Extract from

The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland

VOL. XXXV. CONSECUTIVE SERIES
[VOL. XV. FIFTH SERIES]
1905



MISCELLANEA. 419

The Frescoes, Abbey Knockmoy, County Galway. In a note on
these drawings in the last volume of the Journal, pp. 248-253, I
mentioned that evidence was not then forthcoming that they had been
coloured except by damp and vegetation, and that they were only
outline drawings. In a Paper published in volume XI. (1870) of the
Journal of this Society, entitled, " Memoir of Gabriel Beranger and his
labours in the cause of Irish Art, Literature, and Antiquities, from
1760 to 1780, with illustrations by Sir W. E. Wilde, M.D., Vice-
President of the Royal Irish Academy," at page 241 is given
Beranger's description of his visit to Knockmoy in July, 1790, accom-
panied by Signer Bigari, an artist of great ability, who was then
engaged preparing plans and drawings for illustrating the now well-
known volumes by Francis Grose, F.S.A., entitled, "The Antiquities of
Ireland," published by Hooper in the following year. Bigari, who was
an Italian fresco-painter, said to have " done great works of the kind
abroad," assured them, "after a nice inspection, that they had never
been coloured, and that the spots of various hues were occasioned by
time and damp." Beranger says, " "We had heard much of these ancient
fresco-paintings, and, on inspection, were much disappointed, as they
-are bare, black outlines."

Sir William Wilde adds, writing in 1879 : " Their present condition
certainly confirms this opinion, although in my description of them in
the ' Catalogue of the Antiquities of the Royal Irish Academy,' p. 350,
I mentioned the green and yellow colours because I was describing the
coloured copy of the painting which was made by Mr. Mac Manus for
the first Dublin Exhibition, and which then hung in the Academy."

From the present condition of these drawings it would be a matter
of great difficulty to determine their original colouring. Beranger
and Bigari examined them in July, 1790, and asserted that "they
had never been coloured," and that they were bare, black outlines.
O'Donovan (1838) examined the two "inscriptions in fresco, and found
the wall damp, and very much stained ; a black scum was raised
in it by the dripping of the rain." Eugene Curry, and his son
Henry, visited the abbey, in company with Mr. Lentaigne, on the
llth June, 1853, but were apparently chiefly concerned with the
inscriptions.

The evidence as to colouring being negative in character, I was
obliged, reluctantly, to adopt Sir William Wilde's later opinion, espe-
cially as it coincided with my own observations and knowledge of the
frescoes during the past thirty years ; and, following the traditions
and printed statements of the last fifty years, I had referred to the
drawings made in the spring of 1853 as the work of the late Henry
Mac Manus, K.H.A., and quoted the statements of Beranger and Bigari
as conclusive as to the character of the wall drawings.

My note on Abbey Knockmoy having come to the notice of Mr. James

2F2



420 ROYAL SOCIETY OF ANTIQUARIES OF IRELAND.

Brenan, K.H.A., he has been good enough to give the fullest particulars
on two important points first, as to the condition of the colouring in
1853; and, secondly, as to the authorship of the drawings which Sir
"William "Wilde described as having been executed by Mac Manus, and
exhibited at the first Dublin Exhibition in 1853. Mr. Brenan's note
on these points speaks for itself. The copy of the drawings is now in.
the Museum in Kildare Street. It is very faint in outline, with scarcely
a trace of colour, and is not capable of being reproduced by means of a
process block for illustration in the Journal. ROBERT COCHRANE.



A Note on Abbey Knockmoy, County Galway. I have read
with great interest the notes on Abbey Knockmoy and its frescoes by
Mr. R. Cochrane (Journal, vol. xxxiv., pp. 242-253). There are one or
two matters in relation to the frecoes which appear to me to require a little
elucidation. In the spring of 1853 I accompanied the late Sir John
Lentaigne and Henry Mac Manus, B.H.A., to Tuam ; from thence we went
to Abbey Knockmoy. A scaffold had been erected in front of the* frescoes
and I covered the wall where they were with tracing-linen, and carefully
traced every line of them in pencil. I remember finding portions of two
figures, which are not in the illustration in Ledwich's "Antiquities "
which book we had with us. At that date it was quite easy to see the
different colours which had been used on the dresses of the figures. I
had no difficulty whatsoever in noting them. There was no light and
shade; there was a black outline surrounding the figures, but this had
been filled in with flat colour to distinguish the different garments.
On my return to Dublin I made the copy, full size, which was hung in
the Exhibition of 1853, and there was nothing fanciful whatsoever about
it. I simply used the colours where I found them on the walls ; and I
had no difficulty in distinguishing between damp stains and local colour.
I left Dublin shortly after this, and did not know what had become
of the copy. About a year before Miss Margaret Stokes died, she called
on me at the School of Art, and asked me if I could give her any
information about Abbey Knockmoy. " Why did you come to me ?" said
I ; " has anyone told you that I know anything about it ?" She said,
"No ; no one had told her, but she just thought it was possible that I
may have known something about it." I then told her how that I had
been there, and had made the copy for the Exhibition. The next
business was to find what had become of the copy. After some
inquiries on her part, and on mine, we discovered the canvas folded
into a heap in the crypt of the National Museum. It had been handed
over to the Museum authorities with the collection of the Royal Irish
Academy. On opening it a cloud of dust was raised, and I am sorry to
say that the tempera I had used (size) had not been a success. Nothing
remained but portions of the outlines of some of the figures. If it had



MISCELLANEA. 421

not been folded up, no doubt it would have been in better preservation.
Miss Stokes told me later on that she had the remains sprayed with a
fixatif in order to preserve them. Of the tracings we could get no
tidings, and cannot say what has become of them. I went to visit
Abbey Knockmoy soon after Miss Stokes' s visit to me, and it was sad
to see the change which had taken place in the frescoes ; in fact, I may
say, they are almost destroyed. More damage has been done to them
in the last fifty years than in all the preceding centuries. JAMES



Back to the Drawings on the wall of Abbey Knockmoy, Co. Galway, Ireland, 15th Century.