Friday, May 30, 2014

A statue of a king with horse's ears, perhaps

On a trip to Armagh with Cork Astronomy Club I missed the tour of Armagh Observatory but in the crypt of Armagh protestant cathedral I was delighted to find this statue. The photo, I fear, is unprepossessing, but it's the best I could do. It's either of Lowry Lynch or Queen Macha.  I hope it's Lowry Lynch, because I like his story, which I'll outline in a minute.

The protestant (Church of Ireland) cathedral is built on Ard Macha – the Hill of Macha, which gives Armagh its name.  It is this hilltop enclosure which St Patrick is said to have acquired and within which he built his first ‘Great Stone Church’.  If that story is true, there's been a church on this site since the 5th century.

Armagh Church of Ireland Cathedral
As to Macha, she was an ancient goddess, or a warrior queen, a key figure in the Ulster Cycle, a series of pre-Christian tales that have deep historical significance for Armagh. These tales are the spiritual account of the early Celtic people of Ulster and tell of legendary warrior heroes and heroines who fought great battles against Queen Maeve and the warriors of Connaught. 

Horse’s ears

The statue is medieval and eroded and stands between two and three feet high.  It was found somewhere on the site, but I couldn’t find out much more about it; perhaps not much more is known. The cathedral guide, a very helpful fellow who took me on a personal conducted tour of the crypt, told me the statue is either a bare-breasted Queen Macha holding her bow aloft, or else King Lowry Lynch holding out his horse’s ears.  Lowry Lynch was ashamed of his horse’s ears and each time he had his hair cut he put the barber to death so he couldn’t tell. But at length his shameful secret was told by a singing harp, and Lowry Lynch repented of all the barbers he had put to death and admitted his shameful secret.

And maybe, the cathedral guide told me, this statue is him doing just that, in an it's-a-fair-cop gesture.

For the full Lowry Lynch tale and the Greek myth of King Midas on which it is based, you can read a children’s story I've written.

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