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Home a-loan for St Lactain’s Arm

by Edited by Jimmy Rhatigan

History was made in St Lachtain’s Church of Ireland, Freshford at the weekend when the 12th century Shrine of St Lachtain’s Arm was displayed there for the first time. 

On a one-day loan to Ionad Lachtain Church, Arts and Heritage Centre, the Shrine was displayed courtesy of the National Museum of Ireland. 

St Lachtain’s Church is one of the oldest living church sites in Ireland with a service every Sunday at 10am. Over 700 people passed through the church to view the shrine. 

St Lachtain is patron saint of Freshford. He founded a monastery there circa 570 AD. 

Last year the 1400th anniversary of the death of Lachtain was commemorated with a year-long festival which also marked more than 1400 years of worship on this site.  

St Lachtain’s Arm is a bronze reliquary. It once housed the relics of the saint’s right arm but these have been long lost. 

The reliquary was made between 1118 and 1121 and was dedicated to the McCarthys, kings of Munster and to Diarmait, a successor of Lachtain in Freshford. 

As well as being used as a reliquary, it was also used to swear oaths and as a battle talisman. 

Committee of Ionad Lachtain Heritage Centre with officials of the National Museum and the Shrine of St Lachtain’s Arm: Maeve Sikora, Keeper of Antiquities; Maria Kennedy, Pat Nolan, Kilkenny Archaeological Society, Carol Smith, Senior Conservator, Ned Kennedy, Richard St George, Eva Holmes, Chair, Julie Kavanagh and Marie Cleere

The O’Helys, Lords of Donoughmore in Cork, had ownership of the shrine but lost possession after the Reformation. 

It formed part of the Fountaine collection in England until 1884 when it was returned to Ireland, making it one of the first artefacts to be repatriated from England to its country of origin.

It now forms part of the Treasures of Ireland exhibition at the National Museum. 

Proceedings at Freshford on the historic occasion were opened with an ecumenical blessing by Monsignor Kieron Kennedy, PP and Very Rev Stephen Farrell, Dean of Ossory and Rector of Freshford. 

Minister Malcolm Noonan congratulated all at Ionad Lachtain Heritage Centre on the historic achievement of showing the shrine at Freshford.

Representing the Museum, Ms Maeve Sikora, Keeper of Antiquities, spoke on the policy of showing pieces of the museum’s collection at local level. 

Dr Griffin Murray, a lecturer in the Department of Archaeology at UCC and acknowledged expert on the shrine, spoke about its history. 

On behalf of the committee at Ionad Lachtain, Ned Kennedy welcomed everyone and thanked all who helped to bring the occasion to fruition. 

He welcomed Mr Philip Wingfield, a descendant of Viscount Powerscourt, who led the purchase of the shrine in 1884 and worked for its return to Ireland.        

The Ionad Lachtain Church, Arts and Heritage Centre is open every Saturday and Sunday from 11.30 to 4.30 or by arrangement. 

In addition to the church, the centre features a craft shop and local museum. Admission is free. Watch out for forthcoming concerts by Will Killeen and Don Baker.  

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