Archive | September, 2012

An Allegory

26 Sep


Unlike most of my classmates, I did not visit a museum. I figured that although the artifacts displayed in Dublin’s museums properly identify past historical periods, I wanted to look at Irish culture through a different lens. Determined to do so, I wandered over to the National Gallery of Ireland, unsure of what I would find. However, almost immediately upon entering, I found myself in a gallery composed of solely Irish Nationalist painters; it was exactly what i had been looking for! Through these works I was able to not only learn the historical facts behind an era but also the emotions and opinions felt by the individuals alive during those periods of time.

The painting that struck me the most, however, was titled An Allegory .by Sean Keating. At first glance, I was immediately struck by the lack of any apparent relationship between the six figures of the painting. They are presented as completely unaware of each others presence and I  immediately thought “this painting must depict the civil war”. Upon later research, I learned that I was correct – these figures, in conjunction with other features, directly refer to Ireland’s political events in 1925. Ireland had just come through the bitter civil war of 1922–23 that followed the signing of a treaty for political independence with Great Britain. Although the Treaty was accepted by a majority of the population, an anti-Treaty force refused to recognize the new government and civil war quickly ensued. This painting implies that Irish society has managed to destroy itself— symbolized by the distance between the paintings subjects and the draped coffin in the background. Had I gone to a historical museum, I wouldn’t have learned any of that!



Saintly Shrines: Evidence of the Medieval Church in Ireland

26 Sep

This week I went to one of the National Museums of Ireland located in Dublin, the Museum of Archaeology. The museum contains some of the earliest evidence of life in Ireland with artefacts dating to prehistoric times. However given Ireland’s rich religious history, I found the evidence of the prominence of the medieval church most striking.

The first object that caught my eye was the shrine of St. Brigid’s shoe. St. Brigid serves as one of the patron saints of Ireland and ironically also as my confirmation saint. As a champion of the poor known for her generosity, countless religious still make pilgrimages to her holy sites in Ireland each year. Shrines containing objects belonging to or remains of religious figures were commonplace throughout the exhibit (see below) and quite popular during the medieval church.  The intricate metal working and religious insignia of the shrine serve as hallmarks of the era and of Irish life in general, indicating that religious figures were held in high esteem and their objects deserved the greatest of care and preservation.

Another shrine in the exhibit was given by St. Patrick, a fellow patron saint of Ireland along with St. Brigid, to St. Macartan who founded a church at St. Clogher in County Tyrone. The original parts of the shrine, named the Domhnach Airgid shrine, date back to the 8th century and it was believed to contain a very early manuscript of the Gospels. It was significantly remodeled however during the 14th century by the abbot of the Clones, John O’Carbry. Similar to the shrine of St. Brigid’s shoe, this shrine bears intricate brass metalworking with a pleathora of religious insignia. Various saints surround the main crucifix on the front and a strong lock was designed to protectively seal in its contents.




Many famous shrines exist from this period of Irish life with most made of high quality materials and intricate detailing, indicating a high level of dedication to the Catholic church and religious life by the Irish people. Another shrine that bears great similarity to the Domhnach Airgid Shrine is the bell and bell shrine of St. Conall Gael housed in London.  Check out its story here.


by Madeline Carlin




A Day at the National Museum of Ireland

26 Sep

After visiting the National Museum of Ireland, I found myself still drawn to one particular artifact I stumbled across while walking amongst a number of exhibits. The Cross of Cong stood out like a sore thumb to me because of its political and religious undertones. It led me to research this particular artifact in more depth.

At first glance, one may think that the cross was solid bronze but in fact the structure is made of oak with sheets of bronze overlaying the surface. Further reading led me to discover that animal interlace covered the bronze to create the final product displayed below.  An interesting combination of materials led The Cross of Cong to survive up until this point and time.

The glass and enamel pieces decorating the cross reflect the Irish Romanesque metalwork making its appearance during this era. Small details such as these truly make this artifact unique.  The two particular craftsmen who created this work, Ua Conchobair, are inscribed in the Cross of Cong. These high-ranking merchants created this piece in order to enshrine the True Cross from AD 1122.










The symbol of the cross is extremely prominent not only in the religious world but the political world at this time in history. The cross was originally commissioned by Turlough O’Connor with the intent to secure a position as Ireland’s high king.

It still amazes me that historians can find artifacts such as these and is able to know such detail about Ireland’s past. Artifacts have been found to survive hundreds, if not thousands, of years tucked away below Ireland’s surface.  There must be more out there waiting to be discovered. This thought makes me wonder… what will future generations find from our own past? I will continue to wonder this as I learn about Ireland’s past.


26 Sep

Similar to another blog post, I was on the way to the museum when I found myself in a pub amongst numerous Gaelic football fans to watch Sunday’s final between Donegal and Mayo. Growing up, I was an avid soccer player, so the game, itself, was interesting to me.  However, just as interesting was the environment.  Everyone was with friends or family in the pub, and seemingly had been there in anticipation of the game for several hours.  There was not a single person in the pub that was upset or angry.  This is not the first time I have noticed this behavior.  The entire time I have been in Ireland, not one person has been rude or mean to me, and I can think of numerous situations or circumstances that I have been in where I would expect a rude or angered response from someone in America. 

 One of the first days that we were in Ireland and somewhat out “on our own,” several friends and I were lost trying to find a restaurant where we were meeting the rest of our FIE program.  We were looking at a map, but to no avail.  We stopped and asked several people.  All helped encouragingly, but on several occasions they went above and beyond to try and offer help.  One took out his iPhone and used the GPS to find directions; another helpful man called his friend who he thought lived in that area and would know which directions to give us; a third person went so far as to change the direction she was walking and physically guide us to the restaurant.  These are not atypical examples of the community present in Ireland. 

Community is something that I believe is really emphasized in the US, specifically at our home university, Elon.  However, now that I am in Ireland, I really feel a true sense of community throughout the ENTIRE city, not just on one college campus of 5,000 students.  I am not saying that everyone believes in the same things, or who all reside in a similar area like in a traditional definition of community, but that everyone has a sort of perception of likeness to others around them.   I believe that it is this sense of community that really makes this country such a special and unique place; it really sets Ireland apart from other countries, and is the reason that I am happy to call this country Home for the next 3 months.  

Dublin Writer’s Museum

26 Sep

            My first week in Ireland, I decided to check out the Dublin Writer’s Museum.  With an incredibly limited knowledge of Irish literature, I knew that I had much to learn. 


            Although I was familiar with their names and various pieces of their work, I was not previously aware that Yeats, Wilde, Heaney, and Stoker were all Irish.  It was also of interest that there were several female Irish writers included in the exhibit.  The women, including Augusta Lady Gregory and Mary Lavin, were writing in a time that I associate with hardships for females.  However, the acclaim they received at the museum leads me to believe this was not the case in Ireland. 

            Although a majority of the works exhibited centered around some type of political or class theme, Bram Stoker’s Dracula did not.  The exhibit said that the novel, written in 1897, is the most famous gothic novel ever written.  I have always just related Dracula to the pop culture versions that can be seen through films and plays, not knowing that the novel is actually over a century old.  I was surprised to learn that a tale of something as fictional as vampires immediately became popular among Europeans.    

Stepping into the museum itself I was struck by the beauty of the building.  It was like no museum that I have ever been into before, with its ornate ceilings and antique furnishings.  Museums are certainly not housed in buildings like this one in the United States.  It is no surprise that the mansion had once belonged to famous residents, like the Jameson family at one point.  I left the museum with a much greater knowledge of the great Irish writers, and a desire to read some of their works while I reside in Ireland. 


Political Undertones in Ancient Irish Art

26 Sep

The Crucifixion Plaque from Rinnagan, created in the eighth century from a thin sheet of copper, is housed in the National Museum of Ireland. Don’t ask me where, though; I wandered the premises for an hour looking for it before I gave in and asked a security guard, who kindly assured me that the museum had no depictions of Jesus, let alone a crucifixion plaque. Google and my art history professor beg to differ.

Crucifixion Plaque from Rinnagan

If you ever find it, you’ll see that the plaque depicts Jesus on the cross with two angels above him and two soldiers below. This was the typical layout for crucifixion plaques of this era. What distinguishes this plaque is how stylized and remarkably Irish it is. As you will quickly notice, the plaque is not realistic at all, the artist acting out against the realism of Roman Art. Also, the plaque contains interlacing throughout Christ’s tunic. This style originated in Southern Europe and is now featured on many Irish artifacts, including the Book of Kells. Interlacing is often confused to be Celtic; however, while the plaque contains Celtic features, such as the breastplate, interlacing isn’t one of them. Another feature of the plaque that is distinctly Irish is Jesus, himself. In the plaque, he is modeled after a monk in an attempt to adapt Roman Christianity to the already flourishing monasteries that were widespread in Ireland at the time.


Cross of CongA similar artifact is the Cross of Cong, also housed in the National Museum of Ireland. Luckily, I was able to find this artifact. Like the Crucifixion Plaque, the Cross of Cong contains interlacing throughout its body. It also has Celtic influences, as it is an adaptation of the Celtic cross. More importantly, both pieces have political undertones. While the Crucifixion Plaque was a subtle stand against Roman Christianity, the Cross of Cong made a much more obvious statement: a political campaign. The cross was commissioned by the king of Connacht, Turlough O’Connor, in hopes that it would secure his place as the high king of Ireland.

Ireland’s Gold

26 Sep

The National Museum of Ireland offers permanent exhibitions relevant to history such as Ancient Egypt, Medieval Ireland, Viking Ireland, Prehistoric Ireland and many more. One exhibit I found particularly interesting regarding archaeology was Ireland’s Gold, located on the ground floor of the museum. As I wandered through the different exhibits I stumbled upon several cases of gold bracelets, rings, necklaces, hair rings, etc.

Ireland is responsible for uncovering over one hundred and sixty hoards of the Later Bronze Age principally through activities such as quarrying, turf-cutting and tilling. After reading various plaques amongst the gold I learned that hoards are rarely discovered through archaeological excavations due to their isolated locations distant from burial sites, workshops, or settlements. A hoard is characterized as a set of buried items that reveal facts about the time period they were buried and the purpose for burial. However, in Ireland multiple hoards have been discovered, for example, merchants’ hoards comprised of items used for commerce and ritual; founders’ hoards from fragment metal, or votive hoards deliberately hidden without opportunity for discovery.

Gold production in Ireland was at its pinnacle around 700 BC, however, no evidence has been found of an early gold mine in Ireland. The exhibit in the National Museum of Ireland is recognized as one of the most significant in Western Europe and dates back to 2200 BC and 500 BC. At the beginning of the Bronze Age, products were typically created from sheet gold including crescent gold collars referred to as lunulae.

As I learned about Ireland’s gold I was fascinated by the various types of jewelry and their representations in society. During 900 BC styles began to change creating two distinct types of gold works. Bracelets and dress-clips are a stark contrast to the large sheet gold collars and delicate earrings. Gold was idolized as a symbol of wealth and security. Therefore such items were worn by citizens of high rank and standing in the community. Each of the gold pieces were beautifully molded and perfected. I enjoyed learning about the role gold played in Ireland and the Bronze Age. It’s interesting to observe the different pieces of art and how each one represents beauty.