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Abbey wall paintings


Since 1990, the medieval wall paintings in the chancel vault and walls of St. Brigid's Abbey, Clare Island, have been the subject of a large-scale conservation project, financed by the Department of Arts, Heritage , Gaeltacht and the Islands (now Duchas).

The conservators in charge of the project, Madeleine Katkov and Christof Oldenbourg along with their international team, have been working to clean and stabilize these unique and fragile paintings. The climactic conditions inside and outside the abbey do not favour their protection.  Extremely high levels of humidity coupled with condensation and the formation of various salts from the addition of a cement floor above the vault in the 1950's (by the Office of Public Works) have resulted in quite serious damage. 

However, after many years now of painstaking and dedicated work, and with the chancel rendered with a lime wash, the conservation project will be coming to a close in 1999. 

Not only have the paintings that T.J. Westropp drew some 85 years ago once again become recognizable, but new paintings, unseen by Westropp have been discovered.  There are only three other examples of medieval wall-paintings in Ireland.  The ones on Clare Island can be regarded as the most important. 

The next Clare Island Symposium will attempt to bring together various experts and interested parties to explore the possible hagiography of the paintings. In addition,  a European Heritage Campus will take place next summer, in which the students will help the conservators with a management plan and pedagogical and visual forms of interpretation.  During the last Campus in 1996, a number of interpretive representations of the paintings were made and we reproduce some of them here.


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