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'A Flying Visit to Bishop's Island, Co. Clare' Archaeology Ireland 19.1 2005

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'A Flying Visit to Bishop's Island, Co. Clare' Archaeology Ireland 19.1 2005
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  A Flying Visit to Bishop's Island, Co. ClareAuthor(s): Tomás Ó Carragáin, Jerry O'Sullivan, Tomás Ó CaoimhSource: Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Spring, 2005), pp. 34-37Published by: Wordwell Ltd. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20559040. Accessed: 25/07/2011 06:09 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=wordwell. . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. Wordwell Ltd. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to  Archaeology Ireland. http://www.jstor.org  33 AflyingvisittoBishop'sIsland,Co.Clare Tom?s?Carrag?in, JerryO'SullivanandTom?s?Caoimhvisitalittle-known but importantislandonthewestcoast. Therecanonlybeahandful of Irish church sites thathavenotbeen visitedanddescribed,howeverbriefly,overthepast150years.Untilrecently, Bishop'sIslandbelongedtothisdwindlinggroup.Situatedoff thecoastofCountyClare,about3kmsouth-westofKilkee(NGR08581595),itisessentiallyalargeseastack(180mx90m)withsheer sidesrising40m fromthesea.In1839EugeneO'Curry(OSLetters)wrotethat those 'of theneighbouring landsmenashavenerveenough'useditforgrazing,presumablybyhoistingtheirsheepupthecliffsonropes.Strongwindsand'the frightfulsteepnessof thecliffs'forcedhim andhiscompanion,John O'Donovan,toabandontheirownattempttoascend,andtheirbriefdescriptionoftheremainswasbasedonwhattheycouldseefromthe mainland.Inhis HandbookofIrishantiquities(1858)WilliamWakemanwarnedthatvisitingthe islandis'onlytobeeffectedbya skilfulclimber,andafteralongcontinuance of calm weather'.He musthavefittedthebill,for hisdescriptionandengravingsof the church and clochauncouldonlyhavebeenproducedbysomeonewho had madeitthere. Allsubsequentaccounts ofthesitehave beenbasedonWakeman's.Inanimportantarticle entitled'How oldisGalianasOratory?' Peter Harbison(1970)plucked Bishop'sIslandfromrelativeobscurity andgaveitasmallniche in thehistoryof Irisharchitecture.Histhesiswasthat corbelleddrystonechurches,whicharemainlyconfinedtopeninsularKerry,mighthavebeen builtaslateasthe twelfthcentury.Hewas,inhisownwords,actingasdevil'sadvocate andhassince moderatedhis viewsconsiderably, especiallyinthelightofJenny WhiteMarshall and ClaireWalsh'sexcavation ofanislandchurchsite onIllaunloughan,Co.Kerry(seeArchaeologyIrelandHeritageGuide No.24).Evidencefrom thatexcavationprovesthatexamplesoftheAbove:Bishop'sIsland from the north-east. 34ArchaeologyIrelandSpring2005  typecanbeofeighth-centurydate.Probablytheyarenotmuch older thanthat,asexcavatedsitesintheareareveal thattheoldest churcheswereofwoodorsodorsomeothercombinationoforganicmaterials,pre-datingstonechurches(e.g.ChurchIsland,Illaunloughan,Caher lehillanandpossiblyReask).But weretheystillbeingbuiltatthe endoftheearlymedievalperiodorevenbeyond?Harbisonarguedthat Bishop'sIslandisimportanttothisquestion.Asouth-facing doorwaywouldbeuntypicalofpre-twelfth-centurychurchesinIreland,yetWakemanrecordedachurchapparentlyofGallarustype,withasouth-facingdoorway,onthistinyisland. Aflyingvisit LastOctober,BrianCullengaveustheopportunityto visittheisland byhelicopter.The few hours availabledid not allowafull-scalesurvey,butwe wereableatleasttoassessthevisibleremains,includingsomefeaturesnotmentionedbyWakeman.Apartfromthechurch,there is evidencefor threeorfour otherbuildings,thoughsubstantial remains onlysurviveforaclochaun.Despitesomecollapse,thisis inmuchthesameconditionasitwasin thenineteenthcentury.Itfeaturesaseriesoffouroffsetsorannuli,anentranceattheeastand,oppositethis,asecond,much-ruinedaperture.Adrystonewallextendsfromits south sidetothecliffedge.Theclochaunisslightlyflattenedatitsjunction withthewallterminal,suggestingthatthe wallisalsoanearlyfeature, 'respected'bythe clochaun.Apartfromthisstretchofwallingthereis nothingtoindicatethatthemaingroupofmonumentswasenclosed. Immediatelynorthoftheclochaunarethelowfootingsofasmall rectangularbuildingofeast/westorientation,withagapintheeastwallthatmayrepresentadoorway.Itsdrystonewallsarerelatively thin,probably incapableofsupportingcorbelling,sotheroofwas probablyofsomeorganicmaterialsuchasthatch.Asecond,shortstretchofremnantwallingoccursabout 8msouth-westofthechurch.About25mnorth of theclochaunisacirculargrassymound,about BE-^^g?^?i?^fc'~."*?S^^^j^B?3HH?^^^^^^HB^^^BBBI 5m indiameter and withacentralhollow,whichmaybethe remainsofasecondclochaun.About 16m northof thechurchasingleunin scribedpillarstonestandsonthevergeof theerodingcliffedge. Furthernorthagainare twoenigmaticgroupsoflow,edge-setstones,forminglinearsettings,onealignedeast/west,theothernorth/south.Some ofthesemaybegrave-markers. Finally,adjacenttotheeastwall ofthechurchisalargerecumbentslab(atleast Imx1.55m),which, thoughuninscribed,mightmarkaspecialgrave. ThechurchInspectioninthe field leavesnodoubt that thisisadrystonechurchofGalianastype.Itsroofwasalready partlycollapsedwhen Wakemanvisited,andmorehasfallensincethen,butitscorbelledsouth wall andmuch of theeastand west wallsareextant,whilethefootingsofthenorth wallarevisibleunderatleasttwophasesof modern rebuildingthatprobablyrelatetoitsreuseas asheepfold.It isalso clearthatthetrabeatedoorwayat thewest endofthesouthwallwas partofitssrcinaldesignandthatit neverhadawestdoor.Twoedgesetslabsattheinteriorrepresentthefootingsofadrystonealtarthat abuttedthe east wall. Withanareaof 9m2(3.66mx2.46m)it issomeAbove: Clochaunfromthesouth.Left: Mainareaofsettlementfromthenorth-west.toorthostag?jig8iil?~-?;^l-?5t%'---.='""'.-^footing?ofdry-ston? ??S2!;rA ^rectangularbtt?^kjf"; "a? ArchaeologyIrelandSpring200535  BISHOP'SISLAND what smaller than theaveragedrystonechurchandwasobviouslydesignedtoaccommodateonlythesmallresidentcommunity.Themasonryinthe interior isofwell-fitted,roughlycoursedslabs,and is closely comparabletothatof theKerrydrystonechurches.Theexterior hasbeenmoreextensivelyrebuiltbut,incontrasttotheinterior,even thesrcinalsectionsareofpoorlyfitted,uncoursedblocks.Five projectingslabsserveassteps allowingaccess toanarrowoffsetor scarcement(0.35mwide)highontheouterfaceofthe westernend wall.Atleastoneofthese'steps'isinarebuiltsection,anditmaybe thattheywereinsertedinmoderntimessothatshepherdscould mount to roof leveltosignalto the mainland. The east window ofthe churchishighlyunusualinbeingsmallerontheinsidethanonthe outside.Itssteppedsillischaracteristicof pre-Romanesquearchitecture,buthere,inareverseofnormalpractice,thestepisonthe exterior.Similarly,thejambsalsohaveanoutwardsplay.Double-splaywindows(i.e.splayingboth outwards andinwardsAbove:Drystonechurchfrom thesouth.Below: Churchinteriorfrom thewest.Notetherebuildingtothe left ofthe window. --7J% fromthemiddleofthewall)arecommon inlate SaxonEngland,andthereisoneIrishexample,inthedrystonechurchatKilmalkedar,buttheBishop'sIsland window isunique,atleastamongthe Irishpre Romanesquegroup,inlackinganysort ofinwardsplayorembrasure. Thisobviouslylimitedtheamountoflightgettingintothechurch,butitalsomeantthatthethicknessofthewallactedas ashieldagainst theweather.Perhapsthiswasapriorityinsuchanexposedlocation, especiallygiventhelackofevidenceforshutterfittingsand the factthat thealtar,withitssacredofferings,stoodbelowthewindow againstthissameeastwall. WhyisBishop'sIslanddifferent? Amongthe moststrikingcharacteristics of Irishpre-Romanesque churchesaretheirsimplicityandhomogeneity,andoneof the funda mental tenets of thisarchitecture is thepositioningofthedoorwayin the west wall. Thisissorigidlyobservedthatonesuspectsitwasintroducedatanearlydate,mostlikelyfromsub-RomanBritain,and quicklybecame essentialinidentifyingabuildingasachurch.South doorwayshavebeenpostulatedforsomepre-Romanesquechurches, suchasTempleBrecanonAranandKillinnyonmainlandGalway,butinvariablyitturns out that theirsrcinalwestdoorhasbeenlargelyrobbedout,makingitdifficulttoidentify.Theonlysingle-cellmortared church ofpre-RomanesquetypewithasouthdoorwaythatappearstobesrcinalisStDaithlean'sonKerryHead.Itispossiblethat itwasmovedthere fromthewestwall,but thatwallisruinednow, andapartfromsomeresettingat lintellevelthereisnoevidenceforthisin thefabricsurroundingthedooritself.BothStDaithlean'sandBishop'sIslandareminorsitesinperiph eralareasandareunlikelytohavebeenattheforefrontofarchitec turalorliturgicalinnovation.Sowhyaretheydifferent?Alikelyexplanation isthatthesearerelativelylatebuildings,respondingtochanges inchurchlayout,butdoingso in anarchitecturallyconservativemanner.Ifso,then,asPeterHarbisonpointedout,Bishop'sIslandcanbetakenasevidencethatGallarus-typeconstructionwasstill current attheendof theearlymedievalperiod.Indeed,followingthislogic,wemighteasily assignbothchurchesapost-1200date,giventhat the principal doorwaysofHiberno-Romanesquechurchesarestillusually positionedinthewestwall. Analternativeexplanationshouldalsobe considered.Perhapsthe marginallocationsofthe twochurchesinquestionallowed themto deviatefrom normalpractice,atleastinpartforpracticalreasons.At StDaithlean'sthegroundleveldropsawaysteeplyimmediatelywestofthechurchowingtoerosionbyastream,and itmaysimplyhavebeenconsideredimpracticaltopositionadoorway,andthus theapproachtothebuilding,onthat side.WhileBishop'sIslandisflat,wehavealreadynoted thatitsexposedpositionresultedinaneastwindowthatis,toallintentsandpurposes,insideout.Similarly,perhapsthedoorwaywasoddlypositionedinthe southwalltoavoid theviolent buffets of Atlanticwinds viaanentranceinamoreorthodoxpositioninthewestwall.Certainly,protectionfrom weather isthebestexplanationfortheeastdoorwayintheputative drystonepilgrimagechurch thatwasexcavatedbyGerryWalsh(1994, 7)onthesummit ofCroaghPatrick,Co.Mayo,and forthenorth/southorientationofTempleBenan,atinymortaredchurchon anexposedridgeonAran,recordedbyConManning(1985).Incontrast,theoff-centreeastdoorwayinthedrystonechurchontheremoteislandof ij&?*4YJBRArchaeologyIrelandSpring200538?'"\>^r?^TBSI^^^BI^^^^^vXe^^H^H?^HjE^^^^K^  Inishvickillane,Co.Kerry,mayhavemoretodowithits unusualpositionatthewestendofthe mainterrace. Whateverthespecificmotivationsin eachcase,itisinterestingthat these unusual featurestendtooccurinisolatedchurchesinatypicalsettings.Obviously,limitedresources,learningandbuildingexpertisemeantthatlocal churcheswerenotascarefully designedorasexactly positionedasthose atmajorsites.Thisisborne outbyageneralsurvey (?Carrag?in,forthcoming)thatshowsthat localchurchesareoftenlesscarefullyorientedthanthoseatmajorchurchsitesandaremuch lesslikelytohavesymbolicallysignificantlength-to-breadthratios,suchas 1:1.414(V2),or1:1.62(theGoldenSection).Nonetheless,the builders orpatronsofmostlocalchurches,whetherprimarilymonasticorpastoral,wouldhavebeenanxioustoemulatethemajorestablishments,andsomarkeddeparturesfromthe architecturalnormarerare.However,the residentsoftrulyeremiticsites likeBishop'sIslandmaynothave beensoconcernedwithimpressingalayorclericalaudience.Thewrittensourcesshowthat,whileasceticslikethese commandedgreatrespect,therewasuneaseabouttheirindependencefrommainstreammonasticauthorityandasuspicionthatsomeoftheirpracticeswerefundamentallyunorthodox.Perhapssuch individualsweremore willingtodispensewithconvention,especiallyifitmadeekingoutan existenceintheir'desertsin the ocean'moretolerable. None ofthishelpstoestablish whethertheBishop'sIslandchurch isasearlyastheeighth-centuryexamplethatwasexcavatedonIllaun loughan.Indeed,althoughhardevidenceislacking,itdoesseemlikelythatdrystonechurcheswerestillbeingbuiltuntilthetwelfthcentury, andsomemayevenhaveremained inuseintothehighmedievalperiod.InhisGallaruspaper,Harbisondidthesubjectagreatservice bydismissingthe ideathatthe vaultedchurchesatimportantsiteslike Glendaloughdevelopedfromthecorbelleddrystonechurchesatminor sites inpeninsularKerry.Theargumentherereinforcesthiscrucialpoint.Weshould becautiousaboutusingchurchesatobscuresitestomakesenseofbroaderarchitecturalpatterns,notleastbecauseunconventionalbuildingsaresometimes more commononthemargins. Acknowledgement Weoweabigthank-youtoBrian Cullen ofKillaloe forsogenerously agreeingtoflyustotheislandand forhelpingustogatherasmuch informationaspossibleinthefew hoursavailable. FurtherreadingHarbison,P.1970 Howold isGallarusOratory?MedievalArchaeology 14,34-59.Manning,C.1985Archaeologicalexcavationsat twochurchsiteson Inishmore,AranIslands.JournaloftheRoyalSocietyofAntiquariesof Ireland115,96-120.?Carrag?in,T.(forthcoming)Pre-Romanesquechurches inIreland.Dublin. FourCourtsPress.O'Donovan,J.andO'Curry,E. 1997TheantiquitiesofCo.Clare.Ennis.Walsh,G. 1994Preliminary reportonthearchaeologicalexcavationsonthesummit ofCroaghPatrick.CathairnaMart14,1-10.WhiteMarshall,J.andWalsh,C.2005UlaunloughanIsland:anearlymedievalmonasteryinCountyKerry. Bray.Wordwell.Topleft:Exteriorofeastwindow.Left:Aerial shotofchurchfrom thenorth-west,showingextensiverebuildingofnorth and westwalls.Above:StDaithlean'sonKerryHead:amortared church withasouthdoorway.37
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