The essays in this volume are devoted to the art and architecture of Munster, one of the four ancient provinces of Ireland. Most were presented as papers at the British Archaeological Association’s 2008 conference, held in Limerick in July 2008, an occasion that provided an opportunity for British and Irish scholars to share ideas about a remarkable range of works that are not well known outside Ireland.
Limerick Cathedral is much to the fore in the volume, with important papers on its fabric, its splendidly preserved misericords and the lavish crosier and mitre of the bishops. Other essays are concerned with some of the more distinctive aspects of Ireland – Hiberno-Romanesque sculpture, the well preserved cloisters of the Franciscan friaries, the mighty fortress at Bunratty and the numerous small castles or tower houses. Analysed in print for the first time is the eclectic array of medieval stained glass, inserted into the windows at Bunratty during restoration of the monument in the 1950s.
A major theme underpinning many of the essays is the degree to which Irish craftsmen and builders engaged with the rest of Europe, and the nature of their relationship with English practice. The extent to which the advent of Gothic was a colonial phenomenon, an inevitable consequence of the Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland after 1170, is likewise considered, so too the extent to which Ireland developed its own identity in architecture and sculpture in the later middle ages. While travellers from abroad regarded Ireland as one of the most remote regions of the western world, ‘situated at the end of the earth’, these essays make it clear that the province of Munster was still very much an integral part of Christian Europe.