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Friday Procrastination: Vacation in Ireland?

It’s that time of week where I rummage through my bookshelf and share with you. This week I have been playing with Ireland: An Oxford Archaeological Guide by Andy Halpin and Conor Newman, and dreaming of being on vacation. It’s not hard to dream with a book like this, which covers the entire island from Antrim to Wexford, Dublin to Sligo and has over 250 plans and illustration of major treasures and sites. I thought it would be nice if you could dream of trips to Ireland also, so below is an excerpt.

Christ Church cathedral

The church of Holy Trinity (Christ Church) was founded c.1030 as the cathedral of recently IrelandChristianized Dublin—probably its first church. Nothing is known of the early form of Christ Church, as all traces were swept away in a complete rebuilding of the cathedral, which probably began in the late 1180s under John Cumin, the first English archbishop. The present form of the cathedral is based almost entirely on this late 12th-/early 13th-century rebuilding. However, this is largely due to extreme late 19th-century restoration, which removed many later features in order to re-establish the ‘original’ form. Among the features lost were the extended ‘long choir’ of the 14th century and the entire south side of the nave, which had been rebuilt (admittedly rather poorly) following the disastrous collapse of the original south side and nave vaulting in 1562. As a result, relatively little of what is visible in Christ Church today is original medieval fabric, but the restoration has at least provided a reasonably accurate impression of the cathedral’s form in the 13th century.

The earliest parts of the cathedral (c.1185–1200) are the transepts and choir, with the crypt below. Apart from the westernmost bay, the choir is a 19th-century restoration. The transepts and choir were built in a late Romanesque style with a clear south-western English flavour, reflecting the political changes in Dublin since 1171, when Henry II granted the city to the men of Bristol. Indeed, the very stones of the new cathedral reflected the political realities, for the architectural detailing was rendered in a fine, creamy limestone imported from Dundry, near Bristol. There was probably a crossing tower from the beginning, but the present tower is substantially a rebuilding of c.1600. The overall architectural design of this phase of building is undistinguished, but there are many well-carved capitals, especially on the north side. There is also a fine, substantially original round-headed doorway in the south transept, although it was moved here from the north transept in 1831.

The nave is later, although its date is less certain—previously dated c.1215–35, a date of c.1230–40 has recently been suggested. It is not particularly large—there are only six bays, of which the westernmost seems to be a slightly later addition. However, it contrasts with the choir and transepts, not only because it is built in Gothic style (again with definite west English influences) but because of its quality. Although the southern side of the nave is a restoration, the north elevation is almost entirely original and has rightly been described as ‘the most distinguished piece of Gothic architecture in Ireland’. It is a sophisticated design with an early and very successful vertical integration of triforium and clerestory elements above the arcade, outlined by dark marble shafts. The arcade arches are deeply moulded and each bay is defined by a wall shaft running vertically from floor to vault. Again there is substantial use of imported Dundry stone for architectural detailing, and Purbeck marble (also from southern England) is used in the banded shafts which adorn the nave elevation. The upper parts of the north wall of the nave still lean markedly out of the vertical—a dramatic testimony to the lateral thrust of the original vault, which pushed the walls out and eventually led to its collapse in 1562.

One of the most interesting features of Christ Church is its crypt, which—unlike most British cathedrals runs under the entire length of the cathedral (apart from the westernmost bay of the nave) and has recently been conserved. Its east end is almost certainly late 12th century, contemporary with the choir and transepts above, but the chronology of the west end is less clear. Most probably it was constructed after the east end, but prior to the construction of the nave overhead in the 1230s. Two other points of interest in the cathedral are the brass lectern at the east end of the nave—probably the only medieval lectern surviving in Ireland and the so-called tomb of Strongbow under an arch of the south nave arcade. Strongbow—Richard de Clare, lord of Leinster—is thought to have been buried here on his death in 1176, but the effigy of a knight, traditionally said to be his, is at least a century later. A late 16thcentury plaque on the aisle wall nearby records the destruction of Strongbow’s tomb in the roof collapse of 1562, and it seems that another effigy was subsequently pressed into service as a replacement, because of the importance the original tomb had acquired in the medieval city’s business life. Another monument of an important figure is in the chapel of St Lawrence (on the east side of the south transept)—a worn, early 13th-century effigy of an archbishop, probably the first English incumbent John Cumin (d. 1212). Outside the south transept are the remains of the 13th-century chapter house, the only visible remnant of the cloisters, which originally stood on the south side of the cathedral. The chapter house was originally a fine structure, with a three-light east window and elaborately moulded west doorway of two orders, flanked by smaller windows. There was also a ribbed vault in four bays overhead, supported by moulded wall shafts, parts of which survive.

Recent Comments

  1. Enniscrone.ie

    The most important thing to do when travelling to Ireland is Plan Ahead.

    First decide on the areas you would like to visit and sights you want to see. Then you need to organise travel and accommodation. If you are staying in the cities like Dublin or Galway you will not need a car as the public transport system is quite good. If you plan to travel outside the main cities a Rental Car is a must as the public transport system in rural areas is a nightmare.

    Second you need to decide on the type of accommodation you need. B&B’s are very popular but like anything you can save a lot of money by researching the area and finding out what the local rates are. Booking in advance is also advisable during the main season. Another good option especially if you are travelling in a group is to rent a Vacation Home or “Self Catering Holiday Home”. If you chose a central location you can use it as a base while exploring the surrounding area. A good tip is to find a Holiday Home somewhere on the West / North West coast so you can drive up to Donegal or down through Mayo. One lovely little seaside village I found on my travels is Enniscrone also spelt Inishcrone. We stayed with a company called http://www.Enniscrone.ie

    My biggest tip to anyone travelling to Ireland is Get Out Of The Cities and visit the true Ireland. Planning ahead is important but don’t be afraid to get up early in the morning, jump into your car and head off exploring. You will be amazed at what you find.

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