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St Lachtain’s Arm in Freshford

by Edited by Jimmy Rhatigan

This Saturday, June 17, will be an historic day in Freshford Village when the 12th century Shrine of St. Lachtain’s Arm will be on display at St. Lachtain’s Church of Ireland. 

Last year the local community commemorated the 1400th anniversary of the death of St Lachtain and celebrated over 1400 years of worship in the parish with a year-long festival of events. 

It was hoped to have the shrine as the centrepiece of that celebration. That did not work out but committee members at Ionad Lachtain Church, Arts and Heritage Centre are thrilled to have the shrine on display as the highlight of Féile Lachtain 2023.

The relics of St Lachtain’s right arm were kept at the church of Kilnamartra in County Cork following his death. 

At the beginning of the 12th century a bronze reliquary was made to house the relics. 

Its manufacture can be dated to the years 1118-1121. Following the Reformation, ownership of the shrine passed from lay hands to Church hands and back again. 

It eventually ended up in the collection of Sir Andrew Fountaine of Norfolk Hall in England. 

At an exhibition in London in 1829 it was described as an object of Egyptian descent. 

After its Irish provenance was correctly established, the shrine was exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1853 in Dublin. 

The Fountaine Collection was auctioned in 1884 and the shrine returned to the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin and was then placed in the National Museum. 

In that respect, unlike the Elgin Marbles, it is perhaps one of the first artefacts to be repatriated to Ireland from Britain. 

In recent years St Lachtain’s Arm has formed part of the Treasures of Ireland exhibition at the National Museum. 

It is highly regarded as one of the finest examples of ecclesiastical metalwork from medieval Ireland. 

This is a momentous occasion for the parish of Freshford and indeed for county Kilkenny as it is the first time an artefact has been loaned out to the community under a new loans policy adopted by the National Museum. 

Public viewing will be from 10am on Saturday until 5pm at St Lachtain’s Church of Ireland. 

There will be a break for an official welcome ceremony between noon and 1pm. This will begin with an ecumenical blessing by Monsignor Kieron Kennedy, PP, and Rev Stephen Farrell, Rector Freshford and Dean of Ossory. 

Speakers will include Minister Malcolm Noonan, Dr Lynn Scarff, Director of the National Museum and Dr Griffin Murray of, acknowledged expert on the shrine. 

The committee at Ionad Lachtain is grateful to Dr Scarff and her colleagues at the National Museum for facilitating this historic display of the shrine. 

It also acknowledges the assistance of Kilkenny Archaeological Society in making arrangements and especially the work of Mr Pat Nolan, former president of the society. 

The display is taking place with the help of Kilkenny County Council. 

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