Window of Clare Island Abbey

Artist(s) : J.A. Wheeler (Engraver)

Detail of a window of the Cistercian Abbey on Clare Island.

Inscribed in Image

  • Signature – Wheeler Sc.

Image Details

Genre Scientific or Technical illustration
Technique Wood engravings
Subject(s) Architecture
Geographical Location
  • Clare Island Abbey - Named locality
  • Clare Island, Co. Mayo - Island
  • Mayo - County
  • Connaught - Province
Keywords(s) Antiquities, Archaeological sites, Churches
Colour Monochrome
Dimensions 4.5 cm x 7 cm
Published / created 1839

Bibliographical Details

Travel Account A tour in Connaught
Print or manuscript Print
Location of image in copy p. 300
Source copy National Library of Ireland J 91412
Alternative source

This is a link to a digital copy hosted by an external website.
Rights Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

Related text from travel account

My friend and I immediately started off to visit the abbey, which lay on the western side, and we had to make our way through a rich valley producing as abundant crops of potatoes and corn as I think I ever saw. I at once perceived that Clare is the most fertile of all the isles that surround Ireland, containing 2500 acres. In skilful and tasteful hands it might be made a paradise. On our right hand, as we were on our way along a very difficult path, arose a lofty hill, that should be called indeed a mountain, but which might be cultivated almost to the summit. To the north-west of this eminence are fine cliffs, which, on this occasion, I did not see. Afterwards, and on my recent visit to Achill, I observed them rising like a wall, and presenting a fine bold front to the ocean; but on the south and south-west the island is low and tame, especially in the neighbourhood of the abbey, which is poor and mean, with an ugly barbarian looking village near it. I confess I was surprised that that part of the island which immediately fronts the south-west, and which looks directly towards the nearest land in that direction, namely, America, should shelve so gradually to the sea. There was little worth seeing in this building once belonging to the Carmelites two things and two only struck me, a man that accompanied us into the church, pointed to a window which seemed to me a very good specimen of Irish art, of which the accompanying wood-cut is a representation; but this was // not of half the interest in my eye, as what the man took down from said window, where it seemed to have been carefully placed, a skull, in the sides of which where the ears once were, holes had been made, and therein were inserted a pair of plain gold earrings and this I was told was the skull of Grana Uaile. I observed it with reverence, such as was evidently expected from us all by the people; and why should not this relic be respected, and why, when looking at what once contained the thinking part of this singular and resolute woman, should I not ponder on how little difference there is after all, (let phrenologists say what they will,) between that skull of this sea queen and the brain-caps of the nameless multitude who lived and died and rotted heirs of a common lot. But alas ! before I have done with Grana Uaile, I must narrate a melancholy event, which reached me from what I thought good authority. Not very long // after I had visited Clare Island, bones becoming daily more and more in demand as manure some speculative Scotsman chartered a vessel in the Clyde, for the express purpose of rifling all the churchyards along the western shores of the Irish coast, of their loose bones, of which he had reason to know there was abundance. In this way he ranged along, from Malin Head to Cape Clear wherever there was an abbey at all accessible, his men landed by night, and with as little noise as possible, carried off the bone-heaps; amongst other places they landed at Clare Abbey, and swept it of all its bones, and with the rest they sacked up the jewelled skull and cross-bones of Grana. I had rather they had gone up the Rhine, invaded Cologne, and carried off all the skulls of the 11,000 virgins. The people when they found in the morning that Grana and all their grandmothers were gone, were outrageous but what could they do or what think, but that as Graua Uaile had often run up the Clyde and robbed and plundered, so now she was abducted herself with all the gold she was possessed of, her violence had often perhaps crushed the heart of some Scotchwoman, her own bones are now crushed to make large an Aberdeen turnip, and thereby fatten a highland heifer; and allow me, reader, to repeat a story that has been told it is rather apocryphal, and good sir, you need not give any credit to it if you don't like. Not very long ago as a farmer in Ayrshire was eating his slice of a boiled yellow turnip, the garniture // of a leg of Cheviot mutton, he found something hard in his mouth and rattling between his teeth, which rather than swallow, he cast into his hand, and lo! and behold you ! there was a hind tooth, certainly not one of his own, for it was smaller than any of his identical huge grinders, and what was more extraordinary, a little gold ring, evidently such as women wear in their ears, kept it company; all Scotland could not account for such incongruities being found within the heart of a yellow turnip, an Irishman might have come to the decision that they were all that remained of Grana Uaile. [Footnote: “From information I have lately obtained, I am disposed to consider that the robbing of Grana Uaile's skull by Scotch bone dealers, did not take place at all ; for, to this day, the heroine's skull is exhibited to admiring pilgrims, ornamented with its gold ear-rings, and decorated with ribbons. Either then the theft did not occur, or the pride or love of profit of the villagers has induced them to substitute another skull; for pilgrims resorting to the abbey, of course, call for whiskey.”] [ pp. 299-302]
Window of Clare Island Abbey