The local Heritage Centre is currently holding an exhibition of medieval texts which includes facsimile copies of the book of Kells and the book of Lindisfarne. It follows on the very successful South Kildare Medieval Festival which took place last Sunday week. A most enjoyable event, the festival took place in the spacious public spaces in the centre of Athy which commemorate Emily, the wife of the second Duke of Leinster. Nearby is the site of Athy’s Medieval Dominican Friary the remains of which no doubt lie underground as yet undiscovered awaiting the day when its secrets will be laid bare.
A few days later I visited the Royal Irish Academy premises at 19 Dawson Street, Dublin to see some of the Medieval Manuscripts currently on display. The Academy was founded in 1785 by Lord Charlemont to “advance the studies of Science, Polite Literature and Antiquities”. Originally housed in Grafton Street, Dublin the Academy moved to Dawson Street in 1852. It has been responsible for much of the historical antiquarian research carried out during the 19th Century and it was the first to acquire many of the nation’s treasures which are now held in the National Museum. These treasures include the Ardagh Chalice, The Cross of Cong and several medieval manuscripts, some of which are currently on display. Most famous amongst these is the Cathach of Colmcille which we will recall as the cause of dispute between Colmcille and St. Finnian when Colmcille had a copy made of the original work. The resulting feud was settled with the famous decision “to every cow its calf, to every book its copy”. The Cathach is currently on display in the Academy in Dawson Street and the oldest Irish manuscript written about 600 A.D. is well worth a visit. While I was there a number of other manuscripts were also on display including the book of Ballymote which was written by various scribes towards the end of the 14th century. It contains genealogies of the principal Irish families and amongst much else, a history of the early conquests of Ireland. A large volume of approximately 500 pages, it contains an elaborate copy of the dinnsheanchas or the lore of famous places which recounts legends about places in Ireland which were assembled in the 11th and 12th centuries. These accounts were generally to be found in verse and prose in a variety of medieval manuscripts. The dinnseanchas section of the book of Ballymoate is elegantly written with each place name highlighted by an elaborate capital. On the day I visited the exhibition, the book of Ballymote was open to display two pages which contain explanations of three place names in the Athy area. These were Maistiu lying between Athy and Ballytore, Roiriu Í nUib (Mullaghcreelan) and Mage Mugna lying in the Barony of Kilkea and Moone.
Another reason to encourage anyone with Athy connections to visit the Academy in Dawson Street is the presence there of 28 busts of Roman Emperors and other figures from the Capitoline Museum in Rome which were copied by Simon Vierpyl in the 1750’s. Vierpyl, who was born in London in 1725, lies buried in St. John’s Cemetery in Athy. What connection he had with Athy I have not yet been able to confirm but certainly the Church of Ireland records disclose that after he died on the 10th February 1810, he was buried in St. John’s Cemetery. The burial record merely states that Vierpyl was “father to Mrs. Feranges from the Batchelors Walk, Dublin”. The explanation for his burial in Athy may lie in the second marriage to Mary Burrowes whose family had connections with counties Kildare and Laois.
The busts on display in the Academy were commissioned by Reverend Edward Murphy who was tutor and travelling companion to Lord Charlemont who bequeathed them to his master. His descendents later presented the busts to the Royal Irish Academy in 1968 and they are now to be seen in the Library in Dawson Street.
While in Dublin, you should also seek out other works by Vierpyl as the National Museum has on display a marble bust of William the 2nd Duke of Leinster which was executed by Simon Vierpyl. Decorative stone works in Dublin City Hall, the Law Society Headquarters in Blackhall Place and a fascade of St. Thomas’s Church in Marylborough Street are all examples of Vierypl’s legacy to the city of Dublin.
If you get a chance within the next week, visit the exhibition in the local Heritage Centre and also the outstanding original manuscripts on display in the Royal Irish Academy in Dawson Street.
Finally this week I am showing a photograph of an Athy soccer team with a number of club officials taken I believe in 1956. I can identify most of those photographed but several remain unknown to me. Can any of my readers tell me the names of the 15 men photographed and the occasion on which the photograph was taken 54 or so years ago?