one of the attractions of Drogheda is a relic held by Saint Peter’s Church. after spending many years abroad during the Cromwellian era, Oliver Plunkett returned to Ireland in March of 1670 and began establishing Jesuit schools. this did not go over well with the English and he was forced into hiding, only traveling in disguise. in the end, he was captured and sent to England for trial (since they couldn’t get him properly convicted while in Ireland), where he spent time at Newgate Prison before his execution. he was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn (now Marble Arch) in 1681. he was buried in two boxes and, eventually, his head made its way to Drogheda and Saint Peter’s Church (in 1921). he was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1920 and canonized in 1975. following strong a recommendation I decided to go and take a look at the shrine, but chose not to take a picture. i’m not a big fan of visiting churches in the first place, much less those that have relics and shrines, but how often do you get a chance to see something like that, especially in the states when recorded history doesn’t go back that far? a four hundred year old head is an interesting thing to see… if you’re interested in knowing what Saint Oliver Plunkett’s looks like, they’ve got a picture of it here.
the Burren is a ecological enigma. because there’s little in the way of tall shrubbery, it seems barren, but in fact it’s far from it. it’s a limestone plateau of ten square miles that one Cromwellian surveyor (Edmund Ludlow) described the sight in 1650 as “a savage land, yielding neither water enough to drown a man, nor a tree to hang him, nor soil enough to bury him.” in fact, however, the Burren is resplendant in flora that’s been adapting in unique ways for the last 10,000 (since the last Ice Age). it supports the greatest diversity of plants in Ireland, and those from both Mediterranean and Arctic regions thrive.
the first human inhabitants moseyed onto the Burren about 6,000 years a go (six thousand!) and there are stone forts and historic sites scattered all over. there are some 500 Iron Age stone forts (one of them seen in the second picture, which isn’t terribly clear) and more than 2,000 sites in all. part of the area has been designated a National Park (one of six), but it wasn’t the area where I visited.
as I mentioned in my post about the Burren, there are thousands of Iron Age forts and millenia-old historic sites scattered across the region. in Kilfenora, home of the Burren Centre and a tiny town smack in the middle of the Burrne, there are several celtic high crosses. most of them are now contained in the ruins of an old church, which, in turn, sits against the back of a more modern construction that still functions as a church. the Kilfenora church actually claims the Pope as it’s bishop. the town was especially hit during the Great Potato Famine and almost ceased to funciton; the Pope at the time (Pius IX) decided to name himself bishop of the diocese so that it might survive. it did, but it’s still the smallest and poorest diocese in Ireland.
some preservation organization thought to put a glass roof over the church ruins, which has helped to preserve the crosses contained therein.
not all of the crosses are under the glass ceiling, though. the church is tucked behind the Burren Centre and the street heading from the front entrance is flanked by grazing land and a working farm. the largest of the crosses that I saw stood smack in the middle of one of the fields. it was almost reminiscent of Avebury in how this ancient, sacred artefact was just part of the landscape. protected by a fence from the cows who wander around the field, munching on their dinner.
officially named the Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St. Nicholas, construction on the Galway Cathedral began in 1958 and it was consecrated in 1965. the pews are mahogany and hold up to 2,000 worshipers in a service. the floor is green Connemara marble, and the “acoustically correct” cedar ceiling comes from Canada. one of the stained glass windows depicts the ‘modern’ holy family — Mary is knitting while Jesus and Joseph make a cup of tea.
it’s true that most of ‘touristy’ Galway can be done in about three hours. there’s the Spanish Arch, where ships used to offload goods coming from Spain, and a memorial from the city of Genoa commemorating the fact that Columbus stopped in Galway before heading off across the Atlantic. the Claddagh village has been replaced with a modern development, but until the early 20th century, it was a thatched-roof fishing village. in addition to the River Corrib, there are lots of canals running towards the bay. St. Nicholas’s Cathedral sits next to one overlooking the salmon weir bridge. it was consecrated in 1965 by a bishop from Boston, has Connemara marble floors, mahogany pews (where up to 2,000 parishoners sit during worship), and cedar ceilings from Canada. the old town is a twist of pedestrian streets lined with shops and pubs and bustling with people. there’s a pub called the King’s Head just over the road from where I am now, which was given to the man charged with executing Charles I. it was recommended to me, so i might have a wander in later after i’ve gotten something to eat for dinner.
tomorrow it’s north again, through Cong and Connemara to Westport.