Vital Berehaven contribution to the National Museum

Over the past few weeks we have been reviewing some of the Beara parishes newsletters, Tuosist, Eyeries and Allihies. During the week we have been asked several times why the other Beara parishes don’t bring out Christmas newsletters. The answer to that is that we don’t know.

We do know that back in the 1980s and ‘90s Castletownbere did produce a Parish Newsletter each Christmas. As a very good one, it attracted some fine contributions and articles and poems by the late well known Rossmacowen poet Jer O’Leary, who composed a special poem for the magazine each year. Unfortunately, the Castletownbere Newsletter ceased with the issue of 1991. The reason was because of lack of support from the many and various associations and organisations in the parish. The small editorial committee did their best to keep it going but without contributions that couldn’t happen. It was a pity it ceased because it did have some very fine articles and we hope in the next few weeks we will take a trip down memory lane to have a look at them.

This week we start with the story of the Berehaven Chalice which appeared in the 1988 issue and which was submitted by Fr. Jack Shanahan MSC, The Square, and Fr. Jackie Murphy, East End, Castletownbere, both still alive and well. They say that great minds think alike, both came up separately with the story of the Chalice. The Berehaven Chalice. Some years ago people were thrilled to hear of the finding of the Derrynaflan Gold Chalice and Hoard in Co. Tipperary, whatever one might think about the way it was found. But did you know that in the National Museum, Kildare Street, Dublin, there is a chalice known as the “Berehaven Chalice”? It is also known as the Cornelius O’Sullivan Chalice from the priest who had it made in 1597.

It is interesting to speculate on the life and times of this priest and of the people to whom he administered. You will notice that it was shortly before the siege of Dunboy. It was a time of religious persecution which continued in varying degrees of intensity until Catholic Emancipation in 1829. During these times students went to one of the continental seminaries, in this case more likely to Spain or France – Salamanca, Valladolid, Paris. The young Cornelius O’Sullivan would seek out a friendly captain of a trading-vessel to arrange his passage.

There were agents at some of the continental ports and even working in some of the seminaries. These sent back information to London concerning those nearing ordination. Most of the students and priests used an alias to try to cover their tracks. Back home after six years the young priest would likely have the help of some patron to whom he acted as chaplain, perhaps disguised as one of the staff, if needs be. At the same time he would secretly minister to the spiritual needs of the people. It is likely that he would have the help of O’Sullivan Bere, who was a very devout man. Indeed he may have been a kinsman of the family, since he had the same name.

Soon after, of course, O’Sullivan Bere left the district with some of his followers on their long journey to Leitrim. The many known Mass-rocks all over the country are a mute testimony to the fugitive and lonely nature of the lives of the priest and people of those times. These were very heroic men and women who kept the faith alive in a dark period of our history.

The background to the Chalice is given in an official note by the National Museum as follows: “Very little is known of the history of this Chalice. It is thought to be identical with one stated to have been bought about the year 1854 by a Cork silversmith from a peasant who found it in a bog in Berehaven, West Cork. It was purchased by the Rev. James O’Sullivan, of Carey’s Lane Presbytery, Cork who gave it to the Rev. P.Hurley, P.P., Inchigeela. About 1910 it found its way for the second time into the Cork silver-market whence it came to the National Museum”. The Chalice is a very beautiful piece and highly ornamented. Robert Day J.P., FSA, MRIA, described in detail in an article in the ‘Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society’ in June, 1893.

“I am indebted to the kindness of the Rev. P. Hurley, P.P., of Inchigeela, for the privilege of examining a Chalice, which he had brought into Cork for some slight repair. While I will have much pleasure in attempting to describe this very beautiful cup, he will add its history, and tell our readers where it was found, and how it has been preserved. The chalice is silver overlaid with gold, and is 7 3/8 inches high. It rests upon a projecting hexagonal foot, with a continuous tongue ornament, and has a legend upon four of its six fan shaped sides. Sole. Deo Gloria in Nomine Tvo Dulcis Iesus Sa Ma P N. Four of these six spaces are completely filled with conventional lilies and fleur-delys, chased in low relief, and the two intervening spandrels have the crucified Redeemer, but in each case differently treated, and both are surrounded with the same lily ornament. In both he is figured with the feet crossed, and with the superscription I.N.R.I. In one the feet rest upon a skull and cross-bones, the well-known emblems of mortality, and of the one death so sure to all.

The knop is melon-shaped, with engraving of the same character, and with six well-defined grooves, which correspond with the projecting angles of the foot; and the cup which is 3 inches wide and 2 3/4 deep, springs from and rest in an open rose of six petals, which again correspond in number with the six swells of the knop and six spaces of the foot.

These have the same characteristics of ornamentation, but vary, because in each alternate space the Tudor rose is introduced, and in one, which is immediately over one of the crucifixions, there is in a canton, or small square frame, a pelican. This served to mark the side of the chalice which was immediately next to the celebrant, while the second emblems of the Passion were toward the communicant.

This most beautiful and lovely cup has the original gold matted down with a thick plate over its entire surface. It has underneath the foot the inscription: Cornelivs. 0 Sullyvan Sacerdos Me Fieri Fecit, 1597.

This cup bears no maker’s stamp, town mark, or hall mark. Were it of foreign manufacture it would have some such impress; had it been made in Dublin or London it would certainly have a hall mark - where, then, was it manufactured? I have no doubt upon my mind but that it was made in Cork. True, we have met with no example of Cork town-marked silver prior to 1650, and we never expect to do so, because the first recorded master of the Goldsmiths’ Guild in Cork was John Sharpe, in 1656.
This, however, is no reason why the silversmith’s art did not flourish fifty years previously. Indeed, the historical fact of the goldsmiths having been incorporated as a guild in the middle of the seventeenth century, proves that the art was well known and practised in Cork, and had become an established industry at that time.

As I have elsewhere stated, the marks adopted by the guild in 1656 were the Cork Arms in either one or in three separate stamps, and it is almost certain that the town marks were not used, and did not give the authenticity of standard value to the silver until the incorporation of the guild. Long before this period the art flourished, and silver was extensively made, and this cup, with its Tudor date, is just as we would expect to have found a Cork-made piece of silver destitute entirely and altogether of either maker’s or town marks.

A gentleman whose opinion I greatly value, and who has, perhaps, the widest experience in Cork, suggests that it is of Spanish make, but everything, in my opinion, is against this view. Cork was nearer to Castletown than to Spain. The Tudor rose would more probably be an emblem upon a Cork-made cup in Elizabeth’s reign than upon a Spanish Chalice. More-over, the Latin inscription upon the foot of the sacred vessel was placed there before the gold was applied, and the characters if its lettering corresponds exactly with the assumption that it was engraved by a resident of the British Islands, and not by a Spaniard or foreign workman.

On sending the proof-sheets of this paper to the Rev. P. Hurley, he replies by letter, and wishes to add that in one of the back numbers of this journal a question was asked concerning a certain Chalice found in a bog at Berehaven. This he believes to be the same Chalice. The tradition concerning it is that it was for sale at a Cork silversmith’s “and that there was a competition between the late Rev. James O’Sullivan, then of Careys Lane Presbytery, and the Rev. Dr. Neligan, to obtain it”. He also heard there was some correspondence in the Cork Constitution at the time regarding it, and adds that “Father O’Sullivan got it and gave it to me”.

It, like that found at Berehaven, is heavily gilt all over, and is of the same period. It rests upon a rose shaped foot of six petals, on the outer rim of which is the tongue ornament so common upon the Cork made chalices of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, above this, and surrounding the foot, is a band or fillet, upon which the faint and indistinct traces of the sixteenth century inscription can be seen, and springing from this platform is the hexagonal base, having two of its almost triangular spaces plain; two more have engraved ornaments of the Tudor period of a beautiful fioriated pattern; a fifth space is almost entirely filled by a coat-of-arms untinctured, and charged with three lions rampant; on a chief a crescent; crest, upon a wreath, a lion rampant; motto- non vivir/ufe melius.

The lamberquin of the helmet is thrown upward, and falls down in richly folded mantling that terminates in two tassels of the style used in the sixteenth century. I have searched in vain to identify these arms; they are not Papworth, and the motto is not given by Burke. It is also possible, from the information of the shield, that the crescent may not be upon a chief, but simply placed above the coat as a mark of difference.

The sixth remaining space is completely filled with a representation of the Crucifixion. Above the cross is the ineffable name of Jehovah; five drops of blood fall from the Saviour’s hands and side; a star is above each limb of the cross, and beneath are the temple and the towers of Jerusalem, and in the foreground the cross-bones and the skull.

The knop of this fine chalice is a double rose of six petals, on which are, in bold relief, alternate roses and descending doves, the typical emblems of the Holy Spirit. We have, thus upon this lovely chalice the three Persons of the ever Blessed Trinity – the name Jehovah, the crucified Redeemer, and the Holy Ghost. The cup part has the six rose-leaves continued and engraved, three of which are plain, two fioriated, and one engraved with the sacred monogram L.H.S. And above and underneath the lip the passage from Psalm cxv., verse 13, “I will take the chalice (cup) of salvation, and I will call upon the name of the Lord.”

Calicem: Salvtaris: Accipim: et: Nomen: Abo.

This chalice is 9 inches high and 5 inches wide at the foot. The cup is 3 inches high and wide. It has no hail, town, or maker’s mark, and – is, I have no doubt, from its shape, ornamentation, and surroundings, another specimen of Cork made plate, dating from zgo to 1610 (“Glory to the one God in Thy Name Sweet Jesus and Holy Mary pray for us”). “Cornelius O’Sullivan, priest had me made 1597.” If you are in Dublin some time, and you have time to spare, you might drop in to the National Museum to see a very interesting and important of our heritage. They will be pleased to see you.

Courtesy of the Southern Star