Monday, October 3, 2011

Strongbow & Deeds

Until now, I had only known of Strongbow as two things: firstly as a cider – must get some in if Tara is visiting – and secondly, as a Norman conqueror. I had no idea of his other role until I found a 1718 deed that read:

John JACKSON of Athy, Co. Kildare, Gent … lands of Currageen cont 630 acres, Barony of Kilkea and Moon, Co. Kildare… lives of said John JACKSON & Sarah his wife &  George DEACON of Athy, Gent… rent of 283 pounds 10 shillings to be paid at Strongbows tomb in Christ Church Dublin….

Why would rents need to be paid in the presence of Strongbow? Naturally, enquiring minds and all that, I hoofed it off to Christ Church Cathedral to see what I could suss out about all this.

Apparently, back in the 1180s, Strongbow and his Norman sidekicks kicked in funds to help pay for a complete rebuilding of Christ Church. Before then, it was nothing more than a wooden building. This time, it was built to last, in stone, and contained the whole nine yards:  room for a choir, transepts, the crypt, and chapels to St. Edmond - an East Anglia king who had died in 869; a chapel honouring  St. Mary aka Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus; and a chapel to Saint Lô, a saint who was known for healing blindness. All three seem good bets to have on board.

Strongbow's Tomb
Strongbow’s tomb is supposedly in the cathedral. I say supposedly because the original tomb was destroyed centuries ago when the south wall and roof collapsed in 1562. The tomb that currently honours him is actually an unrelated medieval tomb. It was probably that of some other Norman knight and had been moved from Drogheda and installed as a substitute for the tomb that had been turned into rubble. Window dressing, as it were. The presence of this ersatz tomb  is significant because Strongbow’s arrival marked the beginning of the ongoing English presence in Ireland.

Of course, business dealings are often one part smoke and mirrors, so it is perhaps appropriate that a fake tomb would become the place to show up at to sign legal documents. This practice was carried on from at least the sixteenth to the 18th centuries. I gather that the Cathedral back then was a hive of activity, much of it having nothing to do with religion.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Christ Church’s crypt was used as a market, a meeting place for business, and at one stage even a pub as a letter of 1633 shows: the vaults from one end of the minster to the other are made into tippling houses for beer, wine and tobacco.

If anyone reading this piece knows why deeds were signed in the presence of the fake tomb of Strongbow, I am all ears. Of course, what is not to like about a cathedral that has a silver corkscrew and silver wine sieves, and also a mummified cat that was found in an organ pipe along with a mummified rat that was found just out of reach of the cat.

The market activity has now moved outside the cathedral, but I can recommend the duck confit pie - the medium size is big enough for The Moi.
One of the food choices in the open space in front of the Cathedral


  1. It wasn't necessarily a call to sign papers over the Tomb as if a coven over a wishbowl. It was simply a reference to an address where the business of 'deeds' could be done and, in all likelihood, in the Crypt where business was conducted.