Tom Aherne and Eileen Morey with their versions of the Ardagh Chalice at the Gortboy Training Centre, Newcastle West Picture: Marie Keating
THE 150th anniversary of the finding of the Ardagh Chalice has unleashed a wave of community effort throughout the four communities it embraces, Ardagh, Carrigkerry, Kilcolman and Coolcappa.
But it has also unleashed a deep vein of artistic endeavour, inspiring the creation of quilts, the composing of songs, the making of videos and the production of an outdoor drama demanding a huge cast.
This artistic flourishing has encompassed people of all ages, including local historian and Limerick Leader columnist Tom Aherne.
Tom, always keen to expand his horizons, began a VTOS course at the Shanagolden Further Education Centre last year, with a huge emphasis on art. As part of his course, he spent time working with Eileen Morey, the arts and crafts tutor at the HSE Training Centre in Newcastle West, where he was determined to explore further the world of pottery.
“I knew nothing at all about pottery,” he explained. But under Eileen’s tutelage, he made a few pieces. “That led me on to thinking about making a facsimile of the Ardagh Chalice.”
The 8th century Ardagh Chalice, he pointed out has 354 separate elements. Tom’s chalice was to be made of pottery clay but the finished product has over 80 separate pieces.
“It took a long time,” Tom explained. “I had to do it in different stages.”
Tom’s model has the same proportions as the original, seven inches high and nine and a half inches across.
The body of the chalice was carefully hand-coiled, shaping and smoothing ribbons of clay into a bowl that was then painstakingly sanded. Then came the even trickier bit of firing it and getting the lustre glaze right. The first attempt at firing was a disaster and a special kiln had to be borrowed from Cork.
Ingenuity was also required to find the right decorative elements but, said Eileen of the finished piece of work: “It is exceptional.”
Tom’s fastidious attention to detail extended to making a beautiful display case box for the chalice.
Such was Tom’s enthusiasm for the undertaking that Eileen herself was also inspired to create an Ardagh Chalice, but unlike Tom, she poured the bowl of the chalice rather than hand-coiled it.
Tom Aherne’s Ardagh Chalice will be on display in Ardagh during the two weeks of celebrations to mark the finding of the chalice and other artefacts in Reerasta Fort in September 1869.