• Jane W. Shackleton’s Western Islands

    One of the largest collections of early photographs taken by a female photographer in Ireland were taken by Jane W. Shackleton (née Edmundson, 1843-1909). Mrs Shackleton was from a well-established Quaker family that could claim descent from William Edmundson, who held the first Quaker meeting in Ireland in Lurgan in 1654. During the later 19th century and early 20th century, an interest in photography was a feature of many Quaker families. The most famous of these was the Belfast photographer, William A. Green (1870-1958), and his photographic interests are broadly similar to Jane W. Shackleton. A lesser known, but highly skilled Quaker photographer was Robert L. Chapman (1891-1965).

    Jane Wigham Shackleton was the daughter of Joshua and Mary Edmundson. Joshua Edmundson (1805-48) had established a firm in the 1830s at 35 and 36 Capel Street, Dublin, called Joshua Edmundson & Co. that was described as ‘house furnishers, iron mongers, cabinet makers, upholsterers, plumbers, gas fitters, brass & iron founders, gas, lighthouse and sanitary engineers, electricians’. In March 1866 Jane married Joseph Fisher Shackleton, of the famous Shackleton family whose Irish roots were established in Ballitore, Co. Kildare in the early 18th century.

    Joseph Shackleton’s father George decided to expand the Ballitore milling business by establishing an office at 35 St. James’ Street in Dublin and acquiring three mills in the Lucan area of County Dublin. The Dublin mills were at Grange and Lyons (on the 12th and 13th locks of the Grand Canal) and Anna Liffey on the River Liffey. Joseph Shackleton managed the three mills, and he and Jane established their home beside the mill at Anna Liffey. The Anna Liffey Mill produced the famous Lily of the Valley flour, as well as semolina, ground rice and wheat, and worked until 1998.

    The origins of Jane W. Shackleton’s interest in photography are shrouded in mystery. It appears that she first began taking photographs in the mid 1880s, and from the outset processed her own prints from the negatives at Anna Liffey. From about 1889 Jane W. Shackleton began producing lantern slides from her photographs. At this time Jane W. Shackleton occasionally found herself giving lectures to various groups, and illustrated these with her own lantern slides. As well as the lantern slides, several volumes of her lecture notes also survive. Generally these give little insight into her developing interest in photography, but it does appear that she did not see herself as an accomplished photographer. While it may be true that she did not have great technical skills, Mrs Shackleton’s photographs display a very intelligent choice of subject matter and composition.

    It appears that Jane W. Shackleton first began taking photographs of her six children, extended family members and friends in the mid 1880s. Soon Jane W. Shackleton began to include subjects of local interest around Lucan, and the family connections with Ballitore and Mountmellick are also reflected around this time. As the children grew older, family excursions became more numerous and more adventurous. In 1888 Jane W. Shackleton and her husband spent three weeks in Norway, where they took an interest in an 18ft boat built on the Hardanger Fjord. Sometime later this boat arrived at Anna Liffey, and in 1889 the family took this boat by rail to Carrick-on-Shannon from where they spent ten days travelling down the River Shannon to Killaloe. Over the coming years the family made regular trips along the Shannon, as well as the Grand Canal.

    In 1892 Jane W. Shacketon was elected a member of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, and she regularly participated in the Society’s trips around the country. This presented Jane W. Shackleton with even greater opportunities to visit many more places around the country.

    The west of Ireland, and in particular the Aran Islands, was a favourite subject of many photographers at this time. Many of Jane W. Shackleton’s contemporaries tended to focus on either people or places, in particular the rich archaeological remains of that part of the country. However, more than most photographers of the time, Jane W. Shackleton tended to encourage local people to be part of her photographs. Some photographers, such as Robert Welch, frequently included young children who were carefully placed and often in side profile. Jane W. Shackleton included much larger groups of people of all ages. While these people are always placed in the photograph, Jane W. Shackleton does not appear to have contrived their positioning, resulting in more natural looking portraits than was usually the case at this time.

    Jane W. Shackleton first visited the largest of these islands, Inis Mór during a five day trip in August and September 1891, and she returned to the island in July 1892. Apart from these personal trips to Aran, she also visited the islands on shorter occasions as part of the archaeological excursions organised by the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland in July 1895, June 1897, July 1901 and June 1904. She last visited Inis Mór in April 1906.

    During her visits to Inis Mór, Mrs Shackleton regularly photographed the children attending the various schools on the island, such as at Onaght and Killeany. In particular she seems to have developed a relationship with David O’Callaghan, the teacher at Oatquarter since 1885. He became actively involved in trying to improve the lives of the islanders, and unlike many of his colleagues elsewhere in the country, he passionately believed in the importance of the Irish language and teaching in the Irish language also. This is reflected in what appears to have been Jane W. Shackleton’s first encounter with the teacher when she arrived in a cruise ship Caloric that anchored off Kilmurvey in July 5th 1895. Jane W. Shackleton was one of a large party of members of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland that had visited several islands along the west coast before arriving off the Aran shoreline. According to her subsequent lecture notes:

    “Soon canoes [curragh’s] came off from the shore. From one of them a respectably dressed man came on board; he was the school master from Oatquarter, one of the villages. He had brought his children to show them the steamer. He inquired gravely “Is the Society going to make investigation of the oldest monument of all” – “What may that be?” he was asked. The Irish language was the reply. He went on to suggest that perhaps some of the learned gentlemen would give an address to the islanders in their native tongue! He sang some songs in Irish, as also did some of the island men & they danced some jigs for the amusement of the company”.

    She noted that the schools were given a holiday in honour of the Society’s visit - primarily because if they had not been given a holiday they would have taken it. In April 1906 she visited the school at Oatquarter and arranged with David O’Callaghan to photograph the school children. In a letter to her family she describes the girls singing some Irish songs for them:

    “Then came the photographing – a troublesome job as it was very windy. First the boys - & then the girls. They all look hearty & healthy – very clean and well dressed, mostly in white and red flannel”.

    Mrs Shackleton took an active interest in many of the people that she met. During a visit in July 1895 she met and photographed Bridget Mullins;

    “The people were so glad to be photographed & were very obliging in bringing out a spinning wheel as I had expressed a wish to see one. The spinner was so grateful for the photographs I sent her that she sent me shortly after a pair of stockings that she had knit for me from wool of her own spinning”.

    At one point in her lecture notes Jane W. Shackleton commented that:

    “There is no difficulty in finding guides – even if you do not want them – they will keep by you for half a day for the pleasure of your society”.

    In particular she was fond of a young boy named Michael Dillane who seems to have been a frequent companion and she felt that in time he would make an excellent guide for visitors to the island.

    These were not the only islands visited and photographed by Jane W. Shackleton. In 1894 she personally visited Iniskea, Co. Mayo and Inishmurray, Co. Sligo. In July 1895 she revisited Inishmurray and also stopped off at Tory Island, Co. Donegal and Clare Island, Co. Mayo, as part of a cruise around the northern and western coast of Ireland organised by the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. The Society organised a number of similar cruises at this time in the hope of bringing public attention to some of Ireland’s most extraordinary and inaccessible archaeological monuments.

    When the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland visited Inishmurray in July 1895 the island’s King, Waters, was on the mainland, so instead they were received by Heraughty. Jane W. Shackleton was already acquainted with Heraughty, having visited Inishmurray the previous year. She later wrote:

    “Heraghty received us on landing & was most kind in showing us all he could in the time. He met me as I went ashore from the Caloric’s boat with a hearty welcome - inquiring for the others who had been with me before ... he ought to be Righ or King as his father before him - but his mother married again & his step brother Waters now seems to be the leading man on the island”.

    In fact, the island was repopulated in the early 1800s, and it was decided to instate the title of King of Inishmurray in keeping with the long standing traditions of other western islands such as Tory and Iniskea. However, the title on Inishmurray was largely nominal and came with little of the authority that the so-called kings of other islands enjoyed. Jane W. Shackleton wrote that Heraughty took the group to see the holy well known as:

    “Tober-na-coragh, meaning the Well of assistance. The legend attaching to it is that when there are storms of long duration preventing communication with the mainland if the waters of this well are drained off into the Atlantic and certain prayers offered, a calm will ensue. Surely this may be considered a relic of paganism, and yet our friend Heraghty spoke of it in all seriousness.”

    Heraghty’s daughter seems to have been keen to leave the island and visit the Shackleton’s home at Anna Liffey;

    “She was very anxious to see a little of the world outside her island home and entreated me to ask her Dada if he would let her go by train to pay a visit to us, but I put it off to some future occasion.”

    During the early 1900s Jane W. Shackleton was still visiting many parts of the country and actively taking photographs. However, in 1906 her mother, Mary Edmundson died, and her husband Joseph suffered from a stroke. This seems to have brought a sudden end to her photography. Joseph died in April 1908, and on 5th April 1909 Jane W. Shackleton herself died. The Shackleton family continued to operate the mill at Anna Liffey for many years to come, but for many decades the photographs were forgotten. Today the collection consists of over 1000 lantern slides and several thousand prints contained in 44 albums. Unfortunately, the original negatives of these photographs are almost entirely lost – only 58 negatives survive, all of which are glass plates. Despite this, the collection of photographs is a substantial one by any standards and because Jane W. Shackleton was so astute at recognising the importance of a subject, a very large proportion of the photographs are of tremendous historical value.

    For more about Jane Shackleton's photographs see Jane W. Shackleton's Ireland



  • Evidence for early milling on Tory Island, Co. Donegal

    Tory Island off the northwest coast of Donegal was once an important island monastery associated with one of Ireland’s most famous saints, St Columcille. Today, the remains of a round tower and a rare example of a Tau cross in Ireland, are the most visible reminders of that monastery.

    This summer I had the pleasure of visiting Tory Island for the first time, and I quickly stumbled across something that intrigued me.

    At the base of the round tower is a collection of stones, including some fragments of ancient stone crosses. The head of one of these crosses has broken away from its shaft, and is resting against the shaft that still sits in its original base. The shaft features the weathered remains of the figure of Christ. It is difficult to offer a precise date for this cross, though this type of representation of Christ is generally believed to date to around the middle of the 12th century.

    As I looked more closely at the shaft sitting in its base I realised that the base itself had an earlier life before it was used as a stand for the cross.

    In fact, the base was originally a mill stone. It consists of a large granite block, 80cm across and 40cm thick. What is now the top of the base was in fact the underside of the upper stone (or runner stone) of a millstone – the stone that did the actual grinding. This is clearly evident because the surface is slightly concave and very smooth. Another tell-tale sign is the pair of sunken sockets. In fact, originally there would have been four such sockets, forming a cross-shape, but the other two were removed when a hole was subsequently driven through the stone to take the shaft of the cross.

    These sockets are typical of mechanised mills, not mills stones turned by hand. Indeed, the stone in question was clearly much too large to have ever been turned by hand. Instead, the sockets, which are known as rynd-sockets, secured wooden or iron pins connected to a vertical drive shaft. Vertical drive shafts are used to power millstones in windmills, watermills and also animal powered mills.

    It should be noted, that this form of millstone is quite uncommon in Ireland. Most runner stones from this period would be considerably thinner. Not only would they weigh less, but their weight would be more even spread. In this case the sheer thickness of the stone means that the weight is very concentrated. This would certainly be a major determining factor in how it was powered, a question we will come back to in a moment.

    Examples of mill stones reused as the base of crosses are known elsewhere in Ireland, but that is a discussion for another day. What intrigues me about this one is that it is found on an island. It is of course entirely possible that it was brought here from the mainland for the purpose of providing the cross with a ready-made base. However, that this millstone was chosen as the base of the cross strongly implies that it was associated with the monastery in some way. Therefore, this stone is an important piece of evidence that prior to the 12th century (and perhaps significantly earlier) the monastery on the island had a mechanised mill. Of course, it stands to reason that an island monastery such as Tory needed to be reasonably self-sufficient when it came to supplying its own food. The presence of a mill certainly provides tantalising evidence that the monastic community were producing their own cereals.

    However, there is one question that intrigues me even more. Clearly this was a mechanised mill, but how was it powered? It seems unlikely that it was a windmill, though that is not out of the question. Water powered mills were particularly common during this period, but there is no stream on the island that could have been used to provide the water. Having said that, it is certainly possible that there was a tidal mill, powered by the tidal action of the sea, such as at Nendrum, Co. Down. Also, there are a number of small lakes on Tory Island, and it is known that the water of a lake was used to power an early watermill on High Island, Co. Galway, another island monastery. The final possibility, and it is one that I am inclined to lean towards is that it was powered by an animal, such as a pony. I suggest this, because I feel that the concentrated weight of this stone would make it very difficult to turn by a drive shaft that was being powered from below, as in the case of most watermills. However, the drive shaft of an animal-driven mill is invariably powered from above, which would be far more efficient for this form of stone.



  • Reek Sunday – the Lughnasa pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo

    It is generally well-known throughout the west of Ireland that the last Sunday in July is called Reek Sunday, a day when many thousands of people from all over the west, and beyond, travel to Croagh Patrrick to walk, sometimes barefooted, to the summit of the mountain and back.

    However, what is not so well-known is that Reek Sunday is in fact the largest Lughnasa event anywhere in the world.

    The ancient Irish festival of Lughnasa, celebrating the pre-Christian deity Lugh, was one of the most important times in the Irish calendar, and essentially originated as a harvest festival. The festival survived the coming of St Patrick and Christianity, but by the end of the 19th century it had almost died out in most parts of the country. However, one place where the Lughnasa festival never died away is the annual pilgrimage to the summit of the Reek. Indeed, today, despite the fact that it had to be cancelled this year due to weather conditions, the annual pilgrimage to the Reek is as strong as it ever was.

    In the early 19th century the pilgrimage took place on the last Friday of July, rather than a Sunday, and this day was known as Garland Friday. At that time, after people had climbed to the summit, people gathered at at Murrisk, at the foot of the mountain, where the festivities continued. The English travel writer William Thackeray, in his Irish Sketch-Book (1843), provides an interesting account of the climbing of the Reek on Garland Friday, 1842. Thackeray’s view of these Catholic Irish proceedings was generally not a sympathetic one and his sarcasm is easily detected in his writings. He found 50 tents in a field in the pouring rain and he described the scene:

    ‘Stalls were spread about, whereof the owners were shrieking out the praises of their wares - great, coarse, damp-looking bannocks of bread for the most part, or mayhap, a dirty collection of pigs’ feet, and such refreshments. Several of the booths professed to belong to “confectioners” from Westport or Castlebar, the confectionery consisting of huge biscuits and doubtful-looking ginger-beer - ginger-ale, or gingeretta, it is called in this country, by a fanciful people, who love the finest titles. Add to these, caldrons containing water for tay at the door of the booths, other pots full of masses of pale legs of mutton (the owner “prodding” every now and then for a bit, and holding it up and asking the passenger to buy). In the booths, it was impossible to stand upright, or to see much, on account of smoke. Men and women were crowded in these rude tents, huddled together, and disappearing in the darkness. Owners came bustling out to replenish the emptied water-jugs, and land ladies stood outside in the rain calling strenuously upon all passersby to enter.…

    Meanwhile, high up on the invisible mountain, the people were dragging their bleeding knees from altar to altar, flinging stones, and muttering some endless litanies, with the priests standing by.’

    The earliest historical reference to Croagh Patrick was made by Tírechán, writing a life of St Patrick around AD 700. Tírechán, bishop of Armagh, belonged to the northern branch of the Uí Fiachrach of north Mayo. According to Tírechán, after founding a church at Aghagower,

    “Patrick proceeded to Mons Aigli, intending to fast there for forty days and forty nights, following the example of Moses, Elias, and Christ. And his charioteer died at Muiresc Aigli, that is, the plain between the sea and Mons Aigli, and there Patrick buried his charioteer Totmáel, and gathered stones for his burial-place …… And Patrick proceeded to the summit of the mountain, climbing Cruachán Aigli, and stayed there forty days and forty nights, and birds were troublesome to him and he could not see the face of the sky and land and sea (…) because to all the holy men of Ireland, past present, and future, God said: ‘Climb, o holy men, to the top of the mountain which towers above, and is higher than all the mountains to the west of the sun in order to bless the people of Ireland’, so that Patrick might see the fruit of his labours, because the choir of all the holy men of the Irish came to him to visit their father; and he established a church in Mag Humail (Bieler 1979, 151-3).

    Subsequent versions of St Patrick’s life include more elaborate accounts of Patrick’s visit to west Mayo. These appear to be based on Tírechán’s version of Patrick’s itinerary. There is also a refinement of Patrick’s visits to Croagh Patrick, and a continuation of the explicit Biblical comparisons between Patrick on the Reek and Moses on Mount Sinai. The pre-Christian sacred mountain was now brought firmly into Biblical traditions. The story of the bell as a weapon against the evil forces is also introduced at this time. This is clearly illustrated in the eighth-century Vita Quarta:

    climbing to the summit of the mountain which is called Cruachanus, he fasted for forty days and forty nights. Then most wretched demons, enemies of the human race, came to the blessed Patrick in the form of the blackest birds so that he could see neither sky nor sea nor earth. The most blessed Patrick having faith in God’s mercy fought alone against the crowd of demons, and finally angered threw his bell at them, which falling down was broken in pieces. However, an angel of the Lord put the bell back together and brought it over to the blessed Patrick. This bell is honoured in Ireland to this day.

    Moreover the merciful Lord comforted his soldier, bringing a host of angels before him in the form of white birds, who comforted the most blessed Patrick with great modulation of singing ….. coming down from the mountain he founded a church on the plain beside the mountain (Byrne & Francis 1994, 54).

    The Tripartite Life of Patrick, compiled c. 900 (Bieler 1979, 30), is more elaborate:

    Then Patrick went unto Cruachan Aigle on Saturday of Whitsuntide. The angel came to commune with him, and said to him: ‘God gives thee not what thou demandest, because it seems to him excessive and obstinate, and great are the requests’. ‘Is that His pleasure?’ saith Patrick. ‘It is’, saith the angel. ‘Then this is my pleasure (saith Patrick), I will not go from this Rick till I am dead or till all the requests are granted to me’.

    Then Patrick abode in Cruachan in much displeasure, without drink, without food, from Shrove Saturday to Easter Saturday, after the manner of Moses son of Amra …..

    Now at the end of those forty days and forty nights the mountain was filled with black birds, so that he knew not heaven nor earth. He sang maledictive psalms at them. They left him not because of this. Then his anger grew against them. He strikes his bell at them, so that the men of Ireland heard its voice, and he flung it at them, so that its gap broke out of it, and that (bell) is ‘Brigit’s Gapling’. Then Patrick weeps till his face and his chasuble in front of him were wet. …. Then the angel went to console Patrick, and cleansed the chasuble, and brought white birds around the Rick, and they used to sing sweet melodies for him ….. (Stokes 1887, I, 113-21).

    Finally, almost as an addendum: ‘So Patrick’s charioteer died and was buried between the Rick and the sea’ (ibid., 121). This detail appears to have been taken from Tírechán, though the chronology is different. The way in which this final detail is added on would appear to suggest that its original meaning had become unclear.

    Apart from the Lives, there are occasional references in the Annals that indicate the importance of Croagh Patrick as a place of pilgrimage and the significance of that pilgrimage within the wider Patrician pantheon. According to the Annals of Ulster in 1113 ‘a ball of fire came on the night of the feast of Patrick on Cruachain Aighle, and destroyed thirty of those fasting’ (MacAirt & MacNiocaill 1983, 553). This is probably the same event described in the Chronicum Scotorum; ‘Ua Longain, Airchinnech of Ard-Patrick, was burned by lightening on Cruach Padraig’ (Hennessy 1866, 315). Clearly this illustrates the significance of the pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick at the beginning of the twelfth century. Furthermore, the fact that among those killed was the erenagh of Ardpatrick, Co. Limerick, is highly significant. Clearly it illustrates that Croagh Patrick at the beginning of the twelfth century was firmly linked to the Patrician matrix, and that formal links had been established and were being maintained between the various Patrician foundations. It is also worth noting that the pilgrimage in question took place on the Saint’s feast day (i.e., March 17).

    Many legends attempt to confirm the historic associations of St Patrick to the area, especially in relation to Croagh Patrick. Legends tell of how, when St Patrick visited the mountain, he was supposed to have been tormented by Caorthannach, the devil’s mother assuming the shape of a serpent. Patrick banished this demon into the lake immediately south of Croagh Patrick, which was named Lough Nacorra after the serpent (MacNeill 1962, 74). According to another legend recorded by John O’Donovan, before ‘Patrick’s conflict with the demons there was no lake there, but he drove Corra, the fiercest of them, into this hollow with so much violence that he caused the lake to spring forth’ (O’Flanagan 1926, vol. 1, 218). According to local tradition the Corra was female (ibid.), and is supposed to have escaped to Lough Derg, Co. Donegal, where she was finally defeated by Patrick (MacNeill, ibid.). In 1838 Caesar Otway was told by a local guide that there was a terrifying serpent fastened alive to the bottom of the lake (Otway 1839, 314-5). Other traditions claim that Patrick banished the demons into a hollow in the mountainside known as Lug na nDeamhan (‘the hollow of the devils’) (MacNeill, ibid.). These legends are clearly an attempt to link Lough Nacorra with the historical accounts of St Patrick’s visit to Croagh Patrick when he was tormented by the black birds (Bieler 1979, 153) or demons (Stokes 1887, vol. 1, 115).

    Linked to these legends of Patrick’s torment by birds or serpents is the tradition that one of his followers, Meeiune, was killed by serpents, or devils in their form, on the summit of the Reek (MacNeill 1962, 502-3). One story tells of how Patrick was accompanied to the mountain by Benen, who was unable to climb the final ascent. Patrick continued and when he descended he found Benen’s skeleton, as the vultures driven from the summit by Patrick had devoured him. Patrick then raised a leacht in his honour (MacNeill 1962, 546-7). Here folklore corresponds with Tírechán’s claim that a stone cairn was raised over the body of Totmáel who died before Patrick’s ascent of the mountain. According to the Tripartite Life of Patrick, Patrick’s unnamed charioteer died and was buried between the mountain and the sea (Stokes 1887, vol. 1, 121). Folklore consistently refers to Meeiune or Benen, and O’Donovan has argued that Mionnain derives from Mo-Bhionnáin, ‘my Benan’ (O’Flanagan 1926, vol. 1, 216-7). Indeed, the first station of the Croagh Patrick pilgrimage is Leacht Mionnain, and consists of a small cairn of stones situated on the eastern shoulder of Croagh Patrick.

    The story of St Patrick being attacked by serpents is inextricably linked with legends surrounding The Black Bell of St Patrick. For example, when Walker visited the mountain in 1825 he recorded the local tradition that:

    it was by virtue of this bell that St. Patrick banished the infidels off the top of the rick. It was it that awoke St. Finnan [presumably a misidentification of Meeiune/Benan], who was asleep at the foot of the hill when the infidels, with Kiraghna (she is said to be the devil’s mother) at their head, attacked St Patrick one morning. Finnan being awoke, ran straightway to the assistance of St Patrick, and advised him to cast the bell at them: this he did, and knocked down the first, and the bell returned to him every time till he had the last of them beaten. The old mother by chance looked at the bell, and though it was silver she turned it black, and at last it turned into iron (quoted in Page 1836, 75).

    According to O’Donovan:

    The Bell was manufactured in Heaven and when sent down to St Patrick was as white as snow and brighter than polished silver; but by the continual pelting of it at the Demons of the Reek it was gradually blackened, from which circumstance it received its present appellation of Clog Dubh or the Black Bell. During Saint Patrick’s struggle (conflict) with the demons, in which this bell was shot against them like a thunderbolt, he broke the Heaven sent Cymbalum or Tintinnabulum, which was originally called Clog Geal or the White Bell, and an angel was directly sent from Heaven to repair it, and the piece is still shewn which this celestial tinker rivetted to it (O’Flanagan 1926, vol. 2, 81-2).

    These stories clearly represent attempts to link this bell to the Life accounts of St Patrick using a bell by either striking it or throwing it at the demon birds, and thereby scattering them. Indeed, the folk explanation that the bell became damaged or corroded as a direct result of its contact with the ‘demons’ also finds validity in the early sources, for example the Tripartite Life of Patrick (Stokes 1887, vol. 1, 115) and also the Lebar Brecc which relates that Patrick “strikes his bell, until a gap broke in it” (ibid., vol. 2, 477).

    It has been argued that Croagh Patrick has been a sacred mountain throughout the prehistoric period, since at least the Neolithic period (Corlett 1996; 1997a). According to the Third Irish Life of St Kevin, Croagh Patrick was among the four chief places of pilgrimage in Ireland (the others being Lough Derg, Co. Donegal, Glendalough, Co. Wicklow and Monaincha, Co. Tipperary) (Plummer 1922, vol. 2, 156). Croagh Patrick is also listed in the Triads as one of the three heights of Ireland (Meyer 1906, 5). Today the pilgrimage is still an extremely important one, due in part to its revitalisation by Dr Healy, Archbishop of Tuam, who procured the funding for the construction of a church on the mountain summit in 1905. Apart from this recent building there are also the remains of a small rectangular building that may represent an early church, and an enclosure that appear to be of early medieval date.

    The earliest recorded pilgrimage here is on St Patrick’s feast day in the year AD 1113, when the Annals of Ulster record that;

    a ball of fire came on the night of the feast of Patrick on Cruachain Aighle, and destroyed thirty of those fasting (MacAirt & MacNiocaill 1983, 553).

    However, according to O’Donovan writing in 1838, the most popular date for pilgrimage the pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick was on Garlic Friday, which he incorrectly suggested was about 15th August (O’Flanagan 1926, vol. 1, 217). Other records suggest a strong local tradition of performing the pilgrimage on Aoine Chrom Dubh, the last Friday in July (MacNeill 1962, 83). For example, Barrow (1836, 183), who visited the area in the autumn of 1835 noted that the principle day of pilgrimage was Garlic Friday. The current date on which the pilgrimage is performed is the last Sunday of July, perhaps reconciling the Christian values of the Sabbath and the pagan values of Lughnasa. Today the pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick can be carried-out at any time of the year, and there is no reason to assume that this hasn’t always been a feature of the pilgrimage.

    The 1st-edtion Ordnance Survey maps indicate sections of a routeway traditionally called known as Tóchar Phádraig, Patrick’s Road, believed to be the formal routeway for pilgrims to Croagh Patrick. It is generally accepted that this route starts at Ballintubber Abbey some 12km to the east-south-east. This Augustinian Abbey was founded in 1216, though it may have been founded on the site of an earlier church. It seems likely that the Abbey took control of the pilgrimage route to Croagh Patrick in order to bring the patronage and status of pilgrims to the Abbey. It is possible that this was based on some earlier claim of the site being the origin of the pilgrim road. This pilgrim route enters west Mayo at Toberrooaun. It then passes three early ecclesiastical foundations – Aghagower, Lankill and Boheh – before ascending Croagh Patrick. At Aghagower it is probably no coincidence that Croagh Patrick appears to have been visible from within the early church building looking out the west doorway. Aghagower was the most important church site along the pilgrimage route from Ballintubber. The features at Aghagower include a Round Tower, two holy wells, a Leaba Phádraig and perhaps a tooth shrine associated with St Patrick at Teampull na bhFiacal. The Black Bell of St Patrick may also have been kept at Aghagower at certain times, though there is no direct evidence to support this. All of these features illustrate that Aghagower assumed and established a primary role in the pilgrimage route to Croagh Patrick. Indeed, it is likely that pilgrims were provided with overnight lodging at Aghagower before proceeding on the final leg of the pilgrimage route. According to tradition, the pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick was completed by the most devout pilgrims by continuing from the summit westward to Kilgeever and even a trip to Caher Island (MacNeill 1962, 82). Unfortunately, the traditions surrounding this are poorly documented, and it is not clear as to the antiquity of this aspect of the pilgrimage. It is also worth noting that up to 1970 the main pilgrimage on the last Sunday of July was carried out at night. Despite the lack of documentary evidence, this appears to of great antiquity.


    BARROW, J., 1836, A tour round Ireland, through the sea-coast counties, in the autumn of 1835. London.

    BIELER, L., 1971, Four Latin Lives of St Patrick. Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Dublin.

    BIELER, L., 1979, The Patrician Texts in the Book of Armagh. Institute for Advanced Studies, Dublin.

    BYRNE, F.J. & FRANCIS, P., 1994, ‘Two lives of Saint Patrick’. Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 124, 5-117.

    CORLETT, C., 1996, ‘Prehistoric Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick’. Cathair na Mart 16, 54-61.

    CORLETT, C., 1997a, ‘Prehistoric Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick’. Archaeology Ireland 11(2), 8-11.

    CORLETT, C., 1998, ‘The prehistoric ritual landscape of Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo’. Journal of Irish Archaeology 9, 9-26.

    HENNESSY, W. M., 1866, Chronicum Scotorum - a chroncile of Irish affairs from the earliest times to AD 1135. London.

    MAC AIRT, S. & MAC NIOCAILL, G. (eds), 1983, The Annals of Ulster (to A.D. 1131). Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

    MAC NEILL, M., 1962, The Festival of Lughnasa. A study of the survival of the Celtic festival of the beginning of the harvest. Oxford University Press, London.

    MEYER, K., 1906, The Triads of Ireland, Royal Irish Academy, Todd Lecture Series Vol. XIII. Dublin.

    O’FLANAGAN, M., 1926, Letters relating to the antiquities of the County of Mayo containing information collected during the progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1838, 2 vols. Unpublished typescript, Bray.

    OTWAY, C., 1839, A Tour of Connaught. William Curry, Jun. & Company, Dublin.

    PAGE, J.R., 1836, Ireland: its evils traced to their source. London.

    PLUMMER, C., 1922, Bethada Náem nÉrenn, Lives of the Irish Saints. Oxford.

    STOKES, W., 1887, The Tripartite Life of Patrick 2 vols. London.


    1 comment

  • The Rathgeran Stone

    There are in fact three examples of rock art in Rathgeran townland, Co. Carlow, but one of these is most commonly referred to as the Rathgeran Stone. This is without doubt the finest example of rock art in south Leinster, and counts as one of the finest in all Ireland. The rock art is situated on a north-facing slope of a hillside, in an area of rocky, unclaimed ground, though the surrounding fields have been cleared of field stones. There are fine views to the north towards Knockscur and Tomduff, and northeast towards Mount Leinster and east-northeast towards Knockroe (there are examples of rock art known from Knockscur and Knockroe). The distant Coppanagh Hills are also visible to the west, and in particular there is a commanding view overlooking Knockmore Hill in the foreground to the north-northwest, where the location of a rock art site is clearly visible.

    The site consists of an earthfast granite boulder (3.1m NNE-SSW, 1.3m ESE-WNW) that stands only 30cm to 40cm high). At NNE end of the stone is a cup (2.5cm across) enclosed by eight closely set, concentric circles (total diameter 56cm across). The two inner-most rings are quite weathered and poorly defined. The incised lines of the enclosing circles average 1.5cm wide and 0.2cm to 0.5cm deep.

    Near the centre of the stone are two conjoined cup and ring motifs. This consists of two small cups, each 2cm across and set 41.5cm apart, joined by an incised line extending between the two. The NE cup is enclosed by seven closely set penannular rings (total diameter 45cm across), whereas the SW cup is enclosed by eight similar pennanular rings (total diameter 53cm across). The outermost rings of these two motifs are conjoined.

    The SSW end of the stone is slightly pitched, featuring decoration on two opposing faces. The E facing slope of the stone here features two cup and ring motifs. The first of these is a cup enclosed by three penannular rings (total diameter 26cm across). From the central cup an incised line extends 16cm E through a break in the enclosing rings.

    At the S tip of the stone is a cup enclosed by a single ring. Also at the SSW end of the stone, but facing W is a cup enclosed by six penannular rings (total diameter 50cm across). Extending NW from the cup an incised line extends as far as the circumference of the outer circle. Beside this is a cup enclosed by four rings (total diameter 28cm across).



  • Splitting rock art in Carlow

    In recent years the discoveries of early prehistoric rock art in Carlow has increased steadily and one of the trends in the county has been the discovery of decorated stones built into modern field boundaries. One such find from Knockroe, between Ballymurphy and Kiltealy, is also one of the most intriguing. In November 2007 the owner Andrew Lloyd widened an existing gate between fields and found the first piece of what proved to be a rock art puzzle. Having noticed that the stone was clearly cut from a larger piece, Andrew was able to identify other stones in the wall that looked as if they may have formed part of the original stone, and soon found two more decorated pieces. These large stones were built into the bottom of the drystone wall and were only partially visible.

    In August 2010 Andrew very kindly gave permission to dismantle the wall in order to extract the stones. Andrew also organised the crew and a machine to carefully lift these stones out of the wall and reposition them nearby. Very soon we found the fourth and final part of the jig saw. It proved difficult to reconstruct them flat on the surface, as they would have been originally. Instead, we opted to reassemble them in an upright position where they fitted neatly together, forming one side of the field gate where they were found.

    The stone tells a very interesting history. Though today the stone resembles a decorated orthostat of a passage tomb, when the decoration was originally applied to this stone in the Neolithic it was a low lying recumbent boulder measuring 1.6m x 1m across. The decoration consists of a series of cup and rings (some oval rather than circular) – mostly multiple rings, and many featuring lines extending from the central cup marks. This is one of the largest and most decorated examples from Carlow. At some point in time, perhaps late in the 18th century, the surrounding fields were improved and cleared - the large earthfast boulders were broken up and built into the stone walls. The fact that this stone was so obviously decorated with ancient art did not deter the stone cutters who maliciously, albeit carefully, split the large boulder into four equal pieces using wooden wedges, the scars of which are very much evident on the stone today. The final act of disrespect on the part of the stone cutters was to build the broken pieces into the wall in such a way that they were so well concealed that their recent discovery was purely accidental. This is not the first and presumably not the last example of rock art to be found concealed within the stone walls of Carlow.




You are viewing the text version of this site.

To view the full version please install the Adobe Flash Player and ensure your web browser has JavaScript enabled.

Need help? check the requirements page.

Get Flash Player