The South Kilkenny Historical Society recently visited the ancient ecclesiastical site at Clonfert.
The group were welcomed by Ms Peg Monahan, who as Ms Peg McDonagh taught at Ballyfacey National School from 1969 to 1974. One of her pupils during that period was the society’s chairman, Eddie Synnott and among the attendance in Clonfert on the day was the current principal at Ballyfacey N.S., Ms Brigid Barron. During her welcome address from the famous doorway at Clonfert Cathedral, Peg recalled the happy times she spent in South Kilkenny and spoke of her particular fondness for the Black and Amber, stemming from the fact that she taught three children who later went on to win All-Ireland senior honours - Eddie O’Connor, Willie O’Connor and Liam Walsh.
Peg then introduced the groups guide, Dr. Christy Cunniffe. Dr. Cunniffe gave a highly impressive talk on the area and its physical features. He detailed St. Brendan the Navigator’s association with the area and pointed out where, according to local tradition, he was buried. Christy spoke of the various clergymen associated with the Cathedral and pointed out the many features of the cathedral, including the famous doorway and baptismal font.
The group were then brougt to a nearby wooded area and shown a tree, which up to the present day is being used as a special shrine. Dozens of objects, including inhalers and childrens clothing are placed at the base of the tree and some of the group availed of ‘the cure for warts’, before departing to the Roman Catholic Church at Clonfert. Here is housed Our Lady of Clonfert, a hollow wooden statue of Our Lady which dates from the 14th century. This has survived much religious suppression and destruction and local lore suggests that it was discovered by two local men who were felling trees. Legend has it that it was hidden in the trunk of a tree and when the workmen were felling the tree they cut one of the arms off, causing it to bleed. Local folklore also states that at one stage the statue was moved to the nearby Meelick Church. However, Our Lady wasn’t happy with her new home, kept turning back in the direction of Clonfert and was returned to where she wished to be.
Clonfert Roman Catholic church is also the resting place of Fr. Joe Walsh, who was tragically killed some years ago.
The society’s next event takes place on Saturday, August 20th, with a cruise of the River Barrow, starting at 2.30pm from New Ross.