Monday, May 5, 2008

Piltown, Ireland, 23.7.01: Ahenny Stones and Fachna's Well

In Ireland since early this morning. We arrived at Shannon about 7:30 and then drove in a rental car to the R.'s in Piltown. I was very tired after our arrival and slept about four hours.

Just returned from a trip to Tybroughney. John drove us along an old road from Piltown to Tybroughney, showing me as we drove the area called Logriach. He told me that an old woman in Piltown, Noel Stephenson, recalls Logriach being used as a name for this place.

It’s a kind of valley or low spot bordering the Pill. Across the Suir, into which the Pill flows (I think), hills rise into Co. Waterford. They’re beautiful, green with grass and gold with ripening barley.

The road to Tybroughney is narrow and pot-holed, with hedges growing up to it on either side. Along the way we saw a beautiful old apple orchard on a hill sloping to the river. There were also fields of cabbage, cauliflower, rhubarb, and what seemed to be recently planted broccoli. John called it the best land in Ireland.

Tybroughney (well of St. Fachna) is a ruin of a very old church, possibly 8th century, that was, according to John, the center of a quasi-monastic ecclesiastical settlement around which farms and houses would have clustered.

Only bits of the church wall now stand, with the old graveyard to the south adjacent. John says that a family—D., I think—farm the land all around and have hinted they’d like to bulldoze the old church and cemetery, but the local heritage council have made noises against that and have cleaned out the cemetery, which is out in a field. A railroad to the south has also apparently taken some of the graveyard.

John says that some of the very large stones in the church walls—cyclopean stones—help to date it as a very early church. There also is or was a holy well (the tubber part of the name), which seems very old and probably dates to pre-Christian times.

People come to the spot to see the ahenny stone on the southeast corner of the graveyard, a beautiful, mysterious stone, probably the standing part of a cross, with carved animals and those whorls so typical of Celtic art in Ireland, some of them inset. (On the dating, John cites Fran├žoise Henry’s Irish High Crosses, which points to the affinity between the carvings and Viking jewelry of the period.)

In the graveyard is the stone erected by John Oats in memory of his wife Eleanor Thompson, about which John had written me. What was very interesting about this stone is that it has the same shape as the old Ryan stones in Orion, with the same inscription, IHM.

On the way back, John told us a story of the Daltons (D’Alton), the land-owning family whose land the Ponsonbys took when they arrived in the area. It seems the Daltons lived on in an old house at the good pleasure of the Ponsonbys and gradually declined. But they never forfeited their legal title to the property.

There came a time when the last lineal descendant was very poor, living in Carrick and working as a cooper. His daughter would come and beg in the area around Tybroughney.

Ponsonby had the idea to go to Carrick and offer money to the old Dalton fellow. The man refused.

From Tybroughney, we went to the Piltown church, where, in the cemetery, there’s an interesting Madonna thought to have come from Kilkenny. It may formerly have been the end of a crypt-style tomb, though John doubts this.

The Madonna’s hair is arranged in an extraordinary way, the ends of it on either shoulder curling up into mid-air, making her look like a space creature.

In the cemetery, I picked wildflowers that John helped me identify. They’re pressed in the middle of this diary, and probably won’t survive the trip.

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