The Sanctuary Lamp at Clonoulty
I was looking forward to my nephew's two-day wedding party at Kilshane House, near Bansha, in the heart of the beautiful Glen of Aherlow when I received news that the mother of an old friend had died in Cork. Sod's Law decreed that the funeral was scheduled for the same day as the wedding ceremony. The two events separated by only an hour. Missing either was not an option. The solution to this conundrum was to attend the funeral service and burial afterwards and then head off tout suite to Tipperary. The deceased mother had lived to a good old age so the funeral was a sombre rather than a very sad occasion. She was buried in St. Joseph's in Ballyphehane - a stately old cemetery now decommissioned except for those joining relatives. And so to Bansha. I missed the actual wedding ceremony but due to an apparently loquacious and pedantic priest managed to arrive at the hotel before the wedding party. An immediate change of pace as I was transformed from knight of doleful countenance to glad-handling bon viveur.
My mother's family are from this part of the world so over the weekend we met a cousin who told us a story about a sanctuary lamp that had been donated to the church in nearby Clonoulty. It was dedicated to the memory of my grandfather Nicholas Maher who drowned in Tramore in 1919 - leaving a young family. The lamp had suffered the ravages of time and the local parish priest had decided to jettison it in favour of a new model. My cousin, a parishioner, contacted a well-got uncle who lived nearby and he arranged for it to be taken to Weirs in Dublin for a complete refurbishment. We decided that we had to hunt down this family heirloom after the wedding festivities.
We were passing Ardmayle on the way there so we paused to view the Maher family plot in the beautiful old graveyard - just across the road from a crumbling Norman ruin. The defunct family members lay in a well-maintained railed-off plot. Looking back over the generations it struck me that they didn't go much for variety in first names. The men were usually Nicholas or Philip, often both, and the women favoured Kathleen. Many of the dozen or so interred were identified as being from Ballymore House. As I had always assumed they hailed from Ardmayle House nearby, I decided we needed to find this Ballymore House also - it clearly played a significant role in our family saga . We drove on through Ardmayle and Goold's Cross until we came to Clonoulty. It was early afternoon and the church had closed and the village was deserted. I was for abandoning the mission but a more persistent brother suggested we seek out the local parish priest. A solitary local pointed us to his house so we ran the gauntlet of a couple of yappy dogs and rang the bell. Bad timing. The priest arrived guarded in his welcome and still chewing his Sunday lunch. It was clear he wasn't going anywhere. "Can you come back during the week?" was his best offer. However, when we enquired about the sacristan he saw a solution and directed us to a bungalow down the road. A robust looking middle-aged women answered the door, also chewing. However she quickly understood our mission and eschewing her lunch accompanied us to the church. In we went and surveyed the family heirloom. I don't know a lot about sanctuary lamps but I'd say it was a good lamp but not a great lamp. Maybe Weir's enthusiastic cleaning had removed its aged and venerable aura. My gimlet-eyed brother espied an inscription etched in the bottom of the vessel: "To the memory of Nicholas Maher esq. Ballymore House from his loving children June 1925". Poignant words from his young family - the poor man was only 39.
The amiable sacristan directed us towards Ballymore House which was nearby. She knew our local family members and the current occupiers - naturally. The house was a short distance from Clonoulty going towards Goold's Cross. We soon found the large period dwelling up a short tree-lined avenue. We drove around the house to the back yard and were greeted by a couple of scruffy dogs. Through the window we could see a group of six adults sitting around the dinner table. Our campaign to disrupt Sunday lunches in South Tipperary was remorseless. The woman of the house emerged after a lengthy pause and listened to our story. Come back in half an hour and we'll give you a tour we were told. Returning we were met by the owner, a very friendly retired farmer by the name of Thomas Ryan. He had bought the place from an uncle of mine. He showed us around in an unhurried and informative way - notwithstanding the pull of the TV showing a thrilling Kilkenny/Tipp match that had the full attention of the rest of the family. The house was essentially unchanged apart from the extending of the living-room out into the garden. There was a murky but homely feel to the place - we even got to see the bedrooms upstairs. It was nice to greet the family ghosts.
|Ballymore House, Goold's Cross|