Saturday, March 7, 2009

St. Carthage and Lismore - a brief history

St. Carthage is the patron saint of my home town of Lismore. I posted a picture of a tree carving in a recent post of a lightning-blasted tree that had been sculpted into a statue of St. Carthage on a plinth, very cleverly done by a Welsh sculptor in 2005, when she was commissioned by the Town Council to turn it into something emblematic. This showed some ingenuity not usually associated with local government and was a welcome change from the more usual chop it down for firewood approach. You can see the end result here and it is pretty quirky and quite a conversation piece in the local Millenium Park. Some of the comments on the earlier post focused on the tree carving so I took some close-ups of it for this post. And I thought to include a potted history of himself in the event any readers are into ancient history!

The sculpture tree of St. Carthage in Lismore's Millenium Park, with the fountain in foreground

St. Carthage came to Lismore from Offaly (where Barack Obama's somewhat tenuous Irish links originated!) in 636AD and founded a monastery - Lismore was a great seat of learning in those days until the Vikings came along in the 9th and 10th Century to plunder and pillage - and it managed to retain its academic status until the Normans arrived in 1172. You can read more and see some pictures and photos here . Lismore Castle was built some years later by Prince John - later King John - when he was sent as Lord of Ireland by his dad King Henry II, who came here on foot of papal "Bull" (not a derogatory term but the actual one for some sort of edict) to bring the natives into line with the church in Rome.

I think we as a nation have collectively and conveniently forgotten the moot point that it was really the church's intervention in Irish affairs that instigated the turbulent centuries of colonisation. This "elephant in the corner" attitude merely reflects the unquestioning acceptance of the Irish population to the teachings of the church and its insidious intrusion into every aspect of Irish society right up to the first (defeated) divorce referendum in 1986. Thereafter its influence waned considerably, as one after another unfolding scandal caused a loss of all credibility, resulting in a much healthier relationship and division between church and state, well in all areas except the schools which is a whole other story for another day.

Back to King John - this was the start of the 800 years of occupation which has had such resonance in our recent history, culminating in our independence in 1922, following a bloody Civil War and the famous Easter Rising of 1916. The euphemistically named "Troubles" in the North of Ireland gained notoriety for Ireland over the past number of years until cross-border agreements led to a power-sharing that would have been unthinkable in the dark days of the 70s and 80s, and much of the 90s.

Detail of the tree sculpture

Lismore Castle

The Castle has been rebuilt numerous times and only took on its current look after rebuilding in the early 1800s following a fire. Robert Boyle the scientist of Boyle's Law fame lived here in his youth, and it has been the Irish home of the Duke of Devonshire for generations. It was the setting for an ITV production of Austen's "Northanger Abbey" a few years back, and has links with Fred Astaire as his sister Adele was married to a former Duke and they came here annually, right up to their deaths.

Lismore has two churches named for the patron saint. The Church of Ireland (Anglican) one is St. Carthage's Cathedral, and it is a church that predates the Reformation, with stone figures from the 9th Century. The Catholic St. Carthage's Church is also technically a cathedral as it is a Diocesan seat of the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, but is much newer, dating from 1884. The older church is a wonderful venue for musical events, as the acoustics are terrific, and we have all enjoyed many a choral or classical concert there over the years.

St. Carthage's Catholic Church as seen from my front door last week in a snowfall - an Irish blizzard!

There is another local link to St. Carthage and that is the Holy Well, which has recently been renovated. His feast day is celebrated on May 14th or 15th, depending on your vintage - I always thought it the 14th. As a child that was the only day the well was open for prayers and rumour had it that the well only filled at this time, and was dry the rest of the year. An urban myth or wishful miraculous thinking, as since the renovation and year-round accessibility, it is always full! There are some photos of the well and its descriptive plaque here.

So that's a bit of local history and something I grew up with and somehow the tree sculpture has rekindled a lot of interest in the background to Lismore's origins as a once-renowned seat of learning all over monastic Europe. You can see much more at this Heritage Centre link if you wish.
St. Carthage's Well - newly renovated and open year-round.


Jeannette StG said...

I like the tree sculpture naturally - but I'm still confused by the church history part - Was the Catholic church first in Ireland, and then came the Anglican church, or the other way around? Interesting story, by the way!

FoodFunFarmLife said...

Thanks for sharing yet another most interesting post & photo's with us ! The tree sculpture is quite lovely ... and unique, too :)

Peggy said...

Great post Catherine, with terrific photos of the sculpture. You 'potted' 800 years of history very concisely! I read in our local paper there is an open day in the castle in March when devonshire afternoon tes will be served in a part of the castle not normally open to the public,I suppose you could go along with your camera?!Lismore is high on my list now for a summer day out thanks to your blog.

Jeanne said...

Wow that tree sculpture is amazing. I love all the history and architecture you shared, it's so interesting. My country is an adolescent in comparison but the area we live in is rich in our own history. Love that kind of thing.

Jo said...

Excellent post, Catherine. All that history. The tree sculpture is beautiful and your photos reflect this. Hugs Jo

Catherine said...

Thanks again for all your kind comments - I am always a bit overwhelmed by the interest in posts about my home place, I guess we always take the familiar for granted. Just nice to get another perspective on it!
JEANNETTE, this question is an age-old one that probably deserves a whole blog of its own, never mind a mere post! In a nutshell, the Catholic church was the first Christian church in Ireland, the only one I suppose, since St. Patrick the Roman Slave came over from Wales all those centuries ago to tell the story of the Trinity using the Shamrock to illustrate it - which we will all be wearing next Tuesday to celebrate our National Day and forgetting the Christian origins in the bacchanalian festivities that mark the day globally now with parades everywhere and more green worn outside Ireland than inside! So the Anglicans moved in after the Reformation when the local bishop here, Myler McGrath, converted to Protestantism from Catholicism to save his bacon and a lot of land besides, as Catholics were very disenfranchised under English coloniallism. Not something I rant about now as i am not a rabid Irish republican and distance myself totally from the IRA and their awful ilk who ruined the country in the name of nationalism over the past 40 years in Northern Ireland. (Not to be confused with the IRA from the Independence Movement who had genuine grievances to deal with to gain our independence.) Sadly a splinter group from the IRA have started killing British soldiers in Northern Ireland again for the first time in 12 years. So there is a dread of more violence and the ruination of the peace process that was so hard-won.
Anyway, there has been a minority Anglican community in Ireland since independence, many lost land in the land acts even preceding independence, and as Catholics couldn't be landowners in the days of Penal Laws and other restrictive practices, that was something that had to be addressed. But there are still many English/Ango-Irish aristocrats living in Ireland with huge estates, and they have a fairly normal co-existence in Irish society, many being active in politics and more Irish than British, as well as all the native protestants whose families have been here for generations or who converted way back, though those who converted in the Famine days would be frowned upon as having "taken the soup" - a reference to the many evangelising protestants who saw an opportunity in the starving peasantry. Most "good" landlords were interested in looking after their tenants and not evicting them, and the Duke of Devonshire was one of the good guys so that's why there is a good relationship with the castle to this day. I hope that answers some way your query! Sorry for the long-windedness but it is not a one-liner answer! That's why the older church is the Anglican one and the Catholics had a (probably)wooden chapel for centuries until 1884 when this one in the snow photo was built.

Catherine said...

LYNDA yes the sculpture is unique in my experience but maybe there are others elsewhere as she is Welsh and may have other commissions like this!

Catherine said...

PEGGY I have answered about Devonshire Day by email and thanks for your reply - by the way Jan says you need to book as the slots are filling up fast, if you or a friend would like to go. I can email you more info if you like. It is hard to pot 800 years of history and i don't purport to have done this - see my answer to Jeannette! But it was a fascinating and often awful time, in many places. I don't like to go around being a MOPE - (most oppressed people ever) as we were prob. not the worst treated colonised peoples.

Catherine said...

JEANNE and JO - thanks a lot, glad you liked the post and the photos, and the history - it is a little snapshot of life here and is pretty ancient compared to European life in the USA and Africa and Australia.

The Cherry Tree Farm said...

Wow -- love your pictures and the history lesson (I always feel like I've learned so much after one of your "tour" posts). Because I was a History/English (literature) major in college I had to take two quarters' worth of History of England (which was really history of Great Britain, as it included Ireland and Scotland). Your post only reminds me how insufficient two quarters is to know everything about any region! Despite being a very devout Christian myself, I have to say that it seems every time religion and politics mix, the result is bad -- very bad. I like my government nicely agnostic, thank you! :)


Reader Wil said...

This tree is a wonderful solution for a piece of wood hit by lightning! It's beautiful. Thanks for the historic information too!

Reader Wil said...

Catharina, I forgot to tell that the polder is one between Rotterdam and the windmills of Kinderdijk. It's called the Krimpenerwaard. You can find it on Google Earth.

Catherine said...

KRISTIN, thanks for the kind comments, and yes there is something to be said for a church-state division. I get a bit bewildered as there is such an emphasis in the US on no religious referrals - my friend there resolutely says happy holidays at Christmas which is so weird by my reckoning - and yet it is such an overtly religious country, in so many ways. Sadly agree about the toxic mix of politics and religion, look at Gaza lately and then Northern Ireland seems to be erupting again which is awful, no-one can countenance conflict there after the peace process was so hard-won. Bring back agnostic government indeed!

WIL - thanks for that reference I am going straight to Google Earth it! Sounds familiar, I will ask Jan if he knows it, prob. does as he often talked of the Kinderdijk.
agree about the good use of the lightning-tree! I don't know if it's a cost-effective solution for every blasted tree, but this was a good use of it. The sculptor spent a week in the park in her VW combi and hacked away at the tree with a variety of chainsaws - it looked so bizarre as she was a small woman and it was a hilarious sight! She attracted an audience every day.

Jeannette StG said...

thanks so much for taking the time to answer my question - I have the "talent" to open up a can of worms with an innocent question:) I have printed out your answer, so I can digest it.

I chuckled at the answer you gave Wil, about the artist who did the tree - now, that's an artist after my heart!! It's the small women who you have to look out for, LOL.

Reader Wil said...

Thanks again for your comment Catherine! Fortunately Zeeland has all its old buildings restored. Recently I was in Burgh-Haamstede where I saw the castle and the old village houses still in use. I was in Zierikzee right after the flood to help cleaning houses and a year later to help cleaning a piece of land. Both times with students from all over the world. Zierikzee was restored in its old glory(as we Dutch use to say). And I think most villages are back where they were before the flood. It is a beautiful province. My sister, however lives in the province of Overijssel in the north east of the Netherlands. Next week Monday evening I'll have a post about the Netherlands with a bit of geography and history (a tiny little bit)!

Catherine said...

Thanks for the recent comments -
Jeanette, it was good to have interest and if it sparked a can of worms answer well and good! I suppose we are all hoping here that the North doesn't go down a really slippery slope as there has been a policeman killed by a splinter IRA group (there are two I know about, both equally evil) and it has triggered revulsion all over Ireland (except presumably among diehard republicans) - not in my name seems to be the rally cry for decent Irish people.

Wil, as you say Zeeland has good old buildings, Burgh -Haamstede is very picturesque, I tend to get my Schouwse villages jumbled up as there are so many and they are all gorgeous! I love Noordgouwe and I think it's near Renesse there's a lovely old house with history from the Nazi occupation where some resistance fighters were executed for some minor offence like having radios or relaying messages, major crimes in the eyes of the Nazi occupiers or the collaborators. It's an area of history I am outside of as Ireland was resolutely neutral in WW2, to the point of calling it "The Emergency". All a bit Orwellian as there was always a sense of any enemy of our historic enemy England was a friend of Ireland and that always coloured our neutrality. Unfortunately that became more apparent when it emerged through state archives that not alone had the then PRime minister De Valera offered condolences on behalf of the Irish people to the German Ambassador on Hitler's death, but our then President Hyde also headed off to the Embassy to do likewise. As the only heads of state to do so (outside the Axis presumably) this has always been a stain on our recent history and a national collective embarrassment.
That's another aside - I tend to wander off message a lot on these responses, apologies. Zierikzee is a beautiful old town, I love wandering around the backstreets and the walls and gates. I look forward to your post Monday!