07 March 2018

West Limerick prepares to
celebrate anniversary of
finding the Ardagh Chalice

The Ardagh Chalice on display in the National Museum in Kildare Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the Ardagh Chalice and the Ardagh Hoard in West Limerick, one of the most significant archaeological finds in Ireland in the 19th century.

To celebrate this special anniversary of finding the Ardagh Chalice in September 1868, a new €1 stamp was launched some weeks ago [25 January 2018] as the ninth in a series on theme of ‘A History of Ireland in 100 Objects.’

A special launch of the stamp also took place late last month [22 February 2018] in the Post Office in Newcastle West, where up to 200 people were treated to an evening marked by history, humour and local pride, and a replica Ardagh Chalice from Limerick was on display in the post office.

The new €1 stamp celebrating the discovery of the Ardagh Chalice

The Ardagh Chalice is one of the greatest treasures of the early Irish Church. It represents a high point in early mediaeval craftsmanship and its craftsmanship can be compared with the Tara Brooch and the Derrynaflan Paten.

The chalice is part of a hoard of objects discovered in Rearasta Fort on the edges of Ardagh in late September 1868 and was probably concealed during the tenth century.

The hoard was discovered by Paddy Flanagan and Jim Quinn while they were digging potatoes in the fort. One spade stuck a metal object – the chalice – and when the pair investigated the soil they found a hoard of valuables that had been partly covered by a flagstone.

The hoard consisted of two chalices and four brooches. Each brooch was up to 30 cm in length and three had elaborate Celtic designs; the fourth was called a thistle brooch.

The Ardagh Chalice stands 17.8 cm high and is 19.5 cm in diameter. The bowl and foot of the chalice are made of beaten, lathe polished silver, and the stem is made of gilt-copper alloy. The outer side of the bowl is decorated with gold filigree granulation, stamped and openwork metal ornaments and multi-coloured enamels and a large, polished rock crystal at the centre.

The bowl is attached to the stem and foot by a bronze pin. The stem is elaborately decorated with La Tene designs, animal ornamentation, fret patterns and a honeycomb-like interlace.

The names of eleven apostles and Saint Paul are inscribed below the band of gold filigree and studs encircling the bowl. The letters are seen against a stippled background. Incised animal decorations can also be seen below two handle escutcheons, which are decorated with elaborate glass studs and filigree panels.

The chalice is a calix ministerialis, that is one made to dispense Eucharistic wine to the congregation.

The lands were owned by Saint Mary’s Convent, Limerick, and the tenant at the time was Mrs Mary Quinn. She received £50 from George Butler (1815-1886), the Roman Catholic Bishop of Limerick (1864-1886).

The Royal Hibernian Academy acquired the items in 1878, paying the bishop £100 in compensation. The Ardagh Hoard is on permanent display in the National Museum in Dublin.

At the launch of the stamp in Newcastle West, Dr Pat Wallace, former director of the National Museum and originally from Kilcornan, Co Limerick, spoke of the history of the Ardagh Chalice and the craftmanship that went into making it around the year 725.

Dr Wallce suggested the chalice may have been crafted around the Shanagolden area. Some 250 elements went into its creation, he explained, making it ‘the most famous chalice in the world and certainly the most beautiful.’

Dr Matthew Potter Limerick Museum, who is from Clarina, spoke about the replica of the 60-year-old replica of the Ardagh Chalice.

The Minister of State, Patrick O’Donovan, whose father and grandfather were from Ardagh, promised to try to bring the Ardagh Chalice ‘back to Limerick soil’ during this on this anniversary year.

Ardagh celebrates the discovery of the Ardagh Chalice … a plaque outside the parish church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

A ‘Storm in a Teacup’ in the snow
or a promise of summer sunshine?

Tunisian earthenware and a promise of Mediterranean sunshine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Since moving from Dublin a year ago, I have come to realise that West Limerick has its own microclimate. The rain is much heavier and more persistent, on one hand, but on the other I have escaped the worst of both ‘Hurricane Ophelia’ and the combined onslaught of the ‘Beast from the East’ and ‘Storm Emma.’

Although the snow-filled slippery slopes of north Kerry forced the cancellation of Morning Prayer in Tarbert on Sunday, the last vestiges of snow have all but melted away in both Askeaton and Rathkeale.

So, I was taken aback by reports of snowdrift in Co Wexford, which is supposed to be the ‘sunny south-east’ and was surprised yesterday on my way to Dublin by the amount of snow on fields and roads, which seemed to increase in depth and density the nearer I got to Dublin.

The snow had forced two of us to give up on plans for a flight from Shannon to Warsaw on Sunday afternoon, for a short, three-day city break in the Polish capital. But I have a hospital appointment in Dublin tomorrow morning (Thursday), and I still needed to get to Dublin at some stage this this week.

Two of us set out from Askeaton early yesterday afternoon, and we stopped for a late lunch at the Avoca café in Rathcoole. The place was quiet, perhaps snow is still deterring people in the greater Dublin area from moving out. But it was captivating to see the mountains still covered in snow, and the terrace closed off because tables were still covered in the remains of snow drifts.

A storm in a teacup? … in the Avoca Café in Rathkeale (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The ceiling decorations in Avoca in Rathkeale show teacups in ever-decreasing circles. But it was obvious that the weekend snowstorms were no ‘storm in a teacup.’

Downstairs, the displays of Tunisian earthenware evoked hopes for a warmer clime and sunnier, summer weather.

The sad state of Lidl in Fortunestown (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Later, as we travelled through west Dublin, we saw the sad remains of Saturday night’s events at the Lidl supermarket in Fortunestown.

There is no such thing as victim-less crime: some workers may lose their jobs, others may be forced to move to keep their jobs; investors may be deterred; and the greater Tallaght area suffers from being labelled with the consequences of this vandalism.

The vertical pole in my photograph shows the extent of damage to this supermarket.

People have laid flowers in the snow outside the hoardings that have been erected to protect the site. They are like flowers scattered on a grave. There is much to mourn here, and people in west Dublin have found a way in the snow to mourn what happened last weekend and to show in the snow their grief.

Hopefully, there are happier scenes to see today.

Snow drifts on the terraces at the Avoca Café in Rathcoole (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Following the Stations
of the Cross in Lent 22:
Millstreet 5: Jesus
is aided by Simon

Station 5 at Saint John’s Well, Millstreet, Co Cork … Jesus is aided by Simon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In my Lenten journey this year, as part of my meditations and reflections each morning, I am being guided by the Stations of the Cross from three locations.

The idea for this series of morning Lenten meditations came from reading about Peter Walker’s new exhibition, ‘Imagining the Crucifixion,’ inspired by the Stations of the Cross, which opened in Lichfield Cathedral last month and continues throughout Lent.

Throughout Lent, my meditations each morning are inspired by three sets of Stations of the Cross that I have found either inspiring or unusual. They are the stations in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, at Saint John’s Well on a mountainside near Millstreet, Co Cork, and in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield.

In my meditations, I am drawing on portions of the Stabat Mater, the 12th century hymn of the Crucifixion (‘At the cross her station keeping’) attributed to the Franciscan poet Jacopone da Todi. Some prayers are traditional, some are from the Book of Common Prayer, and other meditations and prayers are by Canon Frank Logue and the Revd Victoria Logue of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.

For these two weeks, I am looking at the 14 Stations of the Cross at Saint John’s Well in a forested area on the slopes of Mushera, outside Millstreet in north Co Cork and close to the Cork/Kerry border.

Saint John’s Well is 8 or 9 km south-east of Millstreet, on the slopes of Mushera, on the Aubane side of the mountain, opposite the entrance to Millstreet Country Park. The Stations date from 1984 and were designed by Liam Cosgrave and Sons, Sculptors, of Blackpool, Cork.

Millstreet 5: Jesus is aided by Simon

The grave of Simon Gewurtz (1887-1944) from Bratislava, who was Limerick’s last rabbi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

In the fifth station by Liam Cosgrave in Millstreet, Christ is now showing how he is weighed down by the weight of the Cross. Simon, for his part, seems to be almost effortless in his grip at the other end of the Cross and as the two continue through the streets of Jerusalem.

When I think of Simon of Cyrene this morning, I think too of Simon Gewurtz (1887-1944) from Bratislava, who was Limerick’s last rabbi, and wonder how much he must have grieved during his time in Limerick about the sufferings of the Jews of Bratislava.

I first heard these stories in 1999 when I visited Kahal Shalom, the oldest surviving synagogue in Greece, and the last remaining synagogue in ‘La Judeira,’ the old Jewish quarter in Rhodes.

There have been Jews in Rhodes since at least the time of Herod the Great. When the Jewish community in Rhodes was at its height in the 1920s, there were 4,000 or more Jews living on the island. A plaque in the courtyard lists the names of 100 Jewish families from Rhodes who were wiped out in the Holocaust.

By the end of the 1930s, there were still 2,000 or more Jews on Rhodes, struggling to maintain their religious and cultural life. A boatload of 600 Jews from Bratislava and Prague fleeing the Nazis reached Rhodes in 1939. There they were fed and quartered by the local community, and provided with fresh water for their onward journey to Palestine. But as the boat sailed out it caught fire, and the refugees were eventually washed up on the island of Samos. They returned to Rhodes, where the local Jews helped them to buy another old boat, and this time they made their way safely to Palestine.

The refugees from Bratislava and Prague survived, but the Jews of Rhodes who helped them escape were to perish a few years later. On 23 July 1944, 1,673 members of the Jewish community were rounded up in Rhodes, shipped to Piraeus and sent on by train to Auschwitz. The community that had survived the Crusades and the Inquisition and prospered under both Ottomans and Italians was decimated: only 151 survived.

The city square where the Nazis rounded up the Jews of Rhodes has been renamed Plateia Martyron Evreon, the Square of the Hebrew Martyrs, and the Sea Horse Fountain was erected in memory of those who died in Auschwitz.

From Stabat Mater:

Jesus Christ, crucified, have mercy on us!
Is there one who would not weep
Whelmed in miseries so deep
Christ’s dear Mother to Behold?


Stranger. Neighbour. Friend.
Simon takes up your cross. In so doing takes up his own.
Another innocent man joins the procession to Calvary.


Suffering Servant, beaten beyond human semblance, through the Good Samaritan you taught us that everyone in need is our neighbour. Help us to follow in your way of love that we do not need be compelled to take up the cross of another when they cannot bear their burdens alone. This we pray in the name of Jesus, our crucified Lord, the King of Glory, the King of Peace. Amen.

We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you.
Because by your holy cross You have redeemed the world.

Jesus, the soldiers are becoming impatient. This is taking longer than they wanted it to. They are afraid you will not make it to the hill where you will be crucified. As you grow weaker, they grab a man out of the crowd and make him help you carry your cross. He was just watching what was happening, but all of a sudden he is helping you carry your cross.

A prayer before walking to the next station:

Holy God,
Holy and mighty Holy immortal one,
Have mercy on us.

Tomorrow: Station 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

Yesterday’s reflection

The Seahorse Fountain in the Square of the Hebrew Martyrs remembering those members of the Jewish community of Rhodes who perished at Auschwitz (Photograph: Carlos Delgado)