Friday, 21 July 2017
Finding items from
these parishes in
the Hunt Museum
During my visit to the Hunt Museum in Limerick last week, a number of exhibits were of interest to me because of their links with the area embraced by the Rathkeale Group of Parishes in west Co Limerick, including Communion vessels from Askeaton, a replica of the Ardagh Chalice, two late 18th century paintings from Askeaton, and a hand-pin from Askeaton.
A Communion Paten and Chalice attributed to John Bucknor of Limerick was made ca 1663, and is on loan to the Museum by the Select Vestry of Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton.
John Bucknor was one of the early important workers in silver in Limerick. His first-known work dates from 1664, and in 1666 he was appointed Sheriff of Limerick. He died around 1671.
The silver replica of the Ardagh Chalice is not an original exhibit in the Hunt Museum, but tells the story of one of the most important archaeological finds in Ireland, which is part of the story of this part of west Limerick.
The Ardagh Chalice is part of the Ardagh Hoard, a hoard of metalwork from the eighth and ninth centuries found in 1868 and now on display in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.
It includes the Ardagh Chalice, as well as a stemmed cup and four brooches. The chalice ranks with the Book of Kells, the Cross of Cong and the Tara Brooch as one of the finest known works of Insular art or Celtic art, and is thought to have been made in the eighth century AD. The brooches may have been worn by monastic clergy to fasten their vestments.
The hoard was found in 1868 by two boys, Jim Quin and Paddy Flanagan, digging in a potato field on the south-west side of a rath near the village of Ardagh, Co Limerick. The chalice held the other items, they seem to have been buried in a hurry, to be recovered at a later time. Quin’s mother sold the find to George Butler, Roman Catholic Bishop of Limerick.
The chalice is a large, two-handled silver cup, decorated with gold, gilt bronze, brass, lead pewter and enamel, which has been assembled from 354 separate pieces. This complex construction is typical of early Christian Irish metalwork.
The main body of the chalice is formed from two hemispheres of sheet silver joined with a rivet hidden by a gilt-bronze band. The names of the apostles are incised in a frieze around the bowl, below a girdle bearing inset gold wirework panels of animals, birds, and geometric interlace. Techniques used include hammering, engraving, lost-wax casting, filigree applique, cloisonné and enamel. Even the underside of the chalice is decorated.
The Ardagh Chalice was restored by Johnston of Grafton Street, Dublin, and is now on display in the National Museum of Ireland in Kildare Street, Dublin.
This replica chalice has an oval body with a sub-conical foot and a cylindrical stem, and was made of silver, enamel, gold (gilt) and glass, and the centre of the base is set with a large rock crystal. The underside edge of the rim is stamped with the name Watson Fothergill.
Johnston later reproduced a faithful copy that was subsequently bought in 1891 by Fothergill, an artist and collector from Nottingham. Fothergill kept a diary in which he refers to the copy of the Ardagh Chalice he had in his home. It may have been sold by his family in early 1928.
The hand-pin or dress pin from Askeaton has a head resembling the palm of the hand with the fingers bent forward.
The earliest hand-pins are of silver and are of a relatively modest size. Many were made into the sixth century in copper alloy, with elaborately decorated heads and exceptionally long pins. Most developed hand-pins have five fingers, but the hand-pin found in Askeaton has three fingers.
In this example, the head is a semi-circular plate with a circular perforation. It is capped by three projecting fingers and is fixed to a right-angled projection at the top of the shank. The head is decorated with a pattern of reserved metal against a background of red enamel.
This may be the same hand-pin described by JG Hewson in 1884 in the Journal of the Royal Historical and Archaeological Association of Ireland.
The museum also holds two watercolours also of interest to this parish. A watercolour of the castle at Askeaton was painted by the Revd J Turner in 1790, and Turner also painted a watercolour of the Abbey in Askeaton in 1798.
Other items of church interest that caught my imagination, including the Lough Gur Chalice and Paten, on loan from Kilmallock Select Vestry; an icon-like, late mediaeval painting of Saint Sebastian, Saint Nicholas of Myra and Saint Anthony of Egypt; a silver reliquary bust of Saint Patrick; the Antrim Cross; the Cashel Bell; a 17th century triptych; and a crucifix that is said to have been owned at once by the architect AWN Pugin.
I may return to these in blog postings over the next few days or weeks.