Statue of St Molaise

Discover the purpose, role and meaning of this oak statue of St Molaise from the Curator's Choice exhibition

Where to Find the Object

The statue is straight in front of you as you enter the Curator's Choice Gallery from the north end of the west block (i.e. coming from reception).

St Molaise Statue

The Story Behind the Object

This is an oak statue of St Molaise. The back of the statue is hollowed out. It dates from the 13th to 14th century. The maker of the statue is unknown.
St Molaise was an Irish bishop who founded a monastery on the island of Inishmurray, Co Sligo in the 6th century. He died in 638 AD. Molaise is the patron saint of the island. His feast day is celebrated on the 12th of August. The statue was found in ‘Teach Molaise’, a large piece of masonry known as ‘St Molaise’s Bed’ on Inishmurray.
The statue was donated to the Museum in 1949 for safe keeping when the last of the islanders left Inishmurray to live on the mainland in 1948. Inishmurray lies five miles off the northwest coast of Sligo. It is no longer populated.

Learning from Looking

  • What is the statue made of and how was it made?
  • Is there much detail in the statue? Look at it closely from both sides. Describe it.
  • Is the statue lifelike? What words would you use to describe it? For example, does the statue look friendly / scary / powerful / serious?

Geographic Context

  • What counties are situated on the west coast of Ireland? Answer: From the north-west to south-west: Donegal, Leitrim, Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Clare, Limerick, Kerry, Cork
  • Can you think of any islands near your home town/area?

Truth Vs Myth

  • The back of the statue is hollowed out. This has probably been done to prevent the statue from warping.
  • There is a story, however, told by the islanders that (during penal times in the 18th century) the statue was used as a boat to allow Catholics to escape their persecutors.
  • Another story told by the islanders was that in the early 19th century the figure was stolen by soldiers, carried out to sea and used for rifle practice after which it was thrown overboard and set adrift. The next morning it was back in the church.
  • What do you think of the above stories?
  • Do you believe any of these stories?
  • Is the statue big enough to hold people?
  • Do you think it matters whether the stories are true or false?
  • Why might someone invent stories like these?
  • Historians and museum professionals try to discover the ‘real’ story of objects. Why do they do this?

Imagination and Empathy

  • Why do you think someone might have carved a statue like this?
  • Do you think the statue would have been saved if it had been left on the island?
This might help to trigger a discussion on how and why things come
into the Museum.