St Ailbe’s Holy Well, Emly Co Tipperary

Over the last few years, I’ve visited alot of holy wells all over around Ireland. St Ailbe’s holy well in the village of Emly Co Tipperary is one of the most interesting.

The village of Emly can trace its origins back to a monastery founded by the Pre-Patrican saint known as Ailbe. The saint’s death is recorded for the year 528 in the Irish annals.

Repose of Ailbe of Imlech Ibuir

The Annals of Ulster 528

His monastery known as Imleach Iubhair ‘the lakeside at a yew tree’ went on to become one of the most important ecclesiastical sites in Munster and in later centuries Emly became a Diocesan centre.

The ecclesiastical site was located at the modern Catholic church and graveyard. Unfortunately little of the early or medieval ecclesiastical remains have survived.

St Ailbe’s Catholic Church Emly

The annals provide some insight into what Emly would have looked like. In 1058 the great stone church (daimhliag) and the round tower (cloictheach) were burnt.

Imleach-Ibhair was totally burned, both Daimhliag and Cloictheach.

Annals of the Four Masters 1058

A circular enclosure surrounded the main ecclesiastical buildings. The outline of the enclosure is still preserved in the modern road and field pattern surrounding the catholic church (Farrelly 2014).

Aerial view of the village of Emly Bing Maps

Further traces of the medieval past survive in architectural fragments incorporated into the modern graveyard wall. A stone plaque close to the main entrance to the graveyard and church which bears the inscription

LOCVS IN QVEM INTRAS TERRA SANCTA EST 1641 R. IONES PCENT

The inscription roughly translates as ‘The place wherein you enter is holy ground’ (Farrelly 2014 after pers. comm. Gerard Crotty).

Plaque with inscription LOCVS IN QVEM INTRAS TERRA SANCTA EST 1641 R. IONES PCENT’ located close to the entrance to Emly church and graveyard.

A medieval stoup, ‘consisting of bowl, shaft and base, composed of a conglomeration of sandstone, granite and quartz’ sits at the east door to the modern church (Farrelly 2014).

Medieval Stoup at eastern doorway at St Ailbe’s church Emly

The wall to the right of the entrance to the east end of the church incorporates two carved heads from the former medieval cathedral, along with the base of a medieval graveslab. All date to the 13th/14th-century (Farrelly 2014).

St Ailbe’s holy well can be found in the north-eastern corner of the graveyard. It was probably used as a water source for the religious community. In 1898 the well supplied the surrounding village with water.

Image of St Ailbe’s holy well 1898 from Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 1898, Vol. 4, No. 39 page 174.

St Ailbe’s well is a very deep spring found at the base of 5m deep circular dry-stone lined shaft (internal diameter of 1.2m). The Ordnance Survey Letter for County Tipperary written in the 1840’s suggests the well was 7m deep.  The upper section of the shaft was replaced in the nineteenth century by a cut limestone surround. Accounts from the late 1890s recall that a railing surrounded the well.

St Ailbe’s holy well Emly

During the twentieth century the top of the well was covered by low concrete capping, incorporating a metal door/hatch. Today hatch provides a view into the interior of the well.

St Ailbe’s holy well

Due to the depth of the well a torch is required to see the interior in any detail . At the base of the well you can still see the water.

View into St Ailbe’s holy well

According to folklore the well was formed when

St. Ailbe jumped from the top of the hill of Knockcarron to where the well stands now and that is what caused the well to be there.

Archival Reference
The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0580, Page 013

The well is still visited by local people throughout the year but rounds are no longer performed.

I have not come across any medieval references to pilgrimage at the well. Rounds were performed by pilgrims up to the middle of the twentieth century. Local folk memory recalls that a pattern day was held at the well on the 12th of September, the feast of St Ailbe.

Local memory and historical sources suggest that in the past the pilgrimage rituals were focused on the holy well and an early medieval cross, known as St Ailbe’s Cross. The cross is located a short distance from the well.

St Ailbe’s Cross Emly

Tradition held that the cross marked the saints grave (The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0580, Page 011). The cross is made of sandstone and has an imperforate ringed cross. A small stone sits on top of the cross.

In the past pilgrims traditionally visited the holy well on the feast day of St Ailbe or within the Octave of his feast day.

In the 1930’s, pilgrims began their prayers by saying five Our Fathers and Hail Marys at the holy well. They then recited three rosaries while walking around the graveyard.  If the pilgrim visited on a day other than the feast they carried out the same prayers at the holy well but recited nine rosaries while walking clockwise around the graveyard.  Other accounts recall pilgrims walking around the well nine times and every three times they circle the well they say the rosary. They then made five rounds around the graveyard reciting the rosary on each round.

Pilgrims also visited St Ailbe’s cross. Its was tradition for all who passed the cross to make Sign of the Cross.

The Sign of the Cross is made by the people on it with three stones which are laid on top of it. Long ago the people used swear by the Holy Stone of Emly. Every time people respect it as they pass it by carving a cross on it with stones.

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0580, Page 016

The cross was also said to cure back pain when the back was pressed against the cross and a prayer to the saint uttered. People without back pain performed the same ritual to strengthen their backs.

When a person has a pain in his back he would get it cured by putting his back against the stone and praying to St Ailbe. When a person has no pain in his back and to do the same it would strengthen his back.

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0580, Page 016

The waters of the well are said to be a cure for rheumatism and also to repeal birds from damaging crops.

People take the water from the well to drink. When St Ailbe was young he was sent into a garden to keep birds off of it and since that people go to the well, and take water from it and sprinkle it on the corn to keep the birds away.

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0580, Page 013

Although there are no records relating to pilgrimage during medieval times, Emly would surely have possessed relics of the saint and attracted pilgrims. Perhaps the tradition of devotion to the holy well and cross may be much older then the nineteenth century.

Bibliography

Farrelly, J. 2014. TS065-013 (Emly) https://maps.archaeology.ie/HistoricEnvironment/

Long, R. H. 1998. ‘Cashel and Emly Diocese. With a pedigree of Cellachan, king of Cashel, and an account of some other kings of Munster’ Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 1898, Vol. 4, No. 39, 170-­185.

O’Dwyer, M. and O’Dwyer, L. 1987. The parish of Emly: its history and heritage.

O’Flanagan, Rev. M. (Compiler) 1930 Letters containing information relative to the antiquities of the county of Tipperary collected during the progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1840. Bray.

Irish Tourist Association, ‘Emly Irish Tourist Association Report,’ Tipperary Archive, accessed November 8, 2020, http://www.tippstudiesdigital.ie/items/show/1147.

Websites

Schools Collections https://www.duchas.ie

https://www.logainm.ie

St Leonard’s Holy Well at Dunnamaggin Co Kilkenny

St Leonard (St Léonard-de-Noblat) was a sixth century Frankish hermit. He went on to become a very popular medieval saint. The saint’s primary shrine was found at Noblat in France. Over the centuries vast numbers of people from all over Europe made pilgrimage here. Devotion to the saint was enhanced by his shrine’s location on the Via Vézelay – a well trodden pilgrimage route- to the St James in Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Pilgrim badge from the shrine of St Leonard at Saint-Leonard-de-Noblat, France dating to the 13th-14th century (https://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/online/object/28996.html)

St Leonard was the patron saint of imprisoned people and women in labour. Medieval descriptions of his shrine recall that it was adorned with offerings of iron chains and shackles left by pilgrims who believed they were released them from their captivity due to the saint’s intercession (Gerson et al 1998, 47).

St Leonards cult also came to Ireland but never achieve a widespread popularity. A holy well dedicated to St Leonard can be still be found in the village of Dunnamaggin Co Kilkenny.

St Leonard’s Holy well Dunnamaggin Co Kilkenny surrounded by a circular hedge

I have come across only two other dedications to the saint. The first, St. Leonard’s Priory, a monastery of Fratres Cruciferi or Crutched Friars, was established in the medieval town of Dundalk in the twelfth century. The priory was, founded by Bertram or Nicholas de Verdun and was situated in the grounds of the present county library. The second dedication was located in the medieval town of Waterford where a chapel dedicated to St Leonard was located in the Benedictine priory. The saint’s feast day was also recorded in The Book of Obits and Martyrology of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin where the last entry for November 6th reads

Et sancti Leonardi abbatis et confesson

Crosswaith 1844, 71

St Leonard’s cult probably arrived in Dunnamaggin area with the Anglo-Normans. The holy well is located a short distance from the ruins of the medieval parish church of Dunnamaggin, also dedicated to St Leonard.

Medieval parish church of Dunnamaggin

The 1st edition ordnance survey 6 inch map for the area tentatively point to another cult associated with the well. The well is clearly marked as St Rynagh’s well on the map.

1st edition 6inch maps showing St Leonard’s holy well marked as St Rynagh holy well OSI map.

Rynagh is the anglicisation of Ríoghnach. The saint may be the early medieval female saint, Rioghnach of Kilrainy in Co Kildare. Interestingly the contemporary Ordnance Survey Letters of Kilkenny written in 1839 only associated the well with St Leonard and makes no mention of St Rioghnach at all. She is not mentioned in Carrigan’s The history and antiquities of the diocese of Ossory either or in any local folklore sources.

The well is located in a field beside the main road through Dunnamaggin village. The field can be easily accessed through a style in the boundary wall.

St Leonard’s Holy well Dunnamaggin Co Kilkenny is surrounded by circular hedge

The well is enclosed by a circular hedge and a small metal gate provides access to the interior. The hedge respects the line of an earlier circular enclosure, which was ‘ almost levelled’ by the 1900’s (Carrigan 1905, 38).

The holy well is a natural spring. Its waters fill a circular stone lined hollow set flush to the ground. On one side there is a over flow which takes the water into a stone drain.

ISt Leonard’s holy well Dunnamaggin

The well is over looked by a modern statue niche now filled by a metal cross bearing the saint’s name and a number of mature trees.

Statue niche at St Leonard’s holy well.

Some years ago the well was restored by the current land owner and a local committee. It is very clear that the well and surrounding area are maintained on a regularly basis, the day I visited the grass had been recently cut.

St Leonard’s holy well

The schools collections, local folklore and antiquarian sources record a number of traditions associated with the well. Like many other Irish wells it was said the water would never boil.

Another tradition held that St Leonard provided protection to local people from lightening.

St. Leonard prayed that no one within three mile of Dunnamaggin would be struck by lightning. His prayer was granted.

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0853, Page 069

The well was once the focus of great devotion but was in decline by the mid-19th century. According the Ordnance Survey Letters 1839

There was a patron held here formerly, on Saint Leonard’s day, but what day that was nobody now remembers.

Ordnance Survey Letters [92-93]

It is not entirely true that the saints feast day was forgotten the schools collection for Dunamaggin school from the 1930s mention that

until recent years a pattern used be held there annually on the 6th November.

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0853, Page 068

The 6th of November is the feast day of the saint. The schools essays for Newtown, Kells also note

The well was visited by people on the second or third Sunday in November and there are prayers said there by the people who visit it.

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0858B, Page 02

Pilgrimages were also made in the summer months

Kilmaggany people visited it (St Leonard’s Well) during the month of July and took a drink of the water & washed their feet in the stream which flows from the well. It was believed to cure pains in the limbs.

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0852, Page 294

Other cures are associated with the well’s waters include a cure for sore eyes.

The water would cure sore eyes when washed three times on different days. There is a big flag-stone at the side of the well.

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0852, Page 295

The pilgrim landscape extends beyond the well and includes a tree called St. Leonard’s Tree. I didn’t have time on my visit to find the tree. In times gone by pilgrims visited the tree as part of their pilgrimage rounds. Carrigan noted that mass used to be celebrated beneath it. Like a number of other holy trees it was believed to have protective properties

Until recent years natives of the place would never think of emigrating without bearing away with them a sprig or chip cut from Crownsanleeanarth [name for the tree], as a preservative against shipwreck on their voyage to foreign lands.

Carrigan 1905, 38

During the cholera epidemic of 1832

people carried about with them little scraps from the bush to save themselves from the prevailing epidemic.

Carrigan 1905, 38

In the past people often turned to holy wells in times of crisis and outbreaks of disease. The well house at Abbeys well, in the parish of Kilshannig in North Cork was built in the 1870’s to give thanks for the saint expelling disease from the parish. Over the door is a stone plaque that reads “St, Abigal Expelling The Plague A.D. 1872,”

Carrigan in 1905 notes the order of the former rounds undertaken by pilgrims.

The pilgrimage used to begin within the enclosure, at the well ; was continued thence to the road ; and then along the road, to the present chapel, where it ended.

Carrigan 1905, 38

This is confirmed by the schools collections.

Rounds were made there long ago – people used go from the Well to the Church.

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0852, Page 293

An alabaster statue of the saint was discovered at well in the 1800s and was then given to the care of St. Kieran’s College but is now in possession of the current owner of well.

In 1800, Brennans found a stone statue, which they kept in Dunnamaggan, in the well. It is about one foot high & represents a bishop dressed in sacred vestments & holding a staff in his left hand. The head was broken off & lost. The statue is the same as that on the foot of the Dunamaggan Cross. In 1875, Mr James Brennan handed it over to St Kieran’s College Museum where it is still to be seen

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0852, Page 293

Carrigan noted that after the statues discovered before it was given to St Kierans College it was used to swear upon. There are many medieval references to medieval statues and relics being used in oath taking.

… in cases of dispute among the neighbours, the contending parties were accustomed to make declarations with hand placed upon this statue, believing that testimony thus given had all the binding force of an oath.

Carrigan 1905, 38

The radio station KCLR has a made a lovely radio documentary about the well which is worth taking a listen to.

Biography

Carrigan, W. 1905. The history and antiquities of the diocese of Ossory. Dublin : Sealy, Bryers & Walker.

Crosswaite, J. 1844. The Book of Obits and Martyrology of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity: Commonly Called Christ Church. Dublin. For the Irish Archaeology Society.

Curran, A. 1971.“The Priory of St. Leonard, Dundalk.” Journal of the County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society, vol. 17, no. 3, 131–140.

Gearson, P., Krochalis, J., Shaver-Crandell, A. and Stones, A. 1998. The Pilgrim’s Guide to Santiago de Compostela: A Critical Edition. London: Harvey Miller.

Hennig, J. 1944. “St. Leonard in Ireland.” Journal of the County Louth Archaeological Society, vol. 10, no. 4, 297–301.

Herity, M. (ed) 2003, Ordnance Survey Letters Kilkenny. Dublin: Four Masters Press.

Website

Schools Collections https://www.duchas.ie

https://kclr96fm.com/documentary/episode-7-st-leonards-well/embed/#?secret=uFn1FTo1Sl

https://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/online/object/28996.html

Medieval Pilgrims from West Cork

In 1472 the Irish Chieftain Finghín Ó’Driceoil (d. 1472) and his son Tadhg made a pilgrimage to the shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

O’Driscoll More, Fineen, the son of Maccon, son of Maccon, son of Fineen, son of Donough God, died in his own house, after having performed the pilgrimage of St. James, and his son Teige died penitently one month after the death of his father, after having returned from the same pilgrimage.

Annals of the Four Masters 1472

Finghín resided at Baltimore castle (Dún na Séad) in the town of Baltimore Co Cork.

The castle was built by the Ó’Driceoil clan on the site of an earlier castle constructed in ‘1215 by the Anglo-Norman, Sleynie. It was the primary residence and centre of administration for the trading and piratical activities of the Ó’Driceoil family’. The castle is now restored and is a tourist attraction. It is a wonderful place to visit.

Information plaque detailing the history of Baltimore Castle

Given the Ó’Driceoil clan’s connections with trade and the sea, it is likely that Finghín and Tadhg used one of the family owned ships to sail to La Coruña. They would have continued to the shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostela on foot.

Image of medieval boats

Pilgrimage to Santiago was for many of Ireland’s medieval elite a family tradition. We know that Finghín and Tadhg were following in the footsteps of at least one family member know as the Ó’Driceoil Óg. He had made pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in the year 1445, but died during the return voyage from Spain.

View of the sea from Baltimore Pier

Finghín and Tadhg survived the journey to and from the shrine of St James but Finghín died ‘in his own house’ upon his return home and Tadhg died one month later. Perhaps the stresses of the journey had exacerbated underlying medical conditions.

View of the sea from Baltimore Castle

The sudden death of Finghín and Tadhg’s was no doubt a shock to the Ó’Driceoil family, they may have gained some comfort from knowing that the father and son had gained indulgences during their pilgrimage to St James shrine. It was widely believed at the time that an indulgence would have shortening the souls time in purgatory.

For anyone who wants to find out more about the medieval Irish pilgrims who travelled to the shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostela you can check out my new book Journeys of Faith Stories of Pilgrimage from Medieval Ireland

I also highly recommend the book Medieval Irish Pilgrims to Sanitago de Compostela By Bernadette Cunningham.

St David’s Holy Well, Woodhouse, Co. Waterford

St David’s holy well -Tobar Chinnín Dháithí – is one of my favourite holy wells in the whole country. This isnt a statement I make likely.

The main thing I love about the well is that it is very fortunate to have escaped the over use of cement that many Irish holy wells experienced in the 1950’s or some of the bad “restoration” work of the 1980’s-2000’s – the holy well at Brulee, Co Limerick immediately springs to mind. The charm of St David’s holy well is its simplicity. When you stand at the waters edge there is a real connection with the past and you can imagine your experience is very similar to pilgrims 100 or 200 years ago. The trees, flowers and bush that surround the well also help to connect the visitor to the natural world of which holy well are very much rooted.

Grove of trees surrounding St David’s Holy Well at Woodhouse

St David’s well is situated in an out of the way grove of trees on private land. In appearance it is very like the holy well at St Berriherts Kyle but more compact.

St David’s Holy Well in early March 2016

The well itself is a large spring that fills a circular pool defined by a low stone wall, set flush with the ground. The water bubbles up through white sands on the base, before escaping into an over flow channel that takes it the water from the pool into a nearby stream.

It is said “The well never dried even in the warmest summer” (The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0643, Page 155).

The bubbling waters are magical and I have sat for long stretches of time here just watching the water and listening to the rustle of leaves and chatter of birds. The wells beauty is enhanced by a large oak tree that cast shadows over the water. When I last visited here in March 2016, it was surrounded by a thick carpet of yellow daffodils.

It is a round well and there are trees growing all around it. The people hang the tokens on the trees. The statue of St David is erected there. There is a lovely sand bubbling up out of the well. It is so clear you would imagine it was silver.

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0643, Page 167

Large oak tree growing beside St David’s holy well at Woodhouse

Unusually the well is dedicated to St David the patron saint of Wales whose feast day is the 1st of March. The south-east of Ireland has long established connections with Wales. St David and his monastery (at St Davids in Wales) are mentioned in several Lives of Irish saints. St Finbarr of Cork is said to have visited St David on his return from Rome, while SS Aidan of Ferns, Finnian of Clonard, along with Scothin and Senanus, are all said to have studied at the monastic school at St David’s.

St David’s holy well at Woodhouse is located in the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore. The patron of the diocese is St Declan of Ardmore who also spent time in Wales in the company of St David.

On one of these occasions Declan paid a visit to the holy bishop of the Britons whose name was David at the church which is called Killmuine where the bishop dwelt beside the shore of the sea which divides Ireland from Britain. The bishop received Declan with honour and he remained there forty days, in affection and joy, and they sang Mass each day and they entered into a bond of charity which continued between themselves and their successors for ever afterwards. On the expiration of the forty days Declan took leave of David giving him a kiss in token of peace and set out himself and his followers to the shore of the sea to take ship for Ireland.

Power, Rev. P. 1914. Life of St. Declan of Ardmore, 25

A  large statue of a very serious St David, dressed as a bishop, sits a plinth of concrete overlooking the holy well.  The date 1923 is carved into the base.

Statue of St David at St David’s Holy Well Woodhouse

This statue was a gift, donated by Br Benigus Tracy in this year having experieneced a cure (NFSC, An Eaglais, Ceapach Chuinn (roll number 1395).

The wells waters are said to have healing properties. The waters are especially beneficial to those suffering from headaches or migraines. The connection with healing of complaints the head is reflected in the Irish name for the well, “Tobar Chinnín Dháithí” translates roughly as the ‘Well of David’s Little Head’.

078
St David’s Holy Well Woodhouse

According to the Schools essays to obtain relief from sickness pilgrims had to walked three times around the well saying whatever prayer they wished (An Eaglais, Ceapach Chuinn (roll number 1395). Other accounts tell us that the pilgrim were to drink water from the well and rub it to their forehead to obtain the cure.

three sups of the water is taken. People leave a medal or a bead or string, there as a token of getting cured.

Mount Stewart, Ceapach Chuinn (roll number 0643)

In the past the well was visited throughout the year but a special pilgrimage was made on the 1st of March the feast day of St David. Pilgrims in the 19th century were said to ‘hang tokens on the trees’ around the well ( Mount Stewart, Ceapach Chuinn (roll number 0643). The tradition of leaving offerings has died out some local people still visit the well on the 1st of March.

Like many other Irish holy wells, folklore relating to St David’s well suggests it is now in a secondary location.

People say that the well was further up the field. One day Major Fitzgeralds washed his face in the well, and from that second onwards it started, to dry until it was dry as the field. Then it sprang up in the field further down, and it is there to this day.

An Eaglais, Ceapach Chuinn (roll number 1395)

This is not the only holy well dedicated to St David in the south-east. Another more well known well one can be found at St David’s holy well at Olygate in Wexford. These two wells are reminders of the long established l links between the south-east of Ireland and Wales and the spread of the cult of medieval saints.

Thanks to Dr Ann Buckley for translating Irish language material in Schools Folklore Essays relating to the well.

Bibliography

An Eaglais, Ceapach Chuinn (roll number 1395) http://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4428119

Mount Stewart, Ceapach Chuinn (roll number 0643) http://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4428120

Moore M. 1999. Archaeological Inventory of County Waterford. Dublin: Stationery Office, 203.
ITA. (Irish Tourist Authority Survey )[1941-45] Topographical and General Survey, 122.
Power, Rev P. 1907. ‘Place-Names of the Decies’, JWSEIAS Vol. 10, 193.
Power, Rev P. 1914. Life of St. Declan of Ardmore, and Life of St. Mochuda of Lismore, (edited from ms. in Library of Royal Irish Academy). London : Irish Texts Society.

http://irelandsholywells.blogspot.com/2013/03/saint-davids-holy-well-tinakilly-county.html

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Traces of the Cistercian Abbey of Inislounaght, at Marlfield Clonmel

Inislounaght Abbey was one of the great Cistercian monasteries of Co Tipperary. Unlike other well preserved examples like Kilcooley, Holycross or Hore Abbey little survives above ground.

Entrance to St Patrick’s Church if Ireland Marlfield

Inislounaght would have had the same ground plan as other contemporary Cistercian monasteries with a central open cloister surrounding by monastic building with the church located on north side of the cloister. We can only speculate as to its size or choice of windows, doors and carvings Was it as elaborately decorated as Holycross abbey?

Ground plan of Medieval Cistercian Monastery

Inislounaght once stood at or close to the site of St Patrick’s Church of Ireland church, at Marlfield village on the outskirts of Clonmel on the northern bank of the river Suir. The large stone buildings of the medieval settlement are long gone replaced by a church and historic graveyard.

St Patrick’s Church of Ireland church, Marlfield, Clonmel.

St Patrick’s church, built in 1818, is an elegant building dominated by a crenellated tower. Unfortunately the church was locked when I visited this week. I have been inside before many years ago and I remember that the building incorporates fragments of the earlier monastic church, the most prominent being a Romanesque doorway rebuilt into the interior of west wall.

Notice board detailing some of the history of the abbey

Inislounaght was founded as a daughter house of Mellifont in the year 1148 but shortly afterwards became affiliated with Monasteranenagh Abbey in Co Limerick . The monastery went on to have daughter houses in Fermoy, Co Cork; Corcomroe, Co Clare and Glanawydan, Co Waterford (Stalley 1987, 246). A detailed history of the monastery can be found in Ó Conbhuidhe’s The Cistercian Abbeys of Tipperary. The monks here would have also been in control of pilgrimage at near by St Patrick’s holy well.

In the year 1540 the monastery was dissolved and by 1746 the monastic church was described as being ‘in ruins’ (Smith 1746, 48).

St Patrick’s Church of Ireland church at Marlfield

Glimpse of what the monastery may have looked like can be seen in the surrounding historic graveyard. A very prominent example being a 16th- /early 17th-century tapering graveslab incorporated into the graveyard wall.

The slab is decorated, in relief, with a seven-armed segmental-headed cross with fleur-de-lis terminals. There is a three-barred knop at the base of the cross-head. The cross-shaft rests on a stepped base. There is a latin inscription, in Black Letter script, on the sinister side of the slab which begins beneath the cross-head. The HIC is in relief but the rest is incised. The inscription is quite worn, it has been transcribed and translated by Maher (1997, 66-67) as: HIC IACET PIUS V(I)(R) D(U?)S L/IBA..ER…. (Here lies Pius, noble husband?)” (Farrelly 2017).

Graveslab incorporated into the graveyard wall at St Patrick’s graveyard, Marlfield.

A short distance away, part of 13th/14th century sandstone cross-slab has been reused as a modern grave marker. Both graveslabs would have been originally located inside the main monastic church.

Sandstone cross-slab has been reused as a modern grave marker at St Patrick’s graveyard Marlfield.

Monastic churches were the favoured burial places of the great and good of society and it seems that Inislounaght was no different. Donations of land and money were given in return for burial within the church and the recitation of masses and prayer for the deceased.

Two elaborate pieces of funerary sculpture can also be seen in the graveyard. One is a fragment of a chest-tomb – a free standing, box-like funerary monument. Chest-tombs date from the 13th century AD onwards. Many late medieval examples have finely carved images of the saints (often referred to as weepers) set in niches surrounding the sides. When complete the Marlfield tomb have looked something like the chest-tomb in the photo below found at Jerpoint Abbey Co Kilkenny.

Chest-tomb at Jerpoint Abbey, Jerpoint Co Kilkenny

The Inislounaght example dates to around the 16th-century and is carved from limestone(Farrely 2017). I believe it to be an example of the O’Tunney school of sculpture, whose work is also found at Kilcooley and Holycross Abbey.

The fragment is decorated with three images of saints each set in a niche. The figure on “the right (the least in tact) holds a cross-staff, of which only the cross head survives. This figure may represent St Thaddeus who is often represented carrying a cross-staff.” The central figure is St Peter who carries a large key in his right hand and a book. The figure beside him is probably St Thomas, as he appears to be holding a spear in his right hand and a book in his left. His cloak is held in place by a diamond shaped brooch (Farrelly 2017).

Fragment of chest-tomb depicting St Peter and St Thomas at St Patrick’s graveyard, Marlfield

Close to the chest-tomb fragment, is a heavily weather carved sandstone head of a woman. The stone is carved in high relief would have formed part of the top of an effigial tomb.

According to Farrely (2017)

“It appears to be a lady, wearing a gorget under the chin and possibly a nebuly head-dress, where the hair is held in place by a crespine of fabric or fine wire. The hair appears to be gathered at the top of the head and flows down over, and to the base of, the roll-moulding. The head is reminiscent of an effigy (KK022-055—-) from Ballykeefe, Co. Kilkenny which has been dated by Hunt (1974, vol. 1, 165) to c. 1340-1360.

Structural element of the abbey’s building are also to be found. Fragments of cut stone are scattered around the graveyard with some reused to mark later graves. Several pieces of what was once a large tracery window and parts of a carved column sit around a modern grave. I’m told other carved fragments and cut stone from the abbey can be found in the stores of Tipperary County Museum.

When taken together the funerary monuments and cut stones all suggesting a finely decorated and beautiful church. A place where the wealthy from the area wanted to be laid to rest.

Anyone interested in folk art and gravestone will enjoy the many fine examples of 18th & 19th-century gravestones. I suggest a visit early morning on a sunny day.

Bibliography

Farrelly, J. 2017. https://webgis.archaeology.ie/historicenvironment

Ó Conbhuidhe, C. 1999, The Cistercian Abbeys of Tipperary. Dublin. Four Courts Press.

Stalley, R. 1987 The Cistercian monasteries of Ireland. London and New Haven. Yale University Press.

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