Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Lucky Stone of Medieval Dublin

The Lucky Stone

The above stone, dating from around the 9th century used to be part of the Slí Mor or medieval highway, the remains of an esker, which possibly ran from the Brazen Head west as far the Shannon to the settlement of Clonmacnoise and continued on into the West. Pilgrims setting out on the journey to Clonmacnoise would rub the stone and pray for a safe journey reciting the ancient "Tonga  na Dia thungus mo thuath"(I swear by the God my people swear by). In 1308 a marble cistern, providing a public water supply, was erected at the Cornmarket and the stone placed beside it. It was considered lucky to drink here. In 1826 the stone was stolen but the thieves had no luck and it apparently became heavier until they were forced to abandon it. When workmen attempted to break it up it was said to have rolled and moaned.It has been at its current site since 1860 

The Stone is located at St Audeons in the heart of Medieval Dublin. Admission is free

Thursday, June 5, 2014

John Bodkin's Hand

"If the old stones of Saint Nicholas Collegiate church could speak, what strange tales they would tell of war and peace, prosperity and adversity, civil and religious strife, of self-denying devotion to the service of God and rash sacrilegious spoliation"

                Rev J. Fleetwood Berry, Rector of Galway 1912

The church of St Nicholas in Galway is the city’s oldest church. Built in 1320 it was more than likely built on the site of an older once, possibly a Knights Templar and contains a crusader grave much older than the present church. There are many tales told of this historic building. It is said that Christopher Columbus prayed here when he visited the city in 1477.  A Lesser well know tale connected to the church is that of John Bodkin and his hand. John Bodkin, the last Catholic warden was forced to give up his church in the 17th century before it became Protestant. Bodkin is a name long associated with the city of Galway and was one of the fourteen tribes of Galway, wealthy merchants who made the city very rich and prosperous. Such was their power that they created church wardens directly elected by them in 1484, a system which lasted until Galway became a diocese in 1831. 
The prosperity of Galway suffered a severe setback in the 17th century. The city had always been loyal to the Crown, which was not a good idea during the English Civil War. When Cromwell’s troops entered the city they used the church as a stable. A few decades later Williamite forces besieged the city as Galway had once more backed the losing side. The city surrendered to General Godert de Ginkell, 1st Earl of Athlone, in July of 1691. Ginkell’s soldiers came to Warden Bodkin to collect the keys to his church. As he handed them over he cried out in despair: “ My God, that my right hand may not decay until the key of this church be restored to its proper owners”.From that day on the Church of St Nicholas ceased to become Catholic and was reconsecrated into the Church of Ireland.There appears to have been no ill feeling among the Catholics and when Dr George P Brown was appointed first Protestant bishop of Galway both Protestants and Catholics rejoiced. The infamous penal laws followed the Williamite wars and Catholics continued to worship, albeit secretly and gathered at places such as the mass rock in Shantalla. Little more was recorded about Bodkin, save that he died in 1710 and was buried in the vaults of the church he once administered.  Although now a Protestant church it was agreed that the deceased of the old Galway merchant families would continue to be buried there, a practice that continued until the 19th century. The people of Galway remembered what Bodkin had said and came to pray at this tomb which could be viewed by entering a private passage into the vault from the High altar. Three times within the space of a hundred years his coffin disintegrated with age and had to be replaced but the corpse had not decayed in any way. In 1738 some stones from the tomb fell and damaged the toes, but otherwise the corpse looked very fresh indeed.The years passed and the city continued to decay but something that had not decayed was the body of Bodkin. And this became clear when it was decided to carry out much needed repairs on the vaults. Under the supervision of a Mr Clare the repairs began in 1838. In the course of the repairs the workmen came across the 129 year old corpse of Bodkin. Mr Clare who would later give a sworn statement to his solicitor described the body as being in perfect condition, save damage to the toes, the teeth perfectly white and the skin somewhat elastic. Word quickly spread through the streets of Galway and many wondered if the prophecy would be fulfilled. According to some rumours the corpse was holding the keys to the church in his right hand. Thousands came in to have a look at the body which was now being looked upon as a miracle. Among most of the population, it was held that the return of the church to the Catholics of Galway was imminent. The chaos caused by the crowds meant the restoration work had to be called off three days after the discovery.The next morning the foreman carpenter, John McMahon called to Mr. Clare’s house at six o’clock in the morning to tell him that the right hand of the corpse had been cut off. McMahon, a Presbyterian was scared that the people would blame him for the desecration. Not only had the right hand been removed but flesh was removed from the chest and an attempt had been made to destroy it with lime, but this had only discoloured the skin. The church had been cleared of all onlookers and Henry Caddy, the sexton, was the only one with a key. Caddy was summoned and interrogated by a crowd anxious to know what had happened. He refused to talk but when the crowd dragged him down to the river and threatened to throw him in. He knew they meant business and he told them that he had given the key to Timothy Murray and Dr McSweeney. Murray was approached and he admitted to having committed the desecration of the corpse and would only give the hand back to Reverend Roch. Roch in turn promised to return it at 2 o’clock and the mob dispersed. An even larger crowd returned at the appointed time but Roch did not appear until four. He had the hand with him which was minus the fingers and slashed in many places. Rejecting suggestions to bury the body elsewhere Clare lifted up the body and placed it in a new coffin. He then closed the coffin and vault in such a way that there can be no access to it except by ripping up the floor.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

She Weeps over Rahoon

James Joyce

Rain on Rahoon falls softly, softly falling,
Where my dark lover lies.
Sad is his voice that calls me, sadly calling,
At grey moonrise.

Love, hear thou
How soft, how sad his voice is ever calling,
Ever unanswered, and the dark rain falling,
Then as now.

Dark too our hearts, O love, shall lie and cold
As his sad heart has lain
Under the moongrey nettles, the black mould
And muttering rain