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The Laragh Heritage Church Pulpit Restoration

Mr. Gerry Caulfield

The woodwork, woodcarving and craftsmanship of this restored Church Pulpit is the sole handicraft of Mr. Gerry Caulfield whose talents took what were fragments of the original and by examination conserved the original parts within this restored pulpit to which artistic licence of new carvings were added to the many panels of the Pulpit.

St. Peter’s Panel : This panel shows a farmyard chicken and a little boat upon the water and is reminiscent of the local topography of Laragh and its environs, which is a landscape of small farms and farming families set amidst a lakeland country of many lakes and streams. This chicken is a farmyard rooster, his inspiration comes from the weather-vane on the Church spire, which shows a rooster or cockerel crowing.

This is the ‘Cockerel of Repentance’ shown on the panel standing aloft on the finial of the spire weather-vane, with a Cross held in his other clawed foot, crowing aloud. This is a reference from the Gospel of Matthew 26:75 ‘Then Peter remembered the words Jesus had spoken : “Before the cock crows, you will have denied Me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.’ The complimentary image is of St. Peter’s Barque or ‘fishing boat’ on the Sea of Galilee. Here again is another reference from the Gospel of Mark 1:17 ‘Come, follow Me, Jesus said’ “And I will make you Fishers of men.

The Holy Spirit Panel : This panel is carved with images of a Dove in ‘flight’ and a flowering plant swaying in the breeze. The Dove is the symbol of the Holy Spirit dedicated in this panel, here seen with a ‘sprig’ of Flax blossom carried in its beak. It is a reminder that God, the Holy Spirit often appeared in Holy Scriptures as a dove. Here a nice parallel is found in the ‘peace dove’ also reminding us, of our recent troubled past and the new dawn of Peace upon our Island of Ireland. The complimentary image is a Flax plant in blossom, caressed by a soft enveloping wind, this is ‘God’s Breath’ or ‘Wind from Heaven’ which are alternative images of the Holy Spirit. From the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11 “The apostles had all met in one room, when suddenly they heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven …..tongues of fire separated and came to rest upon the head of each of them. They were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak foreign languages…..”.

The Jesus Panel : This panel shows two Religious Symbols which have since the foundation of Christianity represented God, the Son in the person of Jesus Christ.

The first symbol (XP) is the Chi-Rho and represents a ‘coded name’ for JESUS CHRIST, it is known as the Christogram. The second symbol (I.H.S.) is the Sacred Monogram of Jesus Christ and comes from the Latin “In hoc signes (+) vinces” which translates “In this sign (the Cross of Christ) you will be victorious”. Early Christians in ancient Rome persecuted for their faith, developed a CODE for Christian messages which are still in use today – upon Church furniture, Church windows, Religious Art and so forth. These two symbols originally were placed on the now ‘lost’ wooden Altar of Saint Peter’s Church. And so have been incorporated into the new Pulpit. Sprigs of Yew and Holly leaves with berries adorn this Pulpit, these trees are to be found in the Churchyard, the Yew represents both ‘everlasting life through death’ and the Holly signifies the prickles and blood-drops created by the Crown of Thorns worn by Christ during His Crucifixion.

The Salvation Panel :  The panel has another farm animal, a young lamb seated and carrying a flag. This iconography is ‘the Lamb of God’ upon the sacrificial altar. The lamb is Jesus Christ whose blood sacrifice will wash away the sins of Mankind. The lamb carries the Banner of Resurrection, announcing that Jesus Christ rose again after death and ascended into heaven, reminding Christians that the promise of the Resurrection after death brings the eternity of a heavenly afterlife closer to them. The next image is a ‘stylised’ Fleur-de-Lys, the Flower of the Lily – a single flower of 3 petals, which the Church uses as an emblem for the Holy Trinity of three Gods in one God. It is repeated in the ornate stained glass windows and in the decorative ironwork of the Church gate. In addition, this symbol is an heraldic device used by families of French origin on their family armorials or ‘coats of arms’. Here the link is made to the McKean family of Laragh, the local Linen Mill owners and the builders of this tin tabernacle – it ties them to their French ancestors – the French Linen Milling family of ‘Joyeux’ or ‘Joy’ of Ballynahinch, County Antrim from whom also the United Irishman of Henry Joy McCracken was maternally descended.

The Laragh Heritage Panel : This is a secular panel showing Laragh’s Linen Milling Heritage of yesteryear. The panel depicts a water-wheel, one symbolic of the many waterwheels that turned the nineteen Linen Mills of the Parish of Aughnamullen of which the Linen Industry hub was at Laragh village where many hundreds worked. An image of a man, a ‘flax-scutcher’ busy scutching flax at his flax stall turning the woody flax plant into a fibrous ‘pony-tail’ of fibres for spinning and linen weaving. He represents here, the men, women and children – the millworkers of the Laragh Mill village and the wider Mills of Aughnamullen and is dedicated to our Ancestors.

Laragh Past & Future : This next secular panel shows a delicate impression in wood of the ‘tin tabernacle’ and represents Laragh’s past. It reminds us of those who once knew Laragh as a ‘vibrant’ place of work, of play, of people and of prayer. The accompanying image of the Theatre Masks invokes the many future uses of this Church as a space in a wooded glen for the performing Arts of music, song, dance, storytelling, drama and such like. The two ‘faces’ of the Theatre Masks represent the Roman God ‘Janus’ concept of old endings and new beginnings, of ‘past and future’. This is a ‘new beginning’ for the tin tabernacle of Saint Peter’s Church at Laragh with many possible future uses in this special place, restored and conserved in this former House of God and now in modern use as a ‘temple theatre !’.

It is the imaginations working in unison of the Laragh Heritage Group that devised and developed the carved designs of this unique Laragh Heritage Church Pulpit. Designs that were developed, embellished, remodelled and worked up in paper sketches, with and before the woodcarving of Mr. Gerry Caulfield put wood chisel to wood, to ‘pare’ them into Ornate Beings !

Laragh Heritage Group, 16th June 2017.

Tin Church Pulpit Sketch
Above a sketch by local artist P.J. McCabe of Carrickmacross outlining in a fine sketch his memory of what the destroyed Laragh Pulpit once looked like.

A research period was undertaken initially to determine if any maker’s drawings, design sketches, descriptions or other existed of this piece of Church furniture.

In addition – photographs of the exterior and interior of the Church were sought – particularly of the interior and the Pulpit if they existed.

Interviews were conducted with the past congregation of the Church of St. Peter’s Anglicans. Likewise interviews with the elder citizens of Laragh village, the McKean family and meetings were held with the former family members of past Rectors of Laragh with the possibility of family photo albums holding interior pictures of Laragh Church. Advertisements for information were placed in the local newspapers seeking assistance with this reconstruction of the Pulpit and the National Photographic Archive and the Representative Church Body of Dublin and the Anglican Bishop of Clogher were all sought for additional information. Many other repositories and experts were also consulted for advice and information. Sadly all was for ‘nought’ as no clear picture emerged of the original Laragh Church Pulpit and the snippets of information gathered did not form a consensus save in one point that the Pulpit had ‘arches’. There was equal disagreement between memories recalled upon whether the arches were ‘open’ or ‘closed with timber panelling’.


A sub-group of members of the Laragh Heritage group came together for the purpose of gathering ‘Primary Evidence’, collecting memories of the original Pulpit design and especially to visit other Anglican Churches to photograph, measure, examine and record the many variations of wooden Church Pulpits in the Church of Ireland.

So, what information was collected from oral lore and surviving memories ?

It was remembered that the many sided Pulpit which is a polygon of seven sides (Heptagon) sat upon a rocky outcrop within the nave of the Church. The pulpit had a Bible lectern upon which to rest the Bible while reading the Sacred Texts. Upon the upper surface of the pulpit sat a ‘crimson red cushion edged with gold braiding’ shaped to fit the polygon upper plinth of the pulpit. This pulpit cushion complimented the church pew ‘kneelers’ or kneeling cushions, which were of the same material and colours. About the pulpit was a ‘frieze’ of beadwork carving. In addition a batten of wood surmounted the pulpit into which were set a metal typeface in ‘Old English Gothic’ script. This Sacred Text was taken from the Gospel of Matthew 16 : 18-19.

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

A portion of this batten was retrieved and kept by Mr. Ian Collie of Castleblayney. One individual thought he remembered a wooden Cross placed on the front of the pulpit. But a study of the pulpit fragments revealed that the pulpit had open arches even though collected memories equally recalled its arches as both ‘open’ and ‘closed with timber panelling’. The original pulpit had only on its exterior the surmounted batten with the Sacred Text from Matthew’s Gospel and perhaps a Cross placed on the pulpit front surface. The conserved and restored pulpit is in shape, structure and design as close in imitation to the original Victorian pulpit. The original Victorian pulpit fragments have been conserved and incorporated into the present restored pulpit structure. Only ONE fundamental difference separates the original design from the new design and that is ‘artistic licence’. The original had no carved images or symbols, this is a modern inclusion of six carved panels of religious & secular themes.

Tin Church Pulpit Sketches
Artwork sketches on paper of intended woodcarvings by Mr. Gerry Caulfield.