The Penal Altar

The Penal Altar (1)

Having explored all the buildings that the Monastic settlement has to offer, I took a stroll through the packed graveyard, stopping off to look at a few interesting gravestones. Many graves were of military personnel dating back to the Battle of the Boyne and various rebellions in the 17th-8th centuries. It was also interesting to find that both Catholics and Protestants are buried here side by side. There were two decrepit structures in the middle of the graveyard which you could almost miss if you were not paying attention. The first was marked as The Penal Altar. To me it looked like the ruins of a chapel which had not been used in centuries. All that remains are what was once a gable wall and parts of walls. Much of what remains is hidden by various Memorials. Over the years many laws were passed by the invading Anglo-Norman/English which discriminated against the native Irish, whom were predominantly Catholic. But the year 1695 marked the beginning of some extreme Laws which included land removal and the right to practice your religion. These were known as the Penal Laws, and it was not until the 18th century when these begun to be relaxed.

The Penal Altar (2)

During these times it was against the law for Catholics to go to Mass and priests would be regularly persecuted, so they had to practise their religion in secret or face severe punishment if caught. This penal Altar would have been a place where Mass would have been said in secret. It is believed that members of the congregation would  climb the nearby Motte to act as lookouts in case of a surprise attack.

The Penal Altar (3)

In front of the Penal Altar is the tomb of a Rev. Daniel Kavanagh whom is associated a cure for the toothache. The story goes,  If you want to be cured you take a small amount of clay from outside the graveyard gate, then you place it underneath  the tomb and remove some clay from the same tomb. You then place it in your mouth around the affected area and walk on to the Holy Well where you wash the clay from your mouth with water from the holy well and say a short prayer to Fr. Kavanagh. Now thankfully I was not suffering from toothache at the time so I was unable to try out this tale, chances are I probably would’nt have either. But If anyone has tried it, I would love to hear how you got on 🙂

The Penal Altar (4)

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About edmooneyphotography

Photographer, Blogger, Ruinhunter, with an unhealthy obsession for history, mythology and the arcane.
This entry was posted in Diary of a Ruinhunter, Photography, Religious Sites and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to The Penal Altar

  1. This is an awesome photo, you just captured the mood/ ambiance absolutely brilliantly

  2. John says:

    Great photos as always. I am not Catholic, but to tell these people they can not have church is so wrong.

  3. Karen says:

    Great story in general but I especially love the bit about the sacred clay curing toothache!

  4. Ali Isaac says:

    Great post! Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, what it was about that priest which earned such a superstition concerning the cure of toothache…

  5. I can imagine the people of the 17th and 18th century inhabiting this place. You really captured some great images. Funny thing this reminded me of, in the United State, in the southern states from the 1950’s and previous years pregnant women ate clay. I think it had something to do with the minerals in the clay. I witnessed this in the 80’s (no I did not eat clay 0_0) I found this site that refers to it. http://geography.about.com/cs/culturalgeography/a/geophagy.htm perhaps, this has something to do with the legend of the toothache rememdy ????

    • Very interesting, I have heard off these cravings during pregnacy, some would even eat coal, something to do with the body telling you that you needed something a little extra?
      I remember my wife on our first had a thing for strawberries, I used to have to drive miles to get them for her, and if I even looked at them to have one myself she would kill me 🙂

  6. I Love the graveyard!! The toothache cure seems a very difficult process – I misread it the first time and thought you said put your tooth under the tomb! something like putting it under your pillow . Once again a great history of the place and bloody Cromwell.

  7. dianaed2013 says:

    This history is so interesting – not sure about eating clay. You have certainly captured the essence of the place

  8. I think I, too, would have to pass on Fr. Kavanagh’s toothache cure. Interesting post. Enjoyed it.

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  11. 2e0mca says:

    Fascinating history to accompany your images.

  12. Dear Ed, You make wonderful monochrome pictures

  13. Thank you for liking “Rock Art: Part 2.” Great photos and post! 🙂 I can relate to this post because I am Catholic. I think about how difficult it must have been for the Catholics who lived in this area to practice their religion in secret. It would be nice to think religious persecution was a thing of the past, but sadly it still exists in the world today.

    I also enjoyed learning about the toothache cure, but like you I am reluctant to try it. I am open to divine intervention and pray to God regularly, but I would rather go to the dentist. 🙂

    • My pleasure, I really enjoyed both posts. The pagan in me calls it Karma! After all it was the Catholic Church whom committed so many atrocities all in the name of their God. But then again people of all creeds and beliefs have done terrible things to each other.
      I try to follow the ‘Do unto others’ path. To each their own, as long as they keep it to themselves. The dentist would be my choice too:-)
      They really had some strange beliefs back then 🙂

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