A Little Old Church With a Big Name

Monday, 13 February 2006, Co. Clare/Galway/Offaly/Westmeath/Meath/Dublin…
We had a lovely breakfast that Gerry fixed, then packed up our stuff and left the Village of the Damned behind forever.

Good-bye, Village of the Damned!

Good-bye, Village of the Damned!

After stopping in Ennistymon to fill my antibiotic prescription (and take some photos of their pretty church), we were officially on the road.

Artsy photo …

Artsy photo …

And this morning I felt so much better! Driving was fun, the scenery was beautiful … I was so much better, in fact, that I was actually driving the car and seeing the scenery, which I hadn’t really done yet. It was a gorgeous day—sunny and breezy. Just perfect.

Let’s call this part When Jamie Got Her Groove Back.

We took the N85 to Ennis, the N18 to Gort, and the N66 to Loughrea. We passed the pub—named Christy’s Bar—that my friend Christy found on her first trip to Ireland, and decided she wants to own. I recognized it immediately from the picture I’d been shown (and Christy, they’re taking real good care of it for you!).

From Loughrea we took the N7 on towards Ballinasloe. Our destination was Clonfert, a tiny little town that has a lovely, ancient cathedral with a doorway that is considered one of the jewels of Irish-Romanesque architecture.

Am I right? Clonfert Cathedral (St. Brendan’s), 2006.

Am I right? Clonfert Cathedral (St. Brendan’s), 2006.

One of the oldest continuously functioning churches in Ireland, St. Brendan’s was originally a monastic community founded by Brendan, one of Ireland’s three patron saints; he is said to be buried here. Although the monastery was established in 563, nothing survives, as the first buildings would have been wooden; portions of the current stone cathedral date from the twelfth century (the rest from the fifteenth).

St. Brendan is best known, particularly to Americans, as Brendan the Navigator or Brendan the Voyager—in other words, the Irish monk who might well have preceded Columbus to North America … by about nine hundred years. The evidence is plausible, perhaps.

We arrived at St. Brendan’s just as a funeral was breaking up—we’d passed the hearse on our way in, and the funeral-goers were all standing around the grave talking as the gravediggers shoveled the dirt back into the hole. We waited politely outside for a bit, …

Waiting outside the church walls, politely.

Waiting outside the church walls, politely.

… but it began to be cold, so after we’d put our coats on, we decided to go on in. I mean, Clonfert is really off the beaten path, and it had taken no small amount of time and attention to get there, so I didn’t want to just leave.

Coming in through the gate.

Coming in through the gate.

Looking to the right, into the churchyard. We didn’t look left because funeralgoers were still huddled together talking.

Looking to the right, into the churchyard. We didn’t look left because funeralgoers were still huddled together talking.

The highlight of the building is that Romanesque doorway. There are six intricately carved arches, and above them a triangular-shaped tympanum. One Web site I referred to pointed out that this odd triangle of stacked human heads bears a striking resemblance to ancient Celtic structures that were used to exhibit the severed heads of fallen enemies, and thus demonstrates the continuing influence of pagan Celtic religious belief—some eight hundred years after the establishment of Christianity in Ireland! That may be a stretch, but the doorway is certainly awe-inspiring.

Look up.

Look up.

You can’t enter the church through the front door anymore, though, because it’s so fragile; brush past the sandstone columns and yet another piece of ancient history might be brushed away by your coat or scarf or purse.

It’s beautiful, though.

It’s beautiful, though.

Detail of the door, Clonfert Cathedral, 2006.

Detail of the door, Clonfert Cathedral, 2006.

The base of the 6 arches that surround the door.

The base of the 6 arches that surround the door.

Detail on the columns. Cats, maybe?

Detail on the columns. Cats, maybe?

So you have to walk around the side and enter through the transept. (It was positively freezing inside—so cold that when we came out again, even though the temperature had been dropping and it was about to rain, it still felt balmy! It was the oddest sensation!) The inside looks like it hasn’t really been renovated since the 1800s, and is otherwise unexceptional.

It’s small. And so very cold. Note the space heaters.

It’s small. (Each pew seats 3 or 4, I’d say.) And so very cold. Note the space heaters.

There are a few very old gravestones inside, from the late 1500s and very early 1600s. They are pasted, more or less, to the inside walls, helter-skelter. But at least they’re safe.

Old gravestones, preserved inside.

Old gravestones, preserved inside.

Another gravestone, this one from 1612.

Another gravestone, this one from 1612.

And then there was this, so sad I had to take a photograph:

To the memory of … (There’s an addendum to this post, to tell you all about this.)

To the memory of … (There’s an addendum to this post, to tell you all about this.)

From there we drove on to Dublin, listening to the radio for traffic reports, as there’d been two major wrecks earlier in the day, one of which caused the southbound M50 to be completely closed for roughly four hours (can you imagine I-24 shut down for four hours? Rutherford County would have a collective nervous breakdown!). Wonderfully, no one was killed. What this meant for us, though, was that we arrived in Dublin just at evening rush hour, so I sampled my first real driving in Dublin at rush hour (up to this point, Gerry’d been pretty protective of me: whenever we’d go “in” to Dublin city we’d take a cab, and then walk)! As you know, though, I’m an experienced rush hour driver, so … no big deal! We stopped at “the chipper” (fish-and-chips takeout) on the way home to grab chicken and fries for supper, then I headed down to the Blaithin to get to bed early, since I needed to get up at four a.m. … because (tra-la!) we were going to Paris!

Stay tuned for a Paris interlude. And oh—did I tell you that Brad and Angelina were there too?

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