Pilgrimage to St Mullins Co. Carlow during the Black Death

Throughout the medieval period many people made pilgrimage in times of crisis such as personal illness, outbreaks of disease and natural disasters like drought. The Black Death was one of the biggest crisis to be faced by people during the fourteenth century in  Ireland.

The Annals of Ireland written between 1333-1349 by John Clyn, a Franciscan friar of Kilkenny, contains a chilling first hand account of the Black Death as it raged through Ireland.

The text also records a very rare account of pilgrimage to the ecclesiastical site of St Mullins whose ruins are now at the centre of a picturesque village of the same name in Co. Carlow.

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Remains of St Moling’s ecclesiastical site along side the Anglo Norman motte at St Mullins Co. Carlow ( image from SMART (St. Mullins Amenity & Recreational Tourism Group) Facebook Page.

The ecclesiastical site of St Mullins traces its history back to the seventh century, when St Moling founded a monastery on the banks of the river Barrow.  Following the saints death his monastery went on to become one of the most importance pilgrim sites in Leinster.

In the year in 1348  John Clyn recorded great numbers of pilgrims arriving at St Mullins. The pilgrims were drawn here because of St Moling reputation for healing and miracles. They hoped that by praying to the saint in the presence of his relics they might be protected from the plague.

This year, and chiefly in the months of September and October, great numbers of bishops and prelates, ecclesiastical and religious, peers and others, and in general people of both sexes, flocked together by troops to the pilgrimage and wading of the water at Tigh Moling [St Mullins] so that many thousands might be seen there together for many days; some came out of devotion, but the greater part for fear of the pestilence which raged at that time with great violence….” ( Williams 2007, 246).

The pilgrims made their prayers at St Moling’s holy well  and millrace located just outside the main monastic enclosure.  The twelfth Latin Life of  St Moling, recalls how the saint single handed dug the mill race over seven years and then consecrated ‘…by walking through it against the flood…’. The pilgrims hoped that by washing or ‘wading’ in the of the waters of the millrace and the holy well they would be protected from the plague. We do not know how the pilgrims fared in the coming months how many died or survived.

 

The plague spread rapidly after its arrival to Ireland.  In June of 1349 Clyn wrote that the pestilence was so contagious that those who ‘touched the dead or the sick were immediately affected themselves and died’.   Shortly after writing the description below Clyn contracted the disease and died.

Many died of boils, abscesses and pustules which erupted on the legs and in the armpits. Others died in frenzy, brought on by an affliction of the head, or vomiting blood. This amazing year was outside the usual order of things, exceptional in quite contradictory ways – abundantly fertile and yet at the same time sickly and deadly… It was very rare for just one person to die in a house, usually, husband, wife, children and servants all went the same way, the way of death… (Williams 2007, 250).

St Moling’s holy well along with the medieval millrace can still be seen in the modern landscape at St Mullins. St Moling’s holy well is still a focus of modern pilgrimage on the second Sunday of July.  If anyone who wants to find out more about the medieval pilgrimage at St Mullins check out  my new book Journeys of Faith. Stories of Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland.

Bibliography

Nugent, Louise.  Journeys of Faith. Stories of Pilgrimage From Medieval Ireland. Dublin: Columba Books, 2020.

Williams, Bernadette. The Annals of Friar John Clyn. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2007.

An outline of my new book ‘Journeys of Faith. Stories of Pilgrimage from Medieval Ireland’.

I am delighted to announce that my new book, Journeys of Faith. Stories of Pilgrimage from Medieval Ireland, published by Columba Books, is now available to per-order through the Columba Books website  with free shipping.

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Front cover of my new book on Irish Pilgrimage Journeys of Faith. Stories of Pilgrimage from Medieval Ireland

Just to give you a taste of what the book is like. The layout follows the stages of  pilgrimage from departure, arrival at the pilgrim shrine and the return home.

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Table of Contents for Journeys of Faith

Chapter 1 explores what type of pilgrim sites existed in early and late medieval Ireland.

Chapter 2 highlights the known pilgrim destinations outside of Ireland visited by Irish pilgrims such as Canterbury and Rome.

Chapter 3 explores the many and varied reasons and  motivations that prompted Irish people to make pilgrimage such as penance – indulgences- the quest for healing.

Chapter 4  looks at the spiritual and practical  preparations made by pilgrims in advance of undertaking their pilgrimage.

Chapter 5  discusses the evidence for travel in medieval Ireland, focusing on the well known pilgrim road – Tóchar Phádraig,  along with the journeys of individual Irish pilgrims.

Chapter 6- explore the evidence for travel outside of Ireland to exotic places like Rome and Jerusalem and tells the story of the pilgrimage of  Irish Franciscan friar Simon FitzSimon who traveled to Jerusalem in the 14th-century.

Chapter 7 & 8 focus on the pilgrims arrival at their destination and teases out they interacted with relics, the graves of saints and holy statues as well as other pilgrims.

Chapter 9 the final chapter looks at the pilgrims return journey along with, the archaeological evidence for pilgrimage such as pilgrim souvenirs and pilgrim burials.

Throughout the book I  highlight many  interesting stories of Irish pilgrims who made journeys big and small across this island and overseas. Some of my favorite stories include the pilgrims who traveled to St Mullins, Co Carlow in 1348, in search of a miraculous cure for the Black Death. Or the pilgrimage of  Heneas Mac Nichaill who made pilgrimage to atone  for the murder of his son by visiting nineteen pilgrim sites around scattered across the island of  Ireland in 1543.

I think one of the best things about researching this book was visiting so many amazing Irish pilgrim sites. Those of you who follow this blog already  know I love to use photos  in my posts and I am delighted to say the book is full of  photos of  many of these special places.

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For any one interested in purchasing Journeys of Faith follow the link to Columba Book order page

https://columbabooks.com/product/journeys-of-faith/?fbclid=IwAR1Fe6qvSmEE81l-MuANngWRASTh4Nzna2p5ElimKE0xrQqJDOcAj0WFzpA

Pilgrimage Conference- Encountering The SACRED: THE ARCHAEOLOGY AND HERITAGE OF PILGRIMAGE

Its so exciting  a conference devoted to the pilgrimage will take place in Ireland on Saturday, 5 October 2019 at The Printworks Event and Exhibition Centre in Dublin Castle.

A one-day conference Encountering the Sacred: The Archaeology and Heritage of Pilgrimage, will explore a wide range of pilgrimage topics from prehistory to the present day and have an Irish and International focus.Encountering—Logo

The conference has a great line up of speakers:

  • Professor Robin Coningham, UNESCO Chair in Archaeological Ethics and Practice in Cultural Heritage, Department of Archaeology, Durham University
  • Dr Lee Clare, German Archaeological Institute, Berlin.
  • Frank Coyne, Aegis Archaeology.
  • Dr Robert Hensey, Archaeologist.
  • Pat Holland, Archaeologist, former museum curator, and annual participant on pilgrimages across Europe.
  • Dr Małgorzata Krasnodębska-D’Aughton, Department of History, UCC.
  • Dr Louise Nugent (Archaeologist & Blogger)
  • Dr Tomás Ó Carragáin, Department of Archaeology, UCC.
  • Br Colman Ó Clabaigh, OSB, Glenstal Abbey.
  • Professor Ruth Van Dyke, Department of Anthropology, Binghamton University, New York.

Tickets are still available here from eventbrite

Encountering The Sacred: The Archaeology and Heritage of Pilgrimage conference is presented by the National Monuments Service of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in partnership with the Office of Public Works and organised by Archaeology Ireland.

Pilgrimage to St Declan’s Holy Well at Ardmore, 1910

Pilgrimage in honour of St Declan at Ardmore, Co Waterford, can be traced back to the early medieval period.  During the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Ardmore was one of the most important pilgrim sites in the southeast of Ireland, attracting 1000’s of pilgrims for the annual pattern day celebrations.

Pilgrim rituals during this period have been extensively discussed by Dr Stiofán Ó Cadhla’s  in his excellent book The Holy Well Tradition. The Pattern of St Declan, Ardmore County Waterford, 1800-2000.

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Although the numbers of pilgrims have fallen over the years, the saint and the celebration of his feast day (24th of July) are still a very important part of village life in Ardmore.

The nineteenth century pilgrim landscape was quiet extensive and included St Declan’s grave (at the eary medieval monastery),  St Declan’s stone and St Declan’s holy well (see map on below).

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Image taken Google Earth showing location of the St Declan’s grave,  St Declan’s stone and St Declan’s Holy Well, nodal points in pilgrim landscape at Ardmore.

Today modern devotions are almost exclusively focused on St Declan’s holy well. They   include a prayer vigil on St Declan’s eve at the well, along with the traditional rounds on the feast day.

During the course of my research I came across a wonderful film on the Ardmore  pattern day, which I want to share with you. This short film was created by Horgan Brothers’ films in 1910. The Horgan’s began their careers as photographers and later worked with film, opening a cinema in their home town of Youghal, Co. Cork. It was here they screened their newsreel style short films, which they named the Youghal Gazette many of which can be seen on the Irish Film Institute Website.

It is most unusual for an Irish pilgrimage of this period to have been filmed, let alone  available to a wide audience today (through the Irish Film Institute).  I am very grateful to the Horgan Brothers for their efforts as their work provides a wonderful window into devotional activity in Waterford in the 1900’s.

 

The film opens at  St Declan’s holy well  the last station in the early modern pilgrimage.  There are many accounts which allow us to reconstruct the early modern pilgrimage at Ardmore but to see real pilgrims moving through the landscape is truly fascinating.

The photo below shows the location where the Hogan brothers set up their camera. They choose a position that over looked the well and church and also the approach route from the village.

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Image of St Declan’s Holy Well showing the site where the Horgans filmed the pilgrimage image from Waterford Co Museum Photographic Collection

 

As the film opens, directly in front of cameras are a group of six people, engaged, in what can only be described as people watching. Closest to the camera is  gentleman in straw boater hat.  He watches as people walk along the path to the well and is caught in the embarrassing act of picking his nose. Next to the man, is a lady dressed in a light coloured dress with a parasol.  It seems to have been a warm sunny day as many of the ladies present have parasols. The young woman relaxes on the grass after fixing her parasol behind her head to provide some shade. Again her position allows her to  comfortably view all who approach and leave. The remaining people in the vicinity of the camera are four ladies standing beside a wall adjacent to the entrance. They are watching the pilgrims complete their rounds and prayers with great interest.

At the time pilgrims began their prayers  in front of the well. They then walked clockwise around the church and well while reciting three decades of the rosary. They would then knee before the well, finishing  the rosary before moving to the well to say more prayers and take the water.

The film shows  people in different stages of their  pilgrimage. A cluster of people  are in front of St Declan’s Holy Well, they must have completed their rounds, while the stream of men and women, make a clockwise circuit of the holy well and  its adjacent church saying the rosary are only half way through theirs. It’s interesting to note the majority of men have removed their hats during the pilgrimage as a sign of respect for the place and the saint.

The landscape of the well has changed little since 1910. Below is a contemporary photo of the front of St Declan’s holy well which is obscured from view in the film.  The structure of well has changed little  over the years with the exception of the theft of the smallest of three medieval carved crucifix (on the left side of the photo) incorporated into the top of well superstructure.

 

Photo of three women at St Declan’s Holy Well  taken 1910 from Waterford Co Museum Photographic Archive

Part of the pilgrim rituals at the holy well involved  pilgrims carving crosses into the wall of the church and parts of the well superstructure. These actions are also caught by the camera. This practice is not unique to Ardmore but here as at the other sites,  it is unlikely to have begun earlier then the nineteenth century.

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Crosses carved by pilgrims into the walls of the church at St Declan’s Holy Well

From the well  the film then cuts to St Declans’ Stone,  an erratic boulder located at the southern end of the strand some 500m to the east of the holy well. According to tradition  the stone carried St Declan’s bell and vestments, floating across the sea from Wales to Ardmore. The stone was used as a penitential station by past pilgrims.

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View of St Declan’s Stone as the tide comes in

In the film we see a woman wearing a Kinsale clock,  a traditional  garment worn up until the early twentieth century,  standing beside the stone. A man wearing a long trench coat can be seem crawling out from under the stone. Traditional devotions at the stone involved the pilgrim saying set prayers before crawling under the rock. Given its located on the shore devotions could only take place when the tide was out. Outside of the pattern day the stone was also visited for healing and was thought to be particularly beneficial for those with backache or rheumatism. The stone was a central part of the pattern day devotions until the mid-twentieth century but  pilgrimage has now ceased here.

The film then ends abruptly as the woman kneels in prayer and we do not get to see her crawled under the stone but she surely did.

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Pilgrims performing rounds at St Declan’s stone (still from Horgan Brothers Film)

 

I plan to write a more detailed post about the post medieval and medieval pilgrimage rituals at Ardmore in the new year. I will also be discussing the site at an upcoming lecture for the Waterford Historical and Archaeological Society in February of 2019 so please come along if you want to find out more.

If you find this film interesting you may also want to check out some of the other films by the Horgan Brother that are on the Irish Film Institute website  at https://ifiplayer.ie/category/horgan/

References

https://ifiplayer.ie/the-horgan-brothers-collection-declans-well/

 

Pilgrimage at Knockpatrick Co Limerick

Knockpatrick Hill is located a short distance from the town of Foynes in West Limerick. According to folklore St Patrick visited here when traveling around Co Limerick.

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View of Knockpatrick Hill Co Limerick

The landscape includes the site of a church, a holy stone  and a  holy well, all dedicated to the saint.

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Knockpatrick landscape (image taken Bing Maps)

 

St Patrick’s Holy Well

St Patrick’s holy well is located to the west of Knockpatrick Hill in the corner of a large field.

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St Patrick’s Holy Well Knockpatrick

The holy well is a natural spring defined by an oval dry stone wall. Some time in the last century a larger concrete structure was built over the well and the wall. The spring well’s water flow into a rectangular trough or bathing tank.

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St Patrick’s Holy Well

A large statue of St Patrick sits in a statue niche over the doorway of the well house.

According to Ó Danachair (1955, 215) witing in the middle of the last century  large crowds came here on the 17th March. Devotion to the well has declined  and today the water in the well trough are covered in thick green algae.

Knockpatrick is only a few minutes walk from the well.

St Patrick’s Church and Graveyard

Its an easy climb to the summit of  Knockpatrick Hill. The  summit is dominated by the ruins of a late church surrounded by a historic graveyard. A modern altar and shelter are located on the west side of the graveyard.

The hill is 572 feet above sea level and has wonderful views of the surrounding countryside including the Shannon Esturary, with the exception of the view to the northeast which overlooks the Aughinish Alumina’s factory.

According to legend, St Patrick  built and consecrated the church at Knockpatrick when he visited the area in 448 AD. It was siad he blessed all  the land that he could see. Folk relating to the area  recorded in the The Schools’ Collection, for Shanagolden, Co. Limerick  also tells that St Patrick

while staying at Knockpatrick … blessed Co. Clare. He knelt down at the highest point of the hill, gazed northward across the Shannon at the County, stretched out his hands and said “My blessing over to you”. Volume 0483, Page 168

St Patrick’s stone

The ‘Suíochán Pádraig’ or St Patrick’s Seat is located on the eastern shoulder of the hill. The seat was said to be made up six stones.  Today the stones are enclosed by a concrete wall.

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The interior  floor is covered by patches of concrete and a large wooden cross stands in the center. The six stones cant be idenified and they may be covered  by the concreted or the briars and ivy. Folklore from the 1930’s relating to the stone  notes that

There was a flat stone to be seen at the summit of Knockpatrick until about twenty years ago. On it were two hollows which bore a rough resemblance to an impression which would be made by human knees. A local tradition connects this stone with St Patricks blessing of Co. Clare – that when giving his blessing he knelt on it, and as a sign that God had heard his prayer the imprint of his knees remained on the stone. The Schools’ Collection (Shanagolden) Volume 0483, Page 168.

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During the twentieth century  pilgrimage ritual at the site were focused on 17th of March.  Pilgrims recited three rosaries

‘one around the wall of the burial grounds, one while moving clockwise around St Patrick’s Well and the third at Suíochán Pádraig’ [St Patrick’s Seat] (http://www.limerickdioceseheritage.org).

 

Knockpartick is a lovely place to visit on a sunny day. Arpatrick Co Limerick  is another hilltop site assoicated with St Patick in Co Limerick a with the saint is also worth a visit.

References

The Schools’ Collection, Shanagolden, Co. Limerick (B) Volume 0483, Page 168

http://www.limerickdioceseheritage.org

 

Stories from the Landscape: The Cat with Two Tails

Some of you may already know,  apart from my interest in pilgrimage, medieval and modern, I am also very interested in post medieval folk art.  In 2016, I set up the Irish Folk Art Project  to documents and records non funerary folk art around Ireland. Last year  I was invited by Roisin O’Grady, the  Tipperary Heritage Officer,  to contribute  part of my folk art research to the ‘Stories from the Landscape’ project.

‘Stories from the Landscape’ is a collaborative project between the Heritage Offices in Tipperary, Galway and Clare and the Galway Film Centre, supported by the Heritage Council.  It consists of  a series of nine short films, three from  each county. Each film showcases a unique heritage story relating to the county.

Tipperary Stories from the Landscape

The Tipperary stories  feature environmental Heritage of Tipperary with Gearoid O Foighil from Cloughjordan  telling the story of Schohoboy bog  restoration, social history of Mining in Slieveardagh area by former miner Michael Cleere.  I was very honoured that my  research on the Tipperary Folk Art was chosen as the archaeological story for the county.

My Short Film  ‘A Cat with Two Tails’

My film showcases an aspect of my research on Tipperary Folk Art. It explores the links  between a series of late 18th/19th century  carvings of cats with two tails found in Tipperary and contemporary folklore about Goban Saor. It also show the results of a  photogrametry survey of the Tipperary Folk Art  commissioned by the Irish Folk Art Project and funded by the Tipperary Heritage Officer . The survey was carried out by Gary Dempsey of Digital Heritage Age.

 

Making the Film

Filming took place on a very cold day last Novemeber.  The film was directed by Paul Murphy , with camera work by Ivan Marcos. It was a pleasure to spend the day working with these two very talented and professional people. Paul Murphy is also the director of the award winning short film The Weather Report (https://www.facebook.com/theweatherreportshortfilm/) which is playing as part of this years Irish Film Festival Australia.

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Rock of Cashel Co Tipperary

Filming took place on location at a number of well-known Tipperary Heritage sites such as Holycross Abbey, the Swiss Cottage, and the Rock of Cashel.

 

All of the sites have folklore connecting them to the Gobán Saor and the story of  his carving of a cat with two tails.

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Cat with Two Tails Swiss Cottage

The film also shows how the carvings of the cats and  the folklore of the Goban has influnced the  work  Tipperary sculptor David Gorey. David  who is based in Fethard kindly allowed us to film in his studio.

 

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Filming Workshop Sculptor David Gorey

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Looking at modern carving of Cat with Two Tails at David Gorey’s Workshop.

I highly recommend that you check out some of the other films in the series for  Tipperary, Clare and Galway.

Barrigone Holy Well and the Crimean War: An unlikely Connection

This post  is a shortened version of an article that I wrote,  ‘Barrigone Holy Well and the Crimean War: An unlikely Connection’,   published back in 2016  in the North Munster Antiquarian Journal .

The article details a little known the story of the mother of a young man from West Limerick. who went to fight in the Crimean war and the rituals she carried out  at Barrigone Holy Well, in the townland of Craggs,  to petition God for his protection.

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The 8th Hussars, the ‘King’s Royal Irish’, circa 1855, during the Crimean War. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Crimean war took place between 1854-6  and was fought on the Crimean peninsula. It was fought  between Russia and an alliance of Britain, France and the Ottoman Turkish empire. Irish soldiers made up around 30–35 per cent of the British army in 1854, and it is estimated that over 30,000 Irish soldiers served in the Crimea War. Approximately 7,000 Irish men died  during the war. David Murphy has a very readable and interesting book called Ireland and the Crimean War which details the war and Irish involvement.

In 1855, at the height the Crimean war,  a letter entitled ‘The Way to Save Lives in the Crimea’ was sent to The Catholic Layman Magazine.  The letter was written by one Humphrey O’Leary  who recounts his interaction with the mother of the soldier fighting in Crimea mentioned above. The woman, who was illiterate,  wished Leary to write down her words in a letter to her son. She also wanted to provide instruction for the use of a small number of stones taken from the holy well at Barrigone, that were to be sent with   the letter. Unfortunately the names of the mother or son  are not mentioned and this was most likely deliberately done as Leary is sharing their stories in a very public venue. Its clear from his writing that Leary was a middle class Catholic and had advantages not available to the soldier woman including an education who is of a lower social standing.  Apart from detailing the story of the woman and her son, the letter also provides an insight in life in nineteenth century Ireland, changing attitudes to pilgrimage within the Catholic population and the poor levels of literary.

Leary tells us the woman’s son  was ‘fighting with the Rooshins in Sebastable [Sevastapol]’. He was part of the British forces who, along with their allies, laid siege to the main Russian naval base in the Black Sea at Sebastopol.  Its clear the man’s mother was concerned for his safety and anxious to keep him safe.

Fig.1 View of Barrigone Holy Well

Barrigone Holy Well

 

Leary agreeded to help the woman and he writes that he wanted to write the letter ‘as well as ever I could; for I thought it would look mighty disgraceful entirely to send a bad letter as far way’. When he had filled the first page he told the woman ‘I am going to put your name to it now’: To which she replied ‘Oh Humphrey, avourneen for the love of all the saints keep a little corner of it empty a while, for I am sending him something, and I want you to explain it to him.’

The woman then asked Leary to fill a second piece of paper containing instructions ‘for I want to send him a thing that will save his life.’ To Leary’s surprise the woman pulled out a small red silk purse ‘that was for all the world as big as a tailors thimble’ filled with some tiny stones. The woman went on to say:

I am sending him the blessed stones of Barrigowen [Barrigone] well inside this purse, and tell him, that if he’ll receive them, and wear them in this purse round his neck with the same faith that his own mother is sending him, please God; that he will come home safe and sound again; for any one that ever wore them blessed stones about his neck could not be harmed.

Leary was not too impressed by the woman’s plan and thought it ‘very quare entirely that a small little bit like that could save one’s life.’ He pressed her on the matter, asking ‘is it in earnest you are, or do you think them stones will save him?’ The woman was staunch in her beliefs as she replied ‘Oh I am sure if they overtake him alive that there will be no fear of him’. To persuade the woman to abandon what he thought was a superstitious act, Leary answered ‘I’ll bet my life, Father Mick won’t let you send the stones, nor go to the well at all at all’ to which the woman replied ‘deed then, Father Mick knows that I gave rounds at the well for him, and I sent him the lining of the well in a letter, and he did not say “ill you did itto me when I told him’. Determined to make the woman see the folly of this task Leary persisted:

I am thinking it might be better for you to pray to God to spare your son to you than to go sending these little stones; and perhaps, you or your son may lose your life by provoking him against you.

Fig. 2 Pilgrims performing the rounds at Barrigone holy well 15th August 2015

Modern pilgrims at Barrigone Holy Well West Limerick

Leary response is typical of a move away from, and change of attitude within, the Catholic Church from favouring devotion at holy wells to it becoming perceived as backward and superstitious. The soldier’s mother was certainly not of this opinion and according to Leary became cross and replied ‘I will send the stones at any rate, for I am sure they will do him good’. Leary, realising his arguments fell on deaf ears, and accepting her sincere conviction they would save her son ‘from Rosshen [Russian] bullets’, continued transcribing the woman’s instructions about the stones. Leary ends his letter to the Catholic Layman by noting that after sending the letter with the stones the woman also had a Mass said for her son. He seems to have more faith in the benefits of the  latter. We don’t know if this poor woman ever saw her son again but I like to think these stone at least provided some comfort for him.

This account provides  a unique insight into folk tradition, beliefs and devotional practice in the mid-nineteenth century Ireland. It also highlights the changing attitudes of the middle classes who following the famine and renewed efforts to implementation of Tridentine values in the church, came to see holy wells and their ritual practices as superstitious. The full article which includes a discussion of the wells history and similar practices of taking stone can be found in the North Munster Antiquarian Journal

Nugent, L. 2016. ‘Barrigone Holy Well and the Crimean War: An unlikely Connection’,   North Munster Antiquarian Journal Vol. 56,