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St Lachtain’s Arm: Vikings and cures

by Edited by Jimmy Rhatigan

THE HISTORY of the 12th century shrine known as St Lachtain’s Arm will be outlined in a lecture at the Church of Ireland in Freshford on this Friday, September 9 at 7pm. 

The lecture will be by Dr Griffin Murray of UCC. 

The shrine is regarded as one of the finest examples of ecclesiastical metalwork from medieval Ireland. 

It is dated by its inscription to between 1118 and 1121. It is of particular significance because of its decoration and gesture and because it is one of the earliest such shrines from medieval Europe. 

It is on display in the Treasures of Ireland exhibition at the National Museum in Dublin. 

Dr Griffin Murray is a lecturer in the Department of Archaeology at University College, Cork where he teaches in the area of museum studies and medieval archaeology.  

He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. 

He is a renowned expert on medieval ecclesiastical metalwork and has published research on objects such as the Cross of Cong, St Lachtain’s Arm and the Lismore Crosier.  

Please note the earlier starting time of 7pm. 

The Annals of the Four Masters record the death of St Lachtain in March 622 AD. 


His feast day is celebrated in Freshford on the March 19.

Lachtain’s right arm was said to be the medium of his many cures. Tradition states that the relics of his arm were preserved in a church founded by him at Kilnamartyra, County Cork. 

The relics were taken from the church during Viking raids and kept safe in the locality, eventually being cared for by the O’Healy family, Lords of Donoughmore. 

In the early 12th century, a bronze shrine or reliquary was made to house the holy relics and this remained in the church at Donoughmore until the middle of the 17th century. 

This is the shrine known today as St Lachtain’s Arm. The relics have been long lost. 

During the 17th century the shrine was seized or confiscated on a couple of occasions by the dominant Protestant clergy of the area until it eventually ended up in the possession of the Fountaine family of Narford Hall in Norfolk, England. 

Their collection of valuables was sold in 1884 and on the insistence of Lord Powerscourt the reliquary was bought by the government and deposited in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin. 


Later it was transferred to the National Museum where today it forms part of the Treasures of Ireland exhibition. 

It is 15½inches high and consists of a right hand with closed fingers riveted to the arm. 

The basic metal is bronze which is inlaid with gold and silver. The upper end of the arm has a setting of blue stones. 

Four inscriptions have been rendered on it as follows:

1) a prayer for Maelseachlainn  O Ceallachain, chief king of Eamhain Mumhan, who made this shrine; 2) a prayer for Cormac, son of McCarthy; 3) a prayer for Tadhg, son of McCarthy; 4) a prayer for Diarmait, son of McDeise, successor of Lachtain. 

It has been described as a gem of Irish art from the Hiberno-Viking period, the first quarter of the 12th century, having been made between 1118 and 1121. 

Today, in homage to their patron-saint, Lachtain, the shrine forms the centre piece of school and club crests used in the parishes of Freshford, County Kilkenny and Donoughmore, County Cork. 

Sources: History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory, Canon William Carrigan. In Search of St Lachteen, Tadhg O’Mahony.                                             

Naoimh agus Laoich na Feoire, Pádraig Mac Cárthaigh.

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