At St. Patrick’s church last night, 27th January, the official handover to the Waterford Museum of Treasures of the ‘mermaid stone’ that was found in the church in 2013 took place.
Kilkenny Archaeology’s Cóilín Ó Drisceoil presented the stone to Eamonn McEneaney of the Waterford Museum of Treasures, it will be placed on display in the coming months in the award winning Medieval Museum. The stone is carved with about 2/3 of a hybrid bird/fish mermaid with her wings spread behind her head and perhaps a headdress. Her arms are represented by volutes and each arm holds a bell instrument. Her hair, face and breasts are crudely incised and the top of a scaled tail is just visible below the base of the body. Bulbous tail terminals on either side of the body show the mermaid originally had a double tail. The carving probably originally formed part of a panel for a chest tomb or wall tomb dating to between 1600-1630 and it is one of only 11 such carvings from Ireland.
Mermaids were depicted to serve as a warning to Christians against being seduced and destroyed by the sins of vanity, pride and lust. The Waterford mermaid is highly unusual in an Irish context because rather than being a piece of late Gothic carving she is copied from a 16th – 17th century Renaissance art historical source. She is also unique in being depicted as a fish and bird siren – of a type derived from Classical Greek mythology. Indeed the closest analogies are to be found on Renaissance manuscripts, wall paintings and furniture in Italy and Germany.