Mummies, Bog Bodies and Other Relics
Mummies, Bog Bodies and Other Relics
The Dear Departed on Display in Ireland
By Bernd Biege, About.com Guide
The Mummies of Saint Michan’s
Maybe the most celebrated mummies in Ireland … they have provided post-mortem thrills for visitors for more than a hundred years and may even have inspired Dublin writer Bram Stoker: the quite-well-preserved mummies in the crypts of Saint Michan’s Church. Now one of Dublin’s eeriest tourist attractions, they survived the centuries due to sheer luck – the locale simply led to mummification without any human intervention. Once stored, the bodies kept well. And acquired their own legends. So you are told that one is a crusader, the other a thief. Proof? Not really, but the stories are good. So good,that the story of Count Dracula may have evolved from them …
The Mummified Cat of Christ Church
Another church, another mummy … on display in Christ Church Cathedral are the mummified remains of a cat and its prey. Who got stuck in ductwork ages ago and kept remarkably well due to an accidental but ideal supply of dry air. Not quite as spectacular as the human colleagues in St. Michan’s across the river, but a curious memento mori nonetheless. The cathedral also held the mummified heart of Saint Lawrence O’Toole in a casket, but thieves made away with this sometime ago.
From the Bogs
Not mummified, but tanned and well-preserved: bog bodies are a Northern European speciality and have often met their untimely end in a gruesome, yet ritualistic fashion. Being killed thrice over seems to have guaranteed some sort of effect on those left behind, so the odd nobleman or king shuffled off the mortal coil this way. Mere commoners also slipped on their way home, drowned in the bogs and headed for some sort of accidental immortality this way. The National Museum in Kildare Street has dedicated the section “Kingship and Sacrifice” to the bog bodies found mainly in the midlands. Mostly in pieces. But at least on one occasion with a bouffant hair-do fully intact. Elvis has definitely not left this bog …
Dead Like an Egyptian
The small Egyptology collection of the National Museum in Kildare Street also includes mummies, the display is muted and concentrates on the trappings. Not breathtaking, but great if your kids have recently discovered classic horror flics or the Mummy-franchise.
Resting in Pieces
Saint Oliver Plunkett did not die an easy death – the anti-Catholic sentiments of English society in his day and a competent hangman made sure of that. An innocent martyr for the Catholic cause, Plunkett was literally torn apart in death. Which somehow explains his several resting places, part of his leg reposing on display in Oldcastle (near his ancestral home of Loughcrew),while his mummified head resides in Drogheda. Making for a quite gruesome display to be venerated by the faithful, the saint himself gazing less-than-serenely out of the glass casket his head rests in. Maybe one of the most morbid relics in Ireland, if for its shock value only.
More Ancient Egyptians
The Ulster Museum in Belfast has a sizeable collection of mummies and the restructured and very informative display gives visitors an insight into Egyptian funeral culture. Scientific and attractive, with no hint of unhealthy interest in the long departed. There are also mummified cats, though of a more dignified variety than that in Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral – after all, the felines were regarded as being godlike by the ancient Egyptians. Cats never stopped believing it themselves …
Any Old Irish Graveyard
On a slightly disturbing note … when you are visiting Irish graveyards of a certain vintage you may stumble upon (or over) the departed as well. Old burial sites are often dug up by animals, with collapsing crypts and vaults making it all the easier for them. So do not suspect satanic doings when you see a jawbone, a hip or even a skull lying about – it just is the way it is.