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the present day and the impress of the cow’s hoof is also discernible’ ( Dingle Survey Files  after mss of John Curran, unpublished  OPW file).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/

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The St Mary’s medieval parish church, Cahir Co Tipperary

Each year thousands of tourist come to to the town of Cahir in Co Tipperary  primarily to see the wonderful castle.

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Cahir Castle

The town has many other amazing historic sites including  St Mary’s Priory and St Mary’s parish church.

St Mary’s  church  is  tucked away at the bottom of Chapel Street just off the town square. The church sits at the centre of a large historic graveyard, entered through an imposing gateway with large limestone built pillars.

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Entrance to St Mary’s church and graveyard in Cahir

The  church is a multi-period building, rectangular in shape. The  change and nave are divided by a chancel arch. This was the medieval church for the town and  the reformation   the building was used as a place of worship by the established church  and continued as such until 1820 (Killanin and Duignan 1967, 133). Interestingly Catholic  worship also continued here too and the church was divided to accommodate both Protestant and Catholic worship (Farrelly 2011).

The church building is of multi-period date. Some of the  fabric  dates to the 13th-century  and there is also evidence of extensive rebuilding in the 15th/16th century.  The church has a number of interesting features. The western end is dominated by a double bellcote.

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St Mary’s Parish Church Cahir

The east gable has traces of early windows. These windows were  replaced in the 15th/16th century by a mullion and transom four-light limestone window. This window  has three interlace patterns, possible masons marks, carved on the external side of the masonry. The interlace patterns are very similar to others found at Cahir Priory  and the Augustinian Abbey in Fethard.

The interior of the church is filled with  modern burials  and their are a number of interesting architectural features such as  a corbel depicting the head of a cleric and a finely carved piscina. Following the reformation the church was later altered and divided to accommodate both Protestant and Catholic worship (Farrelly 2011).

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Piscina in St Mary’s Parish Church

The corbel  with the head of a cleric is my favourite feature at the site. It is very finely carved but the nose and mouth are now damaged.

Here are some photos of the rest of the church.

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The graveyard that surrounds the church has many interesting historic graves which I think deserve a post of their own. This would be a wonderful graveyard for Historicgraves.ie project.

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References

Farrelly, Jean. 2011.’ TS075-048003, church Townparks’ http://webgis.archaeology.ie/historicenvironment/( accessed 05/01/2017).

Killanin, M.M. and Duignan, M.V. 1967 (2nd ed.) The Shell guide to Ireland. London. The Ebury Press.

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

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

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

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Church and graveyard at Baptistgrange

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

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View of Slievenaman from Baptistgrange

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

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Aerial view of Baptistgrange taken from Bing Maps

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

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

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

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Church and graveyard at Grangebaptist

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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A Year of Pilgrimage on Storify

I like to try out new social media platforms really like Storify so I put together a story of pilgrimage  based on my  blog posts , tweets and facebook post  etc .

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Storify A Year of pilgrimage in Ireland (https://storify.com/PilgrimIre/a-year-of-pilgrimage)

Here is the link to my Storify story of https://storify.com/PilgrimIre/a-year-of-pilgrimage.html

 

An Irish St Stephen’s Day Tradition: Lá an Dreoilín/Wren Day

The 26th of December is the feast  day of St Stephen,often shorted to Stephens day or Stephens.. In  Britain the 26th of December is commonly referred to as Boxing Day , as this was the day servants and tradesmen would traditionally received gifts known as a “Christmas box” from their masters, employers or customers. In Ireland the day was also known as Wren Day, in Irish Lá an Dreoilín. Other variants include Day of the Wren, or Hunt the Wren Day. This name comes from a very old tradition focused around a tiny bird called the wren. 

Lá an Dreoilín/Wren Day

Lá an Dreoilín or Wren Day  is a very old tradition and was once practised throughout most of Ireland up to the middle of the last century, with the exception of northern Ulster. The word wren was pronounced ‘wran’. Traditionally on Wren Day,   groups of mostly boys and men  called ‘The Wren Boys’ would dress up in old clothes and paint their faces. They then travelled  from door to door singing, dancing and playing music demanding  money to “bury the wren”. This process was called going on the ‘wran’.

In modern Ireland the tradition has faded out in most parts of the county but it is still carried on in pockets of the country especially in Co Kerry, in the Dingle peninsula and in parts of Co Limerick and Galway with people going from house to house.

Angela Gallagher of the Slivervoice blog provides the following description of the process

Heralding their arrival by loudly playing the bodhran (an Irish drum) as they make their way towards the door, and with barely enough time to shut the startled dogs away, the door is opened wide and the musicians stream in. Dressed in old clothing, mostly in white, with assorted bits of tinsel, straw and holly attached to hats of all descriptions, they file in and proceed to entertain us with a few songs, some traditional airs expertly played on fiddles, bodhrans, accordions, tin whistles and flutes, and Irish dancing. The entire performance lasts less than 10 minutes, and they play themselves out again, back into the night!

The modern wren tradition now also  incorporates street parades.  The straw boys often take part in the parades and other organised  Wren Day events.

In Dingle the wren tradition also incorporates

A pantomime-type horse with a wooden head, snapping jaws and a body made from cloth stretched across a timber frame, it is worn on the shoulders of one of the members of the Wren – who whirls and capers at the head of the parade (Woods 1997).

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Wren Hunt in Dingle Photos by Chrisity Mc Namara ( taken from https://www.dingle-peninsula.ie/home/culture-and-language/wren-s-day.html)

The role of the Wren in Wren Day Traditions

Originally the ‘Wren boys’ carried a dead wren or wrens with them on their escapades. The wren is no longer part of modern celebrations which are a much more animal friendly affair.

Catching a wren was not an easy task. The wren was obtained the days or the day before  the 26th. The wren boys would go out into the woods and bogs or search the thatched roofs of houses and any other places this poor little bird would live. They would hunt for and if found they would then kill the little bird. The following day the bird was  paraded  through the town or rural areas on top of a decorated pole or holly branch coloured in ribbons and coloured paper. What follows is a description of the wren hunt from Cork in 1840

For some weeks preceding Christmas, crowds of village boys may be seen peering into the hedges, in search of the “tiny wren”; and when one  is discovered the whole assemble and give eager chase to, until they have slain, the little bird. In the hunt, the utmost excitement prevails; shouting, screeching, and rushing; all sorts of missiles are flung at the puny mark; and not unfrequently, they light upon the head of some less innocent being. From bush to bush, from hedge to hedge, is the wren pursued until bagged with as much pride and pleasure, as the cock of the woods by the more ambitious sportsman (Hall, 1841 23).

Wren_boys_in_Cork_hall

Ireland: its scenery, character etc.(Volume I) by Mr and Mrs S.C. Hall. London: Hall, Virtue & Co., 1843. Drawn by D. Maclise, engraved by Landells. (http://www.corkpastandpresent.ie)

The killing the bird has long died out and any reference to  the killing of this tiny bird in a modern context is symbolic. Catching the wren was not easy task and if a wren could not be found  people would improvise and there are 20th century  accounts of toy birds and props being  used instead of the live bird (Danaher 1972, 246).

The Schools  Folklore Essays from  Clogher in Co Mayo  recorded in the 1930s,  recalls a piece of turf dressed up with feathers being used as a substitute for the poor little wren

Going out in the Wren” is still practised: only young boys now go out in the wren but formerly grown men did the same.
Now the boys go in batches or singly. If they can manage to catch a wren they dress him up in ribbons, put him into a small box also arrayed in ribbons and bring him round with them. But if they can’t get a wren they stick feathers in a small ciarán of turf and this does instead. They disguise themselves -thats an essential part of the game. There is no particular sort of disguise. They go from house to house getting money in each house. Sometimes batches of boys from 16 to 20 years do the rounds. These have often tin whistles or sometimes melodeons or mouth organs (NFCS Clogher 0095: 80).

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Wren at its nest by Sonja Kübelbeck (own picture –Kuebi 16:31, 5 May 2007 (UTC)) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In another account from Co Wexford  dating to 1867 the bird was tied to the bush alive.  This was no less cruel the killing the bird, as the little wren was brought from house to house tided to the bush which was shook vigorously as described below  in an excerpt from  The banks of the Boro: A Chronicle of the County of Wexford by Patrick Kennedy 

The professional artist used by some means to secure a live wren, and fasten it by a string to the twig of an ivy or holly bush, and enlivened by  the strains of an ear-piercing fife, invade the quiet of strong farmer’s houses and dance and shout, and sing the well known legend…..Then hands were taken, and steps performed round the bouchal na druleen[wren boys], who capered away in his best style, shaking the bush ans the poor prisoner in unison. They generally succeeded in extracting drink or money.. In most buys under the age of 15 pity for the sufferings of the small animal is the exception (Kennedy  1867, 233-234).

This must have been very traumatic for the little bird. Thankfully the practice of using  live or dead wrens has long died out.

So why did the poor little wren receive such harsh treatment? According to folklore the  Wren  was blamed for betraying the Christian martyr St. Stephen when he was in hiding by making noises, hence the reason for hunting the Wren on St. Stephen’s Day.

Wren Boys Athea Limerick 1946 National Museum of Irelandhttp://www.communityarchives.org.uk/content/organisation/our-irish-heritage

When the groups of wren boys travelled around from house to house, a poem was recited  and a number of songs grew up around the tradition. In Halls account from Cork in 1840 (Ireland: its scenery, character etc.) the poem recited was as follows

The wran, the wran, the King of all birds,

St Stephen’s day was cot in the furze

Although he is little his family’s grate,

Put yer hand in yer pocket and give us a trate.

Sing holly, sing ivy- sing ivy, sing holly,

A drop just to drink it would drown melancholy

And if you dhraw it ov the best,

I hope in heaven yee sowl will rest,

But if you dhraw it ov the small

It won’t agree wid de wran boys at all

A similar poem was recorded  in Drogheda Co Louth in the 1930’s. This poem was recited throughout the country in the 20th century with slight variations and is still recited today.

The wran the wran the King of all birds, St Stephen’s day was caught in the furzse.

Although he was small his family was great. Rise up landlady and give us a trate.

Up with the ketel and down with the pan.

A penny on a halfpenny to bury the Wran

(NFCS, Naomh Muire, Droichead Átha 0680: 219)

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Dublin Wrenboys 1933 National Museum of Ireland photo taken from http://www.sligoheritage.com

In all the poems  the wren is called the King of all birds. A lovely Irish folk tale recalls how the wren became king of all birds

Many years ago all the birds gathered together and wanted to have a king. The birds were satisfied that the bird that would fly the highest was to be their king. All the birds flew up into the air and the eagle far above them looked down and shouted, “I am the king of all birds.” But the wren hopping out from beneath the eagle’s wing shouted “You are not the king yet” and he flew still higher. The eagle was too tired to follow him and the wren was the king. When the wren came down out of the air the birds said he was too small and they proposed to drown him. But no water was to be found so all the birds began to cry into a bowl. When the bowl was filled with tears the clumsy owl tripped over the bowl and spilt it. They had all their tears shed and had nothing to drown him and he is still the king of all birds (NFSC Raheenagh (B.),  Volume 0493: 025).

Music was  and still is a very important part of the wren tradition. The Wren Boys usually carried some musical instruments with them such as a  tin whistles or “sometimes melodeons or mouth organs”. They would play music and  often dance and amuse their audience ‘by quips, pranks and buffoonery’ (Danaher 1972, 249). I have included an RTE documentary on the  Wren  tradition in  Mountcollins West Limerick  which provides further insight into the process.

At the end of the day the wren was normally buried  when all housed were visited. In Mountcollins Co Limerick  it was lucky for the wren to be buried opposite a  house.  In other cases the wren was buried opposite a house that refused to give any food, drink or money to the wren boys, it was said no luck would enter the house for the next 12 months (Danaher 1972, 249).

The money that had been collected was either on the “wren” divided up between the group, this was the norm for groups of  children. Adults would often  use the money to  buy food and drink to be consumed later at a  ‘Wren Party’ or spent that night in a public house (Danaher 1972, 248, 250). In modern Ireland the money is often given to charity.

When night falls they go (the ) to a public house and spend the money (NFCS Denmore,  Volume 0977: 135).

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Wren boys from Limerick. Image from Limerick Museum Identifier: 1996.1314.190

The tradition of hunting the wren seems to be  very ancient and  very similar traditions  was also carried out in parts of Britain and France.

Hunting the Wren was also a central part of Christmas traditions on the Isle of Man. The following is an article by Howard Caine describes the traditions

This ritual hunting of the hapless bird would seem to have originally taken place on Christmas Day, when folk would head out in the early hours to hunt down and kill their prey, before bringing it back to the local church. It would then be plucked and buried with much ceremony and singing in Manx.

The feathers of the dead bird were considered lucky and were believed to have the power to protect fishermen from shipwreck, to say nothing of a more general protection against witchcraft.

Later, the custom seemed to migrate, (something the wrens no doubt wished they had picked up on) to St Stephen’s Day on 26 December. Young men would chase down the birds, beating them from bushes with long sticks and general carousing.

They would suspend their dead quarry on top of a pole decorated with ribbons and evergreen leaves – which would then be paraded around the houses where dancing and singing would take place – before the feathers were distributed and hopefully some form of financial contribution would be made to the performers.

In Wales the hunting of the wren occurred on the Twelfth Night of Christmas. Groups of men would go out Hunting the Wrenhe tiny bird would be caged in a wooden box and carried from door to door. Householders would pay for the privilege of peeping at the poor wren in the box. Songs about the wren were also sung below is a song from Pembrokshire

Joy, health, love and peace be all here in this place
By your leave we will sing concerning our King
Our King is well dressed in the silks of the best
In ribbons so rare no king can compare
We have travelled many miles over hedges and stiles
In search of our King unto you we bring…
Old Christmas is past Twelfth-tide is the last
And we bid you adieu – Great joy to the new

Below is a youtube video of a Welsh song  about hunting the wren.

 

St Stephens Day in Wales was associated with  Mari Lwyd (Grey Mare / Holy Mary) a horse skull covered in ribbons. The horse-figure  was carried from door to door by wassail-singing groups during the Christmas season. The Welsh Museum blog provides the following description below. The Mari Lywd custom  reminds me of the horse used by the wren boys in the Dingle area which I mentioned above.

This figure (which is, of course, represented in other countries) seems to have been once known all over southern Wales but during the present century relatively little has been seen of it outside of Glamorgan, where it is not yet completely extinct.

The attendant ritual began with the singing of traditional stanzas by the Mari Lwyd group at the door, soliciting both permission to sing and entry into the house, and issuing a challenge to a versifying contest.

Next followed the pwnco, the debate conducted to the same music in a combination of traditional and impromptu stanzas) between a member of the group and an opponent within the house.  This usually amounted to heavy leg-pulling in which the contestants mocked each other’s singing, drunkenness, etc.

Victory in the debate would ensure admission into the house for the Mari Lwyd group, to partake of cakes and ale and perhaps collect a money gift as well.  In at least some cases, after the end of the debate, the group would sing additional stanzas introducing its individual members and finally, after entertaining the occupants of the house, it would deliver a farewell song (https://museum.wales/articles/2014-06-14/Christmas-customs-The-Mari-Lwyd/).

 

 

I really enjoyed researching the Irish Wren tradition,  and id love to find out more about the tradition outside of Ireland. Im  also glad the little wrens of Ireland can sleep safely now.

References

Caine, H. 2005, ‘Hunting the Wren’,http://www.bbc.co.uk/isleofman/content/articles/2005/12/07/hunting_the_wren_feature.shtml

Danaher, K. 1972. The Year in Ireland. Irish Calendar Customs. Cork: Mercier Press.

Hall,C.S. & Hall,  Mrs 1841. Ireland: its scenery, character.London : How and Parsons.

Kennedy, P. 1867. The banks of the Boro: A Chronicle of the County of Wexford. Dublin: M’Glashen & Gill.

Woods, P. 1997. ‘Hunting the Wren’https://www.dingle-peninsula.ie/home/culture-and-language/wren-s-day.html

NFCS Clogher 0095: 80.

NFCS Denmore,  Volume 0977:135.

NFSC Raheenagh (B.), Ráthluirc (roll number 10814).

https://museum.wales/articles/2014-06-14/Christmas-customs-The-Mari-Lwyd/

Other Wren Day related resources

http://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/drama.htm#wren
http://www.ouririshheritage.org/page_id__70_path__0p4p.aspx

http://blog.goireland.com/…/christmas-in-ireland-the-wren…/

https://www.trac-cymru.org/en/traditions/hunting-the-wren

http://www.carrigalinecelticband.com/?p=913

https://thefadingyear.wordpress.com/2015/12/26/st-stephens-day-and-the-wren-boys/

http://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4427832/4348838

http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/christmas/sites/content/pages/customs.shtml

http://resources.trac.wales/traditions/hunting-the-wren/

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The ‘Night of the Big Wind’. The personal account of John O’Donavan of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland January 1839

The recent arrival of cold weather  and a conversation reminiscing with my mother about the strong wind wind that whipped the roof off her garden shed  a few years back,  reminded me of one of the Ordnance Survey Letters  written by John O’Donovan in 1839 while in Co Wicklow. The letter in question refers to what was known as the ‘Night of the Big Wind’/ ‘Oiche na Gaoithe Moire’, a terrible storm that swept across Ireland on the 6th-7th January 1839.  The storm cause a massive amount of damage around the country and  its effects were such that the event lived in the minds of the people for decades to come. The foricity of the storm was such that it made its way into oral history of the county.

Description of the Devastation caused by the ‘Night of the Big Wind’.

All across the country, hundreds of thousands of people awoke to the sound of the furious tempest, their windows shattered by hailstones, their brick-walls rattling, their rain-sodden thatched roofs sinking fast. As the wind grew stronger, it began to rip the roofs off houses. Chimney pots, broken slates, sheets of lead and shards of glass were hurtled to the ground. (Rather astonishingly, someone later produced a statistic that 4,846 chimneys were knocked off their perches during the Night of the Big Wind). Many of those who died that night were killed by such falling masonry. Norman tower houses and old churches collapsed. Factories and barracks were destroyed. Fires erupted in the streets of Castlebar, Athlone and Dublin. The wind blew all the water out of the canal at Tuam. It knocked a pinnacle off Carlow Cathedral and a tower off Carlow Castle. [3] It stripped the earth alongside the River Boyne, exposing the bones of soldiers killed in the famous battle 150 years earlier. Roads and railway tracks in every parish became impassable. All along the Grand Canal, trees were pulled up by the roots and hurled across the water to the opposite bank (Bunbury 2009)

For those of you who don’t know, the Ordnance Survey of Ireland was established in  the year 1824,  to  undertake a townland survey of Ireland and to map the entire country at a scale of 6 inches to one mile, for the purpose of the creation of a tax system. The mapping  was completed by 1842, and a full set of maps exists for each Irish county. The maps and later editions can be viewed on the Ordnance Survey of Ireland website.

The Ordnance Survey Letters are manuscripts containing the  surveyors’ field notes, commentaries and correspondence to the Ordnance Survey headquarters in Dublin  during the mapping. John O’Donovan (1806-1861) was a historian who worked for  the Ordnance Survey. He led the   information collection part of the project, many of the surviving letters were complied by him. The letters are of great use to historians and archaeologist as they provide information on placenames, details on topography and often detailed description of historic sites such as castles, ringforts and churches. The letters are also interesting as they occasionally  provide a ‘unique glimpse into everyday life in many parts of Ireland in the years leading up to the Great Famine’.

Ordnance Survey Letter –Rath na Riogh Meath (taken https://www.ria.ie/library/catalogues/special-collections/modern-manuscripts/ordnance-survey-ireland-archive

They also occasionally give a glimpse of the day-to-day lives of the compilers and their everyday trails and tribulations.

One of my favourite letters  dates to January 1939 and relates to  John O’Donavan’s journey from Baltinglass to Glendalough Co Wicklow and his stay at Glendalough during the ‘night of the Big Wind’. O’Donovan travelled with  Thomas O’Connor who also worked for the Ordnance Survey. The letter decribes the details of the journey and the stay at Glendalough with such detail, that you  almost feel you are withnessing the events unfolding. You also get a rare glimpse of the personalites of O’Donavan and his survey team.

According to the letter the pair travelled  first from the town of  Baltinglass to Blessington and then on to Glendalough.  The distance  between  Blessington and Glendalough was according to O’Donavan ‘only sixteen miles’ and was undertaken on foot. In modern Ireland where we all rely so heavily on cars and buses, the thoughts of walking sixteen miles  seems out of the ordinary but during the nineteenth most journeys were  by foot so O’Donavan and his companion were undaunted. The route from Blessington to Glendalough would have taken the pair over the mountains into the Kings River Valley through the Wicklow Gap and  on to Glendalough. This route was used by pilgrims visiting Glendalough  for centuries.

We left Baltinglass on Friday and travelled by car to Blessington, expecting to be able to get a car thence to Glendalough: but the Hotel Keeper would not send a car thither at the usual price per mile and I was not willing to give him more. So on the next morning, which promised to produce a fine hard day; we set out for Glendalough on foot across the mountains, thinking nothing of the distance, which is only sixteen miles around the road.

The initial part of the journey seems to have been quiet pleasant until  the weather changed and it began to snow.

We came on in very good humour for seven miles, stopping on the way to look at old churches, but when we reached the side of what they called the Cross Mountain, the day suddenly changed its aspect, the snow fell in luxuriant heavy leaves (drops) and before we reached the top of the mountain we found ourselves in the middle of a snow storm.

The onset of heavy snow caused some concern for O’Donavan.  Despite his companions wishes to keep going,  for safety reasons he decided  they should  head back towards civilisation, a wise decision given the remoteness of the area they travelled through and the lack of available shelter. The pair turned back and found shelter at Charley Clarke’s public house.

I stopped short and paused to consider what it was best to do. The clouds closed around us and the wind blew in a most furious manner. Here we met a countryman who told us that the distance to Glendalough was nine miles, that the road was for six miles uninhabited, and that the last flood has swept away two of the bridges. I got a good deal alarmed at finding ourselves a mile and a half into the mountain and no appearance of a cessation of the snow storm. I told O’Conor, who was determined to go on, that I would return, that I did not wish to throw away life to no purpose. I returned! (Coward) The whole side of the mountain looked like a sheet of paper horribly beautiful, but the wind was now directly in our face.

From O’Donavan’s account Clarke’s inn was a bit of a dump. The room was damp and cold  and if events happened today O’Donavan certainly wouldn’t have  given the inn a good review on Trip adviser.

 We returned three and a half miles and stopped at Charley Clarke’s public house, where we got infernally bad treatment. The next morning, I felt very feverish from having slept in a damp bed in a horribly cold room.

The  weather seems to have improved the following day and O’Donavan ‘ resolved’ to carry on with the journey to Glendalough. Having caught a chill from  the night before, he must have felt rotten as he began his journey.

  … seeing that the snow began to thaw and it being Sunday, I resolved to go on to the Churches[Glendalough]. I never felt so tired!

Although the  weather  had improved the conditions of the journey were far from pleasant. The heavy covering of snow  disguised  hollows in the ground which made the terrain more difficult to navigate. Having occasionally had to worked while sick in  winter on archaeological sites I can sympathise with and imagine how wretched O’Donavan felt  as he set forth.

Sinking thro’ the half dissolved masses of snow and occasionally down to the knees in ruts in the road, which proved exceedingly treacherous as being covered with the snow. One of my shoes gave way and I was afraid that I should be obliged to walk barefooted.

Snow in the Wicklow mountains 2009  (taken from http://evoke.ie/extra/ireland-weather-forecast)

We moved on, dipped into the mountain, and when we had travelled about four miles we met a curious old man of the name Tom Byrne, who came along with us. We were now within five miles of the Glen but a misty rain, truly annoying dashed constantly in our faces until we arrived at Saint Kevin’s Shrine. Horribly beautiful and truly romantic, but not sublime!

I came across this you tube video of Wicklow Mountains in the snow. Imaginine travelling on foot in these conditions.

 

When they finally arrived at Glendalough the pair booked into the local hotel.  Their feet and clothes must have been soaked, and  O’Donavan purcases a pair of wool socks. Having changed clothes they headed off to explore the ruins of  Glendalough, which must have been quite impressive in the snowy landscape.

Fortunately for us there is now a good, but most unreasonable expensive kind of a hotel in the Glen, and when I entered I procured a pair of woollen stockings and knee breeches and went at once to look at the Churches, which gave me a deal of satisfaction. (I looked like a madman!)

The ruins gave  O’Donovan ‘ a deal of satisfaction’ and he must have felt  the awfulness of the previous day was behind him.

However ,things soon began to go down hill  when they returned to the hotel later that evenining.  Following a ‘bad dinner’ they retired to their beds, unaware one of the worst storms Ireland had ever seen was on its way. O’Donavan’s mind was full of work  he writes that could not sleep, thinking of all he had to do and for fear of further snow.

We got a very bad dinner and went to bed at half past twelve. I could not sleep but thinking of what we had to do and dreading a heavy fall of snow, which might detain us in the mountain. O’Conor fell asleep at once.

Around 1 o’clock the storm hit Glendalough.

At one o’clock a most tremendous hurricane commenced which rocked the house beneath us as if it were a ship! Awfully sublime! But I was much in dread that the roof would be blown off the house.

O’Conor seems to have been obvious to what was going on around him and continued to sleep soundly much to O’Donavan’s annoyance.

I attempted to wake O’Conor by shouting to him, but could not.

The wind continued unabated. Around 2 o’clock things took a nasty turn when the window of their room blew in. With difficultly  O’Donavan managed to close the shutters of the window, holding them shut with his body, only moments later for them to be  blown open again by another gust of wind and O’Donavan thrown across  the room with the force of the wind.

About two o’clock the storm became so furious that I jumped up determined to make my way out, but I was no sooner out of bed than the window was dashed in upon the floor and after it a squall mighty as a thunderbolt! I then, fearing that the roof would be blown off at once, pushed out the shutter and closed it as soon as the direct squall had passed off and placed myself diagonally against it to prevent the next squall from getting at the roof inside, but the next blast shot me completely out of my position and forced in the shutter.

Only now did O’Conor wake up!!

This awoke O’Conor who was kept asleep as if by a halcyon charm!

O’Donavan closed the shutters again and his companion went to seek help from the hotel staff. Eventually the ‘man of the house’ secured the window.

I closed the shutter again despite of the wind and kept it closed for an hour when I was as cold as ice (being naked all the time). O’Conor went to alarm the people of the house, but he could find none of them, they being away securing (saving) their cattle in the outhouses which were much wrecked by the hurricane. The man of the house at last came up and secured the window by fixing a heavy form against it.

Poor O’Donavan spent the rest of the night in the kitchen. I get the sense that the hours that followed were not any less dramatic.

I then dressed myself and sat at the kitchen fire till morning. Pity I have not paper to tell the rest.

The next day the damage of the storm became clear, many homes in the area were  badly damaged.

A tree in the Church Yard was prostrated and many cabins in the Glen much injured. The boat of the upper lake was smashed to pieces. The old people assert that this was the greatest storm that raged in the Glen these seventy years. We go on to-night to Dublin by the coach which passes here at one o’clock. O’Conor returns to Blessington to finish the barony of Lower Talbotstown.

Being on a tight scheduled the pair boarded a  stage coach and head on their way and so the letter ends.

The letter above was taken from The Ordnance Survey Letters of Wicklow referenced below.

References

Bunbury, T. 2009.’ The Night of the Big Wind’ http://www.turtlebunbury.com/history/history_irish/history_irish_bigwind.htm

Burke, M. 2016.’An Irishwoman’s Diary on the ‘Night of the Big Wind’- January 6th, 1839. The Irish Times, Tue, Jan 12, 2016. http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/an-irishwoman-s-diary-on-the-night-of-the-big-wind-january-6th-1839-1.2492876

Corlett,C. & Medlycott. J. 2000.The Ordnance Survey Letters – Wicklow. Published by Roundwood & District Historical & Folklore Society and Wicklow Archaeological Society.

http://blessington.info/history/historypage4b.htm

http://www.christiaancorlett.com/#/os-letters-wickow/4574917300

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Killamery High Cross Co Kilkenny

The Killamery  high cross is  a wonderful hidden gem,   just off the main Clonmel to Kilkenny Road, about 5 miles south of Callan. The  cross is located at the site of the early medieval monastery of Killamery. Today  the site is dominated by a Firsts Fruits church, dedicated to St Nicholas. The church was  built in the year 1815 with a gift of £900 from the Board of First Fruits and was in use until the early 1900’s. During the 19th century it was a rectory, in the diocese of Ossory and it  formed the corps of the prebend of Killamery, in the gift of the Bishop; the tithes amount to £280.

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St Nicholas First Fruits Church at Killamery

Killamery or Chill Lamraí  in Irish translates as the Church of Lamraighe and it gives its name to the townland and the civil parish where the site is located.

The patron saint the early medieval monastery was St Gobán. The Martyrology of Óengus  records the saints feast day as the 6th of December. In later centuries the site became associated with another saint, St Nicholas of Myra whose feast day is also on the 6th of December. Little is know about the early history of the site  and it is not until the 11th century  that it appears in the historical records. The Annals of Four Masters in 1004  record the death of Domhnall son of Niall the abbot of Cill-Laimhraighe. During the later medieval period site appears to a have had a parochial status. An Anglo-Norman Motte is located c.100m to the southwest of the site.Mottes were earth and timber castles composed of a large artificial pudding bowl shaped earthen mound with a wooden palisade around the summit, enclosing a timber tower known as a bretasche (Farrelly & O’Brien 2006, 289).

According to Grey (2016, 278)

The townland of Killamery appears to have been See lands from an early date, until the bishop exchanged the townland with William Marshal for the townland of Stonycarthy, between 1192 and 1231. Marshal granted the townland to de Albin (Tobin) and it remained in the hands of the Tobins (Brooks 1950, 252-61), until it was forfeited in Cromwellian times by James Tobin. The church of Killamery became the prebendary of the diocese of Ossory on the establishment of the chapter and continued to form the corps of the diocesan chancellor until at least the fifteenth century (Carrigan 1905, iv, 311-20).

Today little remains of the earlier church settlement. During the 19th century much of the remains relating to the early medieval and medieval of Killamery  was destroyed. The Ordnance Survey Letters of Kilkenny (1839, 120) state

The foundation, between three and four feet high, remains on the south-east side of the churchyard or burying ground, measuring 23 feet by 18, walls 2 feet nine inches thick; this part would appear to have been the Quire of the Church, as vestiges of  some more extensive building may be traces, projecting to the west from it. There is a yew three within the area of the choir five feet in circumference , and two white thorns of good growth near it (Herity 2003, 120).

In 1853 the Kilkenny Archaeological Journal recorded a visit by  Mr Dunne who described

A portion of the ancient chancel wall which enclosed the tombs of the family of Lee had been destroyed only the week before he visited it, and the stones had been used for a wall near the police barrack. The body of this ancient place of worship, with its ivy-covered arch, had been taken down in the year 1815 to serve for material for the present parish church, and the moss-covered stones that were uprooted on this occasion were thrown into a common shore (Stokes & Westropp, 1896/1901, 572).

A small number of early medieval features are found in the graveyard beside the First Fruits church. They include an early medieval, cross slab, a bullaun stone, high cross and a holy well.

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Historic graveyard at Killamery containing  high cross, cross slab and bullaun stone.

The cross slab a large rectangular slab of stone with a large  latin cross set within a frame above the cross is the inscription  OR AR THUATHA. The  slab is set on its side against a large block of stone.

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

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East face of the cross at Killamery

A panel on the base of the western face seems to contain an inscription which MacAlister  transcribed as OR DO  MAELSECHLAILL. “OR DO”  means pray for and he identified Maelsechnaill as high king of Ireland who reigned  AD 846 to 862 (Harbison 1994, 78).

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West face of high cross at Killamery

Above the whorl at the centre of the head of the west face is a panel showing one figure holding a child as another approaches from the right-perhaps Adam and Eve at Labour. Beneath the whorl is a figure flanked by angels, possibly God creating the Seventh  Day…The hunting scenes on the arms of the cross (Harbison 1994, 79).

The eastern face of the  high cross depicts interlaced animals.

The sides of the cross are also highly decorated. The ends of the arms  have scenes from the bible the southern arm  Noah in the Ark and the northern arm a scenes from  the life of St John the Baptist.
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Northern side of the high cross at Killamery

According to the Ordnance Survey Letters (1839) stations were performed  there on Good Friday during the mid 19th century. It was

frequently visited by persons afflicted with head ache, on which occasion the mitre, which is loose is taken off the cross and put three times on the patient’s head, at the time reciting some prayers, after which a cure may be expected to follow (Herity 2003, 120)

 

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The ‘mitre’ cap stone on top of the high cross was used to cure headaches in the 19th century.

A large bullaun stone  is located close to the high cross. Its base is worn through . Megalithic Ireland blog makes note of a second bullaun stone at the site which I did not see. I really hope I missed it and it has not disappeared from the site.

 

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Stokes & Westropp (1896/1900, 378) recounted the presence of a third bullaun stone at the site and that it marked the grave of St Gobban.

There is a tradition that a bullaun, i.e. a cup-marked stone, probably
a rude font, lay at the side of the grave of Saint Goban at one time, but
that it was broken in pieces by the Palatines of New Birmingham, in the
County Tipperary.
A small and very unusual holy well is found on the north side of the graveyard.
The well is marked by a large granite boulder. One side of the  stone has been shaped in to  gable shape over a recess.
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St Nicholas holy well Killamery 2014

When I visited the site in the summer of 2016 the well  was dry and a rectangular recess normally filled with water from the well was visible at the base.  The well was dedicated to St Nicholas of Myra. In the past a pattern or patron day was held here on December 6th  the feast day of the saint. The tradition of pilgrimage here has long died out. Evidence of the saints importance to the area is illustrated by dedications of the nearby church and school at Winegap to the saint. Interestingly the feast day of the founder St Gobán, coincided with that of Saint Nicholas of Myra. St Nicholas was a very popular Norman saint and it is possible that his association  with the site was linked to the establishment of the Anglo-Norman  settlement of Killamery and  was used to replace the earlier cult of St Gobán.
Although not directly related to the early medieval monastery. In 1850’s a sliver pin brooch was found  by a labourer digging in a field within the parish of Killamery. It was said the man accidental broke the pin with a blow from the spade.The broach dates to the ninth century and was made in Ireland but the design was influenced by Viking design (Whitfield & Oskasha 1991).  The pin shows evidence of Viking-style stamped ornament on the pin. The broach  has an inscription  on the back which probably reads: CIAROD[UI]RMC[.R]. According to  Whitfield & Oskasha (1991, 59) ‘text contains a male personal name, probably CIAROD[UI]R MAC [.R]. It can be interpreted as ‘[the possession] of Ciarodur son of [-]’ It is likely Ciarodur was the owner of the broach (ibid, 60).
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Killamery Broach from  The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory http://rootsweb.ancestry.com/~irlkik/pics/index.htm

Reference

Crawford, H. 1913. A Descriptive List of Early Cross-Slabs and Pillars (Continued). The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 3(3), sixth series, 261-265.

Farrelly, J. & O’Brien, C. 2002.  Archaeological inventory of County Tipperary.  Vol. I, North Tipperary.  Dublin: The stationary office.

Grey, R. 2016.Settlement clusters at parish churches in Ireland, c. 1200-1600 AD. Thesis NUI Galway.https://aran.library.nuigalway.ie/handle/10379/6061

Harbison, P. 1994. Irish High Crosses.Drogheda: The Boyne Valley Honey Company.

Herity, M. 2003. Ordnance Survey Letters of Kilkenny. Vol.1 & 2. Dublin: Fourmasters Press.

Whitfield, N., & Okasha, E. (1991). The Killamery Brooch: Its Stamped Ornament and Inscription. The Journal of Irish Archaeology, 6, 55-60.

Lewis,  1837 Topographical Dictionary of Ireland Vol. 1, 123.

Stokes, M. & Westropp, T. J/ 1896/1901.’Notes on the High Crosses of Moone, Drumcliff, Termonfechin, and Killamery. (Plates XXVIII. to LI.)The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy , Vol. 31 (1896/1901), pp. 541-578.