Hore Abbey, Cashel

Hore Abbey, Cashel

Hore Abbey is literally overshadowed by theRock of Cashel. It is well worth taking the path down from the Rock to the considerably less touristed Abbey. There is a relative lack of interpretative material, to say the least, except for this interesting information, especially on what I suspect was a rather convenient dream:


The abbey is reached by paths via a field which was populated by cows (and cowpats) aplenty. One doubts a Royal Visit is imminent.
From above on the Rock it appears a somewhat slight structure, an impression quickly corrected closer to. An air of monumentality remains, all the more accentuated for the relative abandonment.

Joseph Needham, history of technology and the Ahenny High Crosses

Joseph Needham, history of technology and the Ahenny High Crosses

Living in South Tipperary, the proximity of the a plethora of high crosses naturally piques ones interest. Some are well known, such as the Ahenny Crosses, some such as that at Kilkieran less so.

High Cross, Kilkieran

Before moving here I was more familiar with the taller, more monumental Monasterboice cross and those of that group. I found Oliver Crilly’s book on high crosses very helpful, but there is a vast ;literature on the subject the surface of which I have scratched.

ahenny cross one
High Cross, Ahenny

In this scratching I came across an interesting reference to one of the Twentieth Century’s most extraordinary men, Joseph Needham – who amongst other things is a towering figure in the history of technology and science. As the Guardian review of Simon Winchester’s book on him begins:


Joseph Needham is one of those extraordinary characters whose life was so large and sprawling that it needs first to be condensed into a list. He was a scientist, polyglot, traveller, diplomat, Christian, socialist, exponent of free love, nudist, morris dancer and Sinophile.

In reading a paper by Peter Harbison, A High Cross Base from the Rock of Cashel and a Historical Reconsideration of the’Ahenny Group’ of Crosses, I came across the following

The chariot on the north side of the Ahenny base (Pl. IX) provides us with
some totally independent dating evidence from an unexpected quarter which
would also point to the ninth century. Needham (29) pointed out that the Ahenny
chariot is pulled by two horses wearing a breast-harness, a Chinese invention
which was introduced into Europe in order to give horses easier traction power,
rather than having them choked by the neck-harness previously in use. Basing
himself on E. M. Jope’s eighth-century dating, Needham saw the Ahenny cross as being the earliest reliable European evidence for the breast-harness, all the other examples which he encountered being no earlier than the ninth century. But as we would expect an innovation introduced from China to be found first on the European continent before it reached Ireland, we could confidently presume that the Ahenny breast-harness was no earlier than the Continental examples,thus arguing for a date not too early in the ninth century for the Ahenny cross.

So my daily commute intersects (nearly) with the path of one of the most remarkable scholars of the last hundred years. Did Needham himself visit Ahenny?

I have found taking decent photos of High Crosses beyond my capacities as a smart phone photographer. Here’s an image of the North Cross base taken from this page on the UCC website:

ahennynorthside base


The Needham reference is to: Joseph Needham, Science and civilisation in China, vol. 4. Physics and physical technology, part II, mechanical engineering (Cambridge, 1965), 315 – and the full reference for the Harbison paper is  A High Cross Base from the Rock of Cashel and a Historical Reconsideration of the’Ahenny Group’ of Crosses, pp 13-14  Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies,History, Linguistics, Literature, Vol. 93C, No. 1 (1993), pp. 1-20

Putting obscure places on the YouTube map

For a while, I have made artlessly shakey phone videos in a range of obscure, mainly Irish locations, and uploaded them to YouTube.

There’s the “jumping church” of Ardee :

And the nearby Stickillin graveyard:

There’s Inishmacsaint, Co Fermanagh:

And there’s Lough Erne in general:

And there’s Aughris, Co Sligo:

Which also was where I filmed this video of waves:

And some are things of historical interest, such as the resting place of Vice Admiral Humphrey Hugh Smith in Bunbeg:

And subsequent to the above there’s this blogpost on Knockroe Passage Tomb. The results are obviously pretty shoddy and shakey and often somewhat marred by my all too evident shortness of breath. These are (generally) places off the beaten track which, in my view, deserved to be better known. I would like to think I have kept this YouTubing habit, by and large, within a certain limit, and it hasn’t become the focus of my visits, as opposed to the experience itself.


My recent visit to St Berrihert’s Kyle gave me pause. Up to then, I had seen this exercise in YouTubing (a verbal construction I hoped to avoid in the heading of this post) as a sort of exercise in both promotion and preservation.


Yet now I wonder. Are these utterly hamfisted videos just another small stream in the globe spanning torrent – a Zanclean flood – really simply another symptom of the disease of the age, narcissism. Not , I would like to think, the most malignant narcissism, but one which – even to a small degree – interposes itself between the self and the experience.



St Berrihert’s Kyle and Well

A little while ago I reblogged a post from Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland on St Berrihert’s Kyle . Others have written about this site and generally describe it as in various ways magical.

My own experience lived up to that and more. To the degree that making a video for YouTube seemed …. unseemly. Anyhow, there is one here:

I wrote about Knockroe Passage Tomb on this blog the following:


In another country, or even in Northern Ireland, it would be a celebrated and promoted attraction; here it is just down a muddy lane with no signage from the road whatsoever. Of course, that is perhaps part of the attraction for me.

“Perhaps part of the attraction” – one should always be aware of the temptation of a kind of snobbery in this regard, a sense of revelling in obscurity. In this case, however, the unsignposted nature of the site is integral to a unified whole experience. It is not that it would be sullied by becoming a tourist site (though in many ways it would), but that the concept is simply removed from what is an active holy site.

Knockroe Passage Tomb, Kilkenny


Knockroe Passage Tomb  is one of the most impressive megalithic structures I have seen around Ireland. In another country, or even in Northern Ireland, it would be a celebrated and promoted attraction; here it is just down a muddy lane with no signage from the road whatsoever. Of course, that is perhaps part of the attraction for me. Like Newgrange, Knockroe is aligned with the sun on the winter solstice, except the setting rather than rising sun.

The above video is a resolutely amateur attempt to capture something of the appearance and atmosphere. I first became aware of Knockroe just after Christmas, when reading about the December 21st solstice events – just a little too late, as I could have seen this:

And even more significantly the solstice sunset itself (I must admit to finding this soundtrack somewhat incongruous) :


The site features two OPW information boards and on the gate outside there is posted information on the anti-wind turbines movement. The site overlooks the Linguan river and nearby slate quarries (from which fairly loud quarrying could be heard) and certainly presents a view which great stonking wind turbines would destroy. It is also quite close to Ahenny, Co Tipperary, with its famous high crosses.

Knockroe is not quite a site you can stumble upon, requiring a certain amount of determination to find (and ultimately the desire to simply head down a muddy lane) – yet there is something awesomely unexpected in coming across it. Part of the power of these sites is their sheer size. Another is the setting, and one’s imagination can fairly easily transport back to the site as it once would have been.