Balla Co Mayo

Balla in Co Mayo  has very ancient roots, and was once the site of a thriving pilgrimage.   Balla was also located along the route  of the well-known pilgrim road/route  the TocharPhádraig. Tradition holds that Tóchar was  a medieval road  that linked Croagh Patrick to important settlements such as Aghagowel,  Ballintubber and Balla and used by pilgrims up until the 19th century when travelling to Croagh Patrick.

Despite its connections with the Croagh Patrick pilgrimage, Balla was not founded by St Patrick but folklore tells that the saint rested here while travelling through Mayo. The  modern village developed around the site of a seventh century monastery founded by St Crónán also known as a Mo-Chúa. The saint was educated by St Comghall of Bangor and  he died in AD 637.  Like St Laserian, Crónán choose to settle  at Balla because of a divine sign. It was said that a cloud guided the saint to Balla  and upon his arrival a spring  burst from the ground. Such signs confirmed to the saint that this was where his church was meant to be. We know little of the early settlement established by Crónán. It was seldom mentioned in historical sources and  all that survives of the early monastery are the partial remains of a round tower  found within a historic graveyard.

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Balla Round Tower

The tower survives to a height of circa 10m. During the nineteenth century it was used as a bell tower for the local catholic church. Lalor estimates it once stood at a height of 30m.  The tower has two doors the lower of which appear to be a late medieval insertion.  The lintel of this door  re-used an early medieval cross slab. Today the slabs  decoration is quite faded and difficult to see. The upper door has traces of Romanesque moulding on its lower course suggesting  a 12th century date for the construction for the tower. The  changes in masonry  style and the stones size within the upper door and the surrounding masonry suggest  this section was a later rebuild (O Keeffe 2004, 79-80).  Apart from the re-used cross slab the fabric of the tower also incorporates two bullaun stone  within the walls.

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In the 1830s a church was recorded in the vicinity of the tower, the church has  long since disappeared although a late medieval altar still survives to the north-east of the tower.

The site of the spring which burst forth from the ground on the arrival of Crónán also survives and is located to the west of the graveyard along a small lane that runs along the side of graveyard from the carpark in the community centre.  The holy well  which burst forth to welcome Crónán to Balla is today known as  Tobair Mhuire (Lady Well).  When I visited the site in 2014 the well was choked up with silt and the rest house was in a poor state of preservation.

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Tobar Mhuire Holy Well at Balla

The ruins of a 17th century building that was built as a shelter for blind and lame pilgrims  is located beside the well.

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Bath House at Balla Holy Well

There are no historical accounts of pilgrimage during the medieval period but the well and monastery were the focus of a very popular post medieval pilgrimage. The post medieval pilgrimage likely developed from an older pilgrimage tradition. The construction of  the rest house in the 17th century suggests a sizeable flow of pilgrims here at the time. The well was probably once dedicated to St Cronán/Mo Chúa but by the 17th century, if not long  before, its was firmly associated with the Blessed Virgin and stations were performed here on the 15th of August. A pattern day festival was also held on this date.  Lewis in 1837 noted the well

is attended by great numbers of the peasantry at patrons held on the 15th of August and  8th of September(Lewis 1837, 102).

The waters of the well were held to have healing properties and were especially good for sore eyes.

According to the Ordnance Survey Letters of Mayo of 1838

There  are also two little pillars, of mason work , called by the people, Station monuments (Leachta), and used as such, on top of which, are two small stone crosses, one on each, and in which are fixed (in the work of which are placed) two stones, one in each, with inscriptions on them, dated 1733; both are written in English, and under one of them are the words ‘Sun tuum praesidium fugimus, sancta Dei genitrix’. that is – Under your protection, we fly, Holy Mother of God.

These pillars and crosses appear to have acted as pilgrim stations but are no longer present at the site.   The pillars may have been replaced  two cairns of stones which also acted as pilgrim stations. The cairns were recorded by The Schools Manuscripts Essays for Balla (roll no. 1146, 178 ) in 1937 beside the well but are no longer present at the site

are two heaps of stones with a cross on each lying down. Beneath those heaps two priests are supposed to be buried. St Cronan himself is said to be buried somewhere near the spot (Balla B roll no. 1146, p 178).

The The Schools Manuscripts Essays state to obtain a cure

sight has been restored to some people who perform the stations. Several Our Fathers and Hail Marys have to be repeated at each heap of stones and at the well (Balla B roll no. 1146,  p 178)

As devotion to the well ceased the cairns of stones were removed in the ensuing years.

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The 19th century devotional rituals engaged in by pilgrims were quiet complex and know as the Long Station. It was said that 15,000-20,000 people would attend the main days of pilgrimage arriving on the eve of the feast during this period (Rynne 1998  183).

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Charles Green, An Irish ‘Patern’ at Balla County Mayo – The ‘Long station’, engraved by Eugène Froment, in The Graphic 11 (23 January 1875), between pp. 96 and 97. Ill. 899 [899]. Green himself described the churchyard scene on p. 78. (Image taken http://www.maggieblanck.com/Mayopages/Irishancestors.html)

Prayers began in the graveyard among the  tombstones  the bare foot pilgrims  would kneel and say a Pater, Ave and Gloria ( Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be to the Father)  seven times, they then crawled on their kneels to what was known as the high altar (the altar from the medieval church) within the graveyard ,  one Pater and fifteen Aves  were recited as they made their way to the altar. At the altar they said the litany of the Blessed Virgin, seven Aves and seven Glories. The pilgrims  then walked around the graveyard seven times  saying fifteen decades of the rosary. Returning to  the altar they said the  Pater, Ave and Goria five times.  From here they continued to the well and at each  cairn(mound) near the well they said five Pater Ave and Gloria.  The pilgrims then entered the rest house and said a Pater Aves and Gloria five times, after which they turned three times around. The pilgrim rest house was described as unroofed in the Ordnance Survey Letters in 1838. Leaving the rest house pilgrims  then went to the well and made the sign of the cross with its waters saying one ave each time. This  completed the stations (Rynne 1998, 183).

The Schools Manuscripts Essays for Balla  also recount a version of the Long Station and it appears by the early 20th centurythe  penitential aspect of the pilgrimage had lessened slightly with people now wearing shoes for most of the station.

The rounds are done by the people on the knees from a particular slab to the altar on the opposite side of the graveyard saying while doing seven Our Father, seven Hail Marys and seven Glories. Them the people walk around the graveyard even times and they repeat the same prayers. When the people reach the graveyard gate they go on their knees to the altar again and they go down to the Blessed well  and take off their shoes and stockings and walk around the well three times  and then drink the water. After  that they make the sign of the cross on a stone nearby so that the station would be blessed (Balla C roll no. 1146, p 34-35.)

Relevant to the decade of commemorations and showing how in times of crisis holy wells and local saints were turned to for help and protection

During the Black and Tan regime people from Balla did the stations for the protection of Cronan for Balla  (Balla B roll. no. 1146)  p179

This reaction of the people of Balla to seek protection from their saint  is not surprising when one considers in June 20th 1921  the Black and Tans burned the town of Knockcroghery in Co Roscommon.

The rise of pilgrim sites like Knock in the later 1800’s sent the  pilgrimage at Balla into a steady decline and today the  pilgrimage that took place here is a distant memory.

If you visit Balla be sure to go to the local community centre where there is a great display dedicated to the history of the site and the area.

References

The Schools Manuscripts Essays, Ball Áluinn (Balla) (roll number 1146) http://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4427833

Green, C. 1875. ‘An Irish ‘Patern’ at Balla County Mayo – The ‘Long station’’, engraved by Eugène Froment,  The Graphic 11 (23 January 1875), between pp. 96 and 97. Ill. 899 [899].

Herity, M. 2009. (eds.) Ordnance Survey Letters Mayo. Fourmasters Press.

Lalor, B. 1999. The Irish Round Tower. The Collins Press.

O’Keeffe, T. 2004. Ireland Round Towers.  Tempus Press.

Rynne, E. 1998. ‘The Round Tower, Evil ye, and Holy Well at Balla Co Mayo’s’  in C Manning (ed) Dublin and Beyond the Pale. Studies in honour of Paddy Healy. Bray: Wordwell in association with Rathmichael Historical Society pages 177-184

 

Ardpatrick Co Limerick

St Patrick is associated with many wonderful sites around Ireland,  Ardpatrick Co Limerick is one of my favourite. Located on the edge of a village of the same name, the site is about six miles south of Kilmallock on R512, on the road to Kildorrery in the county of Cork. Sitting on top of a large hill  the site consists of  the ruins of an early medieval  ecclesiastical settlement,  consisting of a ruined church surrounded by a modern rectangular graveyard and the stump of a round tower.  The site is held to date to early medieval period and the partial remains of  large  enclosure that once surrounded the site is still visible. Within the enclosure are earthworks of possible buildings, fields banks, enclosures and a road.

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View of Ardpatrick from the air ( Bing maps)

The name Ardpatrick comes from the Irish ‘Ard Phádraig’  which means the ‘Height or Hill of Patrick’.  According to local tradition St Patrick founded a monastery here in the 5th century.

A story in the late 9th century work Bethu Phátric, The Tripartite Life of St Patrick, tells us that when Patrick sought a site for the church on Ardpatrick, Derbhall, the local leader, opposed him. He told him that he would believe only if St Patrick removed part of the mountain wall to the south so that he could see Loch Long in the land of Fir Muí Féinne. St Patrick prayed and the mountain melted forming a gap, Bealach Leáite, the Pass of the Melting (Dowd 1896, 49; Limerick Diocesan Heritage).

In the ensuing centuries the  Ardpatrick was ruled by abbots drawn from the Déisí, the ruling Sept of An Déis Bheag, the territory in which the monastery was situated. The church became a very important and powerful site. It had strong links with Armagh and collected Munster contributions to Armagh. Torlogh O’Connor plundered the church at Ardpatrick in 1127AD and in 1129 Cellach, bishop of Armagh, died at Ardpatrick  on Monday 1 April.  The O’Langans were hereditary coarbs of Ardpatrick and the lands here remained in their possession and a group  known as the ‘Clerks of Ardpatrick’,  up to the 16th century (Fleming 2009 ,6).

Ardpatrick Archaeological remains

As the name suggest the ruins  at Ardpatrick sit at the top of a large hill to get to the summit you follow  a small track from the edge of the  village.

The hill is steep but when you reach the top of the hill you will be rewarded with magnificent views of the surrounding countryside.

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Today the all that remains of this once great site are the ruins of multi period church  which is covered in a thick growth of ivy which makes it difficult to examine in detail.  According to Ó Carrigáin (2010 131)

‘ apart perhaps from the north end of the west wall, none of its fabric seems to be medieval. It does incorporate large blocks that probably come from a per-Romanesque church.

 

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View of the ruins of the church at Ardpatrick

A number of carved stones from windows etc are found scattered around  the site and the interior of the church is filled with historic graves.

The church and graveyard are surrounded by a rectangular walled  enclosure.  Ó Carrigáin (2010, 131-132) points out that one of the stones in the stile at the  west end of this enclosure  incorporates an upside down door lintel which was part of an earlier pre-Romanesque church.

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Upside down door lintel reused in stile. This stone likely came from a pre-Romanesque church that once stood at the site (Ó Carrigáin 2010, 306).

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In the past a holy well stood to the southwest of the church.

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1st ed. OS 6 inch map of Ardpatrick

The well is now filled in but was once circa 40 feet deep, faced with stone, and had steps leading to it.  According to legend, cattle are said to have been cured by its water. People visited the well seeking cures for lameness, rickets and rheumatism also used it.

According to the Folklore Collection Schools Manuscript of 1937

There is a holy well now nearly filled up on the hill here. The water lay about 15ft from surface, people said that if on looking down you did not see your reflection in the water you would die before the current year ran out.

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Carved detail of a window embrasure in the church fabric

Outside the graveyard  wall are the stump of a 11th-12th century round tower  built of dressed stone. Given its location it must have dominated the landscape when built. The tower collapsed in a storm in 1824 and local legend tells of a peal of 7 silver bells which once hung in the tower.

 

 

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According to the Schools Manuscripts (1937) folklore about the tower said that the tower was destroyed

When Murrough the Burner was coming from Cashel his soldiers burned Ardpatrick village which my informant says stretched west by south from the old tower. A party of soldiers on guard in the tower were playing cards. They played on top of a powder keg. One of them ‘hit the keg a welt of his fist’ upsetting a candle into the powder. The resulting explosion damaged the tower which was still further damaged by lightning.

It was also said that a subterranean passage supposed to exist between the round tower & the old abbey.

Another interesting feature that survives at the site are the traces of an ancient road way.

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Aerial view of site (Bing Maps) showing the line of the Rian Bó Phádraig

The old road known locally as the Rian Bó Phádraig has discussed this road in a previous post of St Patrick to find out more follow the links.

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The remains of the old road known as the Rian Bó Phádraig.

 

 

References

Fleming, J. 2009.  The formation of the church in Limerick’. In Limerick History and Society, 1-15.

https://pilgrimagemedievalireland.com/2016/02/03/holy-cow-the-miraculous-animals-of-the-irish-saints-part-three-st-patricks-cow-and-the-rian-bo-phadraig/

http://www.limerickdioceseheritage.org/Ardpatrick/textArdpatrick.htm

Irish Folklore Collection Schools Manuscripts Ardpatrick Co Limerick http://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4922041

ÓCarrigáin, T. 2010. Churches in Early Medieval Ireland. London: Yale University Press.

Ó Danachair, C. (1955). The holy wells of Co. Limerick. JRSAI Vol. LXXXV, pt. II, pp. 193-217.

 

Holy Cows. The Miraculous Animals of the Irish Saints: Part Two St Manchan’s Cow

St Ciarán was not the only saint to have a magical cow, his  neighbour St Manchan of Lemanaghan also had a cow with the ability to produce an endless supply of milk.

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Cow and calf taken around Carrick-on -Shannon

Lemanaghan was founded in the seventh century, when King Diarmaid son of Aedh Sláine, granted the land of the territory of Tuaim-nEirc (Doimerc) to Clonmacnoise following his victory at the battle against Guaire King of Connaught in 645/646.  Manchan a monk of Clonmacnoise, founded a sister monastery within this newly acquired territory at Lemanaghan. The place-name Lemanaghan “Liath-Manchain” in Irish means the grey place of Manchan”.

 

Map of Lemanghan showing the monastic remains from Bing maps

Map of Lemanghan showing the monastic remains from Bing maps

Manchan died in 664/665 having caught the yellow plague that raged through the country. Most of what we know about the saint comes from local folklore.

St Manchan and his Cow

According to folk tradition St Manchan had a cow that had the ability to supplied milk to all the people of Lemanaghan. The cows amazing milk producing qualities inspired envy in others and according to a local folk tale one day when the cow was grazing outside of the monastery the people of Kilnamaghan came and stole her (The Schools Manuscripts  1939 Vol 810, 104).

They brought the cow backwards and at every little well that was on the way the cow drank. As she came up from the well she even left the track of her feet in the stone. The well and the tracks of her feet in the stone are yet to be seen. When the Saint came back he missed the cow and set out in search for her.

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View of St Manchan’s road at Lemanaghan. The cow was said to have left marks of her feet on this  small stone causeway beside the main monastic site at Lemanaghan.

When Manchan realized  his cow was missing  he was very upset but luckily was able to traced the cows movements by following the tracks made by her hooves and tail on stones along the route of her journey. Manchan followed the signs left by the  cows until he reached Kilnamaghan. The saint to his horror found his beloved cow boiling in a large pot inside a hut. The hide of the cow was left behind the door.  The saint hit the hide a kick and up jumped the cow alive and well.  It was said she was every bit as good as she had been before but for the loss of a bone which caused her to be a bit lame (The Schools Manuscripts  1939 Vol 810, 104). This tale has many similarities to contemporary folk tales told about St Ciarán’s cow.

The kidnapping and returning from the dead didn’t seem to cause too much distress to the cow and when she came back to Lemanaghan she supplied  milk to the people just as good as before.  It is saint that ever since that time the people of Lemanaghan have never sold milk and also they keep St Manchan’s day as a holiday of obligation (The Schools Manuscripts  1939 Vol 810, 104).

The tradition of not selling milk  survived down to modern times and in 1999 an Irish Times article reported on the tradition among farmers in Lemanaghan to not sell any milk.

The tradition is observed to this day by the locals who believe that if they sell their milk they show disrespect to their local patron saint. They will give any surplus milk away but will not accept any payment for it. They make their living by rearing suckler cows, beef cattle and sheep.

The same article tells of

one man who moved into the area refused to believe the tradition and in the 1940s set up a dairy herd. Eleven of his cows died overnight, and the calves were born with heads like sheep. The man gave up dairying.

St Manchan and his cow are still fondly remembered in the area  and have a meaning for the local community. This is clearly seen at the local parish church at Boher which boasts a magnificent  Harry Clarke window which depicts the saint and his cow.

St Manchan and his cow

Harry Clarke Window showing St Manchan and is Cow at Boher Co Offaly ( image taken http://irelandsholywells.blogspot.ie/2012/04/saint-manchans-well-county-offaly.html)

References

Farmers refuse to sell milk out of respect for local saint Irish Times, March 4th, 1999 http://www.irishtimes.com/news/farmers-refuse-to-sell-milk-out-of-respect-for-local-saint-1.158972

DEPARTMENT OF FOLKLORE, U.C.D Schoolbook vol 810, Leamonaghan (1939)

http://irelandsholywells.blogspot.ie/2012/04/saint-manchans-well-county-offaly.html

https://pilgrimagemedievalireland.com/tag/st-manchans-shrine/

 

 

St Colmán’s holy well at Oughtmama Co Clare

St Colmán’s well/ Tobar Cholmáin  is part of the monastic landscape of Oughtmama a small  but significant monastic site located  in a valley above Turlough Hill in the Burren in Co Clare.

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View of Oughtmama churches from pathway leading to Tobar Cholmán.

Oughtmama was associated with three different St Colmán’s one of which was  St Colmán Mac Duagh the patron saint of the dioceses of Kilmacduagh and it is this Colmán who is the patron of the nearby holy well. According to folklore it was said the saint came to the site in his  retirement seeking a life of solitude.  He later died here and was brought back to Kilmacduagh for burial.

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St Colmán’s well/ Tobar Cholmáin at Oughtmama

The well is located on a steep northeastern slope of the valley above the monastic site. It consists of a rectangular stone walled enclosure with steps leading down to the  water in the well.

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A tree  growing out of a loose pile of stones and a leacht (a small stone built cairn of stones), are found on either side of the well.

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According the Ordnance Survey Letters of 1839 the well had

migrated from its original position and broke out a short distance lower on the slope of the hill, where it is now known by the new name of Sruthan na Naomh, the Rivulet of the Saints; but its original locality which is still called Tobar Cholmain has a square enclosure of stones, in the centre of which grows a small, stunted, white thorn bush, exhibiting votive rags of various colours.

Like many other Irish holy wells it was held to have curative powers and was  especially good for the eyes. It was said that the water could cure cataracts. The Ordnance Survey Letters ( 1839) state

This well is inbued with extraordinary naturally medicinal, or supernaturally miraculous virtues, for people have often washed their eyes in it, which were veiled with thick pearls, and ere they had completed the third washing these pearls (films) fell off leaving the eyes perfectly bright and clear-sighted .

In the late 1830s  when he Ordnance Survey Letters were written  a pattern was still held here annually on the 15th November in honor of St. Colmán feast day. Elsewhere St Colmán’s feast was celebrated on the 29th of October especially in the diocese of Kilmacduagh but at Oughtmama the feast was celebrated on the 15th of November.

The pattern day, was a day when people came together to perform pilgrimage at a holy well or saints grave, usually on the saints feast day. Such gatherings were very popular during the  17th, 18th and 19th centuries.  Secular celebration such as dancing,  drinking and stalls selling food and trinkets more often than not  took place along side religious devotion during this period.  Alcohol seems to have been a key component in  secular aspect of the celebrations on the day and pattern day could be rowdy affairs and a large number became the  scene of faction fighting and violence and disorderly behavior (Nugent & Scriven 2015, 18).   The unsocial behavior lead to much disapproval from the state and  both the established  Church as well as the  Catholic church and  attempts,  many of which were successful, were undertaken to suppress the pattern day celebrations.  By the end of the 19th century many had died out.  It is not clear  when exactly the pattern day at Oughtmama died out but it is no longer part of of the modern pilgrim traditions.

*** Local Caption *** Lawrence Collection

Image of pilgrims from the Lawrence Collection entitled ‘View of two men at St Coleman’s Well in Oughtmama, known as Tobercolman.’ from Clare County Library collection.

 

Today the well is visited by  tourists and  pilgrims although the numbers of the latter have steadily declined. The votive offerings and rags tied to the tree beside the well show the continuation of   pilgrims to the well.

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Piece of cord tied to tree at St Colmán well Oughtmama.

 

Many thanks to Pius Murray of  Coisceim Anama walks  for taking me to see this holy well.   For information on Pius’s guided walks see www.coisceimanama.ie / www.pilgrimpath.ie

References

Nugent, L. & Scriven, R. 2015. Wells, Graves & Statues. Exploring the heritage & culture of pilgrimage in medieval & modern Cork city. Cork City Council: Cork.

O’Donovan, J.  and Curry E. 1839. ‘The Ordnance Survey Letters of Co Clare’, http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coclare/history/osl/oughtmama3_masduachs_well.htm.

 

 

Fr Twomey’s Holy Well Dungarvan Co Waterford

Yesterday  Dungarvan historian John Donovan brought me to see a holy well in Dungarvan associated with the famine. The well is located  just outside the walls of  the old work house now  Dungarvan Community hospital in the Springmount area of Dungarvan.

The old Work House in Dungarvan

The old Work House in Dungarvan now the Community Hospital.

Tradition for the areas tells that during the famine when the dead  were brought from the workhouse  they were carried on a cart through a gate into the wall that surrounded the  workhouse. The holy well was located opposite this gateway.  It was said that a local priest called Fr Twomey would come to the well each day and bless the dead with its water  as they left the workhouse on their final journey to the burial ground.

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Gate from Work House opposite the holy well.

These actions had such an impact on local memory that the road the well is located on is known as  Fr Twomey’s road.

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Fr Twomey’s Road runs along side the wall of the old Work House in Dungarvan

Another account of origin of the well is found Schools’ Folklore Collection recorded in the 1930’s. This account recalls that the priest ‘Rev Fr Toomey of the order of St Augustine was resident in this town‘.  He had a vision in which the Blessed Virgin  appeared to him and asked him to clean up the well and build walls around it. The same account tells that the well was a focus of pilgrimage  from the mid 19th century with devotion continuing into the 20th  century.

Rounds are to be made for nine days and certain prayers recited. Some people sat five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys, others recite the Rosary during the rounds, and bathe the part of the body afflicted. This well is renowned for the cure of skin trouble.

The account goes on to say the priest died in 1879 and was buried  in the Friary Church in Dungarvan.

The well was not  marked on the 1st ed. (1841) OS 6-inch map for the area. The wells absence from the map  combined with the folklore evidence may suggest that the well came into existence around this date. The well was marked as a rectangular enclosed area along with a cross on the 2nd ed. (1905) OS 6-inch map and the 25-inch (1907) OS map and named as Father Twomey’s well.

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Father Twomey’s well located outside the walls of the old Work House on the 25-inch (1907) OS map

Today the well is a sad sight, devotion has long ceased the cross marked on earlier maps no longer survives. The outer wall was destroyed by a truck  some years back and the council later widening the road extending the road into  part of the well.  What survives  is covered in  concrete and has  a rather ugly appearance.  In its current position it is hard to imagine that this  was once a pilgrimage site and I couldn’t help but wonder what it looked like in times past. I am going to see if I can find out any more about the well and will keep you posted.

References

The Schools Collection, Clochar na Trócaire, Dúngarbhán (roll number 11461) Volume 0645  pages 0055-59 (logainm.ie/en/49483)

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St Patrick’s Cabbage

In County Longford  the watercress plant was  traditionally known as St Patrick’s Cabbage.

 

Watercress  is  peppery tasting plant and was traditionally  an important food in Ireland.  It was also held to have medicinal properties.

References

Mac, Coitir, N. 2006.  Irish Wild Plands, Myths, Legends and Folklore.  Cork: The Coillins Press.

Shopping list from 1919

I recently came into the possession of a wonderful  little notebook.  The book was used by a shop in 1919 to record customer purchases  bought on credit.

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Sample page from shop notebook recording credit purchases.

The notebook  which is an example of the wonderful penmanship, provides a list of the purchased and  cost of goods.  It also provides a glimpse into  rural life in 1919.

The main purchases were candles, matches, salt,  tea, bread, tobacco, cigarettes, snuff and pipes with occasional purchases of eggs, starch, pipes, and polish.

It’s easy to forget that people in rural Ireland  would not have had access to electricity  in 1919.  Although many  towns and parts of cities were supplied with electricity prior to Independence many people did not get electricity until the 1940s and some till the 1970’s  (Mac Philib 2011).  So its easy to see why candles were  on everyone’s shopping list.

In modern Ireland we all know the dangers of smoking tobacco, so I was surprised to see cigarettes , tobacco and snuff mentioned so often and purchased by approximately 99% of the customers.  Snuff a rarity today was especially popular and  turns up on almost every page of the notebook.  Some people purchased it along with cigarettes.  I wasnt sure exactly what snuff  was.  I remember an elderly neighbour who I used to visit as a child  taking snuff which she kept in a small tin in her apron pocket .  According to Wikipedia Snuff is a smokeless tobacco  made from ground  tobacco leaves. It is inhaled or “snuffed” into the nasal cavity and was very popular .

Reading this book also  made me realize how self-sufficient people were.  There is never a mention of  dairy products, vegetable or meat.  In rural Ireland  most people had access to milk and butter they produced themselves and they also would have grown their own vegetable.  No mention of  treats such as chocolate or coffee which I certainly couldnt live without.

References

Mac Philib, D. 2011. Rural Electrification. A changed Ireland. http://www.ouririshheritage.org/page_id__73.aspx

 

A St Brigit’s Day Tradition from Tipperary: St Brigit’s Ribbon (ribín Bríghud).

Today is the eve of St Brigit’s feast day.  There are many folk traditions associated with the saint  feast and the eve of her feast some of which are still carried out.  This post is about a St Brigit’s day tradition  that was carried out in my home  when I was a child. This tradition called the St Brigit’s Ribbon (ribín Bríghud).

When I was small each year on St Brigit’s eve my mother would hang a ribbon out the window.  The ribbon would be taken in the next morning and put somewhere safe to be used when needed as a cure for headaches.  It was in big demand as migraine seems effect a lot of my family.

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St Brigit’s ribbon (image taken http://swtystbridget.blogspot.ie/p/st-bridget.html)

 

Traditional used for the ribbon

My mothers had learned this ritual from her  mother and the Schools ’ Folklore Scheme (1937-38)  for our parish  records the tradition being practiced  in the area in 1930’s.  I can vaguely remember the  ribbon being laid across my head as a child when I had a headache but nowadays we stick  to painkillers.

Danaher  in his book The Year in Ireland. Irish Calendar Customs  also records the St Brigit’s ribbon custom.

Traditionally to cure a headache the ribbon

First, it is rubbed [the ribbon] or drawn around the patient’s head three times, saying  each time the invocation, ” in the name of the father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen,” after which it is knotted around the head.

The custom was widely documented around Ireland but with some local variations.  In other parts of the country the ribbon was known as Brat Bríde or Bratóg Bríde (St Brigit’s Mantle) (ibid.).

The power of the ribbon came from the general belief that the saint was out and about on her eve traveling around the country and  would touch the ribbon and endow it with its healing powers.  It was acceptable to use  a piece of linen, cloth, a sash or handkerchief or other garments.  Men would often leave out their belts, a tie or braces

to be worn if the wearer was engaged in any hazardous pursuit or journey to a  distant place; it is often thus worn by fishermen and many stories are told of how this fishing boa or that escaped the perils of the sea and storm because one of the crew wore the Brat Bríde (Danaher 1972, 33).

 

Although my family hung the ribbon out the window others laid theirs on the doorstep, window sill, a garden hedge or even over a low roof of a shed.  In some places in Munster  the ribbon/cloth was tied to the latch of the door so the saint would touch it when entering the house.

In my home the ribbon was used only for headaches but in other places  and in times past it was said to cure  sore throats earache,  bareness, help women in childbirth, ward of  the evil eye and protect children from  fairies.  It could also be used for  farm animal that  became ill the sign of the cross was made with the brat and it was then  laid on the animals back to ensure the saints intervention on its behalf.  It helped animals to give birth and have a plentiful supply of milk (Danaher 1972, 33).

This is just one of many customs that were carried out all over the county on St Brigit’s eve or day.

References

Danaher, K 1972.  The Year in Ireland. Irish Calendar Customs.   Cork : Mercier Press, 32-33.

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