Monday, September 25, 2017

Lismore medieval churches

Lismore medieval churches

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien

A visitor to Lismore in County Waterford would find ‘scarcely a stone remains upon a stone to mark all those great schools and cloisters, founded by St. Carthage.’[1] Five ancient gravestones, now inside the present St. Carthage’s cathedral, are the few stones remaining.[2]

Foundation of Lismore

The founder of the monastery of Lismore was St. Carthach, also spelt as St. Carthage. He was born in County Kerry and established a monastery for monks and nuns at Rahan in Offaly. But the monastery was not liked by the neighbouring monasteries and St. Carthach was told to leave the area. After the expulsion of St. Carthach from his earlier foundation of Rahan in Offaly, the abbot and his followers went south by way of Cashel. At Ard Brennuin on the River Suir, later renamed Ard Finnan, he met Mael Ochtraig, king of the Deisi, and was offered a site by the River Blackwater in the area of Magh Sciath where he built a lios and church – the foundation of Lismore.[3] Magh Sciath means the plain of the shield. Another older name for Lismore is Dunsginne which means fort of the flight – possibly the flight of St. Carthach.[4]

Giving permission to St. Carthach to establish a monastery at Lismore served to act as a buffer against the bordering kingdom of Uí Liatháin and Fermoy. The monastery would also serve as an economic centre beside the navigable Blackwater and along ancient route-ways like the Rian Bó Phádraig.[5]

St. Carthach only lived about two years at Lismore before his death in 638 but the monastery he founded grew in size and acquired a reputation as a centre of learning over the following centuries. But in the ninth century Viking raids of plundering and burning seriously affected the fabric of the Lismore monastery. There were plunderings in 833, 915 and 962 with serious fires in 833, 883. Further fires occurred in 978, 1095, 1113.[6] In 1207 the Annals of Inisfallen recorded that an accidental fire consumed the city of Lismore and many its parish churches.[7] By 1111 Lismore was recognised as one of new dioceses that were established in Ireland with the monastery of Lismore providing the episcopal seat.[8]

Fabric of the monastery

Little remains of the fabric of the monastery at Lismore. The foundation story says:

Coemell, a holy woman, was on Magh Sciath to meet Carthach and his community when they arrived from Rahan. ‘What do you wish to do here, o servants of God?’ ‘By God’s will, we plan to build a small atrium here around our possessions,’ answered Carthach. ‘It will not be a small atrium but a large one,’ said the holy woman. Carthach replied, ‘It will be so, what you say … For from that name this very place will forever be called Lismore [lios mór] in Irish, in Latin Atrium Magnum.’[9]

An old writer said the place was ‘full of cells and holy monasteries’, yet few remains can be found.[10] In the 1740s there was said to be up to twenty churches in and around Lismore besides the cathedral. Charles Smith recounts in 1746 that many people then living could remember the ruins of several churches but by that time the churches were just a heap of rubble.[11] Joseph Hansard seems to contradict this in 1870 when he said the ruins of seven churches could be discerned.[12] Along with the churches there were other buildings like St. Bridget’s leper hospital and cells for the monks and possibly a round tower for which the location of all these buildings is unknown.

The cathedral

The most ancient building now standing at Lismore is the cathedral. This building was destroyed by fire and plundering over the centuries and at other times left fall into ruin. In 1166 the ‘great church’ at Lismore was blessed and this may have been the present cathedral. The fabric of the cathedral is much changed and altered over the centuries with different styles of architecture. Reconstruction and alterations took place in 1207, 1633 and 1815.[13]

Romanesque doorway at the north transept of the cathedral

The stone church of 1051

It is likely that there were many churches of varied size interspersed and surrounded by individual cells for the monks and nuns as Lismore was a duel monastery. Many of these buildings were possibly built of wood which was very exposed to destruction in the many burnings which occurred. Although stone buildings could also suffer from fire as in 1115 when the stone church at Ard Brecain was burnt and it full of people.[14] By 1051 there was at least one stone building at Lismore. In that year Fáelan son of Báetán son of Brecc was killed by his cousin and newly elected king of the Deisi, Máel Sechlainn ua Bruicc, in the stone church at Lismore.[15] The Annals of Ulster called the stone church, a daimliac.[16] At what time this stone church was built before 1051 is unknown.[17]

Oratory of Máel Ísu ua Brolchain

In 1086 an eminent poet, Máel Ísu ua Brolchain, died at Lismore and was buried there. There is a suggestion that an oak church, dairtech, was dedicated to Máel Ísu but this church could also have been located in Armagh from where Máel Ísu came – the source is not clear on the exact location.[18] In 1116 the oratory of Máel Ísu and part of Lismore was burnt.[19]

Cormac Mac Carthaig churches

In 1127 Cormac Mac Carthaig, King of Desmond, was deposed as king and entered the monastery of Lismore. In that same year he two churches built at Lismore and another at Cashel (the famous Cormac’s chapel). The Book of MacCarthy said it was twelve churches that he built at Lismore but this is said to be a copyist’s error.[20]

The synod church of 1166

In 1166 a synod was held at Lismore which was attended by twelve bishops from Leth Moga, Munster and Leinster and presided over by the papal legate. While there a new church blessed by the bishops. A major fire at in Lismore in 1157 could have occasioned the building of the new church.[21] It is not clear if this was the cathedral church or some church in the monastery area.

Church of St. John

In 1180, Felix, Bishop of Lismore, while on his return from the Lateran Council stayed at the abbey of St. Thomas in Dublin. As a gift of thanks and to keep in favour with the new Anglo-Norman regime Bishop Felix gave the church of St. John at Lismore to this Abbey, on condition that the Canons of St. Thomas should give yearly to Lismore ‘two wax candles, each weighing two pounds’.[22] The abbey of St. Thomas was founded in 1177 by Fitz Aldelin de Burgo.

Christ Church

In 1597 George Sherlock, son of Peter Sherlock of Waterford, leased many properties from the government that were formerly owned by religious monasteries. One of these properties was ‘an old church called Christ Church with the cemetery adjoining it’ for 4s per year in rent. The church was described as the ancient inheritance of the crown.[23]

The tomb of the bishops

In 1205, Laurence, Bishop of Cloyne, ended his days at Lismore and was buried in the Bishop’s cemetery, Reilig Espoc. This is said to be located on the left side of the avenue leading to the present Lismore castle.[24] This was possibly the same tomb of the bishops where Ceallach, coarb of St. Patrick at Armagh, was buried in 1129.[25]

St Mary’s Church - Religmuire

This church is only marked on the 1927 edition of the OS 6-inch map as adjacent to the back avenue of Lismore castle and near to the original St Carthach's well. An archaeological excavation near the site in 2010 uncovered evidence of medieval settlement and of burials. It is said that the Romanesque arch at the entrance to Lismore castle came from this church but the arch could have come from any of the ancient churches of Lismore. Near the church was a holy well, called St. Carthach’s well, which was venerated until about 1900 when the stream it served was diverted from its course and the forge well (renamed St. Carthach’s well) on the right side of the street heading towards the bridge became the new venerated holy well.[26]

Romanesque archway at Lismore castle

Conclusion

There is a rich religious heritage in and around Lismore but destruction over the centuries and reconstruction of the town in the last four hundred years has removed all traces of the medieval buildings. Archaeological investigations should discover some remains but to date little in the way of certain structures have been found apart from burials near a suggested church (St. Mary’s church site only since 1927) site. Some early plans or maps may help pin down the old monastery of Lismore as the present street pattern is a late eighteenth century construction and it is hard to see the circular enclosure that is more obvious in places like Kells in County Meath.[27] Yet even in the days of the monastery, the Lismore churches proved difficult subjects. In the 1140s a cleric at Lismore took objection to the new idea crossing Europe of placing a substantial stone altar against the east wall of the church. At a public debate with St. Malachy, Archbishop of Armagh, the Lismore cleric lost the argument.[28] The Second Vatican Council in the mid twentieth century repositioned the altar in Roman Catholic churches and so maybe the Lismore churches may reposition themselves at some future date from obscurity into the public eye.
  
Bibliography

Annals of Loch Cé
Annals of Ulster
Gough, M., St. Carthage’s Parish Church Lismore 1884-1984, Centenary Souvenir (Lismore, 1984)
Grattan Flood, W.H., ‘Lismore under the Early Anglo-Norman Regime’, in the Journal of the Waterford & South East Archaeological Society, volume V, 1899, pp. 131-145
Grattan Flood, W.H., ‘Lismore in the 13th Century’, in the Journal of the Waterford & South East Archaeological Society, volume V, 1899, pp. 207-221
Hansard, J., History of Waterford, edited by Donal Brady (Dungarvan, n.d.)
Ó Carragáin, T., Churches in early medieval Ireland (New Haven, 2010)
O’Keeffe, T., ‘Lismore and Cashel: reflections on the beginnings of Romanesque architecture in Munster’, in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquarians of Ireland, Volume 124 (1004), pp. 118-152
Pollock, D., ‘Lismore castle gardens, Lismore: Medieval settlement and graveyard’, in I. Bennett (ed.) Excavations 2007: summary account of excavations in Ireland, 2007 (Dublin, 2008) No. 1829
Sanderlin, S., ‘The monastery of Lismore, A.D. 638-1111’, in Nolan, W. & Power, T.P. (eds.), Waterford History and Society (Dublin, 1992), pp. 27-48
Smith, C., The ancient and present state of the County and City of Waterford, edited by Donald Brady (Dungarvan, 2008)

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[1] Gough, M., St. Carthage’s Parish Church Lismore 1884-1984, Centenary Souvenir (Lismore, 1984), p. 5
[2] Sanderlin, S., ‘The monastery of Lismore, A.D. 638-1111’, in Nolan, W. & Power, T.P. (eds.), Waterford History and Society (Dublin, 1992), pp. 27-48, at p. 44
[3] Sanderlin, S., ‘The monastery of Lismore, A.D. 638-1111’, pp. 27-48, at pp. 27, 28
[4] Smith, C., The ancient and present state of the County and City of Waterford, edited by Donald Brady (Dungarvan, 2008), p. 27
[5] Sanderlin, S., ‘The monastery of Lismore, A.D. 638-1111’, pp. 27-48, at pp. 29, 30
[6] Sanderlin, S., ‘The monastery of Lismore, A.D. 638-1111’, pp. 27-48, at p. 41; Annals of Ulster, 832 gives year when Lismore was burnt and not 833
[7] Grattan Flood, W.H., ‘Lismore in the 13th Century’, in the Journal of the Waterford & South East Archaeological Society, volume V, 1899, pp. 207-221, at p. 209
[8] Sanderlin, S., ‘The monastery of Lismore, A.D. 638-1111’, pp. 27-48, at p. 44; Annals of Ulster, 832 gives year when Lismore was burnt and not 833
[9] Sanderlin, S., ‘The monastery of Lismore, A.D. 638-1111’, pp. 27-48, at p. 44
[10] Hansard, J., History of Waterford, edited by Donal Brady (Dungarvan, n.d.), p. 229
[11] Smith, C., The ancient and present state of the County and City of Waterford, Edited by Brady,  p. 29
[12] Hansard, J., History of Waterford, edited by Brady, p. 230
[13] Hansard, J., History of Waterford, edited by Brady, p. 230
[14] Annals of Loch Cé, 1115
[15] Annals of Loch Cé, 1051; Sanderlin, S., ‘The monastery of Lismore, A.D. 638-1111’, pp. 27-48, at p. 42
[16] Annals of Ulster, 1051
[17] Ó Carragáin, T., Churches in early medieval Ireland (New Haven, 2010), p. 110
[18] Sanderlin, S., ‘The monastery of Lismore, A.D. 638-1111’, pp. 27-48, at p. 43
[19] Annals of Loch Cé, 1116
[20] O’Keeffe, T., ‘Lismore and Cashel: reflections on the beginnings of Romanesque architecture in Munster’, in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquarians of Ireland, Volume 124 (1004), pp. 118-152, at pp. 120, 121 
[21] O’Keeffe, T., ‘Lismore and Cashel: Romanesque architecture in Munster’, in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquarians of Ireland, Volume 124 (1004), pp. 118-152, at p. 121
[22] Grattan Flood, W.H., ‘Lismore under the Early Anglo-Norman Regime’, in the Journal of the Waterford & South East Archaeological Society, volume V, 1899, pp. 131-145, at p. 138; Smith, C., The ancient and present state of the County and City of Waterford, edited by Brady, p. 29, note 33
[23] Tudor Fiants: Fiants of Elizabeth, no. 6169
[24] Grattan Flood, ‘Lismore in the 13th Century’, in the Journal of the Waterford & South East Archaeological Society, volume V, 1899, pp. 207-221, at p. 208
[25] Annals of Ulster, 1129
[26] Pollock, D., ‘Lismore castle gardens, Lismore: Medieval settlement and graveyard’, in I. Bennett (ed.) Excavations 2007: summary account of excavations in Ireland, 2007 (Dublin, 2008) No. 1829
[27] Ó Carragáin, Churches in early medieval Ireland, p. 264, fig 258
[28] Ó Carragáin, Churches in early medieval Ireland, p. 196

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