Kells Priory (Irish: Prióireacht Cheanannais) is one of the largest and most impressive medieval monuments in Ireland.
The Augustine priory at Kells, county Kilkenny is situated alongside King’s River beside the village of Kells, about 15 km south of the medieval city of Kilkenny. The priory is a National Monument and is in the guardianship of the (OPW)Office of Public Works. One of its most striking feature is a collection of medieval tower houses spaced at intervals along and within walls which enclose a site of just over 3 acres (12,000 m2). These give the priory the appearance more of a fortress than of a place of worship and from them comes its local name of “Seven Castles”.
4 km southeast of the priory on the R697 regional road is Kilree round tower and 9th century High Cross, said to be the burial place of Niall Caille Niall mac Áeda (died 917) who was a High King of Ireland.
The Priory has been undergoing a ten year long renovation project that is approaching its completion, the priory is looking amazing and has been secured for many years to come.
Here I post some new images taken during a very enjoyable visit last Sunday afternoon.
A History of Kells Priory
Kells Priory, Gallery
Round Tower and Church
Located in county Kilkenny, Aghaviller Round Tower and Church are together one of the most interesting of Irish Historic sites. Based on the presence of the round tower, it is believed that the Agherviller monastic settlement was once a relatively high-status ecclesiastical foundation dating back to Early Christian times. The church and a holy well not far from the site have been dedicated to St Brennain. We don’t know who founded the monastery but it could have been St Brennain. The round tower is built on top of a square stone plinth, an unusual feature which is only found in one other place in Ireland –at nearby Kilree. Sadly, only the lower 9.6 metres of the round tower survived.
The original NE facing round-arched doorway is in its customary location about 4 metres above ground level, although a ground-level lintelled doorway has been added in more recent times. The sandstone tower was unfortunately in deep shade from the nearby dense woods on our late afternoon visit, but it is worth a return trip in morning light to photograph the stonework which is beautifully dressed to the curve inside and out. There is a southwest facing square-headed window at the second storey level.
The church dates to the 12th Century but was significantly modified in the 15th by the addition of a massive tower over the chancel that served as a residence. Only the foundation of the nave remains. An archaeological excavation revealed a gully filled with kiln material and a sizeable ditch/boundary running north–south with stone revetting on its eastern side. This ditch is believed to have surrounded a second or outer enclosure, a common feature of high-status monastic sites.
The Workhouse Story
The Irish Workhouse – An Overview
What was the workhouse?
The workhouse has been described as “the most feared and hated institution ever established in Ireland.”
The workhouse was an institution which operated in Ireland for a period of some 80 years, from the early 1840s to the early 1920s. There were 163 workhouses in total. If people could not support themselves, they could come into the workhouse. Here they would do some work in return for food. People had to stay and live in the workhouse and so the system was known as indoor relief.
The whole family had to enter together. This was a way for the landlords to clear the land of tenants who could not pay rent. Life in the workhouse was meant to be harsh so as not to encourage people to stay. One of the cruellest aspects of the workhouse was that family members were split up into separate quarters. Children aged two or less could stay with their mothers. Sometimes, family members never saw each other again.
The workhouse was not a prison. People could leave if they liked. The high walls surrounding the workhouses were for keeping out, not for keeping people in.
How did workhouses come about?
In Ireland under Brehon Law, the native laws dating back to Celtic times, rulers had to take care of the sick and the poor. In the 5th Century, Christianity came to Ireland and with it monasteries began to develop. Over time, these monasteries took on the role of caring for the less fortunate. From the mid 1500s, Ireland was invaded by Protestant English settlers. The land was taken from the Irish, the religious were prosecuted and the whole care system broke down.
The situation was so bad that by the beginning of the 1800s, it is estimated that some 2.3 million people were at near starvation level. At the time Ireland’s population was nearing 8 million. By this time also, most of Ireland’s small farmers and landless labourers were dependent on the potato as their main food.
In England, Scotland and Wales there was poverty too. The workhouse was an English system. The first workhouses in England opened in 1836. Almost 700 workhouses were built in England and Wales. The main concern of the Poor Law Commissioners in England was to ensure that the system was not abused by lazy people. Scotland by contrast had a more humane system based on outdoor relief. One of the key differences between England and Ireland at the time was that work was available in England whereas in Ireland, whilst people were willing to work, there was no employment.
In 1800, under the Act of Union, Ireland became part of Britain. Numerous committees were set up to investigate the extreme poverty in Ireland, but nothing was done. However, as more and more Irish people flocked toBritain in search of employment, the British Government acted and sent over one of the English Poor Law Commissioners, George Nicholls, to find a solution. This was his first time i nIreland. He did a quick tour and reported back that Ireland needed a workhouse system similar to the English one. The Irish Poor Law Act became law in 1838.
What did this Poor Law actually mean in practice?
It divided the country into 130 unions. A further 33 were added after the “famine” years. Each union was to have a workhouse and the workhouses were to be financed by a tax on land. George Wilkinson was appointed as architect to the Irish Poor Law Commissioners, to design and supervise the building of the workhouses. The first workhouses opened in 1841.
Before the “famine years”, the number of people entering the workhouses was low. People were slow to leave their holdings. However, by the autumn of 1846, it became clear just how bad the situation was. The potato crop was diseased and inedible. It was emigration, starvation or the workhouse. People began to flood in.
The system, based as it was on indoor relief, could not cope with the overcrowding, the disease and the deaths. Corpses, without coffins, were carried on carts day after day to be thrown into mass burial pits in the workhouse grounds. (The years from 1846 to 1851 are known as the “famine” years. It should be noted however, that while the potato crop was largely wiped out through disease, there were plenty of other foodstuffs such as grain and livestock being exported toEngland.)
After the “famine” years, the numbers of people entering the workhouse decreased and over time it became a place for people that society did not want: unmarried mothers, children born outside of marriage, orphaned and abandoned children, “lunatics and idiots”, old and infirm people, tramps who travelled the roads.
Between 1838 and 1921, the principal features of the poor law and the workhouse system remained largely unchanged. The system was abolished in the early 1920s, when Ireland gained independence from Britain.
What was life in the workhouse like?
Life in the workhouse was harsh and frequently cruel. There were many rules. The food was poor. There was little to do. People were separated from their families, hungry, frustrated, badly treated, bored and mostly without hope. Often the inmates reacted against this, by breaking the rules and by fighting amongst themselves. Some preferred prison to the workhouse as the food was better and the regime not as strict.
Staff were often ex police men or army. There was a very high dismissal rate with many of staff being cruel, incompetent and dishonest.
The diet varied somewhat from workhouse to workhouse. Generally, it consisted of stirabout, which is like porridge, milk and potatoes. Children got bread. Adults received two meals a day and children three. Reports of the time show that the food was often of very poor quality. The workhouse diet remained very basic and it was not until the end of the 1800s that tea, bread for adults and a meat soup dinner were introduced.
Very little productive work was carried out. One of the rules was that the workhouse should not enter into competition with outside businesses. When numbers in the workhouse were large, it was difficult to find work for everybody. In the earlier years, the Capstan wheel was in operation in some workhouses. Women & children, maybe up to several hundred, went around in circles pushing a big wheel for grinding corn. Breaking stones for building roads was a common occupation for the men. The women did domestic jobs such as cleaning or helping in the kitchen or laundry and looking after the sick. Older inmates were put to work mending clothes and spinning wool. Girls were meant to be trained for domestic service. Oakum picking was carried out in many workhouses. This involved separating out the strands of old ship rope so that it could be reused.
There were large numbers of children in the workhouse. In 1850, there were up to 120,000 children. Conditions were terrible for them. An English Clergyman who was in Ireland at the time expressed his shock at the total failure to provide for these children. He described the children in Limerick workhouse as skeletons covered in soars and dressed in rags. Many of the children who survived the “famine” years grew up in the workhouse. They have been described as having “the same guttural voice, a blank expression and of having a strange similarity.” These children only knew the workhouse existence.
Children were supposed to go to school in the workhouse where they were meant to learn reading, writing, arithmetic and the principles of the Christian religion. The reality was quite different. School teachers were often incompetent and cruel, incapable of teaching enormous classes of hungry and dirty children. From the 1860s onwards, social reformers pressed for the boarding out of children to foster families but this was slow to happen, probably because the workhouse would have had to pay the foster families. From about the 1870s onwards, the religious orders began to get involved and started setting up industrial schools, where children were meant to receive training. By the early 1900s, the days of children in the workhouse were beginning to draw to a close.
Did people ever leave the workhouse?
One of the ways that workhouse numbers decreased was through emigration. The cost of emigration to landlords was less than that of keeping paupers in the workhouse. An Emigration Commission was set up. Its representatives visited every workhouse in Ireland. Those who wanted to emigrate were offered free passage, clothing and a little money. Between the years 1848-1850, 4,175 orphan girls aged 14-18 left Irish workhouses forAustralia under a scheme supported by the Australian government. In the 1850s, the Poor Law started to assist young female paupers to Canada where there was demand for domestic servants. Over 15,000 girls were sent there.
Was there anything good about the workhouse system?
Though separate, the workhouse was also paradoxically a part of the locality in which it was situated. It provided business to local suppliers, some employment and medical care to the general population. Originally, the workhouse infirmary or hospital was just for the sick inmates. No qualifications were required for nurses and the level of care was very poor. From the 1860s, qualified nursing sisters began to make their way into the workhouses. Care of the sick improved greatly and the workhouse hospital was opened to non inmates. These local hospitals were missed by many when the system was abolished in the early 1920s. Some of the workhouses became county hospitals or homes. However, for generations that followed, people had an awful fear of spending their final years in the County Home, being as it was part of the workhouse system.
Portumna Work House, A Gallery
Crohane church is located just over the boarder from county Tipperary in the area of Killenaule and its a beautiful little chapel, located down a narrow drive way.
As you can see here, at this time of year the church is just starting to be surrounded by the green of the local oak trees and the colour of the wild flowers that grow in the stone wall that surrounds the Grave yard.
Crohane Church,a place of peace and stillness ……
I was only back in-front my laptop for the first time yesterday evening, uploading some of the images I captured over the Easter Holidays.
It was a great break, this year we stayed in Ireland but chose to visit many of the great locations the south east and west of the country has to offer.
The Irish National Heritage Park, was just one of these places, the Park gives you an historic journey that takes you deep into Ireland’s past, Through 9000 years of Irish History. It is a very special place where Ireland’s heritage comes alive with sights and sounds that shaped a country and helped to shape the bigger world.
Located on the banks of the picturesque River Slaney, The Irish National Heritage Park truly is the cornerstone of Ireland’s Ancient East.
With an outdoor museum depicting 9000 years of re-created Irish History situated within natural forestry & wet woodlands.
The following images are just some from the many I took on the day we visited ….
Today is Mid winters day or the Winter Solstice.
History and cultural significance
The solstice itself may have been a special moment of the annual cycle of the year even during neolithic times. Astronomical events, which during ancient times controlled the mating of animals, sowing of crops and metering of winter reserves between harvests, show how various cultural mythologies and traditions have arisen. This is attested by physical remains in the layouts of late Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge in Britain and Newgrange in Ireland. The primary axes of both of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise (Newgrange) and the winter solstice sunset (Stonehenge). Significant in respect of Stonehenge is the fact that the Great Trilithon was erected outwards from the centre of the monument, i.e., its smooth flat face was turned towards the midwinter Sun.
The winter solstice may have been immensely important because communities were not certain of living through the winter, and had to be prepared during the previous nine months. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as “the famine months”. In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time. The concentration of the observances were not always on the day commencing at midnight or at dawn, but the beginning of the pre-Romanized day, which falls on the previous eve.
Since the event is seen as the reversal of the Sun’s ebbing presence in the sky, concepts of the birth or rebirth of sun gods have been common and, in cultures using winter solstice based cyclic calendars, the year as reborn has been celebrated with regard to life-death-rebirth deities or new beginnings such as Hogmanay’s redding, a New Year cleaning tradition. Also reversal is yet another usual theme as in Saturnalia’s slave and master reversals.
CAILLEACH BHEUR : The Celtic Goddess of winter
CAILLEACH BHEUR : Scottish, Irish, Manx, Great Goddess in her Destroyer aspect; called “Veiled One”. Another name is Scota, from which Scotland comes. In parts of Britain she is the Goddess of Winter. She was an ancient Goddess of the pre-Celtic peoples of Ireland. She controlled the seasons and the weather; and was the goddess of earth and sky, moon and sun.
Saturn (Roman): Every December, the Romans threw a week-long celebration of debauchery and fun, called Saturnalia in honor of their agricultural god, Saturn. Roles were reversed, and slaves became the masters, at least temporarily. This is where the tradition of the Lord of Misrule originated
Alcyone (Greek): Alcyone is the Kingfisher goddess. She nests every winter for two weeks, and while she does, the wild seas become calm and peaceful.
Ameratasu (Japan): In feudal Japan, worshipers celebrated the return of Ameratasu, the sun goddess, who slept in a cold, remote cave. When the other gods woke her with a loud celebration, she looked out of the cave and saw an image of herself in a mirror. The other gods convinced her to emerge from her seclusion and return sunlight to the universe.
Baldur (Norse): Baldur is associated with the legend of the mistletoe. His mother, Frigga, honored Baldur and asked all of nature to promise not to harm him. Unfortunately, in her haste, Frigga overlooked the mistletoe plant, so Loki – the resident trickster – took advantage of the opportunity and fooled Baldur’s blind twin, Hodr, into killing him with a spear made of mistletoe. Baldur was later restored to life.
Bona Dea (Roman): This fertility goddess was worshiped in a secret temple on the Aventine hill in Rome, and only women were permitted to attend her rites. Her annual festival was held early in December.
Demeter (Greek): Through her daughter, Persephone, Demeter is linked strongly to the changing of the seasons and is often connected to the image of the Dark Mother in winter. When Persephone was abducted by Hades, Demeter’s grief caused the earth to die for six months, until her daughter’s return.
Dionysus (Greek): A festival called Brumalia was held every December in honor of Dionysus and his fermented grape wine. The event proved so popular that the Romans adopted it as well in their celebrations of Bacchus.
Holly King (British/Celtic): The Holly King is a figure found in British tales and folklore. He is similar to the Green Man, the archetype of the forest. In modern Pagan religion, the Holly King battles the Oak King for supremacy throughout the year. At the winter solstice, the Holly King is defeated.
Horus (Egyptian): Horus was one of the solar deities of the ancient Egyptians. He rose and set every day, and is often associated with Nut, the sky god. Horus later became connected with another sun god, Ra.
La Befana (Italian): This character from Italian folklore is similar to St. Nicholas, in that she flies around delivering candy to well-behaved children in early January. She is depicted as an old woman on a broomstick, wearing a black shawl.
Lord of Misrule (British): The custom of appointing a Lord of Misrule to preside over winter holiday festivities actually has its roots in antiquity, during the Roman week of Saturnalia.
Mithras (Roman): Mithras was celebrated as part of a mystery religion in ancient Rome. He was a god of the sun, who was born around the time of the winter solstice and then experienced a resurrection around the spring equinox.
Odin (Norse): In some legends, Odin bestowed gifts at Yuletide upon his people, riding a magical flying horse across the sky. This legend may have combined with that of St. Nicholas to create the modern Santa Claus.
Irish Standing stones : Carrigeen,
Carrigeen standing stone is among the best located stones in Ireland. It stands in a superb location at the top of the picturesque Nire valley from where there is magnificent panoramic views of the surrounding mountainous region. On the day this image was taken it was -2 degrees and the mountains had a thick covering of mist.
The stone stands some height, an impressive 2.5 meters and tapering to a sharp point. It stands solidly upright and is oriented in a WNW-ESE direction.
An interesting observation here, was when looking westwards, that the jagged crest of the stone seemed to align somewhat with the distant profile of the mountain ridge to the west. (see photo below). This may be just coincidental or was it of significance and could this jagged profile of the stone have survived through thousands of years?
Apart from this speculation, Carrigeen standing stone and its surroundings is a ‘must see’.
A Lament for Kilcash
Now what will we do for timber,
with the last of the woods laid low?
There’s no talk of Cill Chais or its household
and its bell will be struck no more.
That dwelling where lived the good lady
most honoured and joyous of women
– earls made their way over wave there
and the sweet Mass once was said.
Ducks’ voices nor geese do I hear there,
nor the eagle’s cry over the bay,
nor even the bees at their labour
bringing honey and wax to us all.
No birdsong there, sweet and delightful,
as we watch the sun go down,
nor cuckoo on top of the branches
settling the world to rest.
A mist on the boughs is descending
neither daylight nor sun can clear.
A stain from the sky is descending
and the waters receding away.
No hazel nor holly nor berry
but boulders and bare stone heaps,
not a branch in our neighbourly haggard,
and the game all scattered and gone.
Then a climax to all of our misery:
the prince of the Gael is abroad
oversea with that maiden of mildness
who found honour in France and Spain.
Her company now must lament her,
who would give yellow money and white
– she who’d never take land from the people
but was friend to the truly poor.
I call upon Mary and Jesus
to send her safe home again:
dances we’ll have in long circles
and bone-fires and violin music;
that Cill Chais, the townland of our fathers,
will rise handsome on high once more
and till doom – or the Deluge returns –
we’ll see it no more laid low.
Kilcash Castle located on the county Kilkenny / Tipperary boarders but firmly in county Tipperary is one of the most haunting places to be found locally. It has a long history that started with its construction in the sixteenth century by the wall family who latter passed it on to the Butlers of Ormond who much latter sold it to the Irish State in 1997 for £500
Brief History of Kilkash castle and the Poem
By the late 20th century Kilcash Castle was in a dangerous state of repair, and it was sold to the State by the trustees of the Ormond estate for £500 in 1997. It is undergoing extensive structural repairs to save it from collapsing. But this means it is covered in scaffolding and the site is closed off to visitors.
The author of the popular Irish poem and song Cill Chaise (Kilcash) casts himself back in time to mourn the death of Margaret Butler, the former Lady Iveagh, in 1744. Her death moves the writer to lament her tolerance and to compare the cutting down of the woods of Kilcash with the destruction of the Gaelic way of life.
But the woods were not destroyed by the English, but through their sale by the Butler family, who needed the income to supplement their new lifestyle in Kilkenny Castle.
Traditionally, the poem has been attributed to Father John Lane, Parish Priest of nearby Carrick-on-Suir, who was educated for the priesthood at the expense of the former Lady Iveagh, the deagh-bhean or good lady in the song. However, the dating is misplaced, for Father Lane died in 1776 and the sale of the timber at Kilcash was not advertised in local newspapers until 1797.
Although the timber was sold off between 1797 and 1801, the earliest manuscripts of the text do not appear for another 40 years, which means Cill Chaise was written no earlier than the early 1800s, but perhaps much later. The air seems to be Bliadhin ’sa taca so phós mé (This time twelve months I married), which was collected by George Petrie in Clare and published in 1855.
It does not take you very long while walking around the Irish Landscape to cross paths with an old abandoned church or two. These old churches are mainly connected to the remains of long evacuated family estates and would have been originally erected as community churches for both the occupants of the estate house and the larger community.
I have to be honest I avoid any area of conflict (Political and religious!) in life as much as I possible can, I feel society spends too much time as it is looking back on times of trouble, war and death and wonder sometimes if this is not the very reason why we end up with future conflicts?
For me Life is too short to spend any-time waving flags on behalf of past conflicts – NO ONE WINS IN WAR!
When I come across these old churches however I just have to stop and spend sometime because the names on these grave stones were real people and many of them would have lived full lives and been great family members, loved and been loved, real people!
By Thomas Hardy
I heard a small sad sound,
And stood awhile among the tombs around:
“Wherefore, old friends,” said I, “are you distrest,
Now, screened from life’s unrest?”
—”O not at being here;
But that our future second death is near;
When, with the living, memory of us numbs,
And blank oblivion comes!
“These, our sped ancestry,
Lie here embraced by deeper death than we;
Nor shape nor thought of theirs can you descry
With keenest backward eye.
“They count as quite forgot;
They are as men who have existed not;
Theirs is a loss past loss of fitful breath;
It is the second death.
“We here, as yet, each day
Are blest with dear recall; as yet, can say
We hold in some soul loved continuance
Of shape and voice and glance.
“But what has been will be —
First memory, then oblivion’s swallowing sea;
Like men foregone, shall we merge into those
Whose story no one knows.
“For which of us could hope
To show in life that world-awakening scope
Granted the few whose memory none lets die,
But all men magnify?
“We were but Fortune’s sport;
Things true, things lovely, things of good report
We neither shunned nor sought … We see our bourne,
And seeing it we mourn.”
Ireland’s old churches
Knockroe, county Kilkenny
Kilmartin, Argyll, Scotland
A link through time
These two mystical European locations stand two hundred and fifteen miles apart, Knockroe is in county Kilkenny republic of Ireland and the other, Kilmartin is in Argyll, Scotland, about 15 miles south of Oban.
The reason I displaying these images in the same post is simply to highlight something that only occurred to me when one year I happened to visit them only weeks apart. The fact is you could view these two sites individually and study them by themselves all you like, however you would be missing something very important!
The people’s who created these sites shared the same time period and clearly the same beliefs and culture. They lived in Europe both in Ireland and Scotland located in the Geographical British Isles; however some 5500 years ago they knew nothing of recent nations and nationalism , of national borders or even the concept of a European nation.
Both monuments are passage tombs, placed for their dead to be remembered, they both also contain elements for marking the passing of the year and its seasons, by measuring the movement of the sun and the moon.
The structures in these places along with the cultural function they served is identical, to me this shows that these people traveled the seas and not only shared goods and beliefs they in fact where the same peoples. They did not just get on with each other through trade they were each other as brother and sister, mother and father, family and friends.
When they knew nothing of modern boundaries and divisions, what else could they be?
These same people who traveled from one place to another in order to expand their options and abilities did not in any shape or form see themselves as English or Scottish or Irish they were family to each other and nothing more or less!