St Bridget’s church site and graveyard (TN041-042003) is located close to Thurles train station just at the edge of the Thurles to Holycross road. Once a medieval parish church located outside of the walled town, the site consists of an enclosed historic graveyard and apart from a few decorated eighteenth and nineteenth century grave stones.
The graveyard wall contain some very interesting architectural fragment built into a stone pier that faces onto the road. The pillar and wall are composed of limestone some of which probable came from the ruins of the medieval church. The carvings are composed of the same medium and found on the south face and east face of the pillar. The southern face of the pillar has three carving and an ordnance survey trig point.
At the top of the stone is the carving of a crouched cat with two tails carved into a rectangular shaped block. The head is on the left hand side and the tails on the right hand side. The face is triangular with sharp-pointed teeth protruding from the upper jaw. One tail rests on the cat’s back and the other is pointed toward the head, resting along the back legs.
A square stone with a lion set in a circular frame is located beside the carving of the cat.
The pier also incorporates a late medieval an ogee-headed window with hollowed spandrels which many have originally belonged to St Bridget’s church.
A very interesting carving sits directly beneath the window fragment. This is a rectangular block of stone with the figure of a bald man, wearing a long robe and tunic. He appears to be a cleric. He holds a cross in his right hand and a circular string of beads most likely a paternoster in his left hand. Two names Patrick Kennedy and James Bulter are crudely carved beneath the feet of the figure. Finally a trig mark located towards the base of the pillar.
The east side of the pillar has a single carving. It is a rectangular block of limestone with the figure of a unicorn and lion standing on their back legs. A crown sits over the heads of the animals and all three elements are set within a recess with semi circular head short shoulders and straight sides. The scene represents the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom. For further details visit The Heraldry Society webpage.
The stylistically the figures of the cat appears to be of eighteenth/nineteenth century date. This theory is backed up by O’Connor writing in the Ordnance Survey Letters for Tipperary in 1840s who stated the carvings incorporated into the pier were modern. The window head and the remaining carving are older and a provisional date of 17th century has been put forward for lion and the lion and unicorn.
The entire pillar was surveyed in 2015 and again in 2016 using an photogrammetry. The photogrammetry project was funded by Roisin O’Grady, Heritage Officer for Tipperary and was carried out by archaeologist Gary Dempsey. The results of this survey and a more detailed discussion of the symbolism, origins and significance of all the carving will be discussed in future posts.