Footsteps

Morning prayers on the Großglockner, Otto Barth 1911

Morning prayers on the Großglockner, Otto Barth 1911

Is it us? We seem to be following in the footsteps of thieves and wreckers… Back in June 2012 we visited St Manchan’s Church, in Boher, Offaly and saw the splendid shrine of that Saint securely locked in an armoured glass case and mounted in front of the equally magnificent Harry Clarke window depicting him. That was at about 1 o’clock in the afternoon. We were shocked to hear on the news that evening that the shrine had been stolen at 1.30! Two men had taken just a few minutes to break open the case – in spite of alarms and cctv – and make off with the Saint’s remains…

We were relieved to hear the following day that the robbery had been bungled: the shrine was thrown out of the getaway car and landed in a bog: both it and the perpetrators were picked up by the Gardi. I wonder if perhaps the thought of what divine justice might be wrought from on high (from St Manchan himself, even) had put doubts into the minds of the thieves and diverted them from their intentions – whatever they might have been.

Harry Clarke's depiction of the Saint's shrine

Harry Clarke’s depiction of the Saint’s shrine

Nevertheless, the incident led to some considerable debate on whether the reliquary should be returned to the church – where the security was evidently lacking – or whether the original 1,000 year old artefact should be put into Ireland’s National Museum and the replica which happens to be there should be sent back to St Manchan’s. The Boher people campaigned vigorously against this – quite rightly in my opinion – and eventually, after some improvements to the arrangements in the church, the shrine has been restored to where it belongs.

winter

Carrauntoohil Summit – photo by Noel Mulcair: thejournal.ie

So there we were just a week or two ago, honeymooning in the shadow of Ireland’s highest mountain (although warmly ensconsed in a comfortable Kerry hotel) when we heard the news that, not far away, someone had climbed the mountain at night and felled the iron cross that had stood up there for many years, with an angle-grinder! Obviously some point was being made, although nobody was quite sure what that was at the time…

The Mountains of Kerry

Gap of Dunloe, in the shadow of Carrauntoohil

 

The cross is felled...

The cross is felled…

The Carrauntoohil incident sparked off a lively correspondence in The Irish Times. Many were indignant at the act of vandalism, while others took the view that there is no reason why wild places should be ‘sullied’ with religious symbols. Hmmmm… that’s a bit harsh, perhaps: crosses on mountain tops have a been around for a long time all over the world and, ever since prehistory, humans have marked their presence on the landscape with monuments of one sort or another. As you all know, the two of us are fascinated (obsessed might be a more appropriate word) by megaliths, tombs, circles and inscribed rocks – and these are preserved archaeological artefacts – it would be unthinkable for someone to get it into their head that a standing stone should be destroyed because it might have represented someone’s god. At the very least, surely, the subject should be aired and a democratic decision made by a public majority before any such action is taken. Indeed, the subject did get aired after the event and I gleaned that the majority of respondents felt that the iconic cross should not have come down.

Well, this story – like the St Manchan one, has had a happy ending. A group of volunteers has been up to the summit with block, tackle and welding equipment and the cross is back again.

Ireland has many summits adorned with constructed pieces – ancient cairns and tombs, and more modern statues and symbols, not forgetting the wind farms which are another source of controversy. We are all part of human history and one of Ireland’s big attractions for me is that the history is so visible and accessible. In 1968 a white marble Pieta was placed high up on the Goat’s Path in Glanalin townland. It’s someone’s personal monument to a much loved father. In my opinion the melancholy statue enhances the wild place: I make a bee-line for it whenever I’m in the area – partly to enjoy the magnificent view but also, I have to say, because I am fascinated to see how many coins and offerings are put into the outstretched palm of Mary. Look here for a fuller description on the excellent website Sheep’s Head Places.

Hilltop Pieta

Hilltop Pieta

Given our experiences to date I worried a bit about our visits to Holy Cross Abbey and the Cathedral of St Mary and St Anne in Cork, where we came across the shin bone of Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy. But it seems to be ok: fair enough, the fragment of the True Cross was stolen from Holy Cross (it’s now been replaced with another), but long before our visit, while the saintly shin bone seems to have survived unscathed so far. I can’t help looking over my shoulder, though, when we visit such places. Ireland is full of enigmas…

thaddeus

Sacred shin bone – with Angelic guardians

Finola's childhood haunts: the cross on Bray Head, Wicklow

Finola’s childhood haunts: the cross on Bray Head, Wicklow

2 thoughts

  1. Thanks, Robert, for a sane and civilized approach to this story of mindless vandalism. As you say:”it would be unthinkable for someone to get it into their head that a standing stone should be destroyed because it might have represented someone’s god”.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s