Most trips around Ireland don’t include a look at mummies under a Dublin church, or a climb to a fairy fortress in Galway. Only the locals tend to know about stops like these… or the occasional traveler who happen to stumble upon them, so here a look at just a few you might stumble upon if you’re looking.
Relics of the True Cross
Catching a glimpse of the relics of the True Cross at Holy Cross Abbey in County Tipperary are interesting in their own right, but the a look around the restored 800-year-old church offers a glimpse at medieval craftsmanship as well. Holy Cross Abbey, County Tipperary is an interesting alternative to the Rock of Cashel, 15 kms away. Less obvious and crowded it has a very curious history and the distinction of having been one of the principle places of pilgrimage in Ireland for over 350 years. Pilgrims visited from all over Ireland to view the relic of the ‘true cross’ or ‘holy rood’ from whence the Abbey it got its name. The relic was set in gold and adorned with precious stones and is believed to have been given to the Abbey by Queen Isabella of Angouleme, widow of King John, in return for the monks kindness in burying her son who was murdered nearby in 1233. This young man ‘Pierce the fair’, by her second husband Le Brun, Count of La Marche would have been the half-brother of Henry III of England, whose successor Henry VIII would eventually suppress the abbey in 1536, causing it to be to be finally abandoned in 1633….
The World’s Tallest Round Tower
At 34 m (111 ft), the round tower at Kilmacduagh in County Galway rises above the countryside, and like the tower at Pisa, this spire also has a distinct lean. The 7th century saint, Saint Colman, son of Duagh, established a monastery on land given him by his cousin King Guaire. According to legend, Saint Colman MacDuagh was walking through the woods of the Burren when his girdle fell to the ground. Taking this as a sign, he built his monastery on this spot. The girdle was said to be studded with gems and was held by the O’Shaughnessys centuries later, along with St. Colman’s crozier, or staff. The girdle was later lost, but the crozier came to be held by the O’Heynes and may now be seen in the National Museum of Ireland. The Catholic encyclopedia says of St. Colman: “Bishop and patron of Kilmacduagh, born at Kiltartan c. 560; died 29 October, 632. He lived for many years as a hermit in Arranmore, where he built two churches, both forming the present group of ruins at Kilmurvy. Thence he sought greater seclusion in the woods of Burren, in 592, and at length, in 610, founded a monastery, which became the centre of the tribal Diocese of Aidhne.”
The Donkey Sanctuary
Having rescued more than 3,600 donkeys since 1983, the Donkey Sanctuary near Liscarroll in County Cork invites guests to meet their current hoofed residents. The Sanctuary is set in the beautiful rolling countryside of County Cork just outside the village of Liscarroll in Ireland.
We have taken in over 2,850 donkeys rescued from all parts of the country. Many donkeys have been abandoned or put in a field and given little or no attention after having worked for their owners for years, hauling peat or pulling a cart. We strongly believe that their suffering should cease.
Every donkey taken into the Sanctuary is guaranteed a life of loving care. For many it is the first time in their lives that they have felt loving hands and heard quiet voices. Great care is given to ensuring that each donkey has individual attention. We are well aware of the strong bonds formed by a group of donkeys. In cases where more than one donkey arrives from a home we ensure that they remain together but, in time, some donkeys form new friendships with animals, often those nearer their own age.
Father Ted’s House
For fans of the Irish sitcom Father Ted, a photo with the solitary rectory in the background doesn’t require a boat ride to the fictitious Craggy Island, just a detour near Glenquin, County Clare. It was set in the remote fictional Craggy Island parish off the west coast of Ireland, near Kilfenora. The show followed the lives of Father Ted Crilly (the late Dermot Morgan) and his fellow priests, Father Dougal McGuire (Ardal O’Hanlon) and Father Jack Hackett (Frank Kelly), who are exiled on the island, living together in the parochial house with the fourth main character, housekeeper Mrs. Doyle (Pauline McLynn).
A walk along the trail at Knockma Woods in County Galway takes visitors to a moss covered collection of stone steps and stacked branches that are said to be the home of Finnbheara the Fairy King of Connacht. Finnbheara was the king of the fairies of Cnoc Meadha west of Tuam in Co. Galway. He was married to Úna the fairy queen of Knocksheogowna. He had a liking for mortal women and would abduct them to his fairy mound, the most famous of these being called Eithne. Each year he would have a battle with the fairies of Ulster and if he won the crops would be good in Connaught and if he lost the crops failed.
He was interested in horses and horse-racing and it is said he helped many a horse to win in a race by lending one of his jockeys to the owner.
Dunbrody Garden Maze
While a visit to Cistercian abbey at Dunbrody will hold your interest, wandering the intricate garden maze provides a real treat in County Wexford.
Next to the Abbey is Dunbrody Castle, and on this site also, lies a visitor centre opened by the Earl of Belfast, only son of the 7th Marquess of Donegall. The Castle garden is the resting-place for an intricate yew hedge maze. Made with 1,500 yew trees, and gravel paths, it is one of only two full size mazes in Eire. Around the outside of the maze lies a 9-hole pitch and putt course. Clubs can be hired in the shop. The Abbey and Castle are open to visitors to explore at will. Walks and picnic area available. Plants and shrubs are on sale during the summer. The Craft Shop houses a small museum, having as its centrepiece the Dunbrody Castle Doll’s House.
There is also a large range of items produced by local craftsmen on display throughout the season, including jewellery, stained & painted glass, wrought iron, cut glass, decorative candles, and a variety of woodware. The Traditional Tearooms and bakery at Dunbrody offers fresh Coffee/Tea, Sandwiches, Cakes, Teabracks and Minerals etc. It houses a well-stocked Information Point, with a wide selection of brochures from tourist attractions and services throughout the region. The History of Dunbrody Castle is clouded in the mists of time. However, it is thought that John Etchingham of Dunbrody Abbey, who died in 1650, built here “a good house of lime and stone”. In fact it is true that Dunbrody Castle is not a castle at all but a fortified House. John Etchingham built the House before 1641, though the southerly end of it is much earlier, possibly of the same vintage as the Abbey itself. However, on the breaking out of the 1641 Rebellion he was obliged to stop before the work was completed.
In addition, John Etchingham’s two sons died shortly after the Rebellion and having only his daughter Jane as his heiress, he probably did not care to finish it. Jane Etchingham subsequently married the Second Earl of Donegall, whose descendants own the property to this day. Subsequently Captain Kennedy, agent to the Estates, took over the House and completed the present House out of the “waste” left by John Etchingham.
It’s over 200 years old, but the windmill at Blennerville, County Kerry, still works and is available for tours from its spot along Tralee Bay. Blennerville Windmill stands out as the dominant landmark in Tralee Bay, where the town of Tralee meets the Dingle Peninsula.
At the Blennerville Visitor Centre you will find the working windmill as well as an exhibition gallery, craft shop and restaurant. The exhibition includes an audio visual presentation, an emigration display and a bird watching platform with telescope overlooking ‘Slí na nÉan’ (‘the Way of the Birds’).
Visitors can get up close and appreciate the scale and complexity of the Windmill machinery and can climb to the top of the windmill. Blennerville was the main port of emigration from County Kerry during the Great Famine (1845 to 1848) and was, during those years, the home port of the famous emigrant barque ‘Jeanie Johnston’. The visitor centre houses a fascinating display on Irish emigration including models of the infamous coffin ships.
Come and view Tralee Bay Nature Reserve, where migratory pale-bellied brent geese spend from October to April feeding on the eelgrass and green seaweeds on the mudflats and grazing in nearby fields and salt marshes when this food is scarce. Birds of the bay include turnstone, ringed plover, dunlin, redshank, bar-tailed godwit, golden plover and curlew.
Mummies at St Michan’s
While houses an organ played by Handel, it’s the mummies in the crypt below that keep visitors coming back. One of Dublin’s more unusual attractions has to be St. Michan’s Church. Named after a Danish Bishop, it was for five hundred years the only parish church in Dublin north of the River Liffey. Founded around 1095 by the Danish colony in Oxmanstown and located near the Four Courts, the present building dates from about 1685 when it was rebuilt to serve a more prosperous congregation in an area created by Sir Humphrey Jervis. Historians believe the church may have been designed by Sir William Robinson, Ireland’s Surveyor General (1645 – 1712).
From its founding until the mid sixteenth century, monks from Christ Church Cathedral served the church. Then in 1547 it became a part of Christ Church Cathedral with the Precenter of the Cathedral in charge of the parish. This remained so until 1870 when the Church of Ireland was disestablished and disendowed, meaning it was no longer connected with the state and became a self-governing body. At this time the parish was separated from the Cathedral but in later years it again became a part of the Christ Church group of parishes.
In addition to the rebuilding in 1685, the church underwent extensive repair in 1828. During the shelling of the Four Courts in 1922, the roof suffered damage and the east window was shattered and repaired with plain glass. In 1958 the present window was added, moved from St. Matthias’ Church on Adelaide Road.
The St. Michan’s organ is one of the oldest in the country still in use. It is believed that George F. Handel played it when composing The Messiah. A panel on the organ gallery, carved from a single block of wood, portrays a series of musical instruments in high relief. A Penitent’s Stool, an eighteenth-century pulpit and font, and a chalice dating from 1516 are among the items of note.
The main attraction, however, lies in the vaults underneath the church proper, its access reached by a narrow stone stairway. On either side of a tunnel lined with limestone and mortar extend long narrow galleries for the placing of coffins. Some are private and fastened with wooden or iron doors, while others are open. Through the iron bars in some, the coffins can be seen lying in a helter skelter fashion, some apparently bursting at the seams with an arm or leg sticking up. In one of these open chambers lie the grisly contents sought by numerous visitors: the Big Four. Here the casket lids are off, exposing bodies partly covered with taut, leathery skin, covered in a thick layer of dust. Three of the coffins lie in a row across the front, a woman on the right, a man with a hand and both feet cut off in the center–some say because he was a thief, others say so the body could fit into the coffin. On the left is a nun. The coffin along the rear wall is that of the Crusader, the mummy believed to have been a soldier returned from the Crusades. His body has been cut in half, in order for it to fit the coffin. One of his hands is lifted slightly in the air.
The last room holds the coffins of the Sheare brothers who were executed by the British following the Rising of 1798. When their old coffins were replaced with new ones at the bicentennial commemoration in 1998, it was discovered that the standard British punishment for traitors had been enacted: the bodies had been hanged, drawn and quartered.
In the church graveyard are other notables, including Oliver Bond, who took part in the 1798 Rising and mathematician William Rowan Hamilton. It is generally thought that the remains of Robert Emmet, executed during the 1803 Rising, are also interred at St. Michan’s.
Why is it that decomposition of these bodies has been retarded more than elsewhere in Dublin? It was thought the high concentration of lime might be the answer, but it is no more so here than in other vaults around the city. Possibly it occurs because St. Michan’s Church lies lower and nearer the bed of the Liffey. There occurs a similar condition at Knockmoy Abbey in County Galway, also on the Aran Islands. Twelfth-century historian Geraldus Cambrensis noted more than six hundred years ago: “There is in the west of Connacht, an island place in the sea, called Aren, to which St. Brendan had often recourse. The dead bodies need not be graveled, for the ayre is so pure that the contagion of any carrion may not infect it.”
The very dry atmosphere may be yet another reason the mummies have remained in a state of semi-preservation. Fascinating though it is, the Mummies of St. Michan’s is not a tour for the faint-hearted.
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