This 12th century church is of the traditional type with projecting side walls aping the forms of the side column of a timber predecessor (antae) often such buildings have stone ‘winged finials’ at ends of the ridge mirroring the form of crossed timbers but there is no evidence of this here. What it does have is this huge lintel with a carved Greek Cross slightly off vertical within a rectangular surround over the door. Legend has it that this huge stone was put into position by the saint himself using the power of prayer. Illustrated in George Petrie's influential 'Ecclesiastical Architecture of Ireland', which was published in 1845, the form has been copied many time since, including for the lintel of the recreated early medieval church in the Ulster History park near Omagh in Co Tyrone.
Multyfarnham Abbey, is a Fifteenth Century Franciscan Church in Co Westmeath still used by the Franciscans. An impressive place, it was a romantic ruin when drawn by George Petrie in 1821 but reoccupied in 1827, two years before Catholic Emancipation, as the parish church. This reused the nave and south transept shown here. The opposite transept beyond the two round headed openings, is a small side chapel dating from 1912. The choir, directly ahead, beyond the crossing of the tower, was rebuilt from 1975-77. It is clear that the plasterwork of the emancipation church was removed at that time and the stonework exposed to match the choir. The only clearly Victorian remnant is the dark timber ceiling with its tongue and groove boarding. It makes for a startlingly dark interior of brooding intensity enlivened by colourful altar furniture and then a contrasting choir full of light. To me it says 1970's brutalisim at its best- a strongly spiritual place using elemental materials to deliver a powerful atmosphere - but here it is given more depth and meaning by the clear history of its fabric such as windows from different periods and memorials attesting to the history and continuity of this congregation - a rare thing to see in a catholic church in Ireland. In the porch is a panel reflecting the efforts of the builders in the 1970's renovation and the sense of community effort is palpable in this. It is a place not to be missed if you are ever in the vicinity. I dare you to walk in and not be moved.
Ballynacargy Harbour on the Royal Canal, Co Westmeath. Heading westwards from Dublin, the canal commenced in 1790 and this section between Mullingar and Ballymahon opened in 1818. It travels 146km from Dublin to the Shannon reaching its summit level near Mullingar and ending on the Shannon at Richmond Harbour. It officially closed in 1961 it was was restored by volunteers from the mid 1970's onwards and reopened in 2010. It now makes a fine greenway through some fascinating but less touristy parts of the country.
The Stone of the Divisions or Cat Stone on the Hill of Uisneach, Co Westmeath, is a very special place within a wider prehistoric complex. It is said that its parts represent the five historic provinces of Ireland and that it is located at their meeting place in centre of the island. This symbolic medial place has also been called Umbilicus Hiberniae -the navel of Ireland - and in mythology said to be a meeting point not just of the physical world but with the otherworld and and a source of all creation. The stone is also said to mark the resting place of the godess Eiru, after whom the island of Ireland, or Eire in Gaelic, was named. Not surprisingly, given its symbolism, the site was a focus for one of Daniel O'Connell's monster rallies in the nineteenth century and a speech by De Valera in the twentieth. Physically the structure is a glacial erratic boulder surrounded by a circular low earthwork. It is part of a nearby landscape of over twenty identified monuments ranging in age from the Neolithic to the Medieval period. This site appears to have functioned as a meeting place for kings from across the island and was associated with the lighting of the Beltaine Fire every May. It has been linked as a spiritual or symbolic place with the Hill of Tara functioning in a complementary fashion as a secular source of power. The 'Suidigud Tellaig Temra' (the settling of the manor of Tara) describes the link between the sites as 'two kidneys in a beast'.
It is a place well worth the visit, where there is a palpable sense of history.
Marks of Time
Sketches of buildings in the North West of Ireland and further afield with a little information about their history.