A Day Trip to the Parish of Kilmovee Co Mayo

Last summer I spent a day exploring some of the archaeology sites in the parish of Kilmovee Co Mayo. Kilmovee is located a short distance from the town of Ballaghadreen in  Co Roscommon.  Local man, Tommy Horan  was kind enough to act as my guide for the day.

The parish gets its name from St Mobhí. Kilmovee or Cill Mobhí in Irish, means the church of St Mobhí. It is said he  came to the area as a missionary, continuing on the work of St Patrick.

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Bullaun stone known as Na Trí Umar Bheannaith in townland of Rushes

The day began in the townland of Rusheens West with a visit to one of the largest bullaun stones I have ever seen. The stone is known as Na Trí Umar Bheannaithe/The Three Holy Water Fonts.  The  bullaun stone is a large boulder with three large depressions.  It sits on a plinth against a wall at the side of a small byroad. Folklore tells that the stone was transported from Killericín and placed in its current position.

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Bullaun stone known as Na Trí Umar Bheannaith in townland of Rusheens West

From the bullaun stone we travelled on to the site of a holy well called Tober na Bachaille/The Well of the Crozier. The holy well is located in marshy field. As the site is  on  a working farm so permission should be sought before gaining access.

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Field where Tober na Bachaille/ The Well of the Crozier is located.

Folklore tells that when St Mobhí came to the area as a missionary he needed somewhere to baptise new converts.  Not having a suitable water source the saint struck the ground three times with his crozier and three wells sprung up on the spot.

It is thought there was originally three wells  here but today only one well is visible.  The well is very overgrown  and a small blackthorn tree  grows beside it. The well is a spring  enclosed by a low stone wall.  The location of single well is marked on the 1st ed. (1839) OS 6-inch maps which could suggest that the three springs are within the well enclosure. Unfortunately the Ordnance Survey Letters  relating to Mayo fail to mention the well.  The Folklore Commission National Schools Essays provides an origin tale for what it calls the three Blessed Wells in the parish.

St Movee’s sister was a nun and she lived in Sligo. One day she came to Kilmovee to see her brother and the church. She was passing down through Barralackey and there was a boy minding cows. He told her he would help her and he told her that the Ardeull people thought she was a witch and that they were to follow her. He said he would go with her to the church only he had a long way to bring water to his cows. She was very thankful to him and said he would never again be short of water and she — [can’t read the word] on a rock and water filled in it and is there still. In three long steps she reached the church and every step she gave a well sprang up three well in succession and these are called the ‘Blessed Wells’ (NFSC  Cloonierin 114:52).

 

Tober na Bachaille is no longer visited by pilgrims and as a result it has become overgrown.  Local knowledge may shed more light on the well(s) and traditions relating to pilgrimage.

View Tobar na Bachaille.

View of Tobar na Bachaille

To the north of the well is a large stone built penitential cairn or leacht. Sitting on top of the cairn is a stout Ogham Stone.

View of penitental cairn with ogham stone beside Tobar na Bachaile

View of penitential cairn with ogham stone beside Tobar na Bachaile

Macalister noted that the ogham stone, once acted as a ‘kneeling stone’ and sat on the low wall surrounding the holy well. The stone had moved to its current position by the 1940’s (Macalister 1945, 7-9).  An ogham inscription is found along one of the edges of the stone. Macalister identified this inscription as AlATTOS MAQI BR…. He also suggests that the top of the stone was deliberately cut away by a mason during the building of the wall around the well (ibid).

Ogham stone beside Tobar na Bachaile

Ogham stone beside Tobar na Bachaile

From the holy well we  traveled on to  the ruins of a medieval parish church called An Teampall Nua also known as St Patrick’s church.  Local folklore recalls that  when the church was first built it was called the ‘New Temple’.

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All that remains of the church are the chancel and parts of the nave walls. The walls of the church have been rebuilt and incorporated architectural fragments of windows and doors.  A chancel arch still survives in relatively good condition and appears to have been remodelled in the past. The original arch was rounded and built of cut sandstone, it was later altered and filled with masonry and replaced with a smaller  to a pointed arch defined by vousoirs. The exterior of the church is surrounded by rubble masonry that likely came from the church. In 1838 the Ordnance Survey Letters for Mayo described the church as on

on the East gable of which there is a window about 6 feet and 6 inches broad. Part of side walls remain, West gable is perfect (Herity 2009, 288).

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The church is surrounded by a historic graveyard and mass is said here once a year.

Our day concluded with a visit to a large ringfort called  An Caiseal located in the townland of Kilcashel/Coill an Chaisil, which means ‘the wood of the stone fort’.

The ringfort is very well-preserved and is on private land so permission must be obtained before entering.  The fort   measures 30m in diameter and is constructed of a single circular wall which is 5m thick and 3m high.

View of exterior of Caiseal ringfort

View of exterior of Caiseal ringfort

The fort is entered through a formal linteled entrance.

Linteled entrance

Linteled entrance

The interior contains the ruins of two house sites and a souterrain.

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The top of the walls are accessed from the interior via four sets of V shaped stone steps.

Stone steps in interior walls of ringfort

Another interesting feature of the fort is  a creep-way that links two internal wall-chamber within the walls.

The wall  chambers appear to be aligned to the morning sun.

For three mornings, light goes into the back of the chambers which are two meters deep and joined at the back by a six meter passage way. Each morning the new sun has moved on half a meter on the back of the wall. There is about 20meters of the back wall (of the Caiseal) that is traversed by the sun. This means that the sun shines only for about  40 days  on the back wall twice a year. This is between Winter solstice and both equinoxes…  The first  chamber was lit on the 5th of October, the Second was lit on or about the 21st of October, but due to the curvature of the wall it is still in the chamber on the 24th …

Two months later the sun will again be shining in the this chamber on the 20/21 February as the days lengthen (Mac Gabhann no date 10-11).

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Image of the chamber being illuminated by light (Mac Gabhann no date 10-11)

For a more detailed discussion of the archaeology of this site see the Kilcashel project website. My day in Kilmovee was a brilliant experience and  it reminded me of the  wealth of local archaeological and historical sites that are to be found within and around all Irish villages. So really you don’t need to travel very far to find wonderful historic and archaeological sites to visit.

As many of the sites we visited were on private land, permission was always obtained before going to the sites.  If anyone is interested in visiting the area please contact the Kilmovee Community & Heritage Centre, the people who work here are so helpful and will be able to help you find out if  access is possible. Contact details and opening hours can be found on the Kilmovee website  and Facebook page (see links below). The community centre also houses a wonderful Heritage Centre called ‘Cois Tine’ (beside the fire). The  centre is design is based  on a traditional Irish cottage  and holds lots of information, photographs about the parish history, archaeological sites and folklore connected to the area. I recommend a visit to the Heritage Centre  before any exploring as it is a great way to begin a trip around the parish.

If you are in the area I would also highly recommend a visit to Urlaur Abbey located just a few miles from Kilmovee. Located on the edge of Urlaur lake the Friary built circa 1432 is one of Ireland’s best kept secrets.  Its setting alone is worth a visit.

References and useful links

Herity, M. 2009 (ed) Ordnance Survey Letters of Mayo. Dublin: Fourmasters Press.

Macalister, R. A. S. 1945. Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum,Vol I. Dublin: Stationery Office.

Mac Gabhann, S. no date. Cill Mobhí. A handbook on local history and Folklore.

NFSC  Cloonierin 114:52 after http://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4427915/4357560

http://www.kilcashel.com/archaeology.html

http://www.mayo-ireland.ie/en/about-mayo/archaeology/archaeology-overview.html

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Templecronan and the Relics of St Cronan Co Clare

Templecronan  is one of my favourite pilgrim sites.  The site is an early medieval monastic settlement dedicated to St Cronan.  It is located on farmland in Co Clare near the village of Carran. To get to the ruins you need to cross through some fields but a number of signposts guide the way.

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View of Temple Cronan Co Clare

Very little is known about the history of Templecronan or  the people who lived here and most of what we know about the site  is gleamed from the archaeological record.  The  site  is located  in a townland  called Termon/ An Tearmann  which means church or glebe lands.

Today the most prominent feature at the site is a small rectangular shaped multi-period church. The fabric of the walls  contain traces of cyclopean masonry, a common masonry style for churches in early medieval Ireland  and  a  blocked up linteled west doorway with inclined jambs. These features, suggest an early stone church was  at the site  and was remodelled in during the  Romanesque period (1020-1170 A.D).

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View of the  west gable of Templecronan church

Romanesque features within the church include a round-headed  window in the east gable and corbels decorated with Hiberno-Romanesque animal heads in the west gable. There are also a number of Romanesque heads incorporated into the fabric of the walls.

Further remodelling was carried out in the fifteenth century with the addition of a pointed  finely carved doorway in the north wall.

 

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Fifteenth century doorway in the north wall of Templecronan

Traces on an ecclesiastical enclosure can still be found in the surrounding landscape.

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Archaeological evidence for pilgrimage at Templecronan is represented by two outdoor reliquaries located  close to the church.  Outdoor reliquaries were  built to house the relics of a saint or holy person who was normally the founder saint. Some may have been built over the original grave of the saint.  At Templecronan the reliquaries/shrines are a type known as  gable shrine. They are triangular-shaped structure made up of two long flat flag stones and two smaller triangular-shaped stones arranged like a tent and orientated east-west. The short length of the shrines suggests they were used to house disarticulated skeletons/corporeal remain (Edwards 2002, 240).

Most  scholars agree that the gable shrines are among of the earliest types of outdoor reliquary and suggest a date of seventh or eighth century.  However  Carlton Jones (2006, 138-139) suggest that both the shrines at Templecronan  were  contemporary with Romanesque carving at oratory. Only targeted excavation would answer this question definitively although excavation of a gable shrine at Illaunloughlan Island, Co. Clare  dated the shrine to  second half of the eighth century .

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View of  gable shrine known as St Cronan’s Bed at Templecronan.

The shrine located southeast of the church is known as St Cronan’s Bed and local tradition holds this was  the burial -place of St Cronan.  The second shrine is found  northeast of the church in the adjacent field defined by modern field boundaries.

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Gable shrine to the northeast of the Templecronan church

The presence of the gable shrines strongly suggests that pilgrimage was taking place here as early as the eight century  and the construction of the shrines represents a period of great devotion to the saints associated with the site. The site appears to have fallen out of use in the late medieval period and devotion the the shrines gradually ceased.

Further evidence of pilgrimage is found at a holy well located a short distance from the church. The well is  also dedicated to St Cronan and known as  St Cronan’s holy well/Tobar Chronain.

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Pathway leading to St Cronan’s holy well

The holy well is  located at the base of a rock outcrop and defined by a dry-stone circular wall.

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Stone wall surrounding St Cronan’s holy well

The  holy well  is a simple spring. A large  penitential cairn of unknown date  is found beside the well within the enclosure. It is not possible to know if the well was part of early medieval pilgrimage at Templecronan but it was a place of pilgrimage in the nineteenth century.

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The Ordnance Survey Letters for Clare 1839 state that ‘stations are performed but no distinct patron day is remembered‘. A quick search of nineteenth century sources has failed to turn up any further information about the well.  Today the well and its surrounding are well cared and I noticed some coins left beside a small modern religious statue which suggests it may be still visited.

Templecronan is one of many wonderful site in Co Clare and is certainly worth spending some time exploring.

References

Edwards, N. 1999. The Archaeology of Early Medieval Ireland. London: Routledge.

Jones, C. 2004. The Burren and The Aran Islands. Exploring The Archaeology. Cork: The Collins Press.

Marshall, J. & Walsh, C. 2005. Illaunloughan Island: An Early Medieval Monastery

  in County Kerry. Bray: Wordwell.

http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coclare/folklore/folklore_survey/chapter14.htm

 

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Cranavane Holy Well Co Carlow

Carnavane/Crann a Bhán (white tree) holy well, is located near the village of Kildavin  in Co Carlow a short distance from the Wexford/Carlow border.

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View of Carnavane holy well

The well has no patron but it was likely at one time dedicated to St Finian who was born at nearby Myshall.  A stone beside the lower holy well is said to bear the foot print of the saint.  Local tradition also holds that the ruins of a nearby medieval church at Barragh mark the site of a monastery was founded by St Finian.

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Stone said to bear the mark of St Finian’s foot.

Barragh church  lies some 400 metres to the west of the holy well and is located beside an circular enclosed  historic graveyard.

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View of Barragh holy well

Only the north and east walls of the church survives to any great height.

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Cranavane Holy Well (s)

There are two well at Carnavane. The larger of the two  is covered by a  rectangular shaped dry-stone well house.

 

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A large stone lined a coffin-shaped trough is located in front of the entrance to the lower holy well. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was a custom of bath sick or weak children in waters of the trough. There was also a tradition of dipping coffins in the trough before taking for them for  burial  in Barragh graveyard.

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Coffin shaped trough in front of  Cranavane holywell.

The 1839  1st OS 6-inch’ map shows a building,  farm-yard and gardens located  beside the wells. The  footprints of the building and  associated garden walls  and lane way still remain.   The second  holy well  is located a few meters behind the lower well it is also covered with a dry stone well house of a simpler construction.

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The second holy well behind the main holy well at Carnavane

O’Donovan in the Ordnance Survey Letters records that a ‘patron’ or pattern day  was held here until the year  1798 , on the 3rd of May when it was then banned by the authorities (OSL 1839, 119).  He noted that pilgrims continued  to visit the well for cures of sore eyes and limbs in 1839.   There seems to have been a revival of pattern in the early 1800’s but the event was banned again in the 1870’s by the parish priest due to faction fighting.

Pilgrimage continued at a local level  to the well but over time the traditional prayers and rounds were forgotten.  Up until the twentieth century many people from the townland  would visit the well each Sunday during the month of May and the rosary was usually recited.

By the late 1990s the  holy wells  had  become over grown and the local community cleaned away the scrub and landscaped the site.  The wells were kept as they were and a stone cairn  which may have been a pilgrim station, was rebuilt.  In the early 2000’s a community mass began to be held at the well during the month of May. The mass is often held on the 3rd of May but this is  date is not strictly adhered to.

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Stone cairn rebuilt by local community during restoration works at Cranavane

People from the area surrounding the well still visit here during the month of May and it is also a popular tourist attraction throughout the rest of the year.

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Mass at Cranavan holy well on 11th of May 2016.

 

Cranavane is  a great place to visit  for anyone seeking peace and tranquillity and it is also on the Carlow trail of the saints.

 

 

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St David’s well Olygate

St David’s well is located a short distance from the  village of Olygate in the townland of Ballynaslaney. The well is one of the most popular pilgrim sites in the Co Wexford. People come throughout the year to pray here with the main burst of  devotions are carried out on the saints feast day the 1st of March.

St. David’s Well is a natural spring defined by a key hole shaped wall and a  series of  steps lead down to the well’s waters.

St David's well Olygate

St David’s well Olygate

The stream from the well flows west  into a small concrete bathhouse.

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Bath house at St David’s well

The well  and church are marked as St David’s well and church on the  1st edition Ordnance survey map (1840) . The church was the  medieval parish church of Ballynaslaney parish, it was located to the east of the well within a modern raised rectangular graveyard  defined by scarps. All traces of the building above ground are gone but the doorway from this church is said to have been built into the church at Suanderscourt (Lewis 1837, Vol. 2, 198).

The  Ordnance Survey Letters of  Co Wexford tell us that by the 1840’s the well had been stopped up by the farmer who owned the  land it was  on.  The Letter’s  described the well  as ‘…enclosed by a turry and its door locked’.  They go on to say in the past the water was ‘sold for a cure of disease’ until around 1810  when it was stopped up by the aforementioned farmer.  The Letter’s also record that the  well was formerly associated with ‘a pattern day held annually in honour of the saint  on the last day of March which is still a holiday in the parish’. This would mean the pattern was held on the 31st of March but it is likely this mistake on the part of the writer and 1st of March was the true date.

At some point the well was opened again and by 1910 Grattan Flooded noted the old pilgrimage had been revived and the current wall surrounding the well was erected.  The popularity of the pilgrimage is indicated by an add in the  Irish Independent September 19th 1910  that noted a car service will to ferry pilgrims from Enniscorthy railway station to the well and back for a fee of 1s. 6d.

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Advert Irish Independent 19th Sept 1910 ( Irish Newspaper Archive).

A spat of cures were recorded between 1911-1913 at the well increasing the sites popularity and fame.

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St David’s well at Olygate Rober French Collection NLI  http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000043751

The pilgrimage was again in decline by 1916 but it managed to weather the storm and devotion has continued and grown over the years. The 1st of March is by far the busiest time of the year for pilgrims in modern times. Many people still have great faith in the healing qualities of the water.

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References

Flood, W. H. G. 1916. The History of the Diocese of Ferns. Waterford: Downey and Co.

O’Flannagan, M. 1933. Letters containing information relative to the antiquities of County of Wexford :collected during the progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1840. Typescript.

 

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The Birthplace of St Colmcille

Tradition holds St Colmcille was born at  Gartan in Co Donegal. The exact location of the saints birthplace is open to discussion. One tradition says the saint was born on a stone called the Leac na Cumha in the townland of Lacknacoo.

Leac na Cumha or the Stone of Sorrow is stone set into a large  oval-shaped mound with a U-shaped setting of stones that opens to the north.

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Leac na Cumha in Lacknacoo

The Leac na Cumha is located along th south-eastern edge of the mound. It is a flat slab of stone and its surface is covered in prehistoric rock art. The art  consists of cup-marks c. 0.1m in diameter.

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Leac na Cumha is covered in rock art

It is here on this stone that the saint is said to have been born.  The site was marked on the 1st ed. (1836) OS 6-inch map as St Colmcille’s stones. Close to the mound is an enormous stone cross erected by Cornelia Adair in 1911.

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Stone cross at Leac na Cumha in Lacknacoo

In the nineteenth century

it became commonplace for emigrants to spend their last night here on the Leac na Cumhadh – the Stone of Sorrows. As Colmcille had decided to exile himself to Scotland, they thought that sleeping here – where he was born – would make their sadness easier to bear (http://www.colmcille.org/gartan)

 

A short distance away are the ruins of an early medieval ecclesiastical site at Churchtown – Ráth Cnó . Tradition holds this was the  place where St Colmcille’s family lived.  It was said his family gave this land  to the church so that a monastic settlement could be built here. The site over looks  Lough Akibbon and Lough Gartan.

The site is still used as a turas by pilgrims who walk barefoot between the five marked stations. Believers follow the turas between Colmcille’s feast day on 9th June and the end of the turas season on 15th August, performing a series of prayers and actions at each stop (http://www.colmcille.org/gartan/3-03).

The most prominent features on the site is a small church marked as St Colmcille’s chapel on the 1st ed (1836) OS 6-inch map.

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Medieval church at Gartan

According to the Donegal Archaeological Inventory this is probably the chapel described in 1622 as being in repair and having a thatched roof.

To the north of the church is a graveyard, at the  centre of which  are the foundations of a building  said to be a monastic building.

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Possible foundations of a monastic building

Two stone crosses also survive at the site and are part of the pilgrim stations.

 

Below the site is a holy well dedicated to the saint.

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St Colmcille’s holy well at Gartan

 

Both of these sites are part of the Slí Cholmcille  and directions can be found on this website.

Useful Links

http://www.colmcille.org/gartan/3-03

http://www.colmcille.org/gartan/3-02

Pilgrimage at Kilgeever Church and Holy Well Co Mayo

Last year I was delighted to write a  guest blog post about of  the pilgrim site of Kilgeever in Co Mayo. This post was a guest blog for the very informative heritage blog The Standing Stone.ie. This is a great blog and worth checking out as it has lots of varied and interesting content. At the moment I am working  on some research concerning this area of Mayo and as the site is fresh in my mind  I have decided to repost my guest post.

Pilgrimage at Kilgeever Co Mayo.  Originally posted on the Standing Stone Blog

Kilgeever/Cill Ghaobhair is located in the most scenic of setting on the slopes of Kinknock around 3km outside of Louisburg in Co Mayo. The site is part of the Clew Bay Archaeological Trail.

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View of the medieval church at Kilgeever from the small laneway that leads to the site.

Local folklore holds that St Patrick came to Kilgeever having completed his fast of forty days and nights on the summit of Croagh Patrick. It is said that Patrick decided to build a church here and that he later sent St Iomhair one of his disciples completed the task. Some traditions would suggest that “Kilgeever” is the anglicised version of “Cill Iomhair” or the church of Iomhair. The Ordnance Survey Letters of 1838 translates the name as St. Geever’s Church.  Curiously neither variants of the saint’s name are found in Ó’Riain’s Dictionary of Irish Saints.

Alternatively the name may derive from Cill gaobhar, ‘the near Church’ (Corlett 2001, 130) or as the Schools’ Manuscripts Essays  for Louisburg(1937/38) state

Kilgeever- according to the interpretation of most people means “the windy church”.

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View of Kilgeever Church and graveyard.

Almost nothing is known about the history of the site but it appears to have functioned as a parish church in the late medieval period. Today the site consists of the ruins of a multi-period medieval church surrounded by a historic graveyard, a holy well and penitential stations. At least three early medieval cross slabs are associated with the site suggesting some sort of early medieval activity. If there was an early medieval monastic settlement here as the name ‘abbey’ would imply no physical remains survive above ground.

Traditionally pilgrims visited here on the 15th of July the Feast of the Apostles and on Sundays.  The Ordnance Survey Letters of 1838 refer to a pattern formerly held on the 15th of July. There was also a tradition of visiting the site on the last Sunday of July. For some pilgrims it is a key component of their pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick and having completed their pilgrimage on the summit of Croagh Patrick they descend the mountain and end their pilgrimage at Kilgeever.  The ITA Files 1944 also makes reference to pilgrims visiting here from the 15th of August to the 8th of September with the annual pilgrimage day being the 15th of August.

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Holy well at Kilgeever

The main focus of devotion at Kilgeever is a small holy well located in the northwest corner of the historic graveyard that surrounds the medieval church.

The Ordnance Survey Letters of 1838 state

It is a good spring and much frequented by pilgrims especially for Sundays and on the 15th of July when a pattern is held, now at Louis Borough but which was formally held at the this well.

The traditional pilgrim stations begin at this holy well, located just inside the entrance to the historic graveyard. The well is known locally as “Tobar Rí an Dhomhnaigh” or “Our Lord’s Well of the Sabbath” and the 1st ed. (1839) Ordnance Survey Map record the name of the well as Toberreendoney (Anglicisation of the former).

The Pilgrim Rounds

The pilgrimage begins with the pilgrim walking clockwise around the well forming his/her intentions. The pilgrim then kneels at the well and recites 7 Our Fathers (Paters) & 7 Hail Mary’s (Aves) and the Creed.

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Holy well Kilgeever

The pilgrim stands and circles the well 7 times while reciting 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Marys and the Creed.  Once the perambulation is completed, the pilgrim kneels again at the well and recites 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Marys and the Creed. It was not uncommon for pilgrims to pick up 7 stones from the well as an aid to counting the rounds dropping one stone as each circuit of the well was completed.  The use of stones to count prayers is a common practice at Irish many Irish pilgrim sites especially those with complex prayer rituals.

The pilgrim then walks to the three flagstones located to the south of the well where he/she recites 5 Our Fathers, 5 Hail Marys and the creed while kneeling.

The pilgrim then proceeds to a small rock outcrop known as St Patrick’s rock where he/she kneels and rites 3 Our Fathers, 3 Hail Marys and the Creed. This stone is reputed to bear the tracks of St Patrick’s Knees (ITA Files). In modern times some pilgrims have inscribed crosses on this rocks and others around where the stations are performed.

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St Patrick’s Rock

The pilgrim then walks to and enters the medieval church at the centre of the graveyard.

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Kilgeever church is a multi-period church with a fifteenth doorway.

Within the interior of the church the pilgrim kneels and again recites 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Marys and the creed and pray for the souls of the dead.  In the 1940s it was common for pilgrims to leaving the church following along the west wall (ITA Files).

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Pilgrim cross carved by modern pilgrims on 19th century graveslab within Kilgeever Church.

Some pilgrims continue a modern practice of scratching a cross into a late 19th century graveslab belonging to  the Mac Evilly family. When I visited the site in 2014, a number of  tiny stones were left on the edge of the slab. Other accounts suggest that in the mid-twentieth century pilgrims were in the habit of leaving votive offering in the aumbry within the church. This tradition was not noticed on my visit but a number of religious objects were left at the well.

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Some votive offerings left at the Kilgeever Holy Well

Having left the church the pilgrim walks back to the well via a stream that runs the length of the western side of the graveyard.  If the pilgrim’s stations are being performed on behalf of a living person the pilgrim is to walk in the waters of the stream to the well. If the pilgrimage is being performed for the dead, the pilgrim walks along the edge of the stream.

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Stream running along the western side of the site.

The pilgrimage is completed when the pilgrim circles the well a further 3 times prayer in honour of the Blessed Trinity. Before leaving the Holy Well pilgrims  are invited to pray for Henry Murphy of Castlebar who had the cross erected over the well (as indicated by an inscription on the cross).

A photo dating to the 1890s and part to the Wynne Collection at Mayo County Library shows pilgrims kneeling in prayer at the holy well in bare feet. This photo confirms what was a common practice at the time for people to complete such pilgrimages barefoot and even today at a small number of pilgrim sites pilgrims continue this practice.  The photo also shows that the well has changed little over the years with the exception of the  addition of the  cross which now surmounts it.

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Early Medieval Cross Slab with an outline Greek cross found at Kilgeever. This is one of three cross slabs from the site.

Kilgeever is one of the most peaceful and tranquil places  to visit and it is just one of many interesting sites around Clew Bay area.

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View of the east gable of Kilgeever church.

References

Corlett, C. 2001. Antiquities of west Mayo: The Archaeology of the Baronies of Burrishoole and Murrish. Bray: Wordwell.

Higgins & Gibbons 1993: J.G. Higgins & Michael Gibbons. ‘Early Christian monuments at Kilgeever, Co Mayo’. Cathair na Mart, 13, 32–44.

Irish Tourist Association Files for Mayo 1944.

The Schools Collection, Louisburgh (roll number 5128/9), Volume 0137, Page 005, 006,  026, 027 (http://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4428011/4368055)

http://www.louisburgh-killeenheritage.org/page_id__85.aspx

http://www.logainm.ie/en/37369

http://www.thestandingstone.ie

 

 

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).

pattern day Balla

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