Medieval Yale

Carved image from Aughrim

Christy Cunniffe

Aughrim Yale
Christy Cunniffe

This spectacular pair of late medieval carved beasts are incorporated into the gable of an old stone barn in the townland of Cartron part of the parish of Aughrim. The imagery consists of a pair of yale with intertwined necks. Both beasts bear a curved horn and are shown biting the tip of their own tail. A small triquetra knot is also included in the right corner of the scene.

A pair of yale are also carved on the west doorway of nearby Clontuskert Abbey. High quality relief carving of this calibre is a feature of the Augustinian Houses in Clonfert Diocese. Knowledge of this piece of carving furthers our understanding of the extent and quality of carved ornament of late medieval date in Clonfert Diocese. Other fragments of dressed stone also occur on the site. Several punched dressed blocks have been reused as bases for wooden door frames. One of the reused stones contains part part of an ogee headed window. Aughrim Priory has totally disappeared. It was likely damaged during the Battle of Aughrim as it was quite close to the O’ Kelly Castle which suffered extensive cannon damage. Nothing survives of the original site where the Church of Ireland church is; though some window fragments and sections of a rood screen do survive at the old medieval? Catholic church. It is argued here that the remaining material was quarried and at least some of it used in the construction of Cartron House and its outhouses.

The yale is a mythical beast found in medieval church art, though its symbolism is not understood. A very fine example in oak can be seen on the seat of a medieval misericord in St Mary’s Cathedral Limerick. It is likely that the Aughrim example originally formed part of sculptural detail of the west doorway of the priory similar to the Clontuskert example. It is likely that other carved sculpture still remains to be discovered.

This page was added on 16/06/2016.

Comments about this page

  • Great information – never heard of a Yale before. Are they found throughout Ireland?

    By John (04/07/2016)
  • Yes John. I have a few added to my Facebook post and another few examples were posted by others. The best example in my opinion is one on the underneath of a medieval choir stall in St Mary’s Cathedral Limerick.

    By monument (04/07/2016)

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