Historical piece for ACU collection

An Irish Provincial Chalice, dated 1643, will become an important part of the university’s art collection.

This exquisite religious object in the form of “A Charles I Irish Silver Recusant’s Communion Cup”, measuring just shy of 20cm in height, is of significant historical interest.

An inscription on its base reads, “This Challice was made for Terlagh O Briene and Ellinorie Brieñe of Comoragh the 26th of 8bre [ie October] 1643.” The year 1643 found Ireland in turmoil, as the Irish Confederate Wars between Catholic landowners and English administration under Charles I had commenced in earnest.

Records are scarce but the researcher John O’Hart recorded in his Irish Pedigrees; or, The Origin and Stem of The Irish Nation, first published in Dublin in 1876, that in the early years of the 17th Century, “‘Terlagh O Briene ... of Comoragh’ of the chalice inscription, was Anthony O'Brien's son, Terlagh of Comeragh Castle, co. Waterford.” 'Ellinorie' (Eleanor) was probably his wife. By 1641 Comeragh Castle was in the hands of Derby, son of Terlagh O'Brien.

Derby O'Brien was eventually taken prisoner and died in captivity in 1656 while four of his five sons, in defence of their Comeragh estate, later succumbed to Cromwell’s hangmen.

It is not known for certain what happened to Terlagh and Eleanor O'Brien but, according to the Rev. Patrick K. Egan, who authored ‘Clonfert Museum and its Collections’, published in the Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, the chalice eventually came into the possession of James Raftery of Woodlawn, co. Galway.

The hexagonal foot of the chalice is engraved on one side by a Crucifix below “INRI”, and flanked by Instruments of the Passion: a spear, and a sponge on a stick, together with a ladder, a cat-o'-nine-tails, a pair of pliers, a hammer, and a flay above a skull and crossbones.

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Greg Craven, is particularly proud of this wonderful piece, and Curator, Caroline Field, acknowledges that the chalice, with its beauty and form, and restrained yet captivating engraving, will become an important part of the university’s art collection.

While strongly representative of its era, the item addresses the core of the university’s mission, and it will be placed within the Chapel Collection catalogue.


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