Aghalurcher

Feature Sets (2)

Description

A 7thc. foundation, although much of the remaining fabric of the church dates to the 15thc. A number of Romanesque fragments are kept in a stone store at the site. Two further carved stones are now held in the Fermanagh County Museum. These are a rectangular limestone block carved with a ecclesiastical figure, and a corbel/section of cornice carved with an exhibitionist figure. In 1894 the stone carved with the ecclesiastical figure was recorded as standing in the graveyard 'about ten yards to the north east of one of the walls of St Ronan's church' (Dagg 1894, 265). The carving of the exhibitionist figure was discovered built into the core of the S wall of the Church (Hickey 1976, 66).

In 2003 two carved stones forming a Crucifixion panel were rediscovered during building work to the gateway to Aghalurcher graveyard. (Stalley 2009)

History

The monastic site was founded in the 7thc. by St Ronan. No records of the site during the 11th–12thc. survive. The Annals of Ulster record for 1447 states that: 'This year a ribbed vault was put by Thomas Mag Uidhir junior, namely, king of Fir-Manach, on the church of Achadh-urchaire in honour of God and SS Tighernach and Ronan. And it was he that built the eastern gable of the church for the good of his own soul, and so on.' (Annals of Ulster, 159).

Features

Loose Sculpture

Chevron fragment (1)

The face is damaged, but has the remains of two and a half lozenges formed by single rolls, flanked by beading and with a raised flat moulding along the outer edge. The soffit is also damaged but the carving is more clear. This comprises one and a half lozenges, the lozenges formed by single rolls, flanked by beading. To the left of the carving is a rough tooled area (width 0.07 m). There is a half roll (diameter 0.045 m) on the arris.

Dimensions

depth 0.28 m
height 0.20 m
width 0.21 m

Chevron fragment (2)

As (1) but more weathered. Rough tooled area on soffit (0.12 m).

Dimensions

depth 0.33 m
height 0.28 m
width 0.20 m

Interlace fragment

A very damaged piece of stone with the remains of a three-strand interlace in the form of two interlocking figures-of-eight carved in one corner. To one side of this is a smooth dressed rebate (depth 0.02 m). There is some rough tooling on the underside. All other faces are damaged.

Dimensions

depth 0.32 m
height 0.13 m
width 0.16 m

Two carved stones

Two carved stones found during the process of carrying out repairs to the graveyard entrance gate.

The block now forming the W jamb of the graveyard entrance is carved with a figure of the crucified Christ, set against a solid ringed cross. Christ’s face is badly damaged, but enough remains to show that he was wearing a crown. The triangular arrangement of the loincloth, thinly incised in the stone, can just be discerned.

The second block, forming the E jamb of the entrance, has two superimposed figures, the upper one taller and more elongated. The lower figure appears to be holding a sceptre.

Both sculptures are outlined by a curved groove, giving the impression that the carving is set back in a recess. The width between the grooves is 20cm, an arrangement repeated on both blocks, demonstrating that they originally fitted together. 

As the blocks were evidently intended to be placed one on top of the other, the total height must have been about 2.45m, with the Crucifixion at the top and the two single figures below.

Dimensions

depth 0.55 m
height 1.25 m
width 0.76 m

Comments/Opinions

The fragments of architectural sculpture from Aghalurcher are sufficient to indicate the presence of a 12thc. building at the site.

The chevron voussoirs appear to have formed the outer order of a portal of at least two orders. The closest parallel for the chevron type, at Devenish, on loose pieces also from a portal context, has additional floral decoration in the spandrels. The closest parallel for the interlace fragment is also found in the Lough Erne Basin on one of the head capitals at Kilmore, and on a fragment from Maolaoise's House at Devenish.

The discovery of the carved fragments set into the gateway raises a number of intriguing questions. When was the arch into the graveyard constructed and why were the sculptures deliberately concealed? Did the blocks belong to a free-standing structure or were they fitted into the walls of the Romanesque church? There are also questions of style, in particular the extent to which the work relates to other Irish carving.

The fact that only one face of each block was carved suggests that the blocks were set into the walls of the 12thc. church. The fact that the stone is not heavily weathered lends credence to the view that the sculpture belonged to the interior rather than the exterior of the building. The church at Aghalurcher was rebuilt in the later Middle Ages and it is remarkable that the carvings were retained in the Gothic reconstruction. The gateway into the graveyard is likely to have been erected in relatively modern times, yet somehow the blocks managed to survive.

The placing of figures below a Crucifixion recalls arrangements on the 12thc. high crosses at Tuam and Glendalough. The analogies with the Market Cross at Tuam are especially close, not least since Christ wears a crown (an indication of triumph and eternal rule). He is also furnished with a triangular loincloth, as at Tuam. The presence of the suppadaneum or footrest gives a strong hint that the Crucifixion was copied from a bronze original; in fact, the carving of the Crucifixion could have been modelled on a processional cross. As for the figure style, the elongated bodies and the character of the faces fit quite comfortably into the context of Irish Romanesque sculpture; there are obvious similarities with the bronze figures on the shrine at Lemanaghan (Offaly) (note in particular the large, rather flattened ears). The style of the figures also recalls the bishop’s head already known from Aghalurcher, which may well have been made by the same sculptor. The function and context of the sculptures remain a mystery, the only known example of Romanesque carving used in this particular way. The identification of the two figures is also puzzling: were they figures from Christian history or major patrons, perhaps of the church at Aghalurcher? 

Bibliography

  • G. Dagg, 'The Bishop's Stone in the Churchyard of Aghalurcher', Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 24 (1894), 264–70.

  • O. Davies, 'Aghalurcher church, being a correction to "A Preliminary survey of the Monuments of Northern Ireland"', Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 4, Series 3 (1941), 144.

  • A. Gwynn and R. N. Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses: Ireland, London, 1970, 372.

  • W. M. Hennessy and B. Mac Carthy ed., The Annals of Ulster, 3, Dublin, 1895. 

  • H. Hickey, Images in Stone: Figure Sculpture in the Lough Erne Basin, Belfast, 1976, 66.

  • S. McNab, Irish Figure Sculpture in the Twelfth Century, PhD. thesis, Trinity College Dublin, 1987, 2, 252–8.

  • A. Rowan, The Buildings of Ireland: North West Ulster. 1979, 361.

  • R. Stalley, 'In search of medieval sculpture: rockeries, walls and gateposts' in Lost and Found, ed. J. Fenwick, 179–187, Dublin, Wordwell, 2009.

Location

Site Location
Aghalurcher
National Grid Reference
H 36 31 
Boundaries
now: Fermanagh
pre-1973 traditional (Ulster): Fermanagh
Dedication
now:
medieval: St Ronan
Type of building/monument
Ruined abbey church  
Report authors
Rachel Moss