Thursday, September 07, 2017

A MAGNIFICENT Celtic cross that was hand-carved in Stradbally is on its way to the USA.

The imposing 15-foot monument will be erected at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, having been commissioned from Laois master craftsmen.

Featuring traditional Celtic designs, the cross will have a central place in the grounds of the university, whose athletic teams are known as The Notre Dame Fighting Irish’.

Once the cross is installed, an exhibition describing its extraordinary journey from Laois to Indiana will be launched by the university. The photographic exhibition will be titled ‘The Irish-American Celtic Cross: A journey to America and to the University of Notre Dame’.

The beautiful limestone cross was hand-carved at C&D Moran Stone Works in Stradbally, where three generations of the Moran family are among the last traditional stone craftsmen in Ireland.

The business on Main Street was opened in 1976 by Christopher Moran, who started his apprenticeship with the late Jimmy McKeown in 1960 and honed his craft before striking out on his own.

His son Darren followed in his footsteps and has been followed in turn by his son Christopher Jnr (16), who is learning stone-sculpting skills from his father and grandfather during school holidays.

The Morans are among only a few craftsmen in Ireland who still carve in the traditional way, using hand tools rather than mechanised cutters and forging their own tools at the premises in Stradbally. While their main business is headstones, they also get regular commissions for more unusual craftwork. Their traditional skills and use of local limestone were the principal reasons they were selected for the American project.

Darren recalls: “The commission was very specific in that they wanted only Irish limestone and Irish hand-carvers. The stone came from McKeown’s quarry in Threecastles, Co Kilkenny, which is regarded as the best limestone in Europe and the carvings follow a series of drawings that were sent to us by the university.”

The cross took about four months to complete and features a variety of traditional Celtic designs that were specifically requested by Notre Dame.

Founded by a French priest in 1842, the Catholic research university is particularly famous for its athletic teams called ‘The Notre Dame Fighting Irish’, whose unusual mascot is a leprechaun. Students at the university come from all 50 states and more than 100 countries, including Ireland.

The Laois cross will be erected in the sprawling 1,250-acre university grounds, where the second and final phase of the ‘Charles B. Hayes Family Sculpture Park’ is currently nearing completion. The park will include a variety of sculptures, meandering paved pathways, extensive green areas and a natural stone amphitheatre for concerts, poetry readings and tour groups.

The Celtic cross has just been transported from Stradbally to Dublin Port and is on its way across the Atlantic. The story of its long journey, from quarrying of the stone in Threecastles to carving in Stradbally and arrival in Indiana, will be related in the exhibition that is expected to open later this year.

It is not known for certain where the ‘Fighting Irish’ nickname for Notre Dame teams originated, although many theories include the possibility that it was inherited from Irish immigrant soldiers during the American Civil War. The third president of Notre Dame, Fr William Corby, was chaplain of the Irish Brigade and granted general absolution to the troops during the famous Battle of Gettysburg.

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By Carmel Hayes
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