Folk Art in Thurles Co Tipperary

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.

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St Bridget’s Graveyard Thurles. View of pillar containing folk art.

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.

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Cat with two tails at St Bridget’s church and graveyard Thurles.

A square stone  with a lion set in a circular frame is located beside the carving of the cat.

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Carving of a lion set with in a circular frame.

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.

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Carving of a cleric set within the pillar at St Bridget’s church Thurles.

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.

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Carving of lion and unicorn at St Bridget’s church Thurles.

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.

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About irishfolkartproject

Irish Folk Art Project was set up to identify and recorded examples of Irish 18th and 19th century folk art. Phase one of the project will identifying examples of non funerary stone sculpture in Tipperary & Waterford. It is hoped as the project matures to extend it into other counties.
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1 Response to Folk Art in Thurles Co Tipperary

  1. Pingback: Photogrammetry Results for the Thurles Pillar, part of our Photogrammetry Survey of Folk Art in South Tipperary | Irish Folk Art Project

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