Riches of Clare: Rosary and Breviary

Clare Champion, Friday, August 23, 2002

The Riches of Clare exhibition at the Clare Museum charts the county's history over 6,000 years using authentic artifacts. In the first in a new series of articles examining the artifacts, Daniel McCarthy recounts the background to the rosary and breviary….

Rosary beads and a Roman Catholic breviary, pictured below, both serve as a reminder of the strong faith held by generations of Clare people.

Although the Rosary is widely associated with Catholicism, the use of beads to count prayers would also be familiar to Moslems and Hindus. It is thought that Early Christian Monks began using loose pebbles to count prayers they were reciting in the third century AD, and primitive forms of such beads have been found by archaeologists in tombs of early Christians in the Middle East.

However, according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, the modern Rosary's origin is credited to St Dominic and the Dominican order he founded in the thirteenth century. It grew in popularity in Europe and in 1520 Pope Leo X gave the Rosary official approval.

There is folklore associated with a field in Miltown Malbay, which states that three hundred years ago during the penal laws, a Friar, perhaps a Dominican, left his Rosary behind in a house in the area while fleeing from English soldiers. According to the tale, the woman of the house on seeing the rosary, rushed out and buried them before the soldiers reached her home.

Centuries later, the rosary beads, in the picture, were recovered from the land of Miltown Malbay farmer Charlie Egan during spring ploughing in the 1970's. The beads are made of blackish stone, perhaps of local origin, making the set remarkably heavy. The rosary also carries a crude plain cross, which, according to Adrian Kennedy, former head of conservation at the National Museum of Ireland, appears to have been unfinished by the craftsman who made it.

Are these the beads buried by the woman all those years ago? The people of the Miltown Malbay area certainly think so.

Click image to view details in the Riches of Clare Exhibition

The Roman Catholic breviary dates back to 1625. It was presented to Bishop Michael Fogarty of Killaloe, by his friend W T Cosgrave, the then former leader of the Irish Free State in 1937. Dr Fogarty, who had been a fervent supporter of Cosgrave and the pro-Treat side in the Civil War, in turn presented the book to the Sisters of Mercy in Ennis.

The beautiful intricacy of this breviary is a testament to the craftsmanship of earlier times. The book has full calf skin binding sewn into flexible linen cards that are laced into beech binding boards. It is perhaps a miracle that the religious book has survived the religious and political turmoil that has characterised the history of Ireland over most of the last 400 years.

Used by priests, breviaries contain the regulations for the celebration of the Mass. They are divided into four sections according to the seasons of the year. It contains a Psalter (collection of psalms), the proper of the season, the proper of the saints, and the common and special offices.

Both the Rosary and the Breviary are presently on display at Clare Museum.

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