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Clare Folklore
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A Folklore Survey of County Clare by Thomas Johnson Westropp


Religious Objects and their Legends

Clare was once rich in religious objects, and some important ones have survived until our times, such as the Bell Shrine of St. Senan, the croziers of St. Blathmac of Rath and St. Tola of Dysert O’Dea, and the Bells of Rath, Burren, and Kilshanny,—all, except the last, in the collection of the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, besides the reputed bell of Iniscatha.[160] St. Colman MacDuach and St. Lachtin were also closely connected with the county, and the crozier of the first and shrine of the arm of the second are preserved in the Irish collection. We read in early records how the Norse, in their destruction of the monastery of Iniscaltra in 922, ‘drowned its relics and shrines’ in Lough Derg. The early ‘Life of St. Senan’ tells how his bell descended ringing from heaven, and the place where this is reputed to have happened is still shown at Cross, between Kildimo and Farighy. The richly enshrined crozier of St. Flannan of Killaloe (c. 680), and the bell brought from Rome by St. MacCreehy (c. 620), were extant when their ‘Lives’ were written in the middle of the twelfth century. Early in the seventh century ‘the relics of Columb, son of Crimthann, were brought in a wain’ to Caimin of Iniscaltra.[161] There were a number of relics and a bell ‘gold-enshrined’ at Tulla in 1318.[162] Recent legend tells of the bells of the round towers of Dromcliff and Kilnaboy being hidden in the pool of Poulaclug and the marsh below the latter monastery, and of a silver bell of Kilmoon or Killeany, in the Burren, hidden in the stream named from it Owennaclugga. A brass bell found in the round tower of Dysert was sold in Limerick about 1837. The Black Bell of the MacNamaras was probably one of the relics at Tulla, and may be the one attributed to St. Mochulla in 1141. The ‘Black Book’ of that saint was probably a register, and existed down to 1627, when it was used (and disappeared) in a lawsuit of the Delahoydes. The shrine of St. Lachtin’s arm,[163] made for Cormac MacCarthy, king of Munster between 1118-27, was preserved in his church at Kilnamona, and about 1640 removed to Lislachtain Abbey in Kerry; no folklore seems attached to it. The crozier of St. Blawfugh, i.e. Blathmac, son of Onchu, was preserved at Rath, near Corofin, and then in a hole in the wall of the old chapel of Corofin, where it was used for very solemn swearing and was much feared. The crozier of St. Manuala (Bán Thola) of Dysert was purchased from an old woman, daughter of an O’Quin, its last hereditary keeper, and was held in great reverence for cures and as an object upon which oaths were taken. The most important of all these relics is the Clog-an-oir, or ‘golden bell,’[164] the empty bell shrine preserved by the Keanes of Beechpark, one of whom had married the daughter of one of the Keanes or O’Cahans the ‘coarbs’ (comharba) or successors of St. Senan. It consists of a bronze cover of the twelfth century, adorned by later silver plates, and violation of an oath taken on this shrine twisted the perjurer’s face or resulted in convulsions and death. It is told that a gentleman living in County Galway sent his servant to borrow the ‘bell’ to test his servants about a theft. His messenger happened to be the thief, and on the way home again threw the dreaded object into the sea. He then boldly told his master that the Keanes would not lend it. ‘You are a liar,’ was the reply, ‘for there it is on the table before you.’ The man fell on his knees and confessed. It was last asked for in 1834, when a farmer had been robbed of twenty pounds, and borrowed the ‘bell’ to swear the neighbours after Mass. On the Saturday night before the ordeal his family was awakened by a crash, as something was thrown in through the window. This proved to be the missing notes, tied with the original string. There are many similar stories, and the Clog-an-oir is said to have been stolen, but to have always returned to its rightful owners.[165]


Chapter 15


Chapter 17