After traipsing through church ruins, muddy paths and centuries-old graveyards, as well as the history lessons, I decided that I wanted to explore more of the same. So, Sunday I loaded up and headed towards Ardmore.
The big decision is the best way to get there. The most direct route is through the Knockmealdown Mountains. There are about three primarary routes through the mountains: the ‘Vee’ (which we drove twice last summer), the route that I took to Lismore, or the more easterly route. So … East is was. The only problem is that I ended up on a less-than-local road. I never ended up on dirt, but there was a period of time I was seriously wondering what I was thinking. I was thankful that the one vehicle that I met was a tractor. I pulled as far to the side as possible; he moved up and over (wider tires … Amen!) and then I snuck around him.
I was looking for another local road … An unmarked one, at that, to take to a regional road. I actually found it and then was rewarded with a wider-than-normal regional road!
I had considered going to Dungarvan first, but decided on the way to bypass it and head across the bay. I ended up in a fishing village called Helvic. I had read a little about it, but I didn’t stick with me until I drove into the village … All of the signs are in Irish Gaelic! It drove home that I need to learn so Gaelic, not only to speak the basics, but to be able to read it.
From Halvic, I was back on the road to Ardmore. A other village located on the cost, it is positioned between Waterford and Cork. Ardmore is known for its origins. It is said that St Declan landed here and brought Christianity to Ireland; a few years ahead of St Patrick.
Once I located the church site (built on St Declan’s original monastery grounds) and found a place to park, it was up the hill. The first thing that I saw were the reliefs on the church wall of the ruins. There were three sets; the first two are shaped in a half circle and your eyes are drawn to them. After you digest the scenes, you then notice a series of squares telling a story. Upon research, the left relief is the Fall of Adam & Eve and the second relief is of Solomon’s Judgement & The Adoration of the Magi. The series of thirteen panels, nine can still be seen are of different figures. The church was built in the 13th century.
From there, it is off to explore the ‘high tower, located on the grounds. Standing over 90 ft tall, it dominates the horizon. They estimate that it was built in the 12th century.
Exploring the inside of the church, I was drawn to the Ogham stones. There are two of them; one has very clear markings. Ogham stones, about 300 have been found in Ireland, was the earliest form of Irish writing. Megalithic.com has a translation for the pillar-stones.
Also on the grounds, is St Declan’s Oratory. It is believed that the date may date to the 8th century and reputed to be the burial place of St Declan.
Here’s are some pictures of the day….
Location via Google Maps:
a couple miles from Newcastle, County Tipperary is a monastery that was founded in the 6th century and was dedicated to St Brigid, an Irish saint. The buildings date to the 13th century. As we walked around, the enclosed layout showed multiple buildings, including a church and two ‘domestic’ buildings, and cloister. Louise (Nugent) explained that the site was built so that the nuns could move from building to building, completing daily tasks without leaving the premise.
This was our first stop and I was amazed at the number of items that she was able to point out. It was the little things, such as colored plaster work along one of the doors, as well as a limestone doorway. While I have a long way to go, but our last stop I was beginning to name some symbols … Okay, so it was not the easy ones like the sun and moon.
Here is a link to Louise’s site on Molough Abbey.
My day of abbeys, monasteries and churches continues to be one of surprises. We stayed within an eight-to-ten mile radius of the Ardfinnan area; I think Louise could have continued on with these historical ‘nuggets.’ I continued to be amazed at the number of historical sites within the area.
Shanrahan Cemetery was our last stop of the day was located a couple miles west of Clogheen in County Tipperary. As we left the car, my eyes were drawn immediately to the gravestones. Louise has taught me well today and I began to be able to identify some of the symbols.
At the center of the cemetery stands a medieval parish church … and yes, it is in ruin. She also pointed out the two Sheela na Gigs that were recently discovered on the high towers. The site is also known for housing the grave of Father Sheehy, a local Clogheen priest in the mid-1700’s. He became known due to his outspoken nature regarding the Penal Laws. Through the Ascendancy Rule (1691-1778), a number of laws were created to control or restrict religious, political and economic activities. These laws were specifically aimed at the Catholic population. Father Sheehy was subsequently convicted of treason, which lead to his hanging. It didn’t stop there, they also ‘drawn and quartered’ his corpse.
It was also the first time that I saw a door or hatch on the side of a raised tomb. People remove soil from the grave. It is believed that this soil is holy and can have healing effects. For more information on this site and the grave, please take a look at Louise’s blog.
Before long, the sun was beginning to set, the evening’s storm cloud’s were rolling in. Best of all, I had a bit more history about the surrounding area.
Location via Google Maps:
Around a bend or two in the road and tight local roads from Molough Abbey, we pulled over on a small patch of grass and parked. Louise was excited to show me this place, but from where I was looking, I could not see any type of ruins. As we left the car, all I saw was farmland and some trees.
It was within the small grove of trees that the hidden treasure was located. If you drove by, you do not notice anything, even though there is a small gate guarding the site. In we walked and what she introduced me to was numerous tombstones, many with clear carvings. Stone after stone had carvings of suns, moons, ladders, nails and even sponges (of vinegar). Truly amazing!
Her big surprise was a ‘head’ of an Irish bishop (due to conical hat). The stone is different than the ones around it and appears to be much older than the medieval church. They are unclear of its origins, why it was located there, and which bishop it is.
I was given another gift today. During my trip to Jerpoint Park, I met Louise Nugent. An Archeologist; her research focus is on Pilgrimages in Medieval Ireland. Therefore, she is very knowledgeable in medieval parishes, abbeys, etc. Today, she offered to show me some hidden gems within the area that I am staying. It was truly remarkable. And … She was very patient with all of my questions!
As you drive through the countryside, you often see ruins … Sometimes to your left, sometimes to your right; there are castles and high towers. What is very common to see is an 11th or 12th century church, abbey, or monastery in every town or village; each in different stages of ruin. Sometimes all four walls are standing, sometimes only one partial wall covered in vines makes its existence mostly unknown.
What I have found interesting is that the graveyards, which start outside of the church, spread inside the walls … meets the need or desire to be buried closer to God. Grave markers range from simple stones to slabs to elaborate engraved headstones.
In our discussions, Louise had picked up that I was interested in Celtic knots, but that I was also interested in the iconology/symbology. What better place to explore this than church ruins and graveyards.
I was amazed how she would wander through the site and point out a variety of Christian symbols from lambs to ladders to the sun and moon. Some were barely visible, others more elaborate … All were truly, well …. Remarkable. Many will be serving as inspiration for some artwork.
Here is a list of the sites that we visited:
I am going to do separate posts on each site that we visited. In the meantime, I would suggest exploring Louise’s websites ….
And here are some gravestones to pique your interest.