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

 

 

Walking The Saints’ Road in Co Kerry

Mount Brandon in Dingle Co Kerry is one of my favourite pilgrim sites. Traditionally pilgrims climbed in pilgrimage to the summit of the mountain on the 16th of May the feast of St Brendan.

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View of Mount Brandon from Reenchonail

I have just mapped the route of the Saints’ Road an old pilgrim path running from Ventry to the Summit of Mount Brandon using StoryMapJS.  So if for  virtual walk along the Saints’ Road follow the links below.

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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

 

St Laserian at Lorum Co Carlow

I was hoping to have this post ready for the feast day of St Laserian  on the 18th of April   but better late then never.  St Laserian has strong associations with Co Carlow and I have discussed  the modern pilgrimage to St Laserian  at Old Leighlin Co Carlow in previous posts. The saint is also  associated with a place called Lorum  in Co Carlow.

According to folklore  when St Laserian returned to Ireland from Rome he set out in search of a location to build a monastery.  When he came  Lorum  (a few miles south-east of Muinebheag (Bagenalstown)) he stopped on top of a large hill . The saint was so impressed by the area that he decided to build a monastery here. God however had other plans for him, and while he knelt in prayer an angel  proclaimed ‘ Go where you shall see the first shinning, and there shall your religious house be established’ ( O’Toole 1933, 17).  Taking heed of the angel the saint  set off again on his search which ended when he arrived  Old Leighlin  which became the site of his  monastery.

Lorum (Leamdhroim in Irish) appears to have been the site of a religious foundation. Gwynn and Hadcock (1970, 397) recorded that Lorum was an early medieval monastery dedicated to  St. Laserian . Brindley notes in 1204 the Bishop of Leighlin was confirmed of his possession of lands including ‘Lenidruim’ (Lorum) (Cal. papal letters, 18). The church  at Lorum was valued at 3 marks in the 1302-06 ecclesiastical taxation of Ireland (Cal. doc. Ire., 250) and by the late 16th century it was in ruins.  The Ordnance Survey Letters for Carlow recorded Steward, writing in 1795, noted that the 18th of April, the feast of Laserian was celebrated at Lorum and  until  the  1830s a  pattern day was held here.

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Loram Church of Ireland Church

All trace of this monastery and medieval church have long disappeared.  Today Lorum  consists a stunning Church of Ireland Church  built circa 1830 with a historic graveyard  on its western side . The  curve in the road on the east side of this church may tentatively reflex the line of an earlier medieval enclosure.

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View of Lorum Hill showing the curve in the road on the east side of the church (taken http://map.geohive.ie/mapviewer.html)

Within the historic graveyard are the ruins of  a post medieval church. The structure is  in poor condition  and with the exception  of the west gable only the foot prints of the other walls survive.  The upstanding gable appears to incorporated  stones from an earlier church.

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Ruins of  post medieval church at Lorum.

The remains of an 18th century porch with red brick  in the fabric is  attached to the  exterior of west gable of the church.

 

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Porch attached to west gable of Lorum Church

In 1837 Lorum church was described as ‘an old building, containing two modern tombs of the Rudkin family, has been recently repaired’ (Lewis 1837, 312).  The Ordnance Survey Letters  for Carlow (1837-40) recorded that at ‘

Lorum, there was, it is said, an old Church before the present Parish one, which is now falling to ruin, was erected. The spot where it stood is shown in a field, a few perches to the northeast corner of the Parish Church  and a few yards to southwest corner of a Church (C of I church) which is now in progress of being built (O’Flanagan 1934, 311).

The ITA Survey of 1945 identifys the ruined church as the remains of an 18th century Church of Ireland Church and the medieval church as being located as a low-rise of ground inside the graveyard. Both churches were replaced by a  seven-bay Gothic Revival Church with buttresses and parapet built c. 1838 and designed  by Frederick Darley.

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Church of Ireland Church at Lorum built 1838

Close to the church are the ruins of a small post medieval house which shows signs of rebuilding and alterations.

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Post medieval building at Lorum

A plain granite base of a high cross provides the only physical evidence of early medieval  activity at the site.

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Base of high cross at Lorum

The remains of a second  early medieval cross are found 200m to the west of Lorum graveyard. The  cross is located on the north side of  east-west running bohereen.

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Bohereen leading to Lorum cross and cairn

The monument consists of  a medieval cross shaft set in a cross base  sitting on top of a cairn of stones and earth.

 

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Lorum is associated with two holy wells. According to ITA Survey (1945),  a well dedicated to St Laserian was located to the north  the old graveyard. The well was not recorded on the 1st ed OS 6-inch map for the area but the files state it was covered by well house  and located northnorthwest of the  church.  The farmer who owns the land the well was located on told me there was no longer a well here and he had not heard of a holy well in this location before.

A holy well dedicated to St Molaise ( the Irish for Laserian) is located to the east of the old church.  The 1st ed OS 6-inch  marked the well as St Molappoge’s well. The well which is now dry is  stone-lined  and rectangular in shape. It is  covered by  a  large lintel stone. The well is in reasonable condition but is no longer visited by pilgrims.

 

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St Molappoge’s  holy well

 

St Laserian is no longer  venerated in the area and all focus of the saint has moved to Old Leighlin.  This is a lovely place to visit and you can see why St Laserian wanted to settle here.

References

Brindley, A. 1993. Archaeological Inventory of County Carlow. Dublin: Stationery Office.

Gwynn, A. & Hadcock, R. N. 1970. Medieval Religious Houses in Ireland. Dublin: Irish Academic Press

ITA Survey of Carlow 1945

Lewis, S. A. 1995. A topographical dictionary of Ireland:London : S. Lewis & Co

http://www.buildingsofireland.ie/niah/search.jsp?type=record&county=CW&regno=10301911

O’Flanagan, Rev. M. (Compiler) 1934 Letters containing information relative to the antiquities of the County of Carlow collected during the progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1839. Bray.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A stroll along the shores of Lough Derg, Co Donegal

This is Pilgrim Paths week which reminded me of a recent visit to the shores of Lough Derg, Co Donegal.  Lough Derg lake is home to St Patrick’s Purgatory (located on Station Island) one of Ireland’s oldest and most popular pilgrim sites. Each year large numbers of pilgrims travel to the Island during pilgrim season that runs from May to September  to partake in an arduous penitential pilgrimage which can last up to three days.

A modern walk skirts along the shores of the lake and is open all year round.  This walk is a part of the Pilgrim Paths network of walking routes.  The network of routes known as pilgrim paths are a group of modern Irish walking routes that in many cases incorporate sections of or follow closely the route of older pilgrim routes some of which may be of medieval date. In 2014 National Pilgrim’s Paths Day was held to promote these routes by hosting a series of organised walks. The event proved very successful and  was repeated in 2015. As interest in the pilgrim paths has steadily grown in popularity the organisers will this year  host a series of walks that will extend from the 22nd March to  29th March.

The Lough Derg pilgrim path runs for 12km (7 miles) along the edge of the lake.

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Guidebook for the Lough Derg Pilgrim Path

A  few weeks back on a flying visit to Lough Derg, I walked a short section of this path. The pilgrim path beings in the car park of the visitor centre.  Its worth taking the time to stand and look out at Station Island.

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View of St Patrick’s Purgatory on Station Island in Lough Derg from visitor car park.

From the car park the path runs along a modern forestry tracks that hugs the lake edge  until it reaches  a point opposite Saints Island. In in medieval times this island was the site of an Augustinian monastery and acted as a gateway for pilgrims  who wanted to make pilgrimage to St Patrick’s Purgatory.

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View of Lough Derg Pilgrim Path.

I am working on a post about the medieval pilgrimage at Lough Derg, so I wont go into too much detail.   St Patrick’s Purgatory, the focus of the  medieval pilgrimage was a deep  artificial cave or pit into which pilgrims entered for a set period of time in the belief they would experience the torments of purgatory.  The cave has since been destroyed but the tradition of  making pilgrimage here survived and evolved to its current form.

The walk is not a very challenging one but every now and then you are rewarded with views of the lake and its islands.  There are also a number of interesting spots along the way. After walking for about 1.15km,  I came to a sign for  St Brigid’s chair. At this point I  left the main the track and follow a path down to the lakes edge.  The fencing along the path and the lakes edge is in poor state of repair so care is needed.  The chair is a large  rock at the water’s edge.

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I then return to the track  and after walking a few hundred meters or so I came to  another sign for St Daveoc’s/Dabheog’s Chair.

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Signpost for St Daveoc’s/Dabheog’s chair

I followed the track  leading into the forest until I came to a fence at the edge of the forestry, the chair is located on a height above this point. As I didn’t have enough time to explore properly I had to returned to the path without locating the chair. According to Harbison & Lynam St Daveoc’s/Dabheog’s chair  is   ‘partially natural, but it seems to have had one or two large blocks added to it, hinting that it may once have been a Bronze Age burial place’.   I am very grateful to Keith Corcoran who writes the Journey in Wonder blog for permission to use his image of St Daveoc’s/Dabheog’s chair.  As you can see from his photo its worth making the effort to find this site.

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View of Lough Derg from St Daveoc’s/Dabheog’s chair taken by Keith Corcoran.

St Daveoc’s chair is located close to the point where an older pilgrimage route marked as ‘ancient road’ on the first edition OS 6-inch maps  and traced back to Templecairn,  merges with the modern path.

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View of Station Island from circa 1km along the path

Back on the track I continued  walking until I came to St Brigid’s holy well. The well is located just off the forest track at the edge of the lake.

St Brigid's well Lough Derg

St Brigid’s well Lough Derg

St Brigid’s well is marked by a modern metal cross  now covered in rags, socks, ribbons, religious medals and beads. It is enclosed by a circle of sandstone stonework which also has a modern appearance.

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I went no further than this point but the  track continues from here along the edge of the lake  until it reaches a point opposite Saints Island. According to my guide-book the remains of the stones that formed part of bridge that would have brought medieval pilgrims across to Station Island, are still to be seen.

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Map of Lough Derg Pilgrim Path from (Harbison & Lynam 2004)

From Saints Island the path continues swinging around in a loop before joining back with the original track.  I really enjoyed my walk  and  I looking forward to  returning and walking the  path in its entirety in the future.

References

http://www.pilgrimpath.ie/

Walking the Pilgrims Path

Harbison, P. & Lynam, J. 2004. ‘Lough Derg. The Shore by Saints Island, Co Donegal. Medieval Irish Pilgrim Paths No. 3. Heritage Council.

 

Abbey Well: The forgotten pilgrimage at Holycross abbey

Holycross abbey, Co Tipperary is one of my favourite pilgrim sites. During medieval times the abbey was famous for its relic of the true cross that attracted pilgrims from across Munster. In a previous post I discussed medieval pilgrimage at the abbey.

View of Holycross abbey Co Tipperary

View of Holycross abbey Co Tipperary

The abbey was also associated with a holy well. The well was recorded as ‘Abbey Well’ on the 1st, 2nd & 3rd ed. 6 inch Ordnance  Survey map of Tipperary. The  well  is located close to the west bank of the River Suir, c. 10m east of the chancel of the abbey church.

3rd ed 6inch Ordanance Survey Map showing location of Abbey Well

3rd ed. 6 inch Ordnance Survey Map showing  the location of Abbey Well

The earliest reference to the well and  its associated pilgrimage dates to 1628 when a man called John O’Cullenan was cured of pain after visiting the well ‘near the front of the abbey church and drinking its water three times’ (Hayes 2011, 13).  A Short Account of Holy Cross Abbey published in 1868 states the well was visited by pilgrims up to the beginning of the 1800’s when the pilgrimage was suppressed by the orders of Archbishop Bray. The book also makes note of  pilgrim rituals at the well. The rituals  included pilgrims going around the well on their knees three times before drinking the water. No doubt set prayers were also recited. In the ensuing years the wells importance declined and by the 1950’s  pilgrimage had ceased and the well was reduced to a wishing well.
The wells importance declined even further  and today the well is covered over. This took place when the  land  surrounding the well was landscaped and turned into a prayer garden  to commemorate the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979.
If anyone is interested in visiting Holycross abbey guided tours of the abbey are available on request (further information holycrossabbeytours@gmail.com / 086-1665869). Also thanks to Kilkenny Archaeology for the references relating to the holy well.

References

C. M. E. A Short Account of Holy Cross Abbey /. Dublin: Edward Ponsonby, 1868.

Hayes, W. J. Holycross : The Awakening of the Abbey /. Roscrea: Lisheen Publications, 2011.