Its hard to miss them, they scatter the landscape of Ireland like giant pieces of sculpture fashioned by the passage of time into strange irregular shapes more beautiful in death than in life; monolithic, defiant and resolute. They have faced cruel winds, wars, famine and the anger of another mans creed. They are the skeletal remains of so many simple parish churches.
My interest in these monuments is artistic, not religious, but it is hard to stand in their ruins on a beautiful summers day and not be moved by the wild flowers smothering the grave stones and birdsong filtering through glassless windows and not think of the poor people who knelt in these humble buildings asking to be delivered from their suffering and pain. How hard their lives must have been. It was on just such a day that I found myself painting St Dubhán’s church (top) on the Hook Peninsula. All around me the farmers were gathering in the harvest and the air was filled with the sweet aroma of freshly cut hay. The cycle of the seasons and rotation of the crops would begin again soon and I was struck by how much had changed since the church was built in the thirteenth century and at the same time how little had changed.
St Mary’s church, Schull, (above) west Cork dates from the 16th century and is situated in a stunning location overlooking Schull harbour and Roaring Water Bay. The church became ‘Church of Ireland’ after the confiscation of church lands by Henry V111 but it would appear the graveyard continued to be used by both Protestants and Catholics. The Mizen Peninsula was hit very hard by the great famine (1847 – 48) and the old section of the graveyard contains the famine burial area which had to be doubled in size in a single year to cater for the victims.
Lady’s Island (above) goes back to pre Christian times. The early Irish name for Lady’s Island is given as Cluain-na-mBan (the meadow of the women) and it is suggested that it may originally have been inhabited by female druids. The day I created this sketch in my sketchbook the graveyard surrounding the church ruins was a carpet of wild garlic, so strong, it made me feel dizzy as it crushed underfoot. In 1649 when the church was sacked by Cromwell, a young boy grabbed the crucifix from the nearby church of St Ibar and tried to escape across the shallow part of the lake but was shot half way over and the crucifix was lost. It was not found until 1887 and was returned to the church.
St Bubhans Church (top). Both images painted on tinted paper, watercolour and gouache.
St Mary's Church, Schull (middle). Pen and watercolour
Lady's Island, County Wexford (bottom). Watercolour from my sketchbook
Post published by Tomas King 5th Oct. 2014