Last Monday the 9th of June I attended the pattern day celebrations in the parish of Durrow Co Offaly.
Durrow is a small village about 5-7 km outside of Tullamore town. St Colmcille/Columba is the patron saint of the parish and the local community celebrate his feast day on the 9th of June each year. Tradition holds the saint founded a monastery here in the 6th century close to the holy well. Durrow was an ecclesiastical settlement of great importance and part of the early medieval Columban federation of churches. I will discuss the history, the archaeological remains at Durrow and the medieval evidence for pilgrimage in more detail in a later date. This post will focus only on this years pilgrimage.
Each year the people of Durrow continuing on a centuries old tradition, commemorate the feast day of St. Colmcille. It is also the traditional day that the children from the parish make their first communion.
This year the communion mass was held at 10 am and a second mass in honor of Colmcille was held at 12am. Following mass the community walk in procession to St. Colmcille’s holy well and after all the religious celebrations a sports day was held in the afternoon .
When I arrived in Durrow it was about 12.2o and mass was underway. The church was decorated in bunting and flags.
Following mass everyone assembled at the church gates and fell into line behind a banner with an image of the saint. The parish priest and other clergy from the diocese and two musicians walked in front with the rest of the pilgrims following.
The procession heads from the church gates south along the N52 road . The event literally stops traffic as the community walk along this busy road. St Colmcille’s day is very important to the local community and one lady told me that many people will take the day off work to attend.
Everyone was in good spirits as they walked along oblivious to the lorries and cars behind them, thankfully the an Garda Síochána were also present to regulate the traffic.
After walking for approximately 0.5 km the procession leaves the N52 road and heads into Durrow Abbey Demesne.
The next stage of the procession, which is about 0.6km in lenght, could not be more different from the first section of the walk. The pilgrims proceeded down a leafy driveway that leads to the St Colmcille’s Church of Ireland and Durrow Abbey House.
The procession continued past St Colmcille’s Church of Ireland
and along a small trackway which leads to a D shaped , tree covered marshy area known as the island.
St Colmcille’s holy well is located at the center of this area.
Everyone congregated around the well and tried to avoid the more marshy areas. Some boards had been placed towards the entrance to make access easier. Once everyone had arrived a number of prayers were recited blessing the well and those present.
Following prayers many people went to the holy well to take home water in plastic bottles and milk cartons. A young man and woman stood by the well and filled bottles with water for the pilgrims .
Durrow was certainly one of the most stylish pilgrimages I have attended, probably because it coincides with communion day and everyone looked great in their suits and dresses. This event has such a great community feel and its really a great social occasion too.
As I headed back up the trackway towards the church, which houses the 9th century high cross (will discuss in another post), I could hear singing and when I went to investigate further I found a fantastic choir who were singing within the church.
I really enjoyed my time at Durrow and it was really lovely to attend such a vibrant pilgrimage.
Gosh – lovely! When we went to Durrow, all we could do was look through a hole in the door to get a distant view of the cross. The well was impressive, though! It’s such a leafy and peaceful setting.
Its open to the public now in the summer months buts thats only recently.
Excellent post. I envy you and your ability to get to the holy well patterns, we don’t have many holy well related traditions surviving in England. All the best
Thank you so much I feel really lucky to get to attend these pilgrimages and if the weather is nice its even better.
just like being there..only with drier feet.