Monday, 4 June 2018

The Track of St. Patrick's Cow in North Tipp

Rinn Bó Phadruig looking east

I was recently reading through some of Dermot F. Gleeson's writings in the North Munster Antiquarian Journal and came across a very interesting one from 1958 titled "St. Patrick in Ormond".

As I read through it I noted that I had read most of the references to St. Patrick in Gleesons paper in the North Tipp area before and it was with great surprise that I found Gleeson's reference to the "Rinne Bó Phadruig" or track of St. Patrick's Cow in the Ormond area.
I had read about St. Patrick's cow's mythical journeys in different parts of the country such as in Limerick near Knockpatrick and in South Tipp / Waterford area from Lismore to Cashel before. Dr. Louise Nugent has written a great paper on it here.

Gleeson details this road as follows in the NMAJ

"The only other tradition of the saint I know of in the Ormond area concerns not himself but his cow. This is the "Rinne Bó Phadruig" or track of St. Patrick;s cow at Grennanstown in Toomevara. On the ancient road, part of which still remains, between Latteragh and Tyone and just after it passes by the road from Ballinamona cross to Grawn, is found a large stone by the roadside with a depression in it said to have been made by the knee of the saint's cow when she fell while running from the devil."

This old road can clearly be made out on the old maps as below.

It runs adjacent to the existing R498 or Thurles Rd and as per a note in Gleesons paper it "leaves the main Nenagh/Thurles road at Sallypark and proceeds vis. Kilnafinch, Carrick Maunsell, and Carrick Peacock, to cross the Ballinamona to Toomevara road a little east of Ballinamona cross."

It is interesting to note the number of eccesiastical sites in and around this road from Borrisoleigh to Nenagh. Going from east to west you pass Glenkeen Monastic site, Latteragh Monastic site, Kilkeary Monastic site and Tyone Monastic site, all which would be on or near the Rinn Bó Padraig.

The road itself is clearly exists as an old track as the photo below and at the start of the piece illustrate (taken near where Lurganaboe is marked on the OS map).

What is also very exciting is that the stone with the marking from the cow is also recorded on the old OS maps as "Lurganaboe".

It is on private property so I haven't had the opportunity yet to see if it still exists, hence the reason for writing this piece. If anyone happens to know its exact location or who the landowners are please do contact me.

Unfortunately and unlike Dermot Gleeson, he does not reference where the information on the Rinn Bó Padraig originated and I do find it unusual that I have not came across any other references to it before.
However if the Lurganaboe is still there (and hopefully it still is) then it will surely back up the story and give North Tipp its own "Rinn Bó Phadruig".

Saturday, 31 March 2018

A Cashel "East of the Shannon" on Knigh Hill

Cashel within Mooghaun hill-fort, Co. Clare.
I visited a lovely Cashel (stone ring-fort) at Mooghaun hill-fort near Newmarket on Fergus in Co. Clare recently and it got me thinking of a farmer that told me there was only one Cashel "East of the Shannon". Now this isn't true but they are fairly rare in comparison with ring-fort to the east of the shannon. For example in North Tipp there are only 28 Cashels in comparison with 794 ring-forts. This is likely that in North Tipp that building materials for a ring-fort were more readily available such as timber for a palisade that was often built on top of them.

Interestingly of the 28, one of the most impressive was probably in the townland of Knigh near Puckane and when built would have looked like the Cashel at Mooghaun pictured above (it is likely it has been reconstructed at Mooghaun).

Daniel Grace wrote about the Cashel at Knigh in his book "Portrait of a Parish: Monsea and Killodiernan". He says it is known locally as "The Caher" and we will see that named used in the Irish Folklore Commission's entry on it.

He says "The caher at Knigh is in poor condition and the encircling wall has collapsed and overspilled. But the fallen stones on the north side were removed some years ago, exposing the outer face of the wallto a height of approximately 1m."
He also quotes John O'Donovan who visited in 1840. "The remains of a large stone fort called Cathair Boirne are visible in the townland of Knigh, one Irish mile to the north of the old church." O'Donovan translates the word 'boirne' was  as bening the genetive of 'boireann' and that it means 'a stony disctrict' or 'a rocky hill'. This however Grace disagrees with he says "Knigh hill was anciently known as 'Knockbuolly' and is marked as such on the Downe Survey map of Knigh parish drawn in the mid-seventeenth century. The correct Irish form was 'cnoc na buaile', i.e. "the hill of the booley or summer milking place'. Booleying was an ancient Irish practice whereby cattle were driven to the hills for summer grazing."

Knigh Hill - the Cashel is in the upper portion and then the cairn is to the south-west of it. 

The Irish Folklore Commission has this to say about this Cashel or Caher

"The Caher of Killard is in a field about three miles from the village of Puckane. The field in which the cahir is is the property of Mr Crosse.
One of the stories about this caher is in Pagan times the chief of this district lived in this old caher. The chiefs name was O'Brien. He had two sons.
O'Brien was a rough man and he sent his wife to work during the day. While the wife worked hard the chief and his sons adored false gods.
The men of the family stayed up nearly the whole night. They had dips for candles and these they placed on the stones at their dwelling. 
The stones can be seen yet and are remarkable for the facts that the smoke of the candles can be seen on them. Every year on the 31st June a Leupracan can be seen mending boots on one of the stones. He wears a red cap and has a pot of gold by his side.
It is said if you go into the caher and may hear men's voices, talking and laughing. It is also said that on Xmas Eve a man stands in the middle of the caher and shouts three times in an unearthly voice."

So some interesting folklore there, I don't know what to make of the "smoke of the candles" that can be seen on the stones there, any ideas what that could be? Perhaps someone in the locality knows?

There is a cairn on Knigh Hill that is visible from the cashel to south-west and this is thought to be a bronze age burial cairn, perhaps the burial place of a chief? It is located within a prehistoric hill-fort so it was an area of great importance in prehistoric times (I'll try right post about these soon). We also saw folklore associating a cairn with a chief at nearby Ashleypark.

It is interesting to note the association here with Xmas Eve and the haunting of Knigh Castle

Sunday, 18 March 2018

St. Commaneth & St. Patrick's wife Sheelah - shared pattern day on the 18th March

The 18th of March is the pattern day of St. Commaneth at the Holy Well at Cragg in the townland of Ballyard near Newport in North Tipp. It is associated with a the nearby Church and graveyard and also a bullaun stone. It is also known as Kilcomenty or the "Church of Commenth". 
The area is of historical interest in itself but what really got thinking about it was the publication of the theory by Shane Lehane that St. Patrick had a "wife" named Sheelah and that her "Saints day" was celebrated on the 18th of March also. (Same day as St. Commaneth). 

He says Pre-Famine, pre-1845, if you go back to the newspapers in Ireland they talk not just about Patrick’s Day but also Sheelah’s Day. You have Paddy’s Day on March 17th, and it continues on to Sheelah’s Day. I came across numerous references that Sheelah was thought to be Patrick’s wife. The fact that we have Patrick and Sheelah together should be no surprise. Because that duality, that union of the male and female together, is one of the strongest images that we have in our mythology.”

Coincidently St. Commaneth was also a female Saint and I wonder could the pattern day here at Cragg be related to the memory of pattern days to Sheelah that are supposed to have occurred around the country?

There is a  bullaun stone about 200m away from the well and it is also closely associated with St. Commaneth. On there is folklore about the stone and the well. It says "the impression of a saints body is to be seen marked out" on the stone. These are of course the two bowls of the bullaun. 

"There is a holy well in Cragg, Newport Co. Tipp. Many people go there to make rounds. There is a trout in the well and it is said that if you see the trout when you were making the rounds your request will be granted to you. There is a white thorn bush growing near the well. In former times there was a Church there. It is said that a Saint lived there once and the impression of a saints body is to be seen there marked out on a fest? stone. The trout could only be seen before Sun-rise, and anyone who was to see it should be there before that time. It is said that a Protestant caught the trout once and tried to cook it but he was not able. There is a tradition that the well was further up in the glen, but cattle used to be walking in around it so it moved and sprung further down the glen."

More on the well here 

"There is a holy well in Cragg. Cragg is situated about 2 miles to the N.W. of Newport. A stream which rises in Ballinahinch about 2 miles distant, disappeared about 200 yards above the wall, and re-appears, forming the well, about 30 yards N.E. of the old graveyard. The river continues on though Shower Bog and thence to the Mulcair. Over the well stands an enormous ash tree, whose protecting branches, with those of adjacent whitethorn trees practically overshadow the well, affording shelter to the numerous pilgrims who make their "rounds" of the well and pray for the intercession of the Saints in order to be relieved of their bodily or mental ailments. The "rounds" are 7 in number. The pilgrim first takes 7 pebbles from the running stream, recites the Pater Noster, Hail Mary Creed and Gloria, throws of the pebbles into the well, and walks round the well, passing through the churchyard to the front of the well where the pilgrims kneel and pray. The well is decorated with offerings of beads, sacred pictures etc left there by pilgrims on completion of their rounds. According to legend the well was in ancient times situated close to St. Cominet's bed, but cattle being allowed into it the well removed."

The article in the Irish Times also mentions Sile-na-Gigs and how this name could potentially refer to Sheelah - St. Patrick's wife. It says:

“Sheela-na-gig is a basic medieval carving of a woman exposing her genitalia. These images are often considered to be quite grotesque. They are quite shocking when you see them first. Now we look at them very much as examples of old women showing young women how to give birth. They are vernacular folk deities associated with pregnancy and birth.”

There are no Sile-na-gigs in the vicinity of Cragg graveyard but there were a number of architectural fragments from the nearby church in the graveyard that all seem to have been removed.

(From JRSAI 1904 by Berry)

There were two Sile-na-gigs found at Burgesbeg church which is approximately 15km away, both now are in storage (in the National Museum & Clonmacnoise).

(From JRSAI 1939 by Dermot Gleeson)
It is interesting to see how many other female saints days the 18th of March is associated with. According to this list - St. Commaneth is the only female saints day on this date. (It is also Saint Caemhán's day, a male saint). You would think if the pattern at Cragg was a vestue of a celebration to do with Sheelah then it would be more widespread in Ireland with other patterns taking place on this day. However I am amazed that it has taken until the last few years (to my knowledge) that the story of Sheelah has been rediscovered.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Ashleypark burial mound - A Final Feast

I've been meaning to write about the burial mound at Ashleypark for a while but never got around to it. One of the main reasons probably is due to the lack of folklore associated with this mound.
It was located within 40 acres of forestry which had been there for at least 200 years and didn't even feature on any of the OS maps. The area was known as "the oakwood".

In 1979 the land was bought by a new owner from the Ashleypark estate and it was the new owners intention to level the trees and use the land for tillage. It was during these works in 1980 that the chamber was discovered and an excavation begun.
The excavation report notes that "there was local tradition that a king or chieftain was buried in the mound" (Manning et al, 1985, 63).

In 2005 I was looking for another cairn at Whitstone a couple of miles from here and got talking to a local farmer. He told me a bit about the Ashley Park cairn as well. He told me "that the mound at Ashleypark was originally capped "like a pyramid" by the stones that are lying around the field. When  chamber was opened they found 3 skeletons - one 7ft tall, the next 6ft 6inchs and the third 6ft. He also reckoned that the 7ft tall skeleton was featured on the Late Late Show at the time. He thought that the name Ardcroney referred to the tall skeletons here - Ard being Big and Croine being the chief buried within."

The only thing I could find in the National Folklore Commission manuscripts anyway similar to this folklore was as follows-

"About four miles from Nenagh is situated the historical parish of Ardcroney which means the height of Croney. It is believed a saint or chieftainess of that name lived in the district in ancient times. A woman's head is carved in stone at the western side of the castle."

In the wider area there is a mention of underground tunnels in the general vicinity of Ardcroney village. (I'm struggling to find the exact quote in the Folklore archive but will update when I do.)

This seems to have been proven true to some extent as along with Ashley Park there are another two linkardstown type tombs in the area. All could be thought of as entrances to tunnels.

There are also other megalithic remains in the area including a Portal Tomb outside the village of Ardcroney. This tomb has interesting folklore linking it to St. Patrick.

There is also some kind of megalithic tomb at Whitstone - the exact type is unclear.

It is interesting that there is a Portal Tomb - they are often said to mark a new territory. Today this area doesn't seem to be a "compact" area but perhaps during Neolithic times with wetlands etc it could have been.
Also it is interesting that into medieval times the area was a small tuath in the control of the O'Hogans.

So now to look at what the excavation found? What was particularly unusual was how the burial chamber in the mound was constructed. It is thought that a large long glacial eratic was split into two pieces with one part being used as the sloping floor of the chamber and the other as one of the sides. Other large stones were used to make up the other sides of the chamber. The excavation showed that one of these stones was just placed on the old surface of the ground, not placed in a socket and so this is the likely construction method for the others.

Regarding the "giant" skeletons, I don't know where the farmer came up with them but the excavation report is very different.
The longest of the three was labelled Burial 1 and is thought to have been a male aged around 60 and 5ft 7" in height. He would have been of above average height for the time and his age would have been far greater than the normal lifespan at the time. So it could be that he was this "chieftain" remembered in local tradition. One of his femurs was radio-carbon dated to c. 3350-3650 BC which places the tomb in the Neolithic.
Burial 2 was a child of between 4-5 years old and Burial 3 was an infant thought to be about 8 months old. The relationship of the 3 is obviously not known.

The remains of a pot were found next to Burial 2. The condition of the remains within the chamber were in such good condition that they were able to interpret two stones found near the remains as being used to keep the jug "level" on the sloping floor so that whatever was in it had to be kept in that position so that it didn't spill. So it is likely to have been a liquid of some kind.

Similar Jug found at Cahirgullamore in Co. Limerick (Jones, 1999, 175)

There was no evidence of what was in it but interestingly enough over in Wales at Barclodiad y Gawres on Anglesey (another burial chamber) they were able to pinpoint the remains of a stew that was cooked on a fire within the chamber - it included "wrasse, eel, frog, toad, grass-snake, mouse, shrew and hare, the covered with limpet shells and pebbles".

Sherds of different pottery were found scattered inside and outside the chamber and it is supposed that it may have been smashed as part of some kind of ritual.

However they did discover a large quanity of animal bone and this is where the tag-line for this post comes from - "A Final Feast".

They found over 300 cattle bones which would likely represent three fully-grown cattle. The evidence appears to show that the large skeleton and remains of the child were buried to the rear of the chamber and this was covered with a stone to form a roof. However the "antechamber" to the front was not roofed. Here Burial 3 was placed in a cleft between "the basal boulder and one of the side slabs" (Jones, 1999, 181). It is possible then that a funeral feast was held with these cattle and then the front section of the chamber was filled with stones and the remains of the bones from the feast.

The chamber from the front.

How do we know it was a feast? Well the bones show butchering marks and some were split to get the marrow out, all evidence of feasting. It is possible along with whatever was in the pot, that animal bones found in the rear chamber may have been joints of meat left as offerings for the dead. In the rear chamber was found "pig humerous, a sheep/goat astragalus and a calf humerus" (Jones, 1999, .

Next a cairn of stone was built up around this chamber to a height of 3-4m. A ditch was then dug around this and the clay placed on the cairn. Another ditch was created several metres out from this   to form an outer bank which gives the monument its now distinctive look. It is thought to have all been constructed in one sequence.

It is often wondered about the large stones left lieing around to the "rear" of the mound. The reports suggest that these were more or less how they were prior to the damage caused during the tree knocking works. Jones (1999, 178) wonders if they could have been the remains of a megalithic structure of some kind.

Stone left to the "rear" of the tomb.


Manning, C. et al, 1985, A Neolithic Burial Mound at Ashleypark, Co. Tipperary, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy: Archaeology, Culture, History, Literature, Vol. 85C (1985), pp. 61-100 Published by: Royal Irish Academy Stable URL:

Jones, C., 1999, Temple of Stone, Published by: The Collins Press.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Brian Boru's Wine Cellar

The overgrown hall-house.

This building just outside Ballina is recorded in the SMR as a Castle - Hall House.

It is described as follows:

"Situated on high ground overlooking a deep ravine and nearby church (TN025-016----) to the S. The poorly preserved remains of a small rectangular building surviving to first-floor level only, built with roughly coursed sandstone rubble of cyclopean appearance. The building consists of a narrow small ground-floor chamber (int. dims. 6.65m N-S; 3.05m E-W; Wall T 2m) accessed from a segmental-arched doorway situated in the centre of the E wall. This appears to be an insertion and may belong a later phase of construction. The ground floor had a wooden ceiling carried in the thickness of the wall with a destroyed flat-headed window in the centre of the W wall which replaced an earlier window. At first-floor level there is a single-light
round-arched window in the N wall (Fitzpatrick 1985, vol. 3, 75-86) which is now obscured by ivy growth. At the E end of the extant S wall there is the remains of a garderobe chute. Possible stairs are visible at the E end of the S wall which gave access to an E chamber (now destroyed). There was no cut stone used in the fabric of the building. It is unclear from the surviving evidence and the dense cover of ivy if this building survives fully intact or whether only the W half of the castle survives. There is possible evidence for a bawn wall extending E from the SE angle of the castle.
In 2001 archaeological testing by Brian Hodkinson on a proposed house site beside the Ballina-Birdhill road and is overlooked by the ruins of Cloghaneena castle, no archaeological features were uncovered (Bennett 2003, 377). Testing carried out under licence No. 01E0864."

When I visited recently I would say the ivy and scrub had actually died back a lot more than when this description was recorded.

You can clearly make out the thick walls.

According to local tradition this hall-house was Brian Boru's wine cellar, it is known as Cloghanenna or Cloch an Fhíon which is supposed to mean Stone of the Wine. It is likely that the structure dates to later than Brian Boru's time. The annals record the Vikings of Limerick giving vast quantities of wine as tribute to Brian Boru. (From Sliabh Aughty "Brian Boru Sites in Killaloe" by Una Kierse.

Two interesting features that I noticed while there were two "worked" stones in the building fabric.

This one is possibly a mill-stone of some kind and approximately 500mm in diameter.

I also noticed this stone with a hole bored into it.

And another photo of the outside of it from a different angle.

It is a pity to see it in such poor condition these days, especially considering its link to the whole Brian Boru "mythos".

I think the location on the Tipperary side of the Shannon also helps show that Brian Boru & the O'Briens domain stretched to both sides of the Shannon at various different periods.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Duntryleague Passage Tomb

Duntryleague Passage-tomb near Galbally, Co. Limerick. I always seem to think this is in Tipperary, probably because the view to the east is of the Galtees and the "Harps of Cliu" and because it is on the same ridge of mountain that forms the Glen of Aherlow where Tipperary's only confirmed passage tomb is located (Shrough). This passage tomb is unusual in that it is aligned towards the north. It is located within a forestry plantation that with every new picture I see, seems to be growing taller and taller. I first visited in 2006 when the trees had last been harvested and here are some pictures from this visit. I suppose you could argue that this is  the essence of antiquarianism, visiting monuments and preserving photos and sketches (or whatever) of them before time, nature or human action change them.

I found some wonderful folklore on about the tomb, also known as Darby's Bed. Much of the action in this story takes place in Co. Tipperary and initially when I saw sunset mentioned, I thought that it might have had some hidden astronomical meaning. However (as above) the passage in Darby's Bed is aligned to the north. Interestingly there is a wedge tomb at Corderry that is almost exactly 3 miles away and a passage tomb at Shrough that is almost 4 miles away.
"A long, long time ago there lived a fierce black pig on the Sliab na Muc Hills. This pig was the terror of the neighbourhood and nobody would dream of roaming on the hilltops for fear of meeting with this terrible beast. It happened that one day a great giant called Diarmuid chanced to come across the pig at a point or peak on those hills called Corrin (Cairn). The pig in its rage started rooting up the ground and continued doing so until it had made a huge deep hole. This hole is still to be seen and for years everybody that passed it by threw a stone into it, why I cannot say.
The giant then attacked the pig put could not kill it. The battle raged for hours and towards sunset they found themselves 3 or 4 miles further east at a place called Rathdarby. The giant here made a last attempt with his spear to kill the pig but he missed his
thrust only to find the pig taking a sudden hold of him on the ground. It then seized the giant by the throat and killed him. He was buried on the spot where today three large stones mark the site of his grave. This grave is on Mr. T. Kennedys land Rathdarby, a few miles from here.
All the old people called the valley lying south of the Sliab na Muc Hills the "Valley of the Black Pig"."