Brendan Grace at the launch of the An Post Ardagh Chalice Stamp at the Newcastle West Post Office Pictures: Sean Curtin/True Media
“THIS is a very unique occasion. How often do you get a chance to have an evening out in your local post office where you can enjoy tea and wine and good company?”, declared broadcaster and teacher Seamus Hennessy in Newcastle West post office.
“I hope it will remain in your memory for years to come.”
Seamus, and his postmistress aunt, Dora Histon, were hosting a local launch of An Post’s Ardagh Chalice stamp on Monday evening, designed to mark 150 years since the chalice was dug up at Rearasta Fort in Ardagh.
Up to 200 people turned out to mark the occasion, and to enjoy a rare and heady mix of historical fact, local pride, conviviality and high humour.
Guests were treated to a master-class on the astounding craftmanship that went into creating the Ardagh Chalice about the year 725 by former National Museum director, Pat Wallace.
Some 250 elements went into its creation, he explained, making it “the most famous chalice in the world and certainly the most beautiful”.
And as he detailed some of these elements, describing the intricacy of the work, he challenged his audience to imagine the workshop where the chalice was made, and the man who created the chalice without the aid of any magnifying glass.
He achieved something “which would be impossible today”, Mr Wallace said.
He also placed the Ardagh Chalice in its historical context in Limerick, and debunked the notion that it had been created in Kerry.
“I was always very proud, as a native of Limerick that the greatest object in the most neglected institution in the country, is from our own county,” he declared to the delight of the audience, recalling some of the famous people to the National Museum to whom he had explained the story of the chalice.
And he paid tribute to An Post for acknowledging such a treasure on one of its iconic stamps.
Earlier, Dr Paddy Fullam, “a proud native son of Ardagh”, formally welcomed Dr Pat Wallace and put forward some of his own thoughts about why it was buried in a fort and the close call of its finding.
“Sometimes the difference between triumph and disaster can be a matter of millimetres,” he said, pointing out that the two men who were lifting the Widow Quinn’s potatoes in the Rearasta Fort in September 1868 could have hit the Ardagh Chalice with their shovel or fork. Luckily, however, he said, they first struck a bronze chalice.
He speculated too about why the fort itself, generally regarded with superstitious caution, was being used for potatoes.
Perhaps, in the aftermath of the Great Hunger he said, the Widow Quinn thought the fort would protect her crop from blight.
Dr Matthew Potter, of the Limerick Museum, explained to the audience the story behind the museum’s replica Ardagh Chalice which was on display in the post office on Monday evening. “It is rather a modest replica,” he said, “but the closest we have to the Ardagh Chalice.”
“It is fantastic to see the significance of the find of the Ardagh Chalice being marked by An Post,” said Minister of State, Patrick O’Donovan who had been alerted by Dr Wallace to the existence of Uibh Ghéinne, the tribe of O’Donovans in the Shanagolden Ardagh area around the time the chalice was made.
He wasn’t trying to take credit for it, he joked, but he pointed out with some pride, that his late father and grandfather, had come from Ardagh.
He pledged to try to bring the Ardagh Chalice “back to Limerick soil” on this anniversary year.