Contributed by Offaly History to mark the occasion
The new book, St Manchan’s Shrine, by Griffin Murray and Kevin O’Dwyer was launched to great acclaim by the CEO of the Heritage Council Virginia Teehan on Friday 21 October 2022 at Offaly History Centre, Tullamore before a large and distinguished audience. Proceedings began at 5 30 p.m. with Amanda Pedlow ably acting as chair and introducing the four speakers. First was the author of the text Griffin Murray, followed by silversmith and photographer Kevin O’Dwyer. The County Offaly CE Anna Marie Delaney skillfully chartered the progress being made in regard to the county’s heritage while CEO Virginia Teehan paid tribute to the county for its wide-ranging involvement in heritage projects and availing of the funding available. The new Offaly Archives was a leading case but one among many successful projects undertaken. Another is that of the funding received to create the post of a biodiversity officer. Offaly has demonstrated its ability to secure funding for projects and that was a reflection of the work being done in the county. Ms Teehan congratulated the authors, Griffin Murray and Kevin O’Dwyer, on a job well done. Yet another exemplar.
It was a busy week in Offaly Archives also with several meetings and the decision by the Society to proceed with advertising the post of a full-time archivist for a fixed term of three years. This is in succession to Lisa Shortall who has taken a post at UCD. Tributes were paid at the launch to the spirit of cooperation in the county that ensured that the archives is now seen as an exemplar. It was the same with the new book on St Manchan’s Shrine with its authors congratulating the people of Lemanaghan on safeguarding the shrine for the past nine centuries. A remarkable story going back to medieval times, the Reformation, Cromwell, the Penal Laws and on to George Petrie’s time, the Moony family and the many Catholic clergy serving in the parish since the 1800s. Intelligent policing would also play a role in securing the shrine quick return when it was stolen from the church in 2012.
Among those attending the launch of the Shrine were many old friends from Lemanaghan who also have their own special launch today at 3 p.m. in the church at Boher. Public representatives included Deputy Carol Nolan T.D., councillors Sean O’Brien, John Clendennen, Ken Smollen, County Librarian Eimear McGinn, Tullamore Tribune editor Ger Scully, the former keeper of Manuscripts at TCD Bernard Meehan and a strong contingent of Offaly History’s committee and members.
To conclude we attach a note published on the Shrine in May 2021 (now updated to reflect publication) when our Shrine authors spoke of their research and their plans for this book. Not forgetting Oonagh Young for the design of the publication and the proof-readers Roger Bennett and Valerie Coogan and illustrator Uto Horgerzeil. It was good to see the name of Dr Ann Buckley of TCD in the credits given the family status as hereditary bearers of the shrine in procession – as it was to meet Manchan Buckley of Lemanaghan at the launch.
Saint Manchan’s Shrine – Art and Devotion in 12th Century Ireland
‘A rich and dazzling Celtic bewilderment, a perpetual challenge to the eyes and a perpetual delight.’ T.D. Kendrick (Archaeologia 86, 1936)
Saint Manchan’s shrine is one of the most remarkable survivals from Ireland’s medieval past, having been safely kept and venerated in the same locality since its creation in the early twelfth century. This masterpiece of medieval art is now proudly and reverently displayed in the rural parish church of Boher in County Offaly, not far from its original home at the ancient church site of Lemanaghan. St Manchan’s shrine is a gabled-reliquary, taking the shape of steeply pitched roof or tent, and is fitted with carrying rings, which enabled it to be carried in procession by two bearers using poles. It is not only the largest reliquary surviving from medieval Ireland but is also the only remaining example of its type. It enshrines what are believed to be the bones of its eponymous saint, St Manchan, whose death is recorded in AD 664.
This project involves close up photographs of the detailing of this shrine which is now encased in a high security glass display unit. The text was written by archaeologist Griffin Murray and metalsmith/photographer Kevin O’Dwyer. This new book provides a unique insight into the making of this artifact.
A masterpiece of medieval art, Saint Manchan’s Shrine is Ireland’s largest surviving reliquary. A unique example of Irish monastic metalsmithing combining Irish, late Viking/Urnes and Romanesque Christian art styles. This cross fertilization of styles and cultures makes it a unique study from both archaeological and metalsmithing perspectives. Archaeologist Griffin Murray and metalsmith/photographer Kevin O’Dwyer combined their expertise to create a high-quality full colour coffee table book that features O’Dwyer’s captivating and atmospheric photographs and Griffin Murray’s in-depth story telling of the history and folklore of the shrine. The publication features full and double-page image spreads, antiquarian drawings and descriptive metalsmithing close-ups. The text is presented in a series of essay’s that cover various topics including Saint Manchan and Lemanaghan, the art and craftsmanship of Saint Manchan’s Shrine, cultural cross fertilization – the Late Viking/Urnes style – and the shrine’s relationship with the makers of The Cross of Cong.
Dr Griffin Murray is a lecturer in Archaeology at University College Cork (UCC) where he teaches in the areas of Museum Studies and Medieval Archaeology. He also serves as President of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society. He holds a BA (2001), MA (2002), MBS (2015) and PhD (2007) from UCC.
His book The Cross of Cong: A Masterpiece of Medieval Irish Art was published by Irish Academic Press and the National Museum of Ireland in 2014, while he edited the book The Medieval Treasures of County Kerry in 2010. Dr Murray has published 30 academic peer-reviewed papers in journals and books and is regularly invited to speak at conferences and to historical and archaeological societies.
Kevin O’Dwyer is an internationally recognised metalsmith, sculptor, educator, and photographer. For over 35 years Kevin O’Dwyer’s artwork has explored the subtleties of ritual and imagination using Irish prehistoric art, bronze-age artefacts, early monastic metalwork, 20th century design and architecture as his creative influences. O’Dwyer circuitously began metalsmithing through his interest in early Irish metalwork and archaeology. Throughout his career he has continued to research the artefacts and land art found on the Irish landscape. In 2006 O’Dwyer worked with archaeologist Caimin O’Brien and Offaly County Heritage officer Amanda Pedlow to publish Stories from a Sacred Landscape, a 250-page coffee table book that explores the imagery, folklore and history of 6th to 12th century monastic sites found in County Offaly.
The 11th Figure of Saint Manchan’s Shrine
St Manchan’s Shrine, Ireland’s finest twelfth century reliquary was commissioned by Turlough O’Connor, High King of Ireland (regnal years 1106-1156), for the monastery of Lemanaghan, and was produced in the workshops along the River Shannon under the supervision of the Abbot of Clonmacnoise, Domnall Mac Flannacáin O’Duffy (d. c. 1136) Of the fifty figures originally attached to the shrine only eleven figures remain intact. The Shrine has remained in the Boher community of County Offaly for over 900 years and is an important spiritual link to the memory of St. Manchan, who died during the great plague of 664 AD.
The 11th figure became a source of much interest during the 19th century. The shrine was observed and sketched by the artist and archaeologist George Petrie around 1821; however, when it was put on display at the Dublin Exhibition in 1853, there were only ten figures remaining! In the year 1869 a figure that resembles George Petrie’s diary sketch was found in the possession of Robert Day, a well-known Cork collector. It was returned to the shrine (minus his legs!) and attached to the right-hand side of the front plate, where it remains to this day.
Master silversmith Kevin O’Dwyer has studied the shrine over the past eight years and he has reconstructed the 11th figure using the same techniques and skills that the 12th century craftsmen used in the creation of the shrine.
A YouTube presentation for the book by Murray and O’Dwyer was prepared in 2021 and you can see that among the posted lectures in the Offaly History collection on YouTube.
Other history news
It was a busy history week in Offaly with lectures in Bracknagh, Moneygall, Edenderry and Tullamore and two book launches. The Bracknagh full-house meeting marks a new foundation and will strengthen the development of local history in east Offaly where Edenderry has shown so much enthusiasm. Our own member Mary Delaney is very much to the fore while Amanda Pedlow attended the initial meeting. We opened the week in Tullamore with Michael Goodbody’s talk via Zoom and large screen in Offaly History Centre. His topic was ‘Uncertain Times’ – The Goodbody Family’s Experiences in Clara 1914–24’. This will soon be posted to YouTube and is part of Decade of Centeraries series. On Friday the active Clara Heritage Society organised the launch of a new book by Vincent Henry – One last Bend (copies in Offaly History Centre to buy). In the meantime we had Patrick Hennessy’s fine blog on Patrick Street, Tullamore in the 1960s. This was published on Wednesday and is now added to the huge collection of articles on Offaly History available to download from www.offalyhistory.com.
We thank Tom Dolan of Belmont for more archival material on Belmont presented to Offaly Archives. We congratulate Lord Rosse on his 86th birthday and thank him and his wife Alison Rosse for all their work on the heritage of Birr since the 1960s.
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