Ancient Irish Art & Artifacts, Early Irish History, Irish Catholic History, Irish Midland Ancestry
During the first days before my clothes arrived I learned to drive on the left side of the road and navigate with increasing ease through the country. My second AirBNB hosts proved to be the ideal support system. Margaret O’Farrell and Alfie McCaffrey were very helpful in following up on my lost luggage and with my puzzling through various technology issues—getting my phone to transition properly, figuring out if my throw-away phone from three years ago might work with a new chip, trying in vain for my GPS to kick back in (which it never did) and even helping me arrange visits with people I was trying to meet while my phone was in limbo. After three days I felt that I was leaving new friends. In Lorrha, Northern Tipperary, this couple has been renovating a large, stately home with their own tender loving care. Like so many a place in which good personally-grown food and fascinating, friendly conversation is a staple, Margaret and Alfie’s kitchen is at its heart. (Pay the extra to have dinner with them at night, which became extend visits in our case, lasting until 11:30 or so.)
Outside, chickens and roosters wandered as they will among the grass, flowers and trees, joined by their two dogs, with additional sound effects from a drove of pigs in the back. Frisky fellows, the pigs sometimes rule the roost, getting out from their pen and requiring hours of tracking and coaxing back to their own digs. From the kitchen porch, which runs the entire width of the house, it is possible to see the *Devil’s Bit section of the Slieve Bloom Mountains—the landmark for things Maher/Meagher. We had the most enjoyable breakfast looking in its direction on my last day, shared with a friend of Margaret and Alfie who had volunteered to help repair the woodshed roof. Pure bliss to eat outside amid so much beauty and such excellent company!
While navigating the way back and forth to their home in the woods (follow the signs for Birr and Portunma), I was able to venture north into Offaly County and into and around Roscrea, my primary destination on the first part of this Maher-related journey. Alfie had recommended also seeing Birr Castle, with its impressive Science Center, including a 72-inch long reflecting telescope built in 1845, and its note-worthy gardens. I came into Birr too late on the day I was venturing in those parts to do more than a drive-by, so this is now on my list for a hoped-for Next Time. At the end of my journey the following week I learned that the castle, owned by the Earls of Rosse, had once been owned by Meaghers. (More research needs to go into verifying that.)
* The Small Gap of Ely, in the parish of Barnane-Ely was written about by Joseph Casimir O’Meagher in 1890. (The O’Carrolls ruled over Ely, with close ties to the O’Meaghers of neighboring Ikerrin Barony.) He explained the nickname for the dip in the mountains with the following tale: “The Devil, driven to frenzy by his want of success among the inhabitants of Ikerrin, took a bit of their mountain in revenge, but finding it too heavy was obliged to drop it in the ‘Golden Vale,’ where it became the Rock of Cashel, afterwards famous as the residence of the Kings of Munster, and the site of one of the finest cathedrals in the west of Europe. The rock would about fill the gap in the mountain. Another story is that he dropped the bit in Queen’s County, and that the Rock of DunaMase was thus formed.” (Some Historical Notices of the O’Meaghers of Ikerrin, pg. 127.) (That there is a large cross at the top of this mountain was a surprising parallel, I thought, to that of the locally famous one in my hometown in Connecticut, of the same vintage, recently restored to great success and celebration. Had I more time I would have taken a hike to the top of the Devil’s Bit—#2 on my Next Time list.)
Another place that was closed during my visit, but seems worth a tour if staying so nearby was Redwood Castle, especially for those with Egan or Kennedy roots. (With that in mind, I include here an image of a place I passed on the way out of Limerick. For those with Killduff roots, here is a photo of a former Killduff Castle, now on the grounds of St. Anthony’s Nursing Home, Pallasgreen, Limerick.)
Clonmacnoise (Cluain Mhic Nóis) was part of my reason for staying in North Tipperary, as we had not ventured into that area on my last trip to Ireland with my husband. I wanted to see the place that had been mentioned so often in my studies about Ireland’s ancient history. This settlement, which dates to just before the death of its mid-6th century founder, St. Ciarán, grew to be the most desirable conquest for invaders over the centuries. Wealthy monasteries throughout Ireland were targets for their valuable ceremonial objects, and Clonmacnoise was also known as the primary site of achievements in literary and artistic high craft production during the centuries of religious rivalry in the country and in relation to Rome. Its location on a high ridge overlooking the Shannon River made it a major intersection of trade and travel.
There had been distinct roles with which Gaelic families were associated. Those that included members of high-ranking religious status had their own ecclesiastical settlements, centered upon a family church around which an extended community worked and lived. The once vast settlement of Clonmacoise contained not only a cathedral and a round tower, but a nuns’ church, and ones associated with St. Ciarán and the surnames Kelly, McLaughlin, Dowling, McLaffey, Connor, and Finghin. There are also remains of several other kinds of buildings, a castle, a sacred well, four high crosses, and other many other artifacts, including a section of an ogham stone and more than 600 portions of ancient grave slabs.
Three of the high crosses have been removed for their protection from their original location to an on-site museum. Replica ones have been in their places to weather outside since 1992-93. Portions of three additional high crosses from the site are preserved in the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin, along with such masterful art objects as the Crozier of the Abbots and the Shrine of the Stowe Missal. The Cross of the Scriptures (replica shown here) is considered to be one of the best of Ireland’s historic crosses of this extensively decorated kind. It honors the King of Meath and King of Tara, thus High King of Ireland (879 to 916), Flann Sinna mac Maelshechnaill. At the turn of the 14th century the Gaelic clans regained control of Clonmacnoise from the Anglo-Normans, and power shifted to the MacCoghlans until the 17th century—a time of devastation in Ireland as the formerly Catholic England and Ireland were re-envisioned by King Henry VIII and Oliver Cromwell.
On the day I visited Clonmacnoise I was met with a powerful silence and stillness. Although there were far more people wandering the site with me than I expected, we all seemed to be held in a trancelike quiet as we individually absorbed an awe-full sense of the former importance and immensity of this place, now a relic of itself. Ireland’s Office of Public Works has done an exceptional job in stabilizing this and many other irreplaceable sites, touchstones to the country’s stature and nobility in the ancient world.
©2014 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair
All Rights Reserved
Dr. Jane Lyons said:
Do you know – and you don’t! *but* I’ve never actually been to Clonmacnoise. Lovely reading once again, thank you. Copies of maps and things like that won’t be on their way for a few days, hurt my back a bit. Will clear that up soon as I am ok
Jane, please take good care of yourself – rest well!
Red Hen said:
Tourists sometimes whizz through the midlands and miss these bits. I am well overdue a visit to Clonmacnoise myself, and your post is urging me on to attend to that.
Hey if you come to the Midlands you’ll have to drop in for tea 🙂
That’s what I love about Anglea’s blog – A Silver Voice From Ireland. She visits places in her own country, appreciating them anew, as if she were visiting. Yet she often has her own memories attached to what she is seeing. Enjoy!
The Silver Voice said:
Janet – Thank you so very much for such a beautiful compliment! It was such a joy to meet you after your travels! You have such a focus and passion for your mission of discovery, but that is beautifully tempered by your appreciation of all that is around you , including the pigs, chickens and dogs of your hospitable hosts! Clonmacnoise is one of our treasures here in ireland. It is enormously peaceful and has such a wonderful setting on the edge of the Shannon. a truly ‘holy’ experience!
Thank you, Angela, and all likewise. It’s taking a while to write my next one, as it gets to the heart of my early journey and has lots of details to confirm. A new friend is helping me with it. One important place it will discuss is another church ruin, ancient and important like Clonmacnoise, but not restored and not so well known.
So glad to have met! – Janet
Roy McCarthy said:
You certainly covered the ground Janet. But you’re so right – if you stop and watch, listen in many parts of Ireland there is something there that connects you back in time. I’ve never had that sensation anywhere else.
Margaret and Alfie’s looks good!
Thanks, Roy – just at the beginning still. So true, Ireland is unlike anywhere. It is a magic place. Yes, do stop in at Old Farm.
I am inquiring about the Maher side of your lineage and in particular a Pa Maher of the Roscrea Timoney bog area near Knock village. there are so many connections there. Pa Maher married a Mullalley from Rathnavague, near Dunkerrin.
I was wondering if this Maher would be any way connected to your Mahers?
Jos, I would like to talk with you about this off-blog. I do know of Mahers from Knock/Ballyroan who settled in my home town. That area was also on my quest this time. Will contact you. Thank you.
A lovely post, and thank you for all the kind comments about your stay here. I cannot believe that there is a Meagher connection to Birr Castle! Small world indeed.
Hi Margaret! Let me know if you hear more about that. All good wishes to you and Alfie!