Monkeys, Mermaids and the Evil Eye. Medieval Stone Sculpture at Kilkea Castle and Graveyard

A few weeks back I visited Kilkea Castle which has just reopened as at Hotel and Golf course.  The castle was once the seat of the Fitzgeralds, Earls of Kildare.

 

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Kilkea Castle

 

The castle and surrounding demesne has a long and interesting history. For this short post Im just going to highlight a few of the many interesting features carved in stone that date to the late medieval period.

Within the gatehouse of the castle is a really interesting stone called the The Evil Eye Stone.

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The Evil Eye Stone Kilkea Castle

The carving is built into a stone in the guard-room above the bawn entrance to Kilkea Castle. It depicts a man engaged in a sexual act with a semi-human creature with the head of dog or wolf while another beast appears to be having sexual intercourse and eating the man at the same time while a bird pecks at this chest. Gary Dempsey has created a wonderful 3D model of the stone using photogrammetry (see reference section also for the link).

According to Lord Walter Fitzgerald (1896, 27) this stone was an ‘evil eye’ stone.

The idea of the “Evil Eye” is that a person unknown to himself may possess it, so that by admiring or looking at a human being, beast, or crop, &c., he would unintentionally cause it to sicken or be blighted by its evil influence; to prevent the present day, the peasants will add “God bless it” or “God bless you” when taking any special notice of anything; while in the old times grotesquely cut carving were built into castles near the entrance in order to attract the “Evil Eye”, and so prevent its evil influence from affecting the dwellers in them.

 

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View of Kilkea Castle from Graveyard.

 

A number of other interesting carvings are found close to the castle in the graveyard.

The graveyard is a circular shaped raised area enclosed by a stone wall and a series of   large trees around periphery.  At the  centre of graveyard are the ruins of  a late medieval church.

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A sixteenth century chapel  dedicated tot the Blessed Virgin abuts the north wall of the chancel of the church. The Fitzgerald mortuary chapel is located at the west side of the nave of the church. The burial-place of Lords of Leinster the Fitzgeralds are found within the church defined by a iron railing.

There area a number of  late medieval carved stones including two stone fonts in the graveyard.

 

 

Within the church there are several interesting late medieval carved stones. One is a stone plaque called the Monkey Stone dating to the sixteenth/ seventeenth century is set into the west wall of the church. The plaque depicts a monkey with collar and chain holding a helmet in one hand (Fitzgerald 1899-1902, 240-1). The monkey is part of the Fitzgerald Coat of Arms.

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Close by is another  carving of a limestone panel with a mermaid carved in relief. She hold two long strands of her hair in her right hand and in her left hadn she holds a comb/mirror. The lower part of her body is shaped like a fish and a snake-like creature is biting her tail’ (Fitzgerald 1899-1902, 241).

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Mermaid plaque at Kilkea Church

 

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Illustration of a carving of  Kilkea mermaid (after Fitzgerald 1898-1902, 241)

 

A third  plaque bears the coat of arms of the Fitzgerald family

carved in false relief with a heater shaped shield with helmet and lynx above. Below the shield in the lower corners are two small shields; the left one has the arms of Fitzgerald impaling Keating while the right has the Fitzgerald arms impaling Geidon. Below are the initials: I K 1630 SG (Fitzgerald 1899-1902, 240-1)

 

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Plaque with the Fitzgerald coat of arms

 

The remains of a broken late medieval chest tomb are also found within the Lady Chapel.

 

The graveyard also has some fine examples of late eighteenth and early  nineteenth century gravestones.

 

 

You might also be interested in an earlier post on the pet cemetery at Kilkea Castle.

References

Fitzgerald, W. 1 Kilkea Castle ournal of the County Kildare Archaeological and Historical Society, Vol.II, No.1.  2-34.

Fitzgerald, W. 1889-1902. ‘William Fitzgerald of Castleroe and his tomb in Kilkea churchyard’, Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological and Historical Society, Vol.  III, 229-253.

Evil Eye Stone https://skfb.ly/6sVVX

 

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.

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‘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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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 visit to Askeaton Friary

A few weeks back I paid a visit to the wonderful Askeaton Friary in Co Limerick.

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Askeaton Friary Co Limerick

The friary is located on the banks of the river Deel, at the edge of town just off the N69.  According to the Monastic Ireland website The friary was founded in the year 1389 by either Gerald Fitzgerald the 3rd earl of Desmond and Lord Justice of Ireland, or in 1420 by James Fitzgerald the 7th earl of Desmond.

The friary seems to have survived the dissolution and a provincial chapter was held here in 1564. Shortly afterwards during the Desmond Wars the friary was taken over by Nicholas Malby and the friars were expelled.

The ruins of the friary are extensive and in a very good state of repair.  The ruins date primarily to the fourteenth and fifteenth century and include a cloister, church and domestic buildings.

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Plan of remains of Askeaton Friary showing building phases.

Today the friary is accessed through a modern graveyard on the east side of the monastic remains.

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Door leading into the cloister in the south wall.

To enter the interior of the ruins  and  the cloister  one must pass through a finely  fifteenth century pointed doorway in the south wall. This doorway is opposite a spiral staircase that provides acces to the upper story of the east range.

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Doorway on the east side south wall providing access to the cloister and the east  range at Askeaton Friary.

As you enter this doorway and turn left you find an extremely well-preserved to the cloister.

The cloister consists of a central rectangular area surrounded by a covered walkway. The cloister was  the heart of the monastery, a place of quiet contemplation and the means of communication between the  monastic church and domestic buildings.

At Askeaton the cloister walkway has very finely carved arches. Each arch is composed of columns with moulded bases and capitals. In the northeast corner of the cloister, there is a carving of St Francis the patron saint of the Franciscan order. The saint is depicted in monastic robes with stigmata.

The cloister provides access to the church and the domestic buildings through a series of doors.  The nave of the church is entered through a lovely pointed doorway with beautiful carvings on the base.

The church is a long building of fourteenth century date with an undivided nave and chancel.

The church has some very interesting features, including a triple sedilia and choir stalls in the east end of the south wall.

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Triple sedilia and choir stalls in the east wall of the church.

Above the sedilia is a large plaque sixteenth century date, contemporary carved stones some and a second plaque (later insertions) and a finely carved tracery window.

The walls of the church still retain a number of  hooded tomb niches, three in the south wall and one in the north wall.

The  church also has some very finely carved tracery windows.

 

The remains of a later fifteenth century transept are found at the northwest end of the church building.

The transept provided space for additional altars dedicated to various saints and serving as mortuary, burial or chantry chapels for the community’s benefactors. In friaries the transept was often the location of a shrine to the Virgin Mary and was known as the Lady Chapel. (Monastic Ireland website)

A pointed  doorway in the north wall connects the chancel to the sacristy.  At the base of the doorways is a spiral carving. I wonder if it is a masons mark.

The sacristy has two floors. The ground floor was roofed with a barrel vault.  The partial remains of the vaulting can still be seen in the north wall  and a fireplace survives in this wall. The  east gable gable wall is the most intact part of this room and contains a fine twin-light window,

 

Behind the sacristy is a large green area marked as the ‘old graveyard’ on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map is located behind the church and sacristy.  There are some large chunks of masonry from the transept walls scattered around the graveyard.

The domestic building of the friary also survive and are found on the east and west side of the clositer.

The east range includes the monastic kitchen. It is a two stories and the ground floor is roofed with a long barrel-vaulted ceiling. A finely carved fireplace is located towards the north end of the east wall.

The refectory or dining room,juts out of the southeast corner of the cloister. It is two stories in height and dates to circa fifteenth century.

 

The chapter room where monks conducted business  also survives and is in good condition. It was locked when I visited so I could only peek in through the metal gate.  with in the area are the tombs of the martyrs Bishop Patrick O’Healy and Fr Conn O’Rourke.

According to the wonderful Monastic Ireland website

A very fragmentary painting survives in the upper floor of the domestic ranges – a space that would have been reserved for the friars. It depicts a devotional image of the ‘Man of Sorrows’- showing Christ surrounded by the instruments of his Passion (http://www.monastic.ie/tour/askeaton-franciscan-friary/).

For a more in-depth discussion of the site check out the wonderful Monastic Ireland website.

References

http://www.monastic.ie/tour/askeaton-franciscan-friary/

 

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Holy Cow. The miraculous animals of the Irish Saints: Part 7, St Ciarán of Saighir and his cow

This is part seven in my series of posts about the saints and their animals. This post features St Ciarán of Saighir, the founder of the great monastery of Seir Keiran in Co Offaly and his cow.

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St Ciaran of Saighir.

Like earlier posts about St Ciarán of  Clonmacnoise, St Manchan of Lemanaghan and St Patrick the theme of the story relates to the theft of the saints cow.

 

 

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Site of St Ciaran’s monastery Seir Keiran Co Offaly

 

This story was recorded in the Irish  Life of St Ciarán of Saighir, compiled in the seventeenth century. The text recalls

a thief came westward over the Slieve Bloom, and stole a cow from Ciarán.

Below is a location map showing the  location of Slieve Bloom Mountains and the monastic settlement of Seir Keiran.

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After Google Earth location map of Seir Kieran monastic settlement and the Slieve Bloom Mountain range.

There is no mention of the cow having any miraculous abilities like the cows of the other saints, however, divine intervention stops the progress of the thief allowing the cow to escape and return to her rightful owner.  As the thief is crossing a river the waters rose and drowned him and the cow to the saint.

Mist and unspeakable darkness rose against him, and a river so strong in flood, so that he was drowned, and the cow returned to Ciarán again (BNÉ, Vol. II, 105).

irishmoiledcowcalf

 

Reference

Plummer, C. (ed.) 1922 reprint 1997 Bethada Náem nÉrenn. Vol.1, 2 Oxford.

 

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Holy Cows. The Miraculous Animals of the Irish Saints: Part 6, The Magical Cows of Kilmalkedar

Last year I began a series of post on the saints and their animals. Continuing with this theme this post will look at the folklore and legends of cows associated with the great ecclesiastical complex of   Kilmalkedar /Cill Maoilchéadair in the Dingle Peninsula, Co Kerry.

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Kilmalkedar medieval church part of the the Kilmalkedar Ecclesiastical Complex

The site of Kilmalkedar  consists of  a large ecclesiastical complex with archaeological remains dating from the early medieval to late medieval period.  It is dedicated to a little known saint called  Maolcethair, whose death was recorded in the martyrology of Donegal (Cuppage 1986, 308). The site was also linked to St Brendan and was  part of the  pilgrim landscape of the Mount Brandon. Unlike the previous tales about the saints and their animals ( Ita and her donkey, Patrick and his cow, Ciaran and his cow, Manchan and his cow), St Maolcethair  is not directly associated with any animal  but ecclesiastical complex has two interesting folk tales that relate to miraculous events associated with cows. These stories are embedded in the physical landscape.

The Cow and Thief’s Stone

One of the stories concerns the theft of a cow, a familiar theme from  the earlier posts in this series. The story goes that a thief tried to steal a cow from the community at Kilmalkedar. The cow bellowed, which woke up one of the monks.  One of the monks

‘caused the thief to stick in the stone  which he was climbing and the hoof of the cow to get embedded in the stone on which she had alighted from the fence. The thief set up a howling form pain and fright and prayed humbly for mercy and forgiveness. The holy man released him and warned him to sin no more. The imprints of the thief’s knees are to be seen to the present day and the impress of the cow’s hoof is also discernible’ ( Dingle Survey Files  after mss of John Curran, unpublished  OPW file).

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1st ed OS map of Kilmalkedar (1842) showing the site of the Cow stone and Theifs stone.

Until 1967 two stones  known as the cow  and thief stone were located on either side of the road close to the church and graveyard at Kilmalkedar,  they were set 150m south of the graveyard and some 350 yards northeast of (KE042-028). Both were recorded on the 1st edition OS map of 1842. Unfortunately the cow stone  has now disappeared, both stones  were set on either side of the roadway until at least 1967.  The  cow stone (KE042-02701) was located on the west side of the road and the thief stone (KE042-027) on the east. Killanin & Michael (1967, 96) described the two stones as standing stones and the Dingle Survey notes that the theif stone ‘stood 0.81m high at the base’ (Cuppage 1986, 323). However descriptions in the Dingle Survey Files suggest that the  cow stone was a flat stone.

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View of the road outside if Kilmalkedar Graveyard the Cow and Thiefs Stones were located 150m to the south.

A story recounted  by Mary Jane Leadbeater Fisher in her book Letters from the Kingdom of Kerry: In the year 1845 also records the tale but in her account the story is linked to another archaeological feature of the landscape, a large multi basin bullaun stone know as the Keelers or na Beirtí (Milk Coolers).

A cow is the subject of this legend—a cow of size and breed suited to provide milk for the giant race of those days. We saw the milk vessels, and if she filled them morning and evening, she was indeed a marvellous cow. In a huge flat rock were these milk pans; six large round holes, regular in their distances from each other, and nearly of equal size; they could each contain some gallons of liquid. This said cow gave sufficient milk for one whole parish; and was the property of a widow—her only wealth. Another parish and another clan desired to be possessed of this prize; so a marauder, endued with superior strength and courage, drove her off one moonlight night. The widow followed wailing, and he jeered her and cursed her as he proceeded. The cow suddenly stopped; in vain the thief strove to drive her on; she could neither go on, nor yet return; she stuck fast. At length, aroused by the widow’s cries, her neighbours arrived, and the delinquent endeavoured to escape. In vain—for he too stuck fast in the opposite rock; he was taken and killed. The cow then returned to her own home, and continued to contribute her share towards making the parish like Canaan, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” The prints of her hoofs, where the bees made their nests, are still to be seen in one rock ; and those of the marauder’s foot and hand in another, where he was held fast by a stronger bond than that of conscience (Leadbeater Fisher 1847, 48).

The ‘huge  flat rock’ she refers to seems to be  a large stone known as the Keelers or ‘Beirti’.  This is a large irregular, shaped bullaun stone (KE042-026007)  located 50-60m northwest of the Romanesque church at Kilmalkedar. The stone  has seven depressions of oval and circular shape with depths of 0.04-0.25 diameters 0.22-0.42m diameter. This stone is associated with a magical cow known who is known in folklore form other parts of the country.

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The  legendary cow was the  Glas Ghoibhneach,  she was said to a have been a marvellous milker.  The Glas Ghoibhneach translates as ‘the grey of Goibhniu’. Goibhniu was a mythical smith who likely derived from a god of the same name. The legend of the cow  is  very old and widespread across Ireland. According to O’hOgain

legend told of her all over Ireland describes how she filled with milk every pail put under her by her unnamed owner. However, a jealous woman claimed that she had a vessel which the Glas could not fill, and accordingly she brought a sieve and began to milk the great cow. The Glas yielded a continuous stream of milk, enough to fill a lake, but it all ran through the sieve. Eventually, she became exhausted by the effort and died.

The tradition from Kilmalkedar tells that the glas was milked into the basins of the rock by the monk from the monastery (An Seabhac 1939, 117). Interestingly additional stones associated with the magical cow are found a few miles to the southwest, the stones are  a pair of standing stones known as ‘Geata an Glas Ghaibhleann’ or the gate of Glas Ghaibhleann.

I would like to thank the wonderful archaeologist Isabel Bennett  for all her help with  pointing out sources for these  stones

References

An Seabhac. 1939. Triocha-Chéad Chorca Dhuibhne. Cuid IV. Dublin: An Cumann

le Béaloideas Éireann, 117.

Cuppage, J. 1986. Archaeological Survey of the Dingel peninsula. A description of

  the field antiquities from the Mesolithic Period to the 17th century A.D. Oidhrecht

  Chorca Dhuibhne. Ballyferriter: Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne, 308

Dingle Survey Files.

Ó hÓgáin, D. 1991. Myth, legend & romance an encyclopaedia of the Irish folk tradition

New York: Prentice Hall Press.

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

Leadbeater Fisher, M. J in her book Letters from the Kingdom of Kerry: In the year 1845. pub 1847. Dublin: Webb and Chapman

http://www.voicesfromthedawn.com/gate-of-the-cow/

O’H

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