St. Mary’s Church Gowran Highlights (5)
See if you can make out the markings on the ogham stone, which dates from before the time of St Patrick, on display in the chancel. This ogham stone was used in the foundations of the original thirteenth-century church and rediscovered in the early nineteenth century, when the chancel was rebuilt. The stone also has an early Latin cross inscribed at the bottom, which reveals its links to early Christian Ireland.
You can’t miss the focal feature of the chancel at St Mary’s – a pair of effigial tombs belonging to Butler knights. The more elaborate of them is believed to belong to Sir James Butler of Polestown, father of the eighth earl of Ormond, Piers Rua. The sides of this tomb are skilfully decorated with carvings of the Apostles, St Brigid, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and possibly St Thomas à Becket. This tomb is believed to be the work of the renowned O’Tunneys of Callan.
There are two splendid stained-glass windows in St Mary’s Church. Both were created by the prestigious cooperative studio An Túr Gloine (The Glass Tower). One of them commemorates Aubrey Cecil White, a native of Gowran, who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme during World War I.
The chest tomb of James Kealy is located in the north-west corner of the nave. Look closely and you will make out the chilling image it carries – a full skeleton wrapped in a shroud. Tombs like this are known as cadaver tombs. They were popular in Ireland during the fifteenth, sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, but they still provide a sobering reminder of the mortality of humankind.
The sides of this tomb are abundantly decorated with symbols of the passion, the crucifixion, St Peter and St Patrick.
Try and spot some of the impressive decorative stone carvings that are attributed to the famous Gowran Master. These include an ornate thirteenth-century window, one of the best-preserved windows of this date in Ireland. Depictions of a monk, bishops and symbolic images still exist in the interior of the ruined church. The Gowran Master’s work was immortalised in the poetry of Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney.