in  contemporary sources.

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St James Cathedral Santiago de Compostella

Who was James Rice?

James Rice was born into a wealthy Anglo-Irish merchant family in the port town of Waterford in 15th century.  The exact date of his birth is known but  the name chosen by his parents suggests they had a devotion to St James whose cult from the 12th century onwards enjoyed great popularity across Europe.

We know also that James’s father Peter Rice  held the office of Mayor of Waterford on two occasions the first in 1426-27 and the second in 1427.  Following in the footsteps of his father,  James also  became a politician and held the office of Mayor of Waterford a staggering  eleven times.

Like the majority of people living in medieval Ireland,  James would have performed many pilgrimages  throughout his lifetime.  He  would have visited  local and regional pilgrim sites perhaps heading to Ardmore,  Co Waterford or to Lady’s Island in Co Wexford.   Unfortunately local and regional pilgrimages  tend not  to be recorded in contemporary sources as they were seen as everyday  occurrences.

Long distance pilgrimages  were very expensive and would have been beyond the finances of  most ordinary of people. Therefore to embark on a long distance pilgrimage was a rare and significant occurrence and when undertaken successful brought prestige to the pilgrim.  Being a man of means James Rice was able to  go on at least two long distance pilgrimages that we know of  to the shrine of St James at Santiago do Compostella in Spain.  To give you some idea of the  expense of such  a journey,    Irish pilgrims making the return journey from Spain to Ireland  on-board the ill-fated ship the  La Mary London  in the 15th century paid seven shillings and six pence per head  just for the return leg of  the journey (1400 miles sea voyage).   This was the equivalent  of several weeks wages for an average working man.

So why go all the way  to  Santiago  when there were many pilgrim sites closer to home?  At a basic level James Rice probably had  a great devotion to his namesake St James who was one of the most popular saints in  Ireland.  Santiago was also a high status pilgrim site,  one of the most popular pilgrim destinations in the  medieval  world,  attracting vast numbers of pilgrims from across Europe. It was  also associated with miracles and  it was a place where  indulgences could be obtained.

Pilgrimages to Santiago

In  1473 James made his first pilgrimage to Santiago.  At the time he held the position of  Mayor of Waterford.  His pilgrimage was recorded as he was vacating his office for the duration of the pilgrimage  and protocol required that he applied for permission to parliament to appoint a deputy mayor in his absence.  His request was  granted and  he embarked on  pilgrimage.

As Waterford was a port town  with trade links with France and Spain its likely James travelled by boat to the port of Corunna and then headed  on foot to Santiago. Having arrived at his destination he  would have found somewhere to stay.  Most pilgrims spent the night  in a vigil within the  cathedral in front of the high altar. The next day pilgrims  attended mass and  during the ceremony they presented their  offerings.  Pilgrims would also have made confession and  obtained  certificates of pilgrimage in the Capilla del Rey de Francia.  There are no records detailing James experiences but he must have visited the relics of the saint and perhaps even purchased some souvenirs.  From the 12th century scallop shells were sold to pilgrims in the cathedral square and a small number have been found in Irish medieval burials.

 

Ten years later Rice decided to go on a second pilgrimage to Santiago in the year 1483.  1483 was the Jubilee year at Santiago. In 1181  Pope Alexander III granted jubilee years to the shrine, whenever the feast of St James fell on a Sunday.  Pilgrims  who came at this time  received a plenary indulgence (a remission from all sin) once they made their confession, attended Mass, gave a donation for the upkeep of the shrine, and undertook to perform good works.

Rice was again in public office as the Mayor of Waterford.  The Statue Rolls of the Irish Parliament record that prior to his departure  on pilgrimage, Rice’s made a formal requested to take up the pilgrim staff.  Permission was granted  to embark on his  second pilgrimage under the proviso that the mayor and  the two bailiffs who accompanied him were to appoint replacement deputies acceptable to Waterford city council for the duration of their absence ). The names of his bailiffs were Patrick Mulligan and Philip Bryan.

Prior to departure on this second pilgrimage Rice commissioned a chapel dedicated to St James and St Catherine  connected to Christ Church Cathedral  in Waterford.  The chapel was  consecrated in 1482 (Bradley & Halpin 1992, 119).  Following the completion of his pilgrimage James returned to Waterford where he lived out the rest of his days. He was eventually laid to rest with the chapel in an elaborate  tomb. The chapel was later taken to extend the cathedral yard and moved into  the nave of the  Cathedral church.

 

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Tomb of James Rice

 

The tomb consist of a  chest  with images of saints carved on all sides.  The apostles are found on the north side; James the minor, Thomas, John, James the Major, Andrew and Peter and on the south side:  Matthias Jude, Simeon, Matthew, Bartholomew and Philip.

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St. James Major (N. side, 3rd from W. end of the Rice tomb taken from the Edwin Rae Collection TRIARC http://hdl.handle.net/2262/56205

The west end of the tomb bears the images of St Margaret of Antioch, the Virgin and Child and St Catherine of Alexandria.  The east end depicts St Edmund the Confessor, the Holy Trinity and St Patrick.  An elaborately carved  cadaver  lies on top the tomb. It is wrapped in a shroud knotted at the head and feet  which has fallen open.

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Image of Cadaver from the Edwin Rea Collection TRIARC  http://hdl.handle.net/2262/56072

Frogs and toads are emerging from the body which is surrounded by  a Latin inscription that translates as

Here lies ‘James Rice,one time citizen of this city,founder of this chapel,and Catherine Broun, his wife.

Whoever you may be, passerby, Stop, weep as you read. I am what you are going to be, and I was what you are.

I beg of you, pray for me ! It is  our lot to pass through the jaws of death.

Lord Christ, we beg of thee, we implore thee, be merciful to us!

Thou who has come to redeem the lost condemn not the redeemed.

 

James Rice is just one of many  Irish people who  went on pilgrimage to Santiago  its likely if he had not been in office at the time of his  pilgrimages they would have gone unrecorded.

References

Bradley, J. and Halpin, A. 1992. The topographical development of Scandinavian and Anglo-Norman Waterford City. In (eds) Nolan, W. & Power, T.  Waterford History and Society Interdisciplinary Essays on theHistory of an Irish County.  Dublin: Geography Publications, 105-130.

Connolly, P. (ed.) 2002. Statue Rolls of the Irish Parliament, Richard III-Henry VIII. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

McEneaney, E. 1995.  A History of Waterford and its Mayors, from the 12th century to the 20th century. Waterford: Waterford Corporation.