The Irish Monstrance

The Irish Monstance

Ireland's Magnificent Gift to Fatima

by Leo Madigan


ISBN: 978-972-99941-4-2

Publication Date: 2009

Binding: Quality Softcover

Size:5. 24cm X 16 cm

Pages: 104

160 colour and b&w photographs

The Irish Monstance
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This slim but exquisite volume recalls the true faith of the Irish people. By focusing on a symbol of their own creation - a superb work of ecclesiastical art to which so many spontaneously contributed - it subtly, but unmistakably, shows devotion finding expression in art.


The Irish Monstrance, formed from freely gifted jewels and precious metals, was presented to Our Lady of Fatima in October 1949 by the Irish people. After the 50th anniversary of this event it was brought back to Dublin to the workshop of its original designer and craftsman, Larry Gunning, who thoroughly refurbished it. Professional photographs taken at the time form the basis for this fascination study of religious symbolism.


This is a book which every Irish family which values the Faith will want to possess and dip into from time to time as a reminder of its heritage. The only problem might be on which shelf to house it - the religious section, the historic, or among the coffee table glossies. One parish priest who acquired a copy on a visit to Fatima recently writes that he has placed it alongside a facsimile of the Book of Kells where is serves as a contemporary footnote.

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The Irish Monstrance. Detail. (Robert Allen)
The Irish Monstrance. Detail. (Robert Allen)


Gate of Heaven. (Robert Allen)

J. Breen -- Book Review


Met an old colleague during the week to discuss a job, and he presented me with a slim beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated book. We thumbed the pages, looked at the photos and reminisced about the trade of our youth, recalling yarns and remembering the people in the photos featured in the book.


He worked in Gunning’s, I worked in M.H.Gill & Son.


The book brought up memories of the old times, the camaraderie, the pride the craftsmen had in their work and in the products of their particular workshop, the competition between the different firms in Dublin at that time, and the fantastic work they produced.We were both delighted to see this work been brought to the attention of the public at large.I went on to work in Royal Irish Silver, the silversmithing firm that evolved out of Gunning’s, and there are some photos of the Royal Irish workshop in the little volume. The book is “The Irish Monstrance” by Leo Madigan.

t’s the story of a Monstrance (A monstrance is a sacred vessel in which the host of the Eucharist is exposed for veneration at Benediction) from its conception to its completion and arrival in Fatima in the year of 1949 and its history since.


The monstrance was paid for by public donation of money and personal jewellery. The book explains how the monstrance design evolved as more and more money and jewels arrived.


It was designed by Larry Gunning and made by a team of craftsmen, many of whom I would imagine, had an input into the design as the work evolved.


Contributions from the public of money and jewellery at this time for sacred vessels and later on was not uncommon. The Monstrance is 42” High, made of gilded sterling silver.


It weighs 8 kilos and is studded with 1,700 jewels, of which 650 are diamonds.


Even though the Monstrance was complete, money and jewellery continued to arrive at Gunning’s so they decided to “make an 18ct solid gold lunette and house it in a custos of silver gilt studded with diamonds, the custos, in which the Eucharist is placed when not exposed in the Monstrance, was a creation in itself.”


The Monstrance and Custos are heavily chased all over with Celtic interlacing and other motifs and up the stem of the Monstrance is a chased figure of the Blessed Virgin.


The Monstrance is also encrusted with rings that had their shanks cut off and the head with the stones were set in the Monstrance. The author takes us on what he calls a tour of the Monstrance in which he explains and shows with beautiful photos the symbolism of the overall design and the details of the Monstrance.


This is all very interesting, but what gave me the creeps was this interpretation by Mr. Madigan.


“At the base of each of the rays are smaller irregular rays such as one might find in illustrations of the sun to evoke dazzling light. These were incorporated to represent the flames of hell as seen in the horrifying vision of the place of damnation granted to the Fatima seers on July 13th 1917”


I do not accept for a minute his interpretation of the irregular rays representing the rays of hell, and I think it’s nothing short of blasphemy to suggest it !

It was a convention of the time that this was the way the rays of a Monstrance were configured to represent light emanating from the Host. Healing light as opposed to destructive flames. When I read this it brought me right back to when I was a young impressionable, sensitive, child being fed a constant diet of this kind of terror the scars of which I still bear.


So much for the Good News.


The Catholic Church, before Vatican 11, gave great employment to many people in the precious metal business, of which I was one.It was a great time for chasers as most work, like for example, The Irish Monstrance, was heavily chased and decorated.


No Institution or Corporate body has ever come near to replacing the church as an employer of silversmiths, mores the pity. In some ways this book reminds me of the pamphlets that were to be found at the back of catholic churches in the nineteen fifties and sixties.

Morning Star. (Robert Allen)

However it wins me over for a number of reasons.


Its quirky and different, AND it has great photos.


It’s a history or snapshot of Gunning’s and the trade in Dublin of that time, it also gives an indication of how the work from these workshops is spread all over the world, the pieces besides the Monstrance shown in the book are now in churches all across the USA.


It’s a celebration and a recognition of the many great craftsmen and women who worked on this Monstrance and the other examples of sacred metalwork illustrated in this little gem of a book.


This period might be termed the Golden Age of Celtic Revival Church Metalwork.


I would never tire of picking up this little book up and leafing through it.


It’s a major contribution to the history of the precious metal and brass finishing trades in the Dublin of the nineteen forties, fifties and sixties.

Author’s note:

I’m sorry Mr Breen should have been so upset, but the interpretation wasn’t mine; it was the explanation of the creator of the monstrance, Larry Gunning, who pointed this out to me while explaining all the Fatima symbolism that he put into the design. Mr Breen shouldn’t have a go at me – he should have go at Our Lady for showing hell to the children in July 1917



Lauri Duffy's article on the Monstrance in the IRISH CATHOLIC: October 26th, 1989




Carefully preserved in the Sanctuary Treasury ever since, the Monstrance is only rarely on display. It is regarded as one of the most precious sacred objects at the shrine. Apart from the beautiful workmanship, it contains 1,750 jewels, including 650 diamonds. Made of silver it is heavily gilt, and is fitted with an 18ct gold Lunette.


The presentation of the Monstrance to the shrine was the idea of a Mayo woman, the late Mrs. Kathleen Conroy who was living in Clontart, Dublin at the time. She wished to express her thanksgiving to Our Lady for a special favour received a couple of years previously. While praying in a Co. Mayo church to where her family had many years previously donated a Monstrance, the thought came to her that a Monstrance from Ireland for her rapidly developing shrine in Fatima would surely be pleasing to her.


With the aid of her Galway-born husband, the late Joseph Keiron Conroy, who in 1948 was the honorary agent in Ireland for the monthly paper “Voice of Fatima”, she got together a group of supporters who sought from their friends voluntary gifts of gold and jewelry.


No public appeal was made, but gifts began to arrive in such profusion and variety that the original design of the Monstrance had to be repeatedly altered and expanded to more ambitious proportions.


The design and manufacture of the Monstrance was carried out by the Dublin firm of Gunnings, who had their showroom sin Fleet Street opposite the E.S.B. and many people will remember seeing the Monstrance on display there before its

departure for Fatima.


Forty-two inches in height, the Monstrance is built on a four-panelled base representing the four provinces of Ireland, while the stem consists of a beautiful gilt crowned representation of Our Lady of Fatima.


The Monstrance was brought to Fatima by an Irish Dominican group of 450 pilgrims. It was presented to the shrine on October 6, 1949, the eve of the feast of the Most Holy Rosary, by Dr. Finbarr Ryan, O.P., Archbishop of Port of Spain, and author of one of the first comprehensive books in English on the Fatima events.


So pleased was the Bishop of Fatima with the Monstrance – he was reported at the time of saying that his eyes were ecstatic before its beauty and richness – that the following year, 1950, he arranged for a beautiful reproduction of the original 1920 Fatima statue to be presented in thanksgiving to the Irish donors of the Monstrance.


Lauri Duffy

Father Edwin Gordon. R.I.P.

The Popular Fatima Prayer Book is now available in Portuguese and Spanish as well as English - each with supplementary material suitable for pilgrims from countries speaking these languages.

All available at the same price. For discounted bulk orders (more than 10 copies)email