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Churches with Round Towers in Northern Clare by Thomas Johnson Westropp

Appendix: The Crosiers of Rath and Dysert

Several relics of great interest have escaped the almost incessant wars which raged in Clare from the ninth to the end of the seventeenth centuries; nothing, it is true, equal to the priceless examples of Celtic art preserved at Ardagh, Clonmacnoise, and Cong, but objects venerable and important. We have the ‘Clogh an oir’ bell of Scattery in the hands of its hereditary keepers, the Keanes.[53] The bell of St. Cuanna of Kilshanny, in the British Museum, the prehistoric ‘gold find’ of Moghane, the crosiers of Rath and Dysert, and the bells of Rath in the Royal Irish Academy’s collection. The bell of Rath Blathmaic is a small, oval hand-bell, of very thin bronze; only one side remains, and that has a crack. There are ridges round the rim and above the shoulder. The handle consists of a cap, fastened to the bell by four rivets. This cap has a stay on the top, from which four other bands loop down, and are fastened with rivets, two of these being moulded, and overlapping the edge of the cap. The bell is 3½ inches high, 3¼ inches across the mouth, the shorter axis having been about 2½ inches; the cap and handle 1¼ inches high. Major M‘Enery kindly identified it, and gave me much help in the notes and sketches of the crosiers. Of lost relics, the bells of Dromcliff lie at the bottom of Poulnaclug, and the shrines of Iniscaltra under the waters of Lough Derg [54] (perhaps by good fortune to come to light like the shrine of Lough Erne and the crosier of Killarney). The cup and sword of Brian Boru are last heard of among his descendants in 1068 and 1152, and his crown disappears at Rome about 1160. The ‘Black Book’ of St. Mochulla was probably made away with in the disgraceful Delahyde lawsuit of 1627,[55] and the bell of the Macnamaras is a mere tradition.

With the permission of the R. I. A., I am able to include in this Paper careful sketches and description of the crosiers of Blathmac of Rath and ‘Manaula’ of Dysert, premising that O’Donovan considers the latter name a mere corruption of ‘Ban Thola,’ i.e. fair Tola.

The Crosier of Blathmac
The Crosier of Blathmac

The Crosier of Blathmac is the plainer, probably the older, and certainly the more remarkable of the two. It is made of yellow bronze, the network of the head being formed of small slips of silver held in their sockets by bronze pins, some of which are sufficiently perfect to show their pattern, being marked with a X or a Y between dots. The head is C-shaped, 14? inches long, and 1 inch broad, the back curving for 11? inches, with a ‘drop’ turning at a sharp angle, and 3½ inches long. The lozenge-spaces between the silver slips are filled with black enamel. The head is in two parts, sufficiently open to show the enclosed wood, almost in dust, and wrapped in some kind of coarse cloth, the mane-like ridge up the back has been lost, also the socket (probably set with a crystal) on the outer face of the ‘drop.’ This head is fixed in a boss of the same yellow metal, but greatly defaced and worn away; it is 5? inches long, and 6¾ inches round the middle, and has a pattern of round bosses (one decorated with a Y), and lozenges; the latter were surrounded with strips of silver, of which only one is visible, though others possibly exist under the rust. The central spaces of these lozenges are cut into open fretwork, and show marks of rivets, as if some ornament had been removed. The lower end of the boss ended in four heads of round-eared, large-eyed creatures, with elaborate open work interlacings from mouth to mouth, suggestive of the large sill at Rath; much of this fretwork, with one of the heads, has now disappeared.

The Crosier of Dysert
The Crosier of Dysert

The Crosier of Dysert, obtained for the Academy from its hereditary keeper, is of a later type, and much more beautiful; it is of rich dark bronze, the head boldly curved, 6? inches along the curve, and 3 inches along the ‘drop’; it is reticulated with bands raised on the metal itself. Each of these lozenges shows 2 to 4 small rivets, which in three places retain fragments of gold, sufficient to show that they were filled with beautiful little plaques, with raised patterns, but the spoiler has taken every one. Along the edge were sockets for small beads, one of dark-blue glass remaining.

The ‘mane’ ridge is of gilt bronze, ending in the head of an animal ¾ inch long, its mane interlacing like the left capital of Dysert door, the loops of the ridge forming its body and legs; this ridge is about 6½ inches long, and ½ inch high. The outer face of the drop has a neat gilt frame for a large crystal; it is cut into a tasseled fringe, and overhung by a bronze head nearly worn smooth. The boss holding the head is of dark bronze, with raised bands, the deeper hollows gilt, the centre of the bands relieved by thin wires of silver. The pattern originated round small knobs, breaking up the surface into ‘flaunches,’ and shield-shaped spaces, in which the rivets tell a further tale of former gold ornaments. The boss ends below in bold curving pieces, held by an interlaced B knot; this boss is 3½ inches long, and 5¾ inches girth. The plain inner casing for a staff 4 inches in circumference still protrudes for 4½ inches.

Another boss of lighter-coloured metal, and different design, is stated to have come from Dysert. It is 3¼ inches long, 1? inch least diameter, contracting boldly in the centre, the pattern formed of two lozenges with gem sockets at each point, the interspaces shield-shaped, in two of which remain cloisonné enameled ornaments, one an arrangement of 8 dark-green triangles with white centres and edges; the delicacy of the little recesses for these patterns is worthy of note. The other ornament is also of dark-green, with a kind of cross crosslet in white enamel. The ends of this boss are boldly cusped. It is shown to the right in the illustration [above].

Despite the verdict of a recent writer, apparently based on certain most unsatisfactory views of the county Clare, and the wider statement, often made by outsiders (and sometimes joined in by Irishmen, little acquainted with our country’s art) as to the small value of our pre-Norman antiquities, we may venture to lay these examples of stone and metal work before our readers, as of at least as much importance in the little-known records of a unique culture, as many an ornate and well-known building of later date is in the better lighted paths of more recent mediæval history.


Plans of Dromcliff, Rath and
Kilnaboy; the earliest churches