A medieval wooden stature of St Molua at St Molua’s Church, Killaloe, Ballycallan, Kilkenny

St Molua’s Church, Killaloe, Ballycallan Parish, Kilkenny, is not to be confused with St Molua’s Church in the other Killaloe in Country Clare. And indeed one must not confuse Molua with Mo Lua of Killaloe – of whom an unsourced statement on Wikipedia claims: “Local Historians note of stories that tarnished the Saint’s reputation in his time, those being that he had fathered many children to the daughter of a local Eóganachta Chieftain in County Clare. These children were named locally as Ó Maoldomhnaigh which in turn birthed the family name of Moloney.”

Catriona MacLeod, in a 1946 paper in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaires of Irelanddescribes the statue as among only five extant medieval wooden statues of Irish saints. What is extraordinary is that, unless I am in some way mistaken (is this a replica?), the statue of St Molua is simply there at the back of the church, without any indicative plaque or such I could find:

Here is MacLeod, from the paper cited, above, on St Molua and this statue:

At Killaloe, Co Kilkenny, there is preserved the figure of St Lughaigh, affectionately called Molua, another renowned saint of the 6th century, Molua was sent all the way to the celebrated Comhgall at Bangor for his education. Later he became the soul-friend of such Welsh spiritual leaders as David, Colmoc and Madoc. Today he is especially remembered as follower of Gildas, in upholding the principle of personal asceticism and the Monastic Rule as the greatest means to a deep religious life. In this latter respect his reputation stood so high that St Bernard attributed to him the foundation of a hundred monasteries. Amongst these the most famous were Drumsnatt in Monahan, founded on his way home from Bangor College, and Ross Buailigh in Ossory. There he buit the monastery and pilgrim hostel later to become, through the fame of his sanctity, the “celebrated city”, Clonfertmulloe. There, after a long life of prayer, labour and study, distinguished be extraordinary asceticism, he died at a great age, on August 4, 607 A.D.

At Killaloe a field is still pointed out as the site of another monastery Molua founded and used to visit on his way to and from Limerick. Beside it a holy well and chapel are dedicated to him. In the sacristry of this chapel a wooden statue of the saint is now kept. It is of oak, measures about 5 ft in height and the back is hollowed out so deeply as to l eave only a thin wooden shell. Both arms are unfortunately missing and the base is worn away. The crown of the head, which was much decayed, has been repaired with plaster; and modern paint conceals the original expression of the eyes. Despite these defects this statue remains of very great interest. To me it seems a clear example of what we have already described as the Celtic expression in art. The rigid form, elongated neck, the formalised and decorative treatment of the chasuble folds separate this statue from Continental, English or Anglo-Irish work. These characteristics on the other hand appear to relate it to the stylised figures of native workmanship familiar to us in manuscripts, metal work and stone sculpture of the pre-Invasion period. There is, moreover, stamped upon the features of the St Molua statue that asceticism already noticed on the face of St Molaise [previously in this paper MacLeod considered this statue found at Inishmurray, Co. Sligo] which seems to be a characteristic of native sculpture.

Rev. Mr James Graves pronounced this carving to be “fully as old as the 13th Century” The archaic shape of the eyes, the very highly placed brows and the long narrow chasuble ending in an oval point all offer corroborative evidence of Graves’s opinion. Good example of the 13th century chasuble as represented in Norman sculpture are still preserved on the façade of Wells Cathedral.

The statue of St Molua was according to custom in the guardianship of hereditary custodians or Erennachs – the Haydens at Killaloe. They brought the figure on the saint’s pattern day, to the Holy Well, the centre for assembling pilgrims.

During road repairs about 1760 the well was destroyed and the Hayden’s calling, as guardians of the statue there, fell away. After some years they gave it to the safe keeping of the Butlers whose cottage is close to the present chapel. The Butlers preserved it for more than a hundred years, some alleging that they kept it buried under the floor for safety. Eventually they gave it to the local clergy. Since the destruction of the well St Molua’s pattern has ceased and the old statue is no longer shown to the faithful. But in the chapel a modern figure of the saint holding a little moss-edged well in the right hand shows that the age-old devhttps://www.libraryireland.com/topog/E/Emly-Grenan-Costlea-Limerick.phpotion to Molua, “the Royal Holy, champion”, still persists. St Molua is also venerated at Kilmallock and Emly Grenan in Limerick, his father’s county, whence he first came to evangelise Upper Ossory.

Here are some more views:

In the narthex we find the modern statue of St Molua clutching the moss-edged well as mentioned by MacLeod above:

Above the choir balcony there is a stained glass window based on the wooden sculpture. This was a little hard to photograph from inside as the choir balcony was closed. Here is a magnified detail of what I could manage:

And here is a view from outside:

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