ALMOST a century and a half after the rediscovery of the Ardagh Chalice, the community where it was found is staking its claim and putting itself firmly back on the heritage map.
This Saturday evening, a six-foot high monument marking that historic find will be unveiled in the grounds of Ardagh’s church.
And afterwards, the community will celebrate together in the local hall.
The idea for some kind of memorial to mark and commemorate the finding of what was to become one of Ireland’s most iconic treasures, really began to gain traction while work was underway on refurbishing another local landmark, St Molua’s well.
But, says Mary Kury, chairwoman of the Ardagh Chalice committee, things really began to move last August when Jack McKenna, a stonemason and sculptor who lives locally, was asked to work on a carved memorial stone.
“It was Mary who designed it,” Mr McKenna revealed this week. “It didn’t take that long to do but in the wintertime, I wouldn’t work on it. That kind of work would freeze your hands.”
“I was very pleased to be asked,” he added. “When I came to live in Ardagh some years ago, I was surprised there was nothing to represent the finding of the Ardagh chalice. A group of us got together and I am delighted with the result.”
“For me it was a labour of love. The enthusiasm and help of local people was unbelievable from start to finish. Everything went smoothly and unlike what Brendan Behan said about all Irish committees, there were no splits. Nothing like that happened.”
Mary Kury echoed Mr McKenna’s point about the level of local support for the project.
“It has been a pleasure to be involved, it has been so popular,” she said.
Funding for the project came through local Irish nights, a church gate collection and the Limerick Arts Office but mainly through individual donations. “People came forward and gave us money,” she said.
John Hough, a local historian whose account of the Ardagh Chalice has been reprinted to co-incide with this weekend’s celebrations, is also delighted with the new memorial.
He recalled there was an event held in 1993 to mark the 125th anniversary of the finding of the Ardagh Hoard, which included two chalices and four brooches but there was nothing permanent to mark the event.
Now, the new memorial testifies to the day in September 1868 when the chalice and other artefacts were found by two men, Jim Quin and Paddy Flanagan, out digging potatoes. The find was made in the ancient fort or rath at Reerasta.
And in a neat coincidence, the man who will deliver the lecture on the find this Saturday evening is from the same townland. He is Damien Shiels, archaelogist and former assistant keeper of medieval artefacts at the National Museum.
Saturday’s celebrations begin at 7.30pm with a concelebrated Mass, led by Bishop Brendan Leahy.
This will be followed by the unveiling at 8.15 which will be carried out by the parish’s oldest residents, Bridie Kiely and Paddy Duggan.
After this everyone will head for the local hall for Mr Shiel’s lecture at 8.30pm, followed by refreshments and music.
The hope is that the replica of the Ardagh Chalice, now in the Hunt Museum, will travel to Ardagh for Saturday’s events. The original is held by the National Museum in Dublin.