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.

 

 

St Brendan’s Rag Tree and Holy Well at Clonfert Co Galway

Last Sunday I paid a flying visit to the medieval Cathedral at Clonfert Co Galway.

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Medieval church at Clonfert

Clonfert Cathedral was built on the site of an early medieval monastery founded by St Brendan the Navigator circa 557 AD.   The history of Clonfert and its architecture is really interesting  and I will come back to it again but for this post I want to focus on a lesser known feature at the site known as St Brendan’s rag tree.

The tree,  a horse-chestnut,  is located in a grove of trees beside  the medieval church along the nuns walk. This is one of the most impressive rag trees that I have come across.  It is covered in votive offerings.

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St Brendan’s rag tree at Clonfert.

The following text was written  by  Christy Cunniffe  for the  South East Archaeological and Historical Society Newsletter for Spring 2012  and provides an excellent discussion of the tree and its history and folklore.

Devotion at holy wells and sacred trees is still quite common
throughout rural Ireland. This example in the woodland near the
cathedral at Clonfert consists of a holy well dedicated to St Brendan.
It manifests itself in the form of a horse chestnut tree with a small
opening in its northern side. In its original form St Brendan’s Well
consisted of an actual well in the ground located in the corner of a
field some three hundred metres south east of here. According to
tradition the well was desecrated when a dog drowned in it. It then
dried up as is usual for wells that are interfered with in some way .

It moved to a new location in the bough of a large ash tree growing on
the ‘hill of the abbey about a hundred metres away. The folklore
attached to this latter well relates that two young boys climbed the
tree and that one of them ‘peed’ into the waters of the well causing it
to fall in a subsequent storm . So once again because the well was
desecrated it went dry and was forced to move. The well that people
now recognise as St Brendan’s Well was only discovered in the
earlier part of the twentieth century and was recognised as such due
to it resembling the shape of the nearby Romanesque doorway of St
Brendan’s Cathedral. Pilgrims and people seeking cures for illness
visit here and leave votive offerings and requests for cures. In earlier
times it was used only for the cure of warts, but in more recent times
is used as a place to seek cures for sick children, thus explaining the
particular array of votive offerings left by believers. To effect a cure
it is commonly believed that one must make three visits and leave
something (Cunniffe 2012, 2).

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Offerings pinned to St Brendan’s rag tree at Clonfert.

The offerings pinned to the tree are varied.  They range from rosary beads, hair bobbins, sockets, babies dummies,  religious statues and children’s toys and brown scapular.

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Votive offerings surrounding St Brendan’s rag tree at Clonfert.

The base of the  tree is surrounded with a circle of offering some may have fallen from the tree but others  are likely placed here on the ground.  These offering are similar to those pinned to the tree although I notices more items of clothing,  religious statues, inhalers, containers for tablets  and holy water bottles. The volume of objects is astonishing and shows that there is still a great devotion to the tree.

References

Cunniffe, C. 2012 ‘St Brendan’s Tree, Clonfert’, South East Archaeological and Historical Society Newsletter, No 9,  Spring, 2012, 2.

The Rag Well Clonmel

The Rag Well  is a small well located in the townland of Knocklucas, on the southern outskirts of the town of Clonmel.  The well gives its name to the surrounding area which is generally referred to as the ‘ragwell’.  This is not a holy well   it is more of a wishing well  and there is a long tradition of people coming here and  tying rags to a white thorn tree beside the well  to make a wish .

Location map of the rag well taken from Bing Maps

Location map of the rag well taken from Bing Maps

While writing my last post on St Patricks well at Marlfield I came across some old photos of the Rag Well  in the National Library of Ireland online photographic database.  I became very curious about the well, its history,  if it had changed  or had been refurbished.

So last weekend I paid a visit to the site with my uncle Eddie who grew up in the  Old Bridge area of Clonmel town  and as a child visited the site.

 

The landscape of the site  at the end of the 19th- early 20th century

In 1841 John O’Donovan records that  the well  as being  known as Tobar na Gréine / the well of the sun.  Although he refers to it as a holy well, he makes no mention of pilgrimage or an association with a saint.  By the early 20th century the well was known as the Rag Well and  continues to be  known by this name  to this day.

The well is an underground stream which flows into a stone lined channel.  At the time the photo below was taken in the early 1900’s  the well was surrounded by a  low circular wall.  The enclosing wall was in poor condition and it looks like only the footings of the wall were visible when the photo was taken.

French, R., & Lawrence, W. (. M.. (18651914). Holy Well, Ragwell Glen, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000319096

French, R., & Lawrence, W. M.. (18651914). Holy Well, Ragwell Glen, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary (Taken from http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000319096

In the  photo the white thorn tree  beside the well is covered in rags.  The well looks directly across  at Slievenamon mountain and the mountain  is  was clearly visible in the photo above.  The modern tree coverage  is alot more  dense and the view is not as clear  but its still pretty  impressive.

French, R., & Lawrence, W. (. M.. (18651914). Slievenamon from Roguell Glen, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000331355

French, R., & Lawrence, W. (. M.. (18651914). Slievenamon from Roguell Glen, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000331355

A later photo,  of unknown date,  shows that the wall around the well had been rebuilt and the well  has remained unchanged to this day.

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The Rag Well photo taken some time in the 20th century ( image taken http://www.igp-web.com/tipperary/photos/oldphotos/index.htm)

The Rag well today

To get to the  Rag Well you head out of Clonmel along  the mountain road  and at  the first  junction,  on a sharp bend you take the  smaller road (see map above).   A short distance up this road you will see a small green gate that opens on to an old grassy laneway.

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Gateway leading to the path to the Rag Well

Go through the gate and the path to the well is on the right hand side  above the lane.  It is easy to miss the path  and you have to climb up to it.  The path consist of stone steps which are now  covered in leaves and dirt.  The steps  are  very slippy  so do take care climbing and if you are anyway unsteady on your feet id  give it a miss, I stumbled a few times on the way up and down.

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Stone steps leading to the Rag Well

The path is a little bit over grown in places but it will lead you to the well.  Like the path the well is neglected and  over grown.  In the older photos the well was surrounded by pasture but today the field  is covered in bracken and gorse.

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The Rag Well surrounded by bracken

The well is still surrounded by  the circular stone wall.  The wall is in a reasonable state of preservation but there are patches  in need of repair.  The well can be entered through a small opening in the south.  The interior is now very over grown,  although it is clear the interior hasn’t change since  French  photographed the well in the 1900’s see photo below. The water flows out from the ground into the stone channel which in turn flows out of the enclosure and heads down hill.

French, R., & Lawrence, W. (. M.. (18651914). Holy Well, Ragwell Glen, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000319095

French, R., & Lawrence, W. (. M.. (18651914). Holy Well, Ragwell Glen, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000319095

The rag tree which is a white thorn tree  is  covered in  ivy.   It looks like the ivy is choking the tree which is really sad given its history.  There  are still some rags on the tree which suggests some adventurous people still come here.

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The Rag Tree which gives the Rag Well its name.

As I said before this is not a not a holy well but a wishing well.   O’Connell in 1956  noted

There  until recently the young ladies used to tie  a bit of a rag around a branch of a tree, perhaps adding a prayer like ” Dear St Anne, send me a man….”

 

As a child my uncle was told the well was associated with the fairies and  he and his friends would tie rags to the tree to make wishes before heading off to the near by reservoir to go for a swim.

ragwell 2 Id love to hear from anyone who has any memories of the rag well  and I hope this post will encourage people to visit it so this magical place does not become forgotten.

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View of Slievenamon from the well today

References

French, R., & Lawrence, W. M.. (18651914). Holy Well, Ragwell Glen, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary . http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000319096

French, R., & Lawrence, W. (. M.. (18651914). Slievenamon from Roguell Glen, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000331355

French, R., & Lawrence, W. (. M.. (18651914). Holy Well, Ragwell Glen, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000319095

O’Connell, P 1956. ‘St Patrick’s well Clonmel, Co. Tipperary: an early Christian sanctuary of the decies. Phamplet . Clonmel: St Patrick’s Day Society.

O’ Flanagan, Rev. M. (Complier) 1929. Letters containing information relative to the antiquities of the county of Waterford collected during the progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1841. Bray: Typescript.

 

St Patrick’s Holy Well at Marlfield Clonmel

St Patrick’s well is  located close to the village of Marlfield, a few miles outside of the town of Clonmel.  It is well is signposted  and can be accessed  from the Cahir to Clonmel road and from the Marlfield village.

St Patrick’s well is located beside a stream at the base of a limestone cliff.  This is a really lovely peaceful spot.  As well as being a place of pilgrimage (excuse the pun) it is also a focal point on hot sunny days for families and children who come here to hang out and paddle in the icy waters of the  man-made pond beside the well.  I had hoped to write a post about the well for St Patrick’s day  but unfortunately the time just got away from me, so better late then never.

Modern Landscape

To access the well you  climb down  modern steps  built into the side the cliff face.  The steps provide a  great vantage point for  views of the  site.

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View of St Patrick’s well from top of steps

At  the bottom  of the steps  there is a large  statue of St Patrick  who  gazes serenely across at the holy well.

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Statue of St Patrick

People often leave votive offerings at the statue and on the day I visited there was a large rosary beads  draped around the statue’s neck and children’s shoes and a candle at the base.

The rest of the site consists of a  bubbling  spring well defined by a tear shaped stone walls whose waters flow  through a small stone channel which in turn flows into a large man-made  pond.

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Interior of St Patrick’s holy well

The water flows through two long hallowed-out  granite water  spouts.  Conn Manning (2007, 13) has identified the stones as flumes from an early medieval horizontal mill.

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The water from the well flows through flumes from an early medieval horizontal mill

The water that fills the well comes from an underground stream and the force of the water is very strong and would have been sufficient to power a mill without a need of a millpond (Manning 2007, 13).  Perhaps the well had a more practical function before becoming a place of devotion.

The water from the well flows through the flumes and through a modern stone lined channel  which flows into a large pond.  At the centre of the pond is a small undecorated early medieval stone cross .

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Beside the large pond are the ruins of a small church of late medieval date.  This may have been used as a parish church in medieval times and appears to have been used as a place of worship until the 18th century. The building is rectangular in plan and built  of limestone rubble. The exterior has been re-pointed and the building has undergone restoration in modern times.  The church and the well belonged to the nearby Cistercian  abbey of Inishlounaght.  The abbey was founded in the 12th century by Donal O’Brien the King of Munster and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.   The abbey no longer survives but its site is located at the first fruits Church of Ireland  on the banks of the Suir in Marlfield village.

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The church is entered through a doorway with hooded moulding  in the west gable, which has been rebuilt in modern times.

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Doorway in the west gable of the church

Within the church there is a late medieval  alter tomb which came originally from the White Mortuary Chapel in St Mary’s church in Clonmel. The tomb was brought here following the demolition of the  chapel  in 1805.

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Interior of St Patrick’s church prior to modern restorations by Robert French from The Laurence Collection National Museum of Ireland http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000339063

Incorporated into the east gable are a number of architectural fragments  such as window heads which  came from the abbey of Inishlounaght and  also an armorial plaque .

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East gable of St Patrick’s church

The Landscape of the Well in the 19th and early 20th century

The landscape we see today at St Patrick well is a relatively new creation and has  changed drastically in the last 50 years or so.

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Photo dating to circa 1900’s showing the original landscape of St Patrick’s well. Taken by Robert French (1841-1917) in The Lawrence Photograph Collection National Library of Ireland http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000339062

In 1914 Power described the well as a

great basin filled to the brim with bubbling crystal water.., close by it in the march is a stunted, rude and early celtic cross which marks a penitential station.

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Photo of St Patrick’s well taken by Robert French (1841-1917) in The Lawrence Photograph Collection National Library of Ireland http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000333667

Early 20th century images of the well suggest it was originally surrounded by a low circular enclosing wall with a large ash tree growing out of the side of the well.  The site had a rather beautiful wild and natural appearance but would have been marshy underfoot.

The remodelling of the site began in the 1956 with the addition of the statue of St Patrick described above. The majority of the works took place in the late 1960’s, undertaken by the St Patrick’s day society with financial aid from the Mayor of Los Angles Sam Vorty.  Vorty’s mother was Johanna Egan formerly of Love Lane in Clonmel who emigrated to America and who often talked to her son about this well. Following her death he contacted the Society of St Patrick’s day  in Clonmel and  offered financial help in improving the well.

With the funding provided by the Mr Vorty, Mr Armand Hammer and the  Irish Israeli society from South California, the St Patrick’s day society instigated  a ‘clean up’ and  remodelling and landscaping  of the site which resulted in its current appearance.

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Plaque dedicated to restoration and landscaping of St Patrick’s well

 

Evidence for pilgrimage

I am a bit short of time this week so I have decided to discuss the well’s association with St Patrick in another post.

St Patrick’s well is not mentioned in any early medieval documents prior to the 12th century. The earliest direct reference to pilgrimage was recorded in 1619 when Pope Paul V granted the a plenary indulgence to all pilgrims visiting St Patrick’s church, provided they went to confession and communion and visited the church on the feast of Pentecost or on the feast day of St Patrick, any time from Vespers to sunset on the feast.

The Ordnance Survey letters written by John Donovan who visited the site in the 1840’s  notes

it  is still esteemed holy and visited by pilgrims far and near for the cure of disease especially headaches.

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St Patrick’s well

The waters of the well are renowned for healing properties. In 1813 the well was described as follows

there is an excellent mineral spring and a well which is celebrated for curing sore lips,  sore eyes, the srofula* and several chronic diseases either by drinking or washing in the  stream that issues from it. Thousands flock here in summertime from all places astound to pilgrimage in the stream.

Others who visited the well recorded that  clusters of stones within the stream along with  the early medieval cross marked the pilgrim stations.  It was also custom like at so many 19th and 20th century pilgrim sites for people to perform their pilgrimage in their bare feet.

O’Donovan’s visit appears to have coincided with the pilgrimage of a man who had developed a head ache having joined the temperance movement.   He noted the man’s ritual  washing in the waters to obtain a cure.

The day I visited it there was  at it for the cure of a headache, which he got since he joined Father Mathew. He washed his hands, head and feet in the stream at the point where it issues form the well.

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Photo dating to circa 1900’s showing the original landscape of St Patrick’s well. Taken by Robert French (1841-1917) in The Lawrence Photograph Collection National Library of Ireland http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000339061

 

 Hall writing in 1842  notes

It was  once a favourite resort for pilgrims but it now quiet deserted

While the The Dublin University Magazine in 1953  states

 Pilgrims in former days resorted to this spot.

These accounts suggest the well was still visited but  by local people in the mid 19th century but the hinterland of the shrine was in decline.  The fortunes of the well change in the early 20th century with a revival in devotion at the well.

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Image of St Patrick built into enclosing well wall at St Patrick’s well Marlfield

I will  come back to St Patrick’s  well very soon and  discuss its connections with St Patrick, 20th century and modern pilgrimage to the site  and any new sources for past pilgrimage

References

*Scrofula was a swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck caused TB.

Anon. 1853. The Dublin University Magazine Vol. 42, page 332.

Farrelly, J. 2011. ‘St Patrick’s well TS083-004′ RMP Files’, http://www.archaeology.ie

Hall, S.C.  1842, Ireland its Scenery and Character etc. London: How and Parsons.

Manning, C. ‘Could well be a mill’ [St. Patrick’s Well, nr. Clonmel, Co. Tipperary & St Brigit’s well nr. Tully, Co. Kildare. Stone flumes], Vol. 21. No. 1, 12-15.

O’ Flanagan, Rev. M. (Complier) 1930. Letters containing information relative to the  antiquities of the county of Tipperary collected during the progress of the Ordnance  Survey in 1840. 3 Vols. Bray: Typescript.

Power, Rev. P. 1914. Life of St. Declan of Ardmore and Life of St. Mochuda of
Lismore. With introduction, translation and notes. London: Irish Texts Society

St Berrihert’s Kyle Co Tipperary Part 1: The Archaeological remains

The 18th of February is the feast day of St Berrihert/Berrahert of the parish of Ardane, Co Tipperary.  An Anglo-Saxon saint, he is traditionally believed to have  come to Ireland in the seventh century following the  Synod of Whitby. To mark the saint’s feast  this two-part blog post will explore the  archaeological remains and the evidence  pilgrimage  at a site associated with the site, known as St Berrihert’s Kyle in Co Tipperary.

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1st ed OS map of St Berrahert’s Kyle/Berrihert’s Kyle 1840

Location

St Berrihert’s Kyle  is  one of Tipperary’s best hidden treasure.  The site is located in the townland of Ardane, in the parish of Templeneiry. It is difficult to find as there is no signposting.  It is located close to the village of Ardane.

 

From the main road, you will see a sign for “Golden Mile, Winner 2003”, turn left on the opposite road. Half a mile down this road is a gate with a no parking sign. Go through this gate and cross the first field (Be aware that there might be cows or bulls!). From there you will find the wooden trail that will lead you to the Kyle and the Well (visitballyhoura.com).

Who is St Berrihert?

It is suggested that St Berrihert  came to Ireland following the Synod of Whitby (Ó HÉaildhe 1967, 104).  He is  named in some documents  as brother of the Saxon saint Garailt of Mayo (Ó Riain 2011, 103).  He is associated with a number of places in the south of Ireland mainly around  Co Cork.  He is likely also to be the same saint as St Berichter the patron of an early medieval ecclesiastical site at  Tullylease in the barony of Duhallow, Co Cork.  An interesting cross slab of 8th/9th century date survives at Tullylease. The stone has an elaborate decorated cross and  the text of  with a prayer  for  Beirchachtuire an Irish version of  the Anglo-Saxon Beorhtwine.

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Tullylease Cross slab. Image taken from http://www.irishmegaliths.org.uk/crosspillars2.htm

The Annals of the Four Masters  records the death of a cleric with this name at the site in 839,

Berichtir of Tulach Leis died on the 6th of December.

The Martyrologies of Donegal and Gorman record the saint feast day as the 6th of December. His feast was honoured on the 18th of February at St Berrihert’s Kyle, the subject of this post, and at  the 15th of February in West Kerry.  The variation of feast day  perhaps  indicates ‘ that the cult had  become entwined with that of Bearach of Termonbarry‘ whose feast is on the 15th of February (Ó Riain 2011, 102).

St Berrihert’s Kyle 

St Berrihert’s Kyle  is located on farm land. To approach the site you must cross through two fields.  The land is boggy but a timber path marks the way. There are often horses or cattle in the field.

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Path approaching the St Berrihert’s Kyle

The Kyle through the years

The Kyle is the oval area enclosed by an earthen bank and contains a large number of early medieval cross slabs.  The landscape of this area has changed  in the last 100 years or so.

In 1907 Crawford described the area as  ‘a circular enclosure in a field west of the well and greatly overgrown with oak tress and thorn bushes‘.  He also noted that all the carved stones, which he counted 22 have been collected and built into a station (Crawford 1907, 61).

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Cross slab at St Berrihert’s Kyle in 1907 ( after Crawford 1907)

The photo above dates  to 1907, it  shows the site as very overgrown with a large number of the cross slabs placed in front of a small tree covered in rags.  Crawford( 1907, 62) mentions  the tree was a thorn-bush and  that a series of  offerings were left here including  statuettes, vases, cups and toy-teapots.

A second photo from the Limerick City Museum collection show that the cross slabs had been moved and built up into a station in front of a wall.  A large rectangular stone was placed in front of the crosses .  This photo is dated to between  1896-1910 and on the reverse image in pencil ‘Berrihert’s Kyle Co. Tipp. 1936’.

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Photo of Crosses at St Berrihert’s Kyle  dated 1936 ( from http://museum.limerick.ie/index.php/Detail/Object/Show/object_id/8087)

The site today

Today the landscape of the site owes much to work carried out in 1946 by  the Office of Public Works/OPW who  “cleaned up the site”.  They cleared the enclosure of bushes and vegetation. Then they collected all the crosses and built them into a circular  stone structure which incorporates a large oak tree, to protect the crosses from cattle at the south end of the site. The walls are full of cross slabs and it has an ancient look to it.

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Stone structure built by OPW in 1946

The stone structure is entered via a style,  beside a large oak tree.  Ó HÉailidhe (1967, 103)  recorded 72 cross inscribed stone at the site but only 67 were noted  by the Tipperary Survey in 2011 suggesting some may be missing.

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Interior of stone enclosure showing the stone crosses incorporated into the walls.

The majority of the crosses depict a simple Latin cross on a single face.  A small number have decoration on both faces.

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Close up of cross slabs at St Berrihert’s Kyle.

A larger rectangular stone  with one  hollow depression is found within the stone enclosure, in front of the head of a high cross which is incorporated into the  wall.  The surface of the bullaun stone is covered by trinkets left by pilgrims and includes holy statues, small toys, coins and crystals .

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Bullaun stone in interior of circular stone enclosure at St Berrihert’s Kyle

A large egg-shaped  stone sits in the hollow of the bullaun stone.  These egg stones occurs at other pilgrim sites and are known as cursing stones.

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Egg shaped stone in the bullaun stone.

A  holly tree  within the enclosure is covered rags and ribbons tied by modern pilgrims.

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Rag tree within circular stone structure at St Berriherts Kyle.

The presence of such a large number of  cross slabs at the site may suggest the presence of a monastic settlement.  There are no upstanding remains of any buildings at the site.  If this was a monastic site it is  possible the buildings were built of wood.  In the 1940’s the ground surface of the Kyle was lowered and the soil  from this area was used to build a causeway across the bog to the nearby St Berrihert’s well.  The OPW recorded no trace of walls when lowering the ground level at the site.  It is impossible to know what damage this act did to any sub-surface archaeological remains that may have been present.

Around the edge of the Kyle are a number of small stone cairns surmounted by a cross slab.  These cairns were created  in 1940’s  to mark stations of the cross but there were not part of the original pilgrim stations at the site .

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Cairn with cross slab built in 1946.

The central area of the Kyle is defined by stone curbing which demarcate a children’s burial ground.

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Kerbing at the site.

St Berrihert’s holy well

The nearby holy well is dedicated to St Berrihert  and is located a short distance from the Kyle. The path is marked by a timber track through marshy ground.

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Path leading from the Kyle to the nearby St Berrihert’s holy well.

The path continues crossing over a small bridge.

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Bridge over stream to on way to St Berrihert’s holy well

The  well is a large  circular pool is found in a  surrounded by trees and defined by an earthen bank in the NE-NW.

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St Berrihert’s holy well.

Some of the trees are decorated offering left by  modern pilgrims and range from ribbons, rags, socks and toys.

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Rag tree at St Berrihert’s Kyle.

The well is formed from limestone springs  and the waters bubble forth giving it a really magical appearance. This was very likely a place of prehistoric pilgrimage.

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Bubbling water at St Berrihert’ well.

Coming soon is part II of this post, which will look at the history of pilgrimage at the site.

References

Crawford, H. S. 1907. ‘A descriptive list of the early Irish crosses’, JRSAI 37, 187-239.

ÓHÉailidhe, P. 1967. ‘The crosses and slabs at St Berrihert’s Kyle in the Glen of Aherlow’ in Rynne, E. North Munster Studies. Limerick: The Thomond Archaeology Society, 102-126.

1987.0727, Limerick Museum Catalogue, http://museum.limerick.ie/index.php/Detail/Object/Show/object_id/8087http://museum.limerick.ie/index.php/Detail/Object/Show/object_id/8087