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"."

Saturday, 2 December 2017

The Lost Tombs of North Tipp

There are currently 14 intact megalithic tombs recorded in North Tipp. Eleven wedge-tombs, two portal-tombs & one court-tomb. There are also records of megalithic structures (possible tombs that don't conform to any of the above types) and there are three of those recorded.

However there are also records of a number of tombs that are unfortunately destroyed or missing.


The first one we will look at was at Cooleen. It was recorded in 1969 by O'Nuallain & De Valera and a photograph was even taken of it.

From Survey of the Megalithic Tombs of Ireland : Vol IV by Ruaidhrí De Valera & Sean O Nuaillain  
Although heavily overgrown at the time it was clearly an impressive tomb with a gallery that was 6 m long. By 1972 it was being used as a dumping ground for other large stones from the surrounding area. In 1969 De Valera & O'Nuaillain even drew a plan of the tomb.

From Survey of the Megalithic Tombs of Ireland : Vol IV by Ruaidhrí De Valera & Sean O Nuaillain 

However after 1972 it was unfortunately removed and comments that "Some of the large stones lying in a nearby fence may have formed part of the structure". 

Reardnogy More

It was recorded by Crawford in "Dolmens of Tipperary" in 1910 as being partly destroyed but was unfortunately fully removed in 1956.

Crawford described it as follows:

"This monument is situated a short distance west of the last, in the fields behind the creamery. It is partly destroyed, only eight stones remaining in position. Two of the largest form the south side of a chamber now 8 feet long by 3 feet 3 inches wide. Two others form the north side, with a fifth outside ; and the last three are placed as an outer row to the south; all these are under 3 feet in height. Six stones are lying about loose; two of these, respectively 6 feet 6 inches and 5 feet 4 inches long, are large enough for covering slabs; the others are smaller".

There was also a now destroyed stone circle less than 300m to the north of it.
From Crawfords "Dolmens of Tipperary" (1910) RSAI

The other lost tombs are described as the aforementioned megalithic structures and all are in the Slieve Felim up lands. They are likely to be part of the "Kilcommon Group" which I wrote about here before.

Bauraglanna / Loughabrack

This was recorded as a Cromlech on the 1840s Os map and also in the OS name book as "a heap of stones covering about a square perch (c.5 m?) of ground." In 1906 it appears that Crawford (or someone he corresponded with) visited it as he gives a detailed description of it as follows:

"Borlase, No. 1 (under name of Knockanroe). This is a doubtful specimen, and situated in an unusual place, that is in the side of a glen or ravine. A large flat stone is buried in the bank, with one corner projecting, and this corner rests on a smaller stone ; nothing more can be seen. Bauraglanna is in the valley called Glenculloo, at the foot of the Keeper Mountain, a mile or more south of the village of Silver mines".


Less than 0.5km away from the above, is the record of another structure. This time marked as "Dermot & Granias Bed (Site of)" on the 1840's OS maps.

It was described in the OS Name books as "a few large stones stuck in the ground in the form of a bed". 

Also within the townland of Bauraglanna is one of only two intact stone circles in North Tipp.


It was recorded in the OS Name books as consisting "of a few large stones placed erect on a hill". 

Interestingly the large wedge tomb at Baurnadomeeny is less the 500m to the east.


Very little is known about this other than it being recorded as a "Cromlech" on the 1840s OS map. Like the other missing tombs it appears to have been located in the vicinity of another larger or more important monument - this time the destroyed stone circle in the same townland.

The remains of one enigmatic feature known as "The Graves of the Leinstermen" is also thought to be the remains of some type of megalithic tomb. It however was located in the Arra Mountains. For more on it see here.

There is no doubt that there are likely to be the remains of many more destroyed monuments out there to be found. As I have said before there are likely to still be intact tombs out there as well. If anyone knows of anything unusual that they suspect may be an unrecorded monument, please do contact myself or the National Monuments Service.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

St. Lua's Oratory

I found this great drawing from 1791 of St. Lua's Oratory which was located on an island on the River Shannon just outside Ballina in North Tipp. The island was drowned when the Ardnacrusha Hyrdo Electric Power plant was built and the level of the water raised. The Oratory was removed stone by stone and reerected in the yard of the RC Church in Killaloe.
For some foklore on St. Lua see the following
"Long ago there lived on an Island in the vicinity of Killaloe a saint named... Lua or Molua. It was from this Saint that the town and the diocese got their names. The Cathedral however is called after St Flannan.
There are few places in Ireland of more historical interest, combined with unrivalled scenery, than that to which St. Lua gave his name. One of the most ancient monasteries on the Shannon was that built by Molua in the sixth century and this and the monastery called Iniscalthra, founded by Caimin, are situated amidst scenic beauty. Both had their saintly homes destroyed by the Viking invader. What was left of the former (St. Lua's) had been removed and re-erected, and now lies alongside the Catholic Church at Killaloe, to save its being submerged by the rising waters of the Shannon in consequence of the hydro-electrical scheme. At the beginning of the eleventh century a brother of Brian Boru was Abbot of Inis calthra.
On the Island where Saint Lua's oratory stood there was a holy well and people used to visit it especially on Lady's Day on teh 15th August. Many cures were obtained by doing rounds there and reciting prayers. There is a street in Killaloe called Saint Lua Street after the saint."