Launch of Wells, Graves and Statues

Any of you who follow me on twitter or Facebook  will know that Richard Scriven and I have  just finished writing  a book about pilgrimage  in Cork City called  Wells, Graves & Statues. Exploring the heritage and culture of pilgrimage in medieval and modern Cork City.



Its  been a really exciting journey, over the course of  our research we discovered a rich and complex range of pilgrimage sites within the city some of which we had not heard of before.  The pilgrim sites of Cork  stretch from medieval time down to the present with the  latest edition a labyrinth garden in the grounds of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral opening in 2015.  There is also lots of variety in the site types  that  include a  medieval cathedral, holy wells, medieval statues and graves.

The books came back from the printers last week.  There was a lot of anticipation and excitement opening the boxes , how does the book look ? will people like it?  Thankfully Richard and I were very pleased with the results. We are very thankful to all who helped us along the way, those who provided information and access to sites, commented on drafts of the book  etc.,

Our book would not have been possible without the help of  Cork City Council and  who provided funding through Cork City Council’s Heritage Publication Grant Scheme 2015. We would also like to thank Niamh Twomey the Heritage Officer, of Cork Citywho  provided great support and advice throughout this project.

On Wednesday night  our new book – Wells, Graves and Statues – was launched by the Bishop, Dr Paul Colton, in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork


St Fin Barre’s Cathedral image courtesy of Abarta Audio Guides

I can’t thank enough everyone who took the time to join us, family,  friends, history and pilgrimage enthusiasts,  some of whom traveled  from outside the county to be here. Their presence made it a wonderful event,

As the oldest pilgrimage site in Cork, St Fin Barre’s Cathedral was the perfect place to launch our book and we both feel very privileged and honored to have been given permission to host our launch here.   We could have not found a more splendid setting and all who attended the launch took time to explore and admire the interior of this magnificent building.

The event kicked off  with a welcome was given by the Dean of Cork, the Very Reverend Nigel Dunne.


The Very Reverend Nigel Dunne welcoming everyone to the launch.

The  book was then officially launched by Bishop Colton who gave a wonderful and entertaining speech.


Bishop Colton launching our book Wells Statues and Graves photo Neil Jackman

Launching the book Bishop Colton said:

‘This is a very readable book which draws deeply on our strong sense of place, not least in Cork. It is a multi–layered, interdisciplinary book which draws on the expertise of these authors – Richard and Louise – in their respective fields of geography and history, and archaeology and Celtic civilisation. More than that, there are impulses of theology, spirituality and folklore. Above all else, the book touches on that deep–seated nerve of the human spiritual quest on our journey through life.’

Richard and I  then said a few words about the history of pilgrimage at the cathedral, and the significance of the book.  The night concluded with tea  and biscuits  giving us a chance to chat to those who attended and sign a few books.


Richard and I presenting a copy of our book to Bishop Colton

I can not thank St Fin Barre’s Cathedral enough for making us feel so welcome and facilitating us on the night.

For any of you who missed the launch  our book is available  in a number of places around  Cork City & County:

Sunday’s Well Post Office

Liam Ruiséal Bookshop Oliver Plunkett Street

Beneditus Bookshop North Main Street

Midelton Bookshop

For those of you  outside of Ireland  our book  can be purchased through amazon (€), (£), or ($), and as an e-book on Kindle from (£) or ($)


Our website  Corkcitypilgrimage  will have regular updates relating to retailers and upcoming talks.


St Colmán’s holy well at Oughtmama Co Clare

St Colmán’s well/ Tobar Cholmáin  is part of the monastic landscape of Oughtmama a small  but significant monastic site located  in a valley above Turlough Hill in the Burren in Co Clare.


View of Oughtmama churches from pathway leading to Tobar Cholmán.

Oughtmama was associated with three different St Colmán’s one of which was  St Colmán Mac Duagh the patron saint of the dioceses of Kilmacduagh and it is this Colmán who is the patron of the nearby holy well. According to folklore it was said the saint came to the site in his  retirement seeking a life of solitude.  He later died here and was brought back to Kilmacduagh for burial.


St Colmán’s well/ Tobar Cholmáin at Oughtmama

The well is located on a steep northeastern slope of the valley above the monastic site. It consists of a rectangular stone walled enclosure with steps leading down to the  water in the well.

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A tree  growing out of a loose pile of stones and a leacht (a small stone built cairn of stones), are found on either side of the well.


According the Ordnance Survey Letters of 1839 the well had

migrated from its original position and broke out a short distance lower on the slope of the hill, where it is now known by the new name of Sruthan na Naomh, the Rivulet of the Saints; but its original locality which is still called Tobar Cholmain has a square enclosure of stones, in the centre of which grows a small, stunted, white thorn bush, exhibiting votive rags of various colours.

Like many other Irish holy wells it was held to have curative powers and was  especially good for the eyes. It was said that the water could cure cataracts. The Ordnance Survey Letters ( 1839) state

This well is inbued with extraordinary naturally medicinal, or supernaturally miraculous virtues, for people have often washed their eyes in it, which were veiled with thick pearls, and ere they had completed the third washing these pearls (films) fell off leaving the eyes perfectly bright and clear-sighted .

In the late 1830s  when he Ordnance Survey Letters were written  a pattern was still held here annually on the 15th November in honor of St. Colmán feast day. Elsewhere St Colmán’s feast was celebrated on the 29th of October especially in the diocese of Kilmacduagh but at Oughtmama the feast was celebrated on the 15th of November.

The pattern day, was a day when people came together to perform pilgrimage at a holy well or saints grave, usually on the saints feast day. Such gatherings were very popular during the  17th, 18th and 19th centuries.  Secular celebration such as dancing,  drinking and stalls selling food and trinkets more often than not  took place along side religious devotion during this period.  Alcohol seems to have been a key component in  secular aspect of the celebrations on the day and pattern day could be rowdy affairs and a large number became the  scene of faction fighting and violence and disorderly behavior (Nugent & Scriven 2015, 18).   The unsocial behavior lead to much disapproval from the state and  both the established  Church as well as the  Catholic church and  attempts,  many of which were successful, were undertaken to suppress the pattern day celebrations.  By the end of the 19th century many had died out.  It is not clear  when exactly the pattern day at Oughtmama died out but it is no longer part of of the modern pilgrim traditions.

*** Local Caption *** Lawrence Collection

Image of pilgrims from the Lawrence Collection entitled ‘View of two men at St Coleman’s Well in Oughtmama, known as Tobercolman.’ from Clare County Library collection.


Today the well is visited by  tourists and  pilgrims although the numbers of the latter have steadily declined. The votive offerings and rags tied to the tree beside the well show the continuation of   pilgrims to the well.


Piece of cord tied to tree at St Colmán well Oughtmama.


Many thanks to Pius Murray of  Coisceim Anama walks  for taking me to see this holy well.   For information on Pius’s guided walks see /


Nugent, L. & Scriven, R. 2015. Wells, Graves & Statues. Exploring the heritage & culture of pilgrimage in medieval & modern Cork city. Cork City Council: Cork.

O’Donovan, J.  and Curry E. 1839. ‘The Ordnance Survey Letters of Co Clare’,



Do you know what to do if you discover an archaeological object in Ireland?

Archaeologist Gary Dempsey is undertaking research into how archaeological objects are reported in Ireland.

You can help  you Gary  with his research by taking  part in this online survey  to gauge the public’s awareness on the reporting of archaeological objects.   The survey just take a few minutes   and you just need to follow this link

I will let Gary explain to you about the project  in his own words

I am undertaking research into how archaeological objects are reported in Ireland. Occasionally as heritage practitioners we encounter people who have in the past discovered an archaeological object, or know of one discovered by a family member which has not been reported to the National Museum. I am interested in finding out how prevalent this may be in Ireland and if people are aware of the laws and regulations surrounding the reporting of archaeological objects in Ireland.

Through my work with community groups I have encounter a number of people who were not aware of the acts relating to archaeological finds, and in their best intentions stored an object for safety or out of personal interest. I am interested in developing some education about this subject, separate to cases where objects are removed in malice, or for profit.

As no work has been carried out on this subject as of yet, I have put together a short survey in the hopes of understanding the basic level of knowledge in this area. The survey is for anyone who has an interest in heritage and archaeology in Ireland, and not just for for those working in the industry. I would be grateful if you could circulate this short survey to your Colleagues/Students/Social Media Contacts.

Survey –

Gary Dempsey
00353 872657025
Coordinator Roscommon3d/Galway3d


I wish Gary all the best with the project and I hope  you will take the time to fill out the survey and to share it with friends.

Reporting of Archaeoligcal Objects – Ireland Survey
Web survey powered by Create your own online survey now with SurveyMonkey’s expert certified FREE templates.

New Book “Graves, Wells & Statues: Exploring the heritage and culture of pilgrimage in medieval and modern Cork”

Over the last six months I have been writing a book with holy well expert and geographer Dr Richard Scriven of the  blog Liminal Entwinings.

Our book Wells  Graves & Statues, exploring the heritage & culture of pilgrimage in medieval & modern Cork City  is just back from the printers.




The book tells the  story of pilgrimage in Cork city, from medieval to modern times by exploring the places that the people Cork city went  and still go on pilgrimage too.   As the title suggest the book discusses the holy wells of Cork city such as Sunday’s well, the Franciscan well,   along with St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, the great medieval centre of medieval Munster,  medieval  statues such as  Our Lady of Graces in St Mary’s Pope’s Quay, and the  graves of holy people like Father Mathew founder of the temperance movement, Nano Nagle the  founder of the Presentation order and Little Nellie of the Holy God, Corks unofficial saint.

The aim of the book is to sheds light on the important role of pilgrimage in the social, cultural, and religious life of Cork and to bring the story of pilgrimage to a wider audience and to inspire people to explore Corks pilgrim landscape.

Wells  Graves & Statues, exploring the heritage & culture of pilgrimage in medieval & modern Cork City will be launched on the 25th of November at 7pm in St Fin Barre Cathedral in Cork City and we would be delighted if you could join us.


Update poster launch

If you can’t make  the launch and would like a print or E book  of the  check out  the amazon shop ,  for print and for E book

For more details see books website

This publication has been funded by Cork City Council’s Heritage Publication Grant Scheme 2015 and the project is an action of the Cork City Heritage Plan. We are very grateful to Cork City Council for all their help and support.

Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick in 1910

A few months ago I came across some wonderful images of pilgrims climbing Croagh Patrick. These images were taken some time in the first decade of the 20th century. The photographs were assembled by Fr. Angelus Healy OFM Cap. (1873-1953) a Capuchin friar known as the ‘Guardian of the Reek’, in honour of his long association with the pilgrimage. The images  have recently been digitised from a collection of glass plate negatives held in the  Irish Capuchin Provincial Archives, and the archives  have kindly given me permission to reproduce the images for this blog post.  I recommend a visit to the Irish Capuchin Archives Facebook page  were you will find wonderful images and documents associated with early 20th century Irish history.

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The photos reminded me of a contemporary account I had read some years ago of a pilgrimage to the summit of Croagh Patrick  undertaken in 1910, on the main pilgrimage day to the mountain, the last Sunday of July often called Reek Sunday. The story of the pilgrimage was  recounted in the article entitled ‘A Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick’ and was written by a cleric who gives his name as E.O’L and was published in the Irish Monthly magazine.  The article recounts the priests ascent of the mountain, the weather conditions and encounters with pilgrims.  I have climbed Croagh Patrick a number of times most recently on  Reek Sunday in 2014 and it struck me that the 1910 account has a number of parallels to  the modern pilgrimage in particular the  physicality of journey to the summit, the dangers faced by pilgrims and weather conditions.

I found it very interesting that the article advises against wearing poor footwear when climbing this holy mountain and over a hundred years later this advise is still sound. I have often seen pilgrims and tourist attempt to climb Croagh Patrick in flipflops  or other inappropriate footwear or clothing. Mayo Mountain rescue advises those planning to climb Croagh Patrick and other mountains in the area to wear appropriate clothing and footwear  and to be aware that temperatures at the top of the mountain can be up to 10 degrees colder than at sea level.

In 1910 the author of the article advise  pilgrims to avoid poor footwear stating

Low, thin-soled shoes are not the thing where one frequently sinks above the ankles in  wet, boggy turf loam, and ladies’ fashionable high-heeled  boots are, to say the very least of them, quiet at a discount where loose, sharp  rocks and stones, and heaps of them, covering  long and steep stretches of the ” Pilgrim’s Path,” have to  be got over somehow (E. O’L 1910, 539)


The article advises gentlemen in 1910 to wear

 …good, thick-soled boots (not shoes), with a few spikes or nails to prevent slipping, leggings of some sort, a light, rainproof cape, and a good, long, reliable walking-stick or pilgrim’s staff (E. O’L 1910, 539).

For  ladies

With regard to a suitable dress or outfit for ladies, we shall attempt to give only very little and very negative advice, namely, in the first place, not to wear light-soled, high-heeled shoes or boots; and, in the second place, not to wear over-long skirts, which cling about the feet, and, when the mountain is wet under foot or when there is rain and mist (which seems to be oftener the case than not), soon become very bedraggled and uncomfortable (E. O’L 1910, 539).

The author of the article undertook his pilgrimage on the last Sunday of July and tells us that

morning broke dull and grey, and heavy rain clouds and mist and fog enveloped and concealed the upper heights of the holy mountain almost all day long (E.O’L 1910, 587).


View of Croagh Patrick from base of the mountain covered in cloud and mist.

Traveling with companions, he left Westport by car  and  traveled on  to Murrisk.  En-route the group passed

 group after group of young and old, boys and girls, men and women, on foot, all walking with zealous haste towards the holy mountain ; great numbers of cyclists also were to be seen, and a long line of brakes and cars of every description. Still everything was quiet and orderly, and the demeanour of the people was simply admirable (E.O’L 1910, 390).

Upon arrival at Murrisk the group immediately began their ascent of the mountain along the pilgrim path known as the Casán Phádraig/St Patrick’s path.


Pilgrims beginning their ascent of Croagh Patrick circa 1910. Image courtesy of the Irish Capuchin Provincial Archives.

Large numbers of pilgrims were already climbing the mountain and the scene described below is very similar to that of the modern pilgrimage on Reek Sunday.

Lifting up our eyes we saw before and above us an irregular and unbroken line of pilgrims winding, in long curves, up the mountain slopes, and higher up still, on an elevated ridge of the mountain leading to the cone proper, we could clearly see the unbroken line of pilgrims slowly advancing and silhouetted sharply against the sky-line; and higher and higher up still they could be seen, until they passed on into the heavy clouds, which hid them and all the upper reaches of the holy mountain from our sight (E. O’L 1910, 591).


Pilgrims climbing Croagh Patrick circa 1910. Note the ladies in their long skirts in the foreground. The image is courtesy of the Irish Capuchin Provincial Archives.

The modern pilgrimage as we know it derives from efforts made by the  Archbishop of Tuam Dr. Healy in 1903 to revive the pilgrimage which was at the time in sharp decline. Dr Healy was also responsible for building the oratory on the summit of the mountain.  The numbers of pilgrims have steadily increased in the last hundred years  but in 1910 the pilgrimage was popular enough to attract pilgrims in their thousands.


Pilgrims taking a brake while climbing Croagh Patrick circa 1910. Image is courtesy of the Irish Capuchin Provincial Archives.

Until the 1970’s it the was the norm for a large portion of  pilgrims on Reek Sunday to climb Croagh Patrick by torch-light the night before or in the hours before dawn.

An hour into the climb E. O’L and his companions

 began to meet many of those who had already been to the summit and were now returning. Some of the older people had gone up the evening before, and had spent the night on the mountain side, or praying around the Oratory on the summit, and indeed they must have suffered greatly throughout that wet and dreary night, and no wonder they should look weary and faint and worn after having been ” buffeted at will by rain and storm ” all night long during their vigil on such a wild and shelterless mountain.

As they made their way up the mountain pilgrims descending  greeted them with

Bravo ! you’re getting on grand, you have only a few hundred yards more to climb,” or, ” Take your time, alanna, and you’ll soon be at the top,” etc.

Modern pilgrims to Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday will often give words of encouragement to those ascending the mountain.

Croagh Patrick can be a dangerous mountain much of the route, in particular the latter stages along the conical top  of the mountain, is covered by loose shale which moves under foot and can be very slippery in wet weather.   The terrain is difficult especially in the final stages. Each year people fall, sprain and brake limbs while ascending and descending the mountain. So it’s not surprising that in 1910 the group also  met a man ‘with a handkerchief tied around his head and blood oozing from underneath it‘, who had slipped and fell among the rocks  while descending the mountain. The video below shows the pilgrimage on Reek Sunday on a day with similar weather conditions  to those described in 1910 and it highlights how dangerous the climb can be and the amazing work that Mayo Mountain Rescue and the Order of Malta do to help pilgrims on this day.

The author and his companion reached the summit

clothes drenched with rain, our feet wet, our boots and lower garments covered with clammy turf-mould.


Pilgrims descending Croagh Patrick is wet and overcast conditions, similar to those described in the article.

As is the case with Reek Sunday today mass in St Patrick’s Oratory and confession was a big part of the pilgrimage rituals  in 1910.

The priests who said their Masses early heard a good many of the pilgrims’ confessions afterwards, and at the time we entered the little Oratory of Templepatrick, rows of pious pilgrims were receiving Holy Communion, and there were pilgrims for Communion at Masses until mid-day (E. O’L 1910, 593).

The evening before a rota was organised to ensure that masses were completed in an orderly fashion

 the priests who wished to say Mass on the summit entered their names in a register kept at the presbytery, Westport, and both the hour and the altar at which each priest was to say Mass in the Oratory were appointed (E. O’L 1910, 585).


Pilgrims on the summit of Croagh Patrick circa 1910. Courtesy of the Irish Capuchin Provincial Archives.

After their masses the group enjoyed

some sandwiches and a warm cup of tea nicely prepared… by two or three young ladies from the Technical School, Westport (E.O’L 1910, 593).

On my pilgrimage in 2014 I noticed  many pilgrims bought a packed lunch and others bought refreshments and tea from the stalls on the periphery of the summit.



Courtesy of the Irish Capuchin Provincial Archives.

Having enjoyed the refreshments and

 listened to the excellent sermon of the Very Rev. Father M’Grath for the occasion, and having received the special Papal Benediction at its close, and after hearing the Acts devoutly read in Irish before the twelve o’clock Mass, we began our laborious descent, in fog and rain, over loose rough stones and through boggy turf-mould and slush, and our heads were moved with compassion especially for the poor weary pilgrims struggling up against us, and we consoled and cheered them as best we could…. (E. O’L 1910 594).

As they descended the cone

 the clouds and mist all cleared away quite suddenly, or rather we had left them behind or above us. The sun shone out brilliantly, and land and sea and sky all seemed to rejoice with and for us on our happy and safe return from the Holy Summit. And looking down upon the pleasant land of promise that lay basking in the sunlight far below us, the hardships of the mountain and the wilderness were very soon forgotten (EO’L 1910 594).


View of the summit of Croagh Patrick covered in cloud and fog. Image taken from the Tóchar Phádraig pilgrim path in 2008.

I hope this post by combining early 20th century and modern images with an early account of pilgrimage gives you a sense of what it was like to be part of the pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick in 1910. It is also interesting to compare the dress of the pilgrims, the ladies in long skirts and fancy hats, the men dressed in suits some even wear top hats, it’s a far cry from waterproof jackets  and hiking boots worn by the majority of modern pilgrims. We also see that then as now some pilgrims performed their pilgrimage barefoot. Yet we are also reminded  while clothing has changed the modern pilgrim walks along the same path and endures the same physical hardships and weather conditions as those who have gone before.


Images from the photographic collection of Fr. Angelus Healy OFM Cap. (1873-1953), now part of the Capuchin Archives collection. Reproduced in this blog courtesy of the Irish Capuchin Provincial Archives.

E. O’L. 1910. ‘A Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick: July 31, 1910’,  The Irish Monthly, Vol. 38, No. 448 (Oct., 1910), pp. 585-596.





A Medieval Statue of the Trinity at Black Abbey Kilkenny

 Black Abbey in Kilkenny city is a  Dominican priory  founded c.1225 by William Marshall.  The church which still survives was dedicated to the Holy and Undivided Trinity. The abbey gets the name ‘Black Abbey’  from the black robes worn by the Dominicans, also known as the Blackfriars.


The Dominican priory of ‘Black Abbey’ in Kilkenny.

The priory was located outside the medieval walled town of Kilkenny, within its own walled precinct. The entrance from the town into the precinct was via Black Freren Gate. This is the only  medieval gateway into the town to  survive today (pers comm Cóilín Ó’Drisceoil).

Black Freren Gate, a medieval gate providing access to the medieval town of Kilkenny.

Much of the fabric of the medieval priory church  survives and today the building is  used as a parish church. This is a multi-period building, with a nave and south aisle of  thirteenth century date,  a number of the surviving windows date to the fourteenth century, while the crossing tower was erected in 1527.


The crossing tower at Black Abbey built in the year 1527.


Alterations were carried out to the building in the eighteenth century, when the choir was demolished and in the nineteenth century.

Window in Black Abbey.


Within the church is the most amazing medieval statue that depicts the Trinity
‘ representing God the Father, with God the Son on the cross between his knees, and the Holy Spirit above him, between the Father’s uplifted hands’ (Hunt & Harbison 1976,  318).

Medieval statue of the Trinity carved from alabaster.

The statue is made of finely carved alabaster and it is thought to date to the fifteenth century.

The Christ figure of Trinity statue at Black Abbey.

The  date 1264 is carved at the base of the cross  and Harbison and Hunt (1976, 318) suggest the date was inscribed on the base of the statue at a much later date probably sometime in the eighteenth century.


Date 1264 at the base of the medieval statue at Black Abbey

According to tradition the statue  was  found in a blocked-up niche in the south transept of the church  and came to light  during restoration work in the early nineteenth century. Today the statue  is on display within the church and is just one of many interesting features within the church.

Hunt, J. & Harbison, P. 1976. ‘Medieval English Alabasters in Ireland’, An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 65, No. 260,  310-321.
Roe H. M. 1972.  ‘A medieval alabaster figure, Black Abbey, Kilkenny’, Old Kilkenny Review, No. 24, 33-36.

Holy Cows. The Miraculous Animals of the Irish Saints: Part One St Ciaran’s Cow

This post is  inspired by an article I am writing and it is the first in a  of a series  of posts  highlighting some of the many colourful legends about animals, in particular cows, associated with the early Irish saints.

St Ciarán of Clonmacnoise and his Dun Cow

St Ciarán’s cow features prominently in folklore and hagiography associate with the saint. The cow was originally part of a herd of animals owned by the saints family. As a youngster the saint worked herding his families cows but as he became older he was drawn to the church and decided study and train under St Finnian at Clonard.  The story goes as  St Ciarán was leaving home he asked for permission to take one of the family’s cows with him.  His mother refused his request. As he left he blessed one of the cows who then followed him with her calf to the monastery at Clonard.


The cow was a dun (a greyish brown) colour and was referred to as St Ciarán’s Dun cow. This was no ordinary cow , she was an excellent milker and had the ability to supply  the entire monastery with milk (Ó h’Ogain 1991, 88).

Ciaran’s Dun was wont to feed,

three times fifty men in all;

Guests and sick folk in their need,

in a soller and in dining-hall.

She  remained a companion of the saint for the rest of her life and when she  died, her hide was kept as a relic at Clonmacnoise.


View of the River Shannon from ecclesiastical site of Clonmacnoise

The relic, known as “Odhar Chiaráin” or “hide of the dun cow ”  was mentioned  in the seventh century Martyrology of Óengus (1905, 205).  It seems there  existed a belief that whoever died on the hide went straight to heaven (Stokes 1890, 268; Lucas 1986, 9).  In the year 900 the annals of Inishfallen recorded  Tadgh King of Connacht  dying on the hide

‘repose of Tadgh, son of Conchbar, king of Connacht after he had renounced the world on the hide of Ciaran’s Dun Cow.’

The  cow was also commemorated by the name of manuscript written at Clonmacnoise called the Leabhar na hUidhre or the Book of the Dun Cow (Ó’Riain 2011, 170).

Leabhar na hUidhre

This book was compiled around 1100 at Clonmacnoise and it is the earliest surviving manuscript with literature written in Irish, and it contains the oldest version of the Táin Bó Cuailgne, the Voyage of Bran, the Feast of Bricriú, and other religious, mythical and historical material. By the thirteenth century the manuscript  was in the possession of the O’Donnells of Donegal.

In 1359, when a number of the family were taken prisoner by Cathal Óg O’Connor, of the O’Connor family in Sligo, they were ransomed with Lebor na hUidre and Leabhar Gearr (now lost). Lebor na hUidre was recovered by Aedh Ruadh O’Donnell in 1470, and was in Donegal when the Annals of the Four Masters was completed in 1631. It then disappeared but was used by George Petrie in 1837 and turned up in the Hodges Smith Collection of 227 manuscripts which was purchased by the Academy for 1,200 guineas in 1844 (

The cow also features prominently in the  local folklore associates with Clonmacnoise. One early twentieth century folk tale from the area tells of a group of thieves from Coosan near Athlone  stealing the dun cow from the field she was grazing in at Clonmacnoise.  Afraid of being caught  they beat her with a stick to make her run and to escape quickly but in their hurry the cow fell on a flag and her two knees sunk into it leaving in it the impression of two circular shaped holes. The cow got up again and the thieve drove her on to Coosan. When St Ciarán arose in the morning  he found his  cow was missing but by divine inspiration he knew what happened. He followed her tracks to Coosan. The saint then  entered a boiling house and there to his grief  he saw the skin of his  cow hanging behind the door. Her horns were left on the floor and he body boiling in a boiler.  The saint  flew into a rage taking the skin from the behind the door and lifting the horns from the floor he moved towards the boiler. He placed the skin around the half cooked body of his beloved cow and immediately she jumped from the boiler alive and as active as she every had been before.  Ciarán  then returned to Clonmacnoise with his newly resurrected  cow. The theme of the theft of the saints  cows is common in Irish folklore and associated with many Irish saints. I plan to return to and explore this topic in a later post.

The legend of the dun cow  has also left a physical imprint on the landscape of Clonmacnoise.  A large bullaun stone located on the side of the Saint’s road that runs from Clonmacnoise past the Nun’s Church is associated with the cow.


The bullaun stone where the dun cow fell and broke her hip.

According to local tradition the stone marks the spot where  St Ciarán’s cow fell braking her hip. The stone with its hollow is held to be the spot where the cow fell with the hollow created by the cow. During the nineteenth century this stone was used as a healing relic by pilgrims who would place their head in the cavities in the hope of healing. The stone was also part of the nineteenth century pilgrim stations.


The Saint’s road Clonmacnoise.


Lucas, A. T. 1986. ‘The Social Role of Relics and Reliquaries in Ancient Ireland’, .JRSAI Vol. 116, 5-37.

Mac Airt, S. (ed.) 1944. The Annals of Inishfallen. Dublin

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

New York: Prentice Hall Press.

Ó hÓgáin, D. 2006. The lore of Ireland :an encyclopaedia of myth, legend and romance /

Doughcloyne, Cork : Collins Press.

O’Riain, P. 2011. The dictionary of Early Irish Saints. Dublin : Four Courts Press.

Stokes, W. (ed.) 1890. Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore. Oxford: Clarendon
Stokes, W. 1905. The Martrology of Oengus the Culdee. London: Printed for the
Henry Bradshaw Society.