Saturday, 27 February 2010

The Church at Kildare - a lost reality?

The description of the church at Kildare by Cogitosus has given rise to some scholarly controversy. In the past it has been suggested that the whole thing is no more than a literary conceit on the part of the hagiographer. In the 1960s, for example, one scholar argued that the description of the church at Kildare was a 'pure figment of the imagination' inspired by a desire to imitate Adamanan's description of the the Anastasis Rotunda in Jerusalem in his work, De Locis Sanctis. I have been reading a recent paper, however, which accepts the historical reality of the church as described by Cogitosus and which seeks to explain it against the backdrop of seventh-century ecclesiastical politics. The author argues that the architectural peculiarities of Kildare can be explained by imitatio Romae, a self-conscious desire on the part of this Irish foundation to ape the features of Roman churches. Here is some of the evidence she offers:

Why does Kildare diverge from the other Irish churches of its day to accommodate a longitudinal barrier down the centre of its nave to separate worshippers by gender, even to the extent of foregoing a western door? The answer may be that Kildare was copying a foreign precedent, not from Africa or Spain as proposed by Radford and Thomas, but rather from Rome. In the Roman ordines, particularly in the seventh-century Ordo I, there are consistent parallelisms of layout and function with the approximately synchronous church at Kildare. In the ordines, the congregation in the nave was separated by sex with the men to the south and the women to the north, as elsewhere in the early church....

...Additional features of Kildare may demonstrate Roman influence. At St Peter's it is unlikely that the faithful used the central doorway ; instead they used lateral doors, two on the north for women and two on the south for men. Kildare with its single gender-specific doorways in the north and south walls of the nave, may provide a scaled-down version of this aspect of St Peter's. The draperies at Kildare were also echoed at Rome as elsewhere in the early church... Whatever the placement and function of the draperies of Kildare's chancel barrier, both the determination to purchase them and Cogitosus's decision to describe them may suggest knowledge of Roman practice and the prestige that costly fabrics could confer.

The evidence suggests that the community of Kildare were aware both of Ordo Romanus I and of specific Roman structures, possibly through pilgrims' reports, and that they were willing and able to modify received ideas to fit the more modest scale and liturgical needs of an Irish monastic church. No particular Roman church is imitated in all particulars, but Roman precedent in general was applied effectively and with probable intent.

Why would Kildare, in reconstructing its monastic church in the mid-seventh century, depart from generalized norms of Irish church construction in order to follow Rome? The answer may lie in contemporary ecclesiastical politics. In the Prologue to his Life of Brigit, Cogitosus claims for Kildare a position of authority in Ireland 'It is the head of almost all the Irish churches with supremacy over all the monasteries of the Irish and its paruchia extends over the whole land of Ireland, reaching from sea to sea'. This is more a statement of ambition than of fact, as Kildare's claims to authority were eventually overpowered by those of Armagh. By the mid-seventh century, if current concensus is accurate in dating the Liber Angeli, Armagh was indentifying itself with Rome in that text in a bid for metropolitan status, a concept in itself profoundly Roman... The deliberate imitatio Romae of its splendid new monastic church, in combination with the claims to ecclesiastical power and advancement of the cult of its founder saint by Cogitosus's Vita, may be the otherwise silenced voice of Kildare in a climate of severe competition and exclusion.. Far from being a figment of scholarly imagination, the Romanitas of the monastic church at Kildare as described by Cogitosus may well be a stratagem in the realpolitik of the internal struggles of the church and the dynastic rivalries of mid-seventh century Ireland.

Carol Neuman de Vegvar, 'Romanitas and Realpolitik in Cogitosus' Description of the Church of St Brigit, Kildare' in Martin Carver (ed.), The Cross Goes North: Processes of Conversion in Northern Europe, AD 300-1300 (Boydell Press, 2006), 153-167.

This post was first published here.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Benedict XVI and the Sacred Liturgy

Benedict XVI and the Sacred Liturgy

Neil J. Roy & Janet E. Rutherford, editors

Benedict XVI and the Sacred Liturgy
is the published proceedings of the first Fota International Liturgical Conference held in Cork, Ireland, in July 2008 and it aims to provide a general overview of some of the more important themes in Benedict XVI’s liturgical writings. It serves as a broad introduction to issues central to Benedict XVI's concern for authentic renewal of Catholic worship, according to the principles set out by the Second Vatican Council, and to his critique of liturgical innovations deviant from those principles. The book explores some of the formative influences on Joseph Ratzinger's liturgical vision and points to the consistent application of those critically assimilated influences over a spectrum of issues facing modern liturgical scholarship: the recovery of the sacred, the cosmic and eschatological dimensions of Christian worship, advocacy of continuity rather than rupture in the liturgical tradition; the need for historical and intellectual honesty in discerning development (as well as in areas such as vernacular translations of the core texts of the Roman Rite); and the renewal of genuine scientific exploration of the sources of the Roman Rite. The book is aimed at a professional and general audience. For the most part, it is easily accessible and plots the map for a series of more specific issues to be dealt with in the Fota Liturgical Conference Series.

Revd Dr Neil J. Roy is visiting assistant Professor, University of Notre Dame, Indiana. Janet E. Rutherford is the hon. Secretary, Patristic Symposium, Maynooth".


"The Fota Liturgical series represents an important contribution to the new liturgical movement called for by Joseph Ratzinger as early as 1989. This first volume in the series, Benedict XVI and the Sacred Liturgy, brings together the reflections of liturgical scholars, drawn from North America and Europe, on several of the issues central to that renewal of Christian worship desired by the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the sacred liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium."
Antonio Cardinal Canizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments

"Long before his ascent to the papacy, Joseph Ratzinger believed that the celebration of the liturgy was not only central to Catholic life, but that liturgical aberrations contributed mightily to post-Conciliar confusion and decline. Benedict XVI and the Scared Liturgy is an excellent starting point for exploring the Holy Father's liturgical vision and concerns as the Church moves to purify and renew the liturgy."
George Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney

Monday, 22 February 2010

Sacred College Vacancies

Following upon discussion of vacanct Sees in Ireland, it is interesting to note that the Sacred College is also witnessing vacancies brought about by the limits in age and number confirmed by the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis. That is to say, a maximum of 120 Cardinals Elector may participate in the Papal Conclave and, of those, only those who are below the age of 80 years may participate.

At present, the Sacred College holds only 110 Cardinals eligible to participate in the next Conclave, His Eminence, Cardinal Ambrozic having reached the age of 80 on 27th January, 2010. During the course of 2010, Their Eminences, Cardinals Maida, Williams, Casado (all 3 in March), McCarrick (July), Poupard (August), De Giorgi, Daoud, Giordano (all 3 in September), Tumi (October) and Pujats (November) will reach the age of 80.

Thus, by the end of this year, the Holy Father will have occasion to replace one sixth of the Cardinals Elector. A further 9 Cardinals will reach 80 years in the course of 2011, 13 during 2012, 10 during 2013, 9 during 2014, only 3 in 2015, and a whopping 15 in 2016.

Of course, it would be hard to exceed the record of Pope Leo XIII who, in the course of a 25 year reign, outlived every other member of the Conclave that elected him.

Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Irish Episcopal Vacancies

With the resignation of Bishop Donal Murray (now Bishop Emeritus of Limerick) and the imminent resignation of Bishop James Moriarty (Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin) two Irish Sees will fall vacant. The Diocese of Cloyne is not vacant but is under an Apostolic Administrator.

Bishop Joseph Duffy of Clogher reached the age of seventy-five years on 3rd February, 2009, at which point, under Canon 401 §1, he was requested to offer his resignation to the Pope. Bishop Colm O'Reilly of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise reached the age of seventy-five on 11th January, 2010, and Bishop William Walsh of Killaloe on 16th January. That is to say Ireland is now in need of at least five new Diocesan Ordinaries.

Next year, two further resignations will be offered when Bishop Christopher Jones of Elphin reaches that age on 3rd March, 2011, and Bishop William Murphy of Kerry reaches that age on 6th June, 2011. Whatever else may be, Bishop John Magee, still Bishop of Cloyne, although the Diocese is now administered by the Archbishop of Cashel and Emly as Apostolic Administrator, will reach that age on 24th September, 2011, by which time Ireland will have had eight episcopal vacancies in two years.

Canon 378 §1 states: To be a suitable candidate for the episcopate, a person must:

1. be outstanding in strong faith, good morals, piety, zeal for souls, wisdom, prudence and human virtues, and possess those other gifts which equip him to fulfil the office in question;
2. be held in good esteem;
3. be at least 35 years old;
4. be a priest ordained for at least five years;
5. hold a doctorate or at least a licentiate in Sacred Scripture, theology or canon law, from an institute of higher studies approved by the Apostolic See, or at least be well versed in these disciplines.

St. Conleth of Kildare pray for us!

Bishop Moriarty's Statement

The Most Reverend Dr. James Moriarty, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, has issued a statement on the meeting of the Holy Father with the Archbishops and Bishops of Ireland. Following upon the statement he made when he offered his resignation to the Holy Father last December, he said that: " it is not a question of 'if' but 'when'. It will not happen immediately but should not go too far beyond Easter."

Let us pray for Bishop Moriarty and for our next Bishop.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

St. Brigid of Kildare - Seventh Annual Pilgrimage

This afternoon the seventh Annual Latin Mass Pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. Brigid of Kildare took place. The procession to and from St. Brigid's Well, Tully, Co. Kildare, took place as usual at 12.30 p.m. After the procession, at 2.30 p.m., Revd. Fr. Desmond Flanagan, Ord. Carm., celebrated Mass in the Gregorian Rite in the Parish Church of St. Brigid, Kildare Town. Three servers and a congregation of forty four were also in attendance.

In his sermon, Fr. Flanagan said that we are extremely lucky in this Country to have so many associations with the Faith everywhere we look. Kildare is a great centre of the Faith in Ireland but is neglected today. St. Brigid is perhaps our greatest native Saint who founded a great ecclesiastical city in Kildare that she ruled with St. Conleth as Bishop. Her glorious example of sanctity and religious life spread throughout Ireland. The Irish missionaries brought the great tradition of religious life begun by St. Brigid to the rest of Europe and later to the whole world.

Another fine heritage we have from St. Brigid is the sanctuary lamp. It was she who began the perpetual flame of Kildare to signify the presence of God who is always with us. Every time that we come into a Church and see the flame of the Sanctuary lamp, we know that Jesus Christ, True God and True Man is really, truely and substantially present in the Tabernacle under the appearance of bread. What a glorious gift to countless generations of Catholics this is. How many of us have been consoled in this vale of tears by the sight of St. Brigid's lamp ever-burning before the Blessed Sacrament? This is another gift of St. Brigid to the Church and another great example for us, that of devotion to the True Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

Ireland was indeed the Island of ancient Saints and Scholars but is is still so today? St. Brigid was a sterling Saint, a woman of Faith and a woman of prayer but she also was a woman who lived the Faith by her example of charity towards her neighbour. He said that the Faith was very much in decline today but that the answer is in our own hands. If each of us in our own lives lives is able to live truely Christian lives not just on pilgrimage and not just on a Sunday morning but seven days a week, we would have made a great start towards bringing our Country back to the Faith.

After Mass, Fr. Flanagan gave Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in the traditional form. Adoremus in Aeternum Sanctissimum Sacramentum!

St. Brigid of Kildare, pray for us!

Friday, 19 February 2010

Latin Mass Statistics

Rorari Caeli has pointed out recently released statistics for the availability of the Traditional Latin Mass across the World (except Ireland, for some reason) as of February 2010. The raw statistics and methodology are available here (in French).

A few headlines are that:

The United States has 289 episcopally authorized every Sunday Latin Mass sites out of a total of 359 (approved + SSPX) with a total Catholic population of 64.6 million. That is 1 episcopally authorised every Sunday Latin Mass site per 223,000 Catholics.

Switzerland has 21 episcopally authorized every Sunday Latin Mass sites out of a total of 45 (approved + SSPX) with a Catholic population of 3.2 million. That is 1 episcopally authorised every Sunday Latin Mass site per 152,000 Catholics.

Britain has 37 episcopally authorized every Sunday Latin Mass sites out of a total of 53 (approved + SSPX) with a total Catholic population of 4.8 million. That is 1 episcopally authorised every Sunday Latin Mass site per 129,000 Catholics.

Germany has 49 episcopally authorized every Sunday Latin Mass sites out of a total of 88 (approved + SSPX) with a Catholic population of 26,297,000. That is 1 episcopally authorised every Sunday Latin Mass site per 537,000 Catholics.

Austria has 11 episcopally authorized every Sunday Latin Mass sites out of a total of 19 (approved + SSPX) with a Catholic population of 5,755,000. That is 1 episcopally authorised every Sunday Latin Mass site per 523,000 Catholics.

Canada has 23 episcopally authorized every Sunday Latin Mass sites out of a total of 39 (approved + SSPX) with a Catholic population of 13 million. That is 1 episcopally authorised every Sunday Latin Mass site per 568,000 Catholics.

Australia has 17 episcopally authorized every Sunday Latin Mass sites out of a total of 28 (approved + SSPX) with a Catholic population of 5,239,000. That is 1 episcopally authorised every Sunday Latin Mass site per 308,000 Catholics.

New Zealand has 6 episcopally authorized every Sunday Latin Mass sites out of a total of 10 (approved + SSPX) with a Catholic population of 459,000. That is 1 episcopally authorised every Sunday Latin Mass per 79,000 Catholics.

Population figures are as in the Pontifical Year Book for 2005.

Ireland had a Catholic population of 4.2 million according to the same statistics. Ireland has 6 episcopally authorised every Sunday Latin Mass sites out of a total of 11 (approved + SSPX). That is 1 episcopally authorised every Sunday Latin Mass site per 694,000 Catholics.

Holy Patrons of Ireland, pray for us!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Vatican Two Hundredth

Today we've seen our two hundredth visit from the Holy See to this blog. Welcome back, your Holiness!

Monday, 15 February 2010

From the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei

The Polish New Liturgical Movement blog and later the main New Liturgical Movement blog have published a clarification from the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei dated 20th January, 2010, which states:

Easter Triduum in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite

1. If there is no other possibility, because, for instance, in all churches of a diocese the liturgies of the Sacred Triduum are already being celebrated in the Ordinary Form, the liturgies of the Sacred Triduum may, in the same church in which they are already celebrated in the Ordinary Form, be additionally celebrated in the Extraordinary Form, if the local ordinary allows.

Celebrating a normal scheduled Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite

2. A Mass in the usus antiquior may replace a regularly scheduled Mass in the Ordinary Form. The question contextualizes that in many churches Sunday Masses are more or less scheduled continually, leaving free only very incovenient mid afternoon slots, but this is merely context, the question posed being general. The answer leaves the matter to the prudent judgement of the parish priest, and emphasises the right of a stable group to assist at Mass in the Extraordinary Form.

Scheduling Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite in the absence of a request from the faithful celebrated even for those unfamiliar with the Extraordinary Form

3. A parish priest may schedule a public Mass in the Extraordinary Form on his own accord (i.e. without the request of a group of faithful) for the benefit of the faithful including those unfamiliar with the Usus Antiquior. The response of the Commission here is identical to no. 2.

The use of the 1970 Calendar, Readings and Prefaces Forbidden in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite

4. The calendar, readings or prefaces of the 1970 Missale Romanum may not be substituted for those of the 1962 Missale Romanum in Masses in the Extraordinary Form.

Readings in the Vernacular in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite

5. While the liturgical readings (Epistle and Gospel) themselves have to be read by the priest (or deacon/subdeacon) as foreseen by the rubrics, a translation to the vernacular may afterwards be read also by a layman.

Laudetur Jesus Christus in aeternum! Amen!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Seventeenth Monthly Mass in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin

In a spectacular reversal of fortune, eighteen people attended the monthly Mass this month. This is the highest attendance since May, 2009, and it stabalises the monthly average attendance for the past 7 months at 12. It is the second time in the past 9 months that the attendance has exceeded 15. It is also the first time that our consultant statistician has had to adjust the trend upwards.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

The Tombs of Saints Brigid and Conleth at Kildare

Below is the famous description of the church at Kildare from the Life of Saint Brigid by Cogitosus. In it the hagiographer describes the tombs of Saints Brigid and Conleth, as well as painting a fascinating picture of the church and its practices. Cogitosus was himself most probably a monastic at Kildare and his Life is usually dated to the third quarter of the seventh century.

Neither should one pass over in silence the miracle wrought in the repairing of the church in which the glorious bodies of both - namely Archbishop Conleth and our most flourishing virgin Brigit - are laid on the right and left of the ornate altar and rest in tombs adorned with a refined profusion of gold, silver, gems and precious stones with gold and silver chandaliers hanging from above and different images presenting a variety of carvings and colours. Thus, on account of the growing number of the faithful of both sexes, a new reality is born in an age-old setting, that is a church with its spacious [site] and its awesome height towering upwards. It is adorned with painted pictures and inside there are three chapels which are spacious and divided by board walls under the single roof of the cathedral church. The first of these walls, which is painted with pictures and covered with wall hangings, stretches width-wise in the east part of the church from one wall to the other. In it there are two doors, one at either end, and through the door situated on the right, one enters the sanctuary to the altar where the Archbishop offers the Lord's sacrifice together with his monastic chapter and those appointed to the sacred mysteries. Through the other door, situated on the left side of the aforesaid cross-wall, only the abbess and her nuns and faithful widows enter to partake of the banquet of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The second of these walls divides the floor of the building into two equal parts and stretches from the west wall to the wall running across the church. This church contains many windows and one finely wrought portal on the right side through which the priests and the faithful of the male sex enter the church, and a second portal on the left side through which the nuns and congregation of women faithful are accustomed to enter. And so, in one vast basilica, a congregation of people of varying status, rank, sex and local origin, with partitions placed between them, prays to the omnipotent Master, differing in status, but one in spirit.

S. Connolly and J-M Picard, 'Cogitosus's Life of Saint Brigit - content and value' in JRSAI, 117, (1987), 25-6.

This post was first published here.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

St. Gobnait of Ballyvourney

Twin towns fascinate me. I don't mean towns twined with foreign towns but two towns that are so close to each other that as they grow, they grow until they are almost one town. In Cork we have two good examples, Enniskean and Ballinkeen on the road to Bandon (where even the pigs were Protestant, it used to be said) and Ballyvourney and Ballymakeery that lie along the Sullane River and on the road thatt takes you from Macroom by way of Coolea over the top of Coom towards Kilgarvan in Kerry.

Bandon was a plantation town. That is, in the 17th century the native Catholic Irish were dispossessed of their lands and Protestants were planted in the locality instead. Over the gate of Bandon the following words were placed by the Planter inhabitants that "Turk, Jew or Atheist may enter here, but not a Papist". It wasn't long before native wit wrote the reply. "Whoe'er wrote this/ hath written well/ for the same is writ/ o'er the gates of hell".

St. Gobnait, another 6th century Saint, lived just to the south of Ballyvourney. Every year on this day and also at Pentecost there are large pilgrimages to do the "turas" or rounds of the beds of her church and to drink the water and a medieval wooden statue of her is displayed for veneration in the Parish Church.

Go mbeannaighe Dia dhuit,
a Ghobnait Naomhtha,
Go mbeannuighe Muire dhuit
is bheannuighim féin dhuit.
Is chughat-sa a thánag ag
gearán mo scéil leat,
Is a d'iarraidh mo leighis
ar son Dé ort.

That means in English:

May God bless you,
Holy Saint Gobnait,
And may Mary bless you,
And I bless you myself.
For it is to you that I come,
To plead my case with you,
To request my healing,
From you on God's part.

She made her foundation in fulfilment of a prophesy. She had fled from home to the Aran Islands to escape persecution but she was told that "her resurrection" was not to take place there but only in the place where she found nine white deer grazing. She returned to the mainland and began her pilgrimage. It is said that at various places she saw white deer grazing along her path but never nine together until she crossed the Sullane River at Ballyvourney and so she settled there and was buried there to await "her resurrection".

It is told of her that when a plague threatened, she marked the boundary of the Parish with her stick and the people of Ballyvourney were spared.

The beehive is the symbol of St. Gobnait because, when a pagan chief was attempting a cattle raid, she took up one of the beehives of the convent and directed it at the raiders. The thieves fled and the cattle were saved.

In the ruins of her church there is a smooth round iron ball set into the wall, known as St. Gobnait's Bowl. It is said to have been used to destroy a fort built by a pagan chief on the hills north of Ballyvourney and was said to have returned to the Saint each time she threw it. Those who have grasped the bowl in the wall will know the miraculous nature of this feat. The grave of Séan O'Riada, the famous musician of Coolea, is here.

A few miles north of Ballyvourney, close to the Foherish River that feeds into the Sullane near Macroom, is Liscarrigane where 'An tAthair Peadar' or Canon Peter O'Leary was born in 1839. His great purpose was to revive the Irish language that he knew as a living language (and which remains a living language in that part of Cork to this day). He wrote "Séadna" and the autobiography "Mo Scéal Féin" which give a vivid impression of the countryside around Liscarrigane and Muskerry.

The Glendav of "Séadna" is to be found at the head of the Foherish valley where Mullaghanish Mountain rises to a height of over 2,000 feet, towering over the Derrynasaggart Mountains that shelter Cork from Kerry but are now punctuated by wind turbines just as a broadcasting mast stands atop Mullaghanish.

He was an outstanding member of the Gaelic League and received the Freedom of buth Cork City and Dublin as well as an honorary Doctorate from the National University of Ireland. He died away to the north east of the County as Parish Priest of Castlelyons just a few months before the achievement of Independence at the height of the Black and Tan persecution.

Devotion to St. Gobnait was given international standing in 1601 when Pope Clement VIII granted an indulgence for pilgrims to her shrine and in 1602 he published a proper office for her feast.

These dates are not coincidental for they mark the last stands of the Irish princes against the English with the help of the Kings of Spain. In 1602 the Irish princes were defeated at the Battle of Kinsale. It spelled the end of the Catholic cause in Ireland for more than three centuries and the end of the the power of the native Irish princes forever. Donal O'Sullivan Beare held out in his castle at Dunboy on the Beara Penninsula for another year but was finally starved into retreat. His famous winter march brought him to the territory of the princes of Ulster, O'Neill and O'Donnell, who were themselves forced into complete exile on the continent in 1607.

O'Sullivan Beara continued to uphold the honour of Ireland while in exile in Spain, where he was assassinated in 1618 by an Englishman. He founded the Irish College at Santiago. His nephew Philip O'Sullivan Beare was both soldier and scholar, publishing Historiae Catholicae Iberniae Compendium, a Catholic History of Ireland in 1621 among other works in an attempt to reply to the English writers who attacked the Irish, just as their compatriots attempted to destroy our native culture and its texts.

Friday, 5 February 2010

The Standing Stone: Clonenagh Church and Cross Slabs, Co. Laois

Before getting to the subject of today's post I just want to answer some of the questions that were asked in the comment box concerning Ardristan and other topics. I felt the questions needed some proper thought and the proper space to deal with them that the comment box doesn't provide.

JTS wrote: ‘Has Ardristan been included on any heritage preservation list? If not why not? Does the standing stone have a view on this?’

All archaeological sites in Ireland are protected under the National Monuments Acts of 1930 and 2004. If an owner of an archaeological site wishes to interfere with or carry out work near that site 2 months notification must be given to the relevant Minister and the National Monuments Service will assess if and how this work can be carried out. Unfortunately this doesn’t protect a site from simply falling down which is sadly the case at Ardristan. There are four basic strategies that are employed when dealing with historical sites.

1. Restoration – This is probably the best option even if the real motiv
ation is earning money from tourism. It ensures that work is carried out to make a place safe and stable and we get a fairly accurate glimpse of a place as it once was.

2. Conservation – This makes a place safe and stable with no rebuilding being carried out. It preserves places in their current state for future generations.

3. Ignore the site – This is the most common practice and is exactly what is happening to Ardristan.

4. Demolition – The site is destroyed. Fortunately this costs money so doesn’t happen too often. Road building is mostly to blame for sites being destroyed.

I would like to see more done for sites. We are fortunate to have so much archaeology in Ireland left for us today but it is rapidly disappearing from our landscape. Basic conservation work could stop a lot of this but it is, of course, a costly exercise. Most restoration that is carried out is done to sites in private ownership. For example, there is the trend in Ireland to convert castles into hotels. However tasteless this may appear it does prevent further destruction to the site. I have been told by many sites owners, who are seeking to carry out restoration or conservation work, that it is very hard to get permission to do so because of the amount of ‘red tape’ that has be worked through. In recent years it has become easier to restore and co
nserve sites because of the involvement of the EU who are keen to preserve sites in Ireland for tourism.

I apologise for the lengthy answer.

Random Thinker wrote: ‘Looks like an unspoilt site. Is it just a good came
ra angle or is this really a site that is not under threat from development?’

As far as I am aware there are no plans to develop near Ardristan. It is largely farm land surrounding the site. There are two standing stones to the North of the church and one to the south so I would imagine that developing anywhere in the area would be difficult.

Alice W wrote: ‘Do you take a view on the preservation of these sites and their relevance to the modern inhabitants to them? Clearly there is some ambivalence in the modern attitude to them, possibly informed by increased materialism/secularism/distance from a common rural heritage. At the same time, it doesn't appear that the Irish have embraced such sites even after emancipation from penal oppression. In fact, it would appear that t
here was a flight from associations with oppression from early on in the Roman Catholic revival in 19 cent. Ireland. Any views?’

In regards to the preservation of sites please read the answer I gave to JTS above. I totally agree that there is ambivalence in the modern attitude. Modern materialism may have something to do with this as you suggest. We have gone through such a rapid change in the past 30 years that we may have become too obsessed with being modern and this has come at the expense of our history. I don’t believe secularism has had a negative effect on historical sites because the ambivalent attitude you mentioned is not confined to ecclesiastical sites. Castles, churches, ancient tombs and more modern fortified houses are victim to the same attitude. Secularism has allowed for a plurality of views and attitudes when dealing w
ith historical sites. The lack of a rural heritage amongst communities may be part of the problem as people no longer feel any connection to a site whether it be positive or negative. These places have now just become part of the scenery so to speak. Maybe in time as the memories of oppression fade people will begin to find a new found interest in these sites. Hopefully it will not be too late.

I hope I didn’t spend too long on these questions and that I answered them sufficiently for you. I look forward to your response.

Please enjoy this week’s article which deals with the fascinating site of Clonenagh in Co. Laois.

– On the N7 between Mountrath and Portlaoise. The church is located on one side of the road while the cross slabs are on the other. Parking is easy here. The church is located at OS: S 387 956 and the cross slabs are located at OS: S 389 958.

Description and history – Little remains now of this once important ecclesiastical site. Now divided by the N7 this is all part of the one complex allegedly founded in 548 by St. Fintan. Nothing remains of the original structure which was destroyed in 838 by the Vikings. The site was plundered again in 937 by the King of Cashel and the Danes of Waterford. Legend says that 7 churches have been located at this site in its history with the remains of one still there and archaeological evidence for 2 others. The present remains are of a 16th century church which was later used as a Protestant church and the graveyard is still used. A holy well, now destroyed, was associated with the site as is a holy tree located there. Before the tree collapsed some years ago, the water that collected in the trunk was thought to have healing properties. The tree collapsed due to severe metal poisoning. It was traditional to hammer coins into the tree as a votive offering. Fortunately new branches have started to grow from the remaining stump, but the coins still persist. I would advise that you don’t hammer coins into the tree and pull out any that you can.

As you would expect of an important site there are many stories surrounding the complex. One interesting story is about a Protestant minister, Rev Sandys, who, after appearing drunk in the pulpit was expelled from the Church of Ireland. He, however, convinced his parishioners that he was still the serving minister and began to offer marriages at any time for the price of 1 pound. He didn’t even require witnesses in order to write out a marriage certificate. Eventually, nearby ministers made sure that Sandys was found out and he was sentenced to death which was reduced to a short term of imprisonment. He was forcibly removed from Clonenagh. As a form of revenge on the Church of Ireland he eventually became a Catholic priest.

Two interesting stories involve St Fintan himself. One tale is that St Fintan would quarry the sand for the building of the church late at night from the Downs in Portlaoise. The local people wondered where he got the sand from and one man set to find out. One morning he saw Fintan returning from the Downs with his horse who he was guiding with a stripped holly branch. The man asked Fintan where he got the sand from. Fintan was so angered at this display of mistrust that he turned the horse into stone and threw the holly stick down which grew into a holly tree. The location of this stone horse is rumoured to be between Clonenagh and Ballyfin but locals who know of its location will not divulge its location to others.

The second tale is that one day Fintan was returning from the Downs once again with his cart full of sand and met a woman who was building a house. She asked for some sand but Fintan refused saying he needed it for his church. She asked if he would give a thimbleful to her and he agreed and when the thimble was full all the sand was gone.

Onto the church and cross-slabs...

Church – Dating to the 16th century, little now remains of this sandstone and limestone building. It is roughly 9m in length and 6.5m wide. Around the arches there are some fine examples of hammer-dressed limestone. In the surrounding churchyard is a stone carved with a human face and another with a skull and crossbones. I was unable to locate these two stones because of the long grass.

Cross Slabs – These recently discovered stones are a wonderful sight and give you a glimpse into the art of the early church in Ireland. These stones date to the 6 and 7th centuries and have a variety of decoration on them. On some stones there are some more modern designs carved onto the early stones and these designs date to the 17th century. These stones are rare in Laois and are important for the county. However, there are fast eroding and when compared to photographs taken only 15 years ago the amount of erosion is shocking. As a matter of conservation they need to be removed to the safety of a museum. The graveyard in which they are kept is poorly maintained and the stones are surrounded with rubbish that had been thrown in by people stopping in the car park. These stones will not be around much longer unless conservation work is carried out.

Difficulty – These two sites are easy to get to and are located directly on the N7. Be careful of the traffic as cars race around this area. The graveyards are poorly maintained and there are many low grave markers that can be easily tripped upon.

This post appeared originally on 'The Standing Stone' and can be found here.

This is the 16th century church. It is in a poor condition with a lot of rubble inside.

This window is in the East end of the church. It was added in the 17th century and is a nice example of a standard Gothic revival window in Ireland. We have little genuine Gothic architecture in Ireland.

The pictures do not do these slabs justice.

This is what remains of the holy tree after years of poisoning by coins.