The Pattern day at St Mullins, Co. Carlow

St Mullins is one of my favourite places and on Sunday the  22nd of July I headed along to the annual pattern day.

View of St Mullins graveyard and ecclesiastical settlement from Google Earth

A pattern day, is a day when people come together to perform pilgrimage at a holy well or saints grave, usually on the saints feast day. This  is a tradition that can be traced back to early medieval times.  Nineteenth century accounts suggest there were originally two main pilgrimage days  at St Mullins on the 17th of June the  feast day of St Moling and the 25th of July the feast of St James. Today the pattern  takes place on the last sunday before the 25th of July and prayers take place at the well and in the graveyard on the 25th of July.

St Moling founded a monastery here in the seventh century and he is reputed to be buried within the ruins of the monastic buildings found in the modern graveyard. Pilgrims having being coming to pray to St Moling  for centuries and St Mullins was one of the great pilgrimages in medieval Ireland.  A single blog post is not enough to discuss the history  and tradition of pilgrimage at the site,  I will just   focus on the  modern  pilgrimage.  I hope to write a second post about the  medieval and early modern pilgrimage in the  coming weeks.

On Sunday the pattern   began with the blessing of the water of the  holy well by the Parish Priest ,  the blessing was then followed by mass in the  nearby graveyard (attached to the ruins of the medieval monastic site).

Bless of the Well at St Mullins

View of the blessing of the waters at St Moling’s Well, St Mullins

Following the blessing  of the waters,  pilgrims  drink the water from the well and pray for their own intentions, before walking to the graveyard for mass. Some people  attended mass first and then went  to the well to drink its water.  The waters from the well are reputed to have great healing powers.

People walking from  St Moling's well to the graveyard

People walking from St Moling’s well to the graveyard

The well  which is dedicated to St Moling consists of a reservoir filled by nine springs  surrounded by a low wall.

Pool of water at St Molings Well

Pool of water at St Moling’s Well

The water flows from this reservoir into a small roofless structure.  To get to the water one has to enter through a narrow door. The water flows from the pool through  two large  granite holed stones in the back wall .  A rectangular cut stone  with a circular basin/depression catches the water  as it flows out.

The Holy well at St Mullins

The back wall of the structure at St Moling’s well

The water then flows  over flag stones out the door and into the nearby mill-race known as the Turas (Pilgrim’s Way).

Mill race beside St Moling's well

Mill race beside St Moling’s well

When I visited the well on the pattern day in 2008,  I met a lovely lady Molly who looked after pilgrims  at the well and handed out water to them , she told me she did this every year for 50 years and her father before her  did the same . This year  she couldn’t make it as  she had recently been ill, so two   local student  stepped in to help out.  I  forgot to  ask their  names, too busy talking. So  they were  in charge of  filling cups with water and handing them to pilgrims who didn’t want to go inside for the water ( the flagged floor was very wet so not everyone wanted to get their feet wet).  I also had a chat with Mr Joe Mahony who was originally from Coolrainey and is now aged 92. He told me that when he was young as well as drinking the water people would stick their heads under flow of water as it came out of the wall. It was the belief that this would protect them from ailments of the head for the coming year. Joe  is a great character has been in his own words  ‘ coming to the pattern day since before he was born’.

girl collecting water at st mullins

One of the local student in charge of giving water to the pilgrims

Mass  began in the graveyard at 3.  The weather was  wet and a constant light rain was down for the afternoon, but  despite the weather the graveyard was a see of coloured rain jackets and umbrellas.

View of Patron Mass from Summit of nearby Motte

Some tried to take cover from the rain under the trees or in the ruins of the monastic buildings.

Pilgrims hiding from the rain under the trees during mass at St Mullins

People of all ages  attendance on Sunday from small babies to the very elderly. There is a real sence that this is a very important event for the local community. The mass performed by the priest in the middle  of  the graveyard, at  the site of  a penal altar.

Mass  being at penal alter

Mass being at penal altar

It is amazing to think that this pilgrimage has been taking place for centuries and there is a real sence of community and  history here.

The Patron day is also a social event for local people,  in the green  beside the Norman Motte a short distance from the graveyard  there were amusements and stalls selling their wares, and chip vans .

Amusments  at St Mullins

Amusments at St Mullins

The pattern is a day for people to meet up with friends and have a chat.  Many local  people  who live in other parts of the county will come  back especially for the pattern.

Following the pattern, I headed to the  St Mullins Heritage Centre . The Heritage Centre is located in a former Church of Ireland church built in 1811 at the edge of the graveyard. It  is well worth a visit and has lots of information plaques of the history of the area, St Moling and the pilgrimage. The centre also deals with  genealogy queries .

7 comments on “The Pattern day at St Mullins, Co. Carlow

  1. Seimi O Murchu says:

    It is one of the best places in the world, and one of Ireland (and Carlow’s best kept secrets). It’s steeped in archaeology, history and folklore and the museum is well worth a visit.
    There’s a local story that says that the Mill Race was dug by hand by St. Moling himself and that it took him 7 years to do it, don’t know if you ever came across that

  2. noreen mellott says:

    i am trying to fine out exact date of the sunday the pattern in st mullins is this year before i book my ticket home for it i will be traveling home from the u.s.a. so i need to be sure of the exact that

  3. […] present day and a description of the range of activities carried out can be found over on the Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland blog. Accounts from the National Folklore Collection describe similar activities a century ago as well […]

  4. Michael Holden says:

    St Mullins played host to the bold captain Freney during the eighteenth century and his name is still recalled in the area

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