The Pattern day at Durrow Co Offaly

Last Monday the 9th of June I  attended the pattern day celebrations in the parish of Durrow Co Offaly.

1-durrow samsung s5 306

Banner of St Colmcille/Columba.

Durrow is a small village about 5-7 km outside of Tullamore town.   St Colmcille/Columba is the patron saint of the parish  and the local community celebrate his feast day on the 9th of June each year.  Tradition holds the saint founded a monastery here in the 6th century close to the holy well.  Durrow was an ecclesiastical settlement of great importance  and part of the  early medieval Columban federation of churches.  I will discuss the  history, the archaeological  remains at Durrow and the medieval evidence for pilgrimage in more detail in a later date.  This post will focus  only on this years pilgrimage.

Modern pilgrimage

Each year  the people of Durrow continuing on a centuries old tradition,  commemorate the feast day of  St. Colmcille.  It is also the traditional day that   the children from the parish make  their first communion.

This year the communion mass  was held at 10 am and a second mass in honor of Colmcille was held at 12am.  Following mass the community walk in procession to St. Colmcille’s holy well and  after  all the religious celebrations  a sports day  was held in the afternoon .

Procession durrow

Processional route from Durrow Roman Catholic Church to St Colmcille’s holy well ( map taken google maps)

When I arrived in Durrow  it was about 12.2o and mass was underway.   The church  was decorated in bunting and flags.

1-DSCF8557

Roman Catholic Church at Durrow.

Following mass  everyone assembled  at the church gates and  fell into line  behind a banner with an image of the saint.  The parish priest and other  clergy from the diocese and two musicians walked in front with the rest of the pilgrims following.

1-DSCF8562

Pilgrims beginning to assemble outside the church gates for the procession.

1-DSCF8561

Musicians John Buttivant and Dick  relaxing before the procession. There are normally joined by a piper who was unfortunately not able to attend this year due to illness.

1-durrow samsung s5 210

The procession as it leaves the church and turns soutj down the N52.

The procession heads from the church gates south along the N52 road .  The event  literally stops traffic as the community walk along this busy road.   St Colmcille’s day is very important to the local community and one lady told me that  many people will take the day off work  to attend.

Everyone was in good spirits  as they walked along  oblivious to the lorries and cars behind them, thankfully the an Garda Síochána were  also present to regulate the traffic.

1-DSCF8584

The procession as it heads down the N52.

After walking for approximately  0.5 km the procession leaves the N52 road and heads  into Durrow Abbey Demesne.

1-durrow samsung s5 216

The procession as it enters the N52.

The next stage of the procession, which is about 0.6km in lenght,  could not be more different from the first section of the walk.  The pilgrims  proceeded down a leafy driveway that leads to the St Colmcille’s Church of Ireland and Durrow Abbey House.

1-DSCF8600

Pilgrims walking along the road within Durrow Demesne.

The procession continued past  St Colmcille’s Church of Ireland

1-DSCF8403

St Colmcille’s Church of Ireland at Durrow.

and  along a small  trackway which leads  to a D shaped , tree covered marshy area known as the island.

1-DSCF8615

Pilgrims walking down the trackway leading to St Colmcille’s holy well.

St Colmcille’s  holy well is located at the center of this area.

1-durrow samsung s5 140

St Colmcille’s holy well at Durrow.

Everyone  congregated around the well and tried to avoid the more marshy areas.  Some boards had been placed towards the entrance to make access easier.  Once everyone had arrived a  number of prayers were recited blessing the well and those present.

1-DSCF8637

Prayer being said at St Colmcille’s holy well.

Following prayers many people  went to the holy well to take home water in plastic bottles and milk cartons.   A young man  and woman  stood by the well and  filled bottles with water for the pilgrims .

1-DSCF8639

Pilgrims taking water from St Colmcille’s holy well at Durrow.

Durrow was certainly one of the most stylish pilgrimages I have attended, probably because it coincides with communion day and everyone looked great in their suits and dresses.   This  event has such a great community feel and its really a  great social occasion too.

1-durrow samsung s5 265

Pilgrims chatting at St Colmcille’s holy well.

As I headed back up the trackway towards the church, which houses the 9th century high cross (will discuss in another post),  I could hear singing  and when I went to investigate further   I found a fantastic choir  who were singing within the church.

1-DSCF8656

The choir singing within the church at Durrow.

I really enjoyed my time at Durrow and it was really lovely to attend such  a vibrant pilgrimage.

References

http://www.tullamoreparish.ie/durrow-mainmenu-177%5B/embed%5D

 

 

The Derrynaflan Monastery and Easter Pilgrimage

Derrynaflan is best known for its medieval metal work, including a two-handled chalice known as the Derrynaflan chalice, on display in the  National Museum of Ireland.

derrynaflan-hoard

The Derrynaflan hoard (the chalice and associated ecclesiastical objects)

The  chalice along with a paten, a liturgical strainer and basin were part of a hoard of treasure found by metal detectorist on land close to the  monastery of Derrynaflan Co Tipperary.  The complications, surrounding their discovery, helped to instigate Ireland’s current metal detecting laws which make it illegal for anyone to engage in metal detecting without a licence.

As a child I remember going on a school trip to the National Museum at Kildare St. After all these years I still remember  this visit clearly, along with  our teacher pointing out this treasure (Derrynaflan Chalice) found in my home county. I also purchased a small booklet in the museum shop on the chalice which I still have, once a nerd always a nerd.  The craftsmanship of the chalice and other objects  is  true breathtaking.

Derrynaflan

Decoration on the Derrynaflan paten (a plate used to hold the host during the celebration of the Eucharist).

Location

The hoard is associated with the monastery of Derrynflan.  The monastery  sits on an island  in Littleton  raised bog,  in the townland of Lurgoe, approx 11km from the  modern town of Thurles in Co Tipperary.

Derrynaflan_01721

Aerial shot of Derrynaflan (from the Slieveardagh Rural Development http://www.slieveardagh.com/history/towns-and-villages/derrynaflan/).

In early medieval times  it was located close to the territorial boundary of the territories of the Éile and the Éoghanact.  As you can see from the photo above much of the surrounding bog has been processed and removed by Board na Mona, giving the land a desolate and unappealing vista.  One can only imagine what his site and its surrounding landscape would have looked like in medieval times.

Although  built-in the middle of a bog, Derrynaflan was far from isolated and recent archaeological excavations in the surrounding bogland, has revealed the presence of several bog roads and trackways, some of which line up with the site.  These roads and tracks linked the monastery to the wider world.

The Irish and Latin Lives of St Ruadhán  recounts an interesting tale concerning one of these roads.  St Colmán Mac Dáirne of the monastery of  Daire Mór  decided to bring a gift of butter to St Ruadhán who at the time was residing at Derrynaflan. Conn Manning (1997) has identified the monastery of Daire Mór   as Longfordpass alias Durrihy, located north of Thurlas.   Colmán placed the butter in a vessel which was carried by two oxen and set off on his journey. We are told that he two monasteries were divided by bog but Our Lord miraculously made a road spring up through the bog so that Colmán could deliver the butter.

Founding Saints

Derrynaflan was  founded by  St Ruadhán of Lorrha in  the 6th century (Harbison 1970, 226) but the site gets its name from  two other saints who lived here during the 9th century.  In Irish Derrynaflan  is Doire na bhFlann,  in English the name means ‘the wood of the two Flanns’.  This placename  remembers two  saints both called Flann (meaning red or blood-red) who are associated with the site.  The saints were Flann son of Foircheallach and Flann son of Dubh Tuinne (Conna), both acted as co patrons of the area. The calendars of Irish saints note Flann Foircheallach died in  825 and his feast was commemorated in the 21st of December.

The monastery acquired its present name by the association with two prominent clerics of the early 9th century, Fland mac Duib Thuinne of Dairinis who died in 821 and Fland mac Fairchellaig, abbot of Lismore who died in 825 (ibid.).

Derrynaflan was linked to the Ceilí Dé movement  and the annals suggest links to other Céili Dé churches at  Lismore, Emly and Cork.  Additionally it is included in a list of sites in ‘union’  with Máel Ruain, and the asceticism practices by Flann son of Dubh Tuinne is elsewhere specified  in the rule attributed to  Máel Ruain who was the patron of Tallaght (Ó’Riain 2011, 345).

The site today

The approach to the Derrynaflan is little bit difficult but so worth the effort.  I visited here during the summer with Conor Ryan of the South Tipperary Development Company who is currently working in a project to develop an   The Derrynaflan trail  linking this site and other church sites such as Holy Cross Abbey in east Tipperary Slieveardagh area.

We approached the site from the north  the townland of Liskeveen and  followed a small  surfaced bog road  and then headed cross county  through some scrub.  It is also possible to  approach  the site from the  south.

1-DSCF8985

Approach to Derrynaflan from the south

After a little bit of  walking  we came to the base of a hill  and were rewarded with view of the ruins of the monastery sitting on top of a hill.   The monastic site  consists of a series of earth work and the ruins of a church and  a single wall of another monastic  building.  The island was originally enclosed by a bank and outer fosse (ditch) which is visible only in places and the eastern side of the enclosing bank and fosse are now covered by a build up of bog and peat (Ryan 1980, 10).

1-DSCF8990

View of Derrynaflan church

Today the most visible remains are the church. This is a nave and chancel church with two phases of construction. The nave of the church appears to be pre-Norman, a separate church in its own right. In the 13th century the chancel was added on this earlier church then became the nave of the new building.

Interior of Derrynaflan Church

Interior of Derrynaflan Church

Only the  walls of the chancel  in the north, south and east survive to any great height .  The earlier church (nave) was built of coursed Cyclopean limestone masonry (large blocks), of which only the lower courses of the south wall survive (Ryan 1980, 11).

The east gable contains two single-light trefoil-headed windows, while there are three single-light trefoil-headed windows in the south wall.  At the east end of the south wall  there is a re-used Romanesque window which was used to frame a decorated sandstone piscina.

1-DSCF9007

Romanesque window reused to frame the piscina

Within the  interior of the church  there is a triangular-shaped gable finial with socket for a cross belonging to the original roof of the 13th-century church.

1-DSCF9016

Stone roof slates

Along the top of the north side of the east gable are stone roof slates,  additional stone roof slates from the medieval chancel were also found during previous excavations (Ó Floinn 1985, 37).

1-DSCF9032

East gable of Derrynaflan church

Gobán Saor

Derrynaflan is also associated with a mythical figure called the Gobán Saor.  The Gobán  was a highly skilled smith or architect in Irish history and legend.  Tradition holds he was responsible for  building  many of Ireland’s castles and churches including Holy Cross Abbey.

Local tradition holds that the Gobán Soar was buried at Derrynaflan and the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map marks the site of  his grave to the north-east of the church.

1st ed Ordnance Survey map of Derrynaflan from http://maps.osi.ie/publicviewer/#V1,617960,649614,6,8

1st ed. Ordnance Survey map of Derrynaflan (from http://maps.osi.ie/publicviewer/#V1,617960,649614,6,8)

Farrelly (2011) notes that White writing in  1892 say

‘further down the slope to the north, are the graves of the Gobann and his wife and two children. Stones of coffin shape mark the place and bear quaint figures and curious celtic tracery. Heretofore, these relics were religiously preserved, but latterly they have suffered in some ways. A barabarian smashed one of the stones some years ago and obliterated the tracves with a chisel’. Traditionally the Gobaun was said to have been Grand Master of the ancient order of Freemasons in Ireland (ibid).

Today the area  is  an area defined by a timber fence.   Inside the fence are three  very worn medieval grave slabs one which is held to mark the Gobán’s grave. I will come back to the Gobán again in the new year as I think this very interesting character is deserving of his own blog post.

1-DSCF9035

Grave of Gobán Saor

  Easter Pilgrimage

This quiet site is transformed into an annual place of pilgrimage at Easter time when there is a celebration of a dawn mass on Easter Sunday. The tradition was started by Canon Liam Ryan, PP, Killenaule-Moyglass, in the 1990s and attracts large numbers of pilgrims from the surrounding areas.  I am hoping to attend this pilgrimage in 2014.

My friends at Abarta Heritage have a great a audio guide for this and some of the other sites in the area .

References

Byrne, F. J. 1980 Derrynavlan: the historical context. In JRSAI 110, 116-26.

Farrelly, J. 2011. ‘Derrynaflan’ http://webgis.archaeology.ie/NationalMonuments/FlexViewer/
Ó Floinn, R. 1987 ‘Derrynaflan’, Lurgoe: Monastic settlement. In I. Bennett (ed.), Excavations 1986: summary accounts of archaeological excavations in Ireland, 33. Bray. Wordwell.
Ó Floinn, R. 1988 ‘Derrynaflan’, Lurgoe: Monastic settlement. In I. Bennett (ed.), Excavations 1987: summary accounts of archaeological excavations in Ireland, 24-5. Bray. Wordwell.

Manning, C.  1997.  ‘Daire Mór identified’ Peritia 11, 359-69.
Ryan, M. 1980 An Early Christian hoard from Derrynaflan, Co. Tipperary. NMAJ 22, 9-26.

http://www.abartaheritage.ie

http://www.abartaheritage.ie/product/derrynaflan-trail-audio-guide/

http://www.nationalist.ie/news/your-community/easter-sunday-dawn-mass-planned-for-famed-derrynaflan-site-1-4929037

The Princess and the Saint: the visit of Princess Grace of Monaco to Croagh Patrick.

I love old  Hollywood films but  I never thought I would be writing about one of my favourite actresses Grace Kelly  and one of my favourite pilgrim sites Croagh Patrick in the same blog post. Grace was born  on the  12 November 1929, as her surname would suggest she was of Irish decent.  Grace  had a short but successful film career staring in some classic films like High Noon and  Dial M for Murder.  She retired at the age of  26 when she married  Prince Rainier of Monaco.

Grace_Kelly_-_High_Society

Grace Kelly

In 1961  Princess Grace and her husband Prince Rainier  came to Ireland.  During the trip they travelled to Co Mayo, visiting the family home place of  Grace’s grandfather John Peter Kelly in the townland of Drimurla, who  left Ireland in 1887 for America.  At the  time of the visit the Kelly homestead was in the ownership of a lady known as the Widow Mulchrone.  According to the Mayo News

For weeks preparations had been made for the special royal visit of June 15 1961. The roof was newly thatched, the hedges cut and the pathway sanded. Dressed in black, and wearing her finest apron, the widow had spent the morning baking griddle cakes and polishing the glassware and good china. Up in “the good room”, which doubled up as the widow’s bedroom, she set the tables with six cups and saucers and bedecked it with a selection of cakes and soda bread. Back in the kitchen a big black kettle hung boiling and hissing over the open fire. According to lore, the widow regaled the royal visitors with stories and, at one point, ordered an on-duty policeman to “wet another cup of tay, the prince could murder another drop”. She even recited a special poem to mark the occasion, which she dubbed the most important day of her life.

princess_grace_newport5-5-623x500

Princess Grace visiting her ancestral home  (http://gracekellyfilmfestival.ie/GKFF_gallery.html#)

During her time in Mayo the princess also made a pilgrimage to  Croagh Patrick, as many of her ancestor had done before her.  Wearing a two piece suit, sun glasses and glamorous headscarf, Princess Grace was one of the most elegant and stylish pilgrims to ever visit the holy mountain.  The photos and film footage of the visit show her  wearing flat shoes and carrying a blackthorn walking stick.  Looking every inch the  Hollywood star she walked  along the laneway  which leads from the modern car park to the statue of St Patrick at the base of the mountain.  The royal couple was followed by photographers, curious local people and members of the  garda síochána.  One can only imagine the excitement of people who lived in the area.

at shrine

Princess Grace praying at the base of Croagh Patrick (image taken http://gracefilm.tumblr.com/post/45526095619/princess-grace-makes-her-way-to-the-shrine-of-st)

The princess  didn’t climb to  the summit of Croagh Patrick  but she prayed before the  statue of St Patrick which stands  at the mountain’s base.  There is fantastic film footage of the event  available on the British Pathé website (the link is below in references).

abeafefb1775bcdec36d9c59ed895122f3c48dfd51b567278a751fd8370b3dbb

Coming down the mountain (image taken  http://gracekellyfilmfestival.ie/GKFF_gallery.html#)

 Princess Grace’s visited Ireland on two other occasions but the this first visit is still remembered fondly in Co Mayo.

References

Ryan, A. 2010. ‘Fairtale Princess Grace dreamed of Mayo Roots’, http://www.mayonews.ie/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12325:fairytale-princess-grace-dreamed-of-mayo-roots&catid=3:news-features&Itemid=29

http://www.mayonews.ie/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12325:fairytale-princess-grace-dreamed-of-mayo-roots&catid=3:news-features&Itemid=29

http://gracekellyfilmfestival.ie/GKFF_gallery.html#

http://www.dailyedge.ie/grace-kelly-and-ireland-543199-Sep2012/

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/princess-grace-makes-croagh-patrick-pilgrimage-aka

Pilgrimage to St John’s well Carrigaline, Co. Cork

The 24th of June is the feast of St John the Baptist. This day also coincides with the pagan celebration of mid summer and many pagan traditions continue even down to modern times such as the tradition of lighting bonfires.  There are many holy wells around Ireland dedicated to St John the Baptist and pilgrimage is still undertaken on the saints feast day at a large number of them.

Location Map of St John's well at the edge of Carrigaline town (taken from Google Earth).

Location Map of St John’s well at the edge of Carrigaline town (taken from Google Earth).

On  Sunday  last, St John’s Eve I attended the annual pilgrimage to St John’s well in the town of  Carrigaline, Co Cork. St John’s well or Tobar Eoin Óg  is  located in small wood in the townland of Ballinrea on the outskirts of the town of Carrigaline.  Also attending the  pilgrimage was  Richard Scriven  (Geography UCC)  who is currently doing very interesting PhD research  on modern pilgrimage in Ireland. For more details of Richard’s research check out his blog liminal entwinings.

St John’s Well

The 1st ed Ordnance Survey map of 1840  records the  well as  St Rinoge’s well elsewhere it is called Renogue’s well . Rinoge/Renogue  is likely a corruption of Eoin Óg  the Irish name for the well.

The site consists of  a spring well covered by a corbelled structure, beside the well is a large tree surrounded by a low circular wall with a stone plaque which  provides a short history of the site.

1-DSCF9538

St John’s well

A number of benches are located  at the site and  steps made of railway sleepers make the site more accessible. A small stone altar is located opposite the well.

Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Ireland  dating to 1837 gives the following account of the well

At Ballinrea there is a mineral spring, which is considered to be of the same kind as that of Tunbridge Wells, and has been found efficacious in cases of debility; and near it is a holy well, dedicated to St Renogue, which is resorted to by the country people on the 24th of June.

The Carrigaline Parish websites states that

According to tradition the well was discovered by a blind man whose sight was restored. In gratitude he built the beehive shaped stone surround, which can be still seen today.

It is recorded that in the early 19th century huge crowds  of people attended a  patron/pattern day  on St  John’s Eve (23th June) at the well.

According to the plaque at the well, the water  has healing powers and it is customary for pilgrims to say a decade of the rosary at each of the inscribed crosses  that are found in the walls of the well house. The practice of incising crosses is seen at many other pilgrim site such as St Declan’s well at Ardmore, Co Waterford and the practice seems to be a post medieval and  modern tradition.

1-DSCF9502

Well house showing one of the incised pilgrim cross over the door of the well.

Modern Pilgrimage on St John’s Eve

It is an annual tradition for the people of Carrigaline and the surrounding area to visit St Johns well on the eve of the saints feast.  It’s a tradition which likely goes back generations.  Pilgrimage in 2013 began with pilgrims  gathered on the Ballintrea road close to the Dun Eoin housing estate  at 7.15 pm.  People stood around and  chatted and waited for others to arrive. When a crowd had gathered at 7.30 the Carrigaline  pipe band  began a processional walk to the well. The band was immediately  followed by the  parish priest who was then followed by the rest of the people ( pilgrims). The Procession headed along a lane way with a signpost for the well, past some house,  then on to a grassy lane which leads down into a grove of trees. The band played throughout the procession and were really excellent.

009-DSCF9326 (1)

The Carrigaline Pipe Band heading the procession to St John’s well.

039-DSCF9342 (1)

Pilgrims in procession to the well

The walk  was very pleasant and took about 5-10 minutes to complete.  When we all arrived at the well the band took a well deserved brake  and lines up beside the alter. The rest of the people assembled around the clearing facing the stone alter opposite the holy well . There were  two priest from the parish of Carrigaline present to lead the prayers.

1-DSCF9435

The prayers began with the  sorrowful mysteries (five decades of the rosary an explanation of rosary is in the references below).  The parish priest lead the prayers  and  moved around the well clockwise, in the same manner as any pilgrim visiting the well to perform the stations would do.

128-DSCF9389

The a cross was incised with a small stone at each of the crosses around the well.

When each decade of the rosary is begun the pilgrim takes a stone and  scratches a cross into the incised  stone.

1-DSCF9524

Pilgrim incising cross on one of the stones

These stones five in total are located around the well and have deeply incised crosses. The crosses have been created by generations of pilgrims who visited the well.

1-DSCF9534

Cross incised by pilgrims at back of the well

Following the rounds of the well  there was a ceremony called Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament  for those of you who don’t know  what that is it is a devotional ceremony, the sacrament (host) is displayed in a monstrance  in this case  on the small stone altar opposite the well.  The  a priest blesses the congregation with the Eucharist at the end of a period of  prayer.

113-DSCF9381 (1)

A number of  hymns were sung by the choir and played by the pipe band such as ‘Faith of our Fathers’. When the ceremony finished  many of those present lined up and took water from the well. Some of them incised the cross over the well door. Unlike other sites people didn’t seem to bring water bottles with them.

300-DSCF9482 (1)

I returned to the well the following morning,  to see what it was like without the hustle and bustle of people.   It really is one of the most beautiful wells I have visited and so peaceful with lots of singing of the birds.

References

http://www.carrigalineparish.ie/index.php/parishhistory/

http://www.carrigalineparish.ie/index.php/parishhistory/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benediction_of_the_Blessed_Sacrament

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosary

St Colmcille’s well Disert Donegal

Today is the feast day of St Colmcille who along with St Patrick and St Brigit he is one of the three patron saints of Ireland. In 2008  my good friend Fiona Beglane  brought me to  see  a holy well  associated with the saint. The well in question is located   in the townland of Disert, in the parish of Inver, in Co Donegal. Over the last few years I have been to a lot of pilgrim sites but  this is  one of the most beautiful place  that I have spent time.

Location

St Colmcille’s well  is situated in rough pasture at  the foothill of the  Carnaween hill and the Bluestack  mountains close to the banks of  the Eanybeg river.  As you can see from the photo below this is  the most glorious of  locations.

26-RIMG1175

The site consists of a holy well located close to a small graveyard that is surrounded by a stone wall and the remains of  megalith and associated enclosure.   All three  monuments  are points in  the pilgrim landscape of the site.

24-RIMG0299

The Eanybeg river

Meaning of Placename

The townland name Disert (Dísert in Irish) comes from the Latin word desertum meaning desert. During the 4th century  there was a movement of hermits in the East (Syria and Egypt)  retreating into the desert to live a life of isolation and prayer. It is probable that the idea of  living as a hermit came to Ireland from the East  via Gaul and Britain. The Irish placename ‘Dísert,’ and its variants ‘Dysert,’ and placenames of which ‘Dísert’ is a component, for example, Dísert Diarmata, Castledermot, bear witness to the existence of hermits and hermitages in  Ireland. There is no visible evidence of an early or  late church here but  according to tradition St Colmcille blessed the well here which was already of local importance.

History of the Site

The earliest references to Disert  dates to the 17th century.  The History of the Diocese of Raphoe mentions that Hugh Roe O’Donnell, chief of Tir Chonaill gave an estate at Disert to the Franciscans around the year 1460. Yet according to Meehan (1997, 14)   the Franciscans have no record of their order in the parish of Inver. Local tradition held that the Franciscans  who fled their monastery at Donegal after the Plantation of Ulster lived east of Disert in the townland of Friary and made their way between Killymard and Glenfinn along Casan na mBrathar.  Local tradition does states  seven monks were buried in the ‘garden’ or enclosure at Disert (ibid).

According to the Ordnance Survey letters for 1835 & the Annals of the Four Masters in the year 1611

Niall O’Boyle Bishop of Raphoe died at Gleann Eidhnighe on the 6th of February and was interred at Inis Caoil (Inish Keel).

Meehan(1994, 14) and the notice board at the site state it was at  Disert that the bishop died and  was carried out of the hills to his Kiltoorish for burial.

St Colmcille’s Well

03-RIMG0278

St Columcille’s well is located within the enclosing fence

The  holy well is fenced off by wire railing.  The well covered by a  trap door which need to be opened to access the water.  The well shaft/hole is lined with roughly coursed stones and the well very little water when I visited it  in the summer of 2008. There are two cairns beside the well which have kind of merged together and are covered with vegetation.

02-RIMG0277

St Columcille’s well

The graveyard

Close to the well is a wedge shaped graveyard which is defined by a stone wall. The graveyard was used  for  the burial of  adults  until the 1840’s  and for unbaptised  babies until the 1930.  Within  the enclosure  is a stone altar with a metal cross beside an old tree.

15-RIMG0290

Interior of graveyard with holy well in the background

Sitting on the altar are a number of holy stones one of which  is a quern stone. There are a number of  low stones  in the grass which act as graves marker  and    four low stone mounds or  penitential cairns scattered about the graveyard. According to  Walking Ireland Website the site was used during penal times as a safe place to say mass.

The priest was said to travel up and down the river Eany between the Alt in Ardaghey saying mass in each, on alternate Sundays. The bullaun stones were said to have been used as candle holders. Fr. Dominic Cannon was parish priest of Inver from the 1770″s until his death in 1801.

05-RIMG0280

Altar within the graveyard

St Colmcille’s Arch

St Colmcille’s Arch  is another part of the pilgrim landscape. The arch is  what appears to be the remains of  a  ‘Megalith’  it consists of  two orthostats (upright stones) approximately 1m high with a lintel stone resting on them.  Piled on the lintel stone are small stones which form a pyramid.

56-RIMG1205

St Colmcille’s arch

When you pass through the arch you enter a  sub oval enclosure roughly 5m by 6m.

The Turas at Disert was noted for its cures. East of the megalith is a large slab or concave stone. The penitents lay on this flag and pressed their back into the cavity. This was a noted cure for backache. The well water was said to cure toothache. The water in the bullaun stone was said to cure warts. It was also used to cure eye complaints. In those days people came to the Turas at Dysert on June 9th – the Feast of Colmcille – from far and wide. (Meehan 1997)

Modern pilgrimage

According to the notice board at the site in former times people came here on the 9th of June the feast of the saint. In modern times mass is said in the graveyard on the first Sunday of July followed by the  traditional climb  of the nearby Carnawee Mountain. In the past  at the  top  people meet those from the Glenties side of the mountain for an afternoon  &  evening of dancing and singing.  Fiona Belgane carried out a detailed survey of the site called Disert: St Colmcille’s Well and Megalith, which states

pilgrims traditionally start at the  well with prayers as they walk around the  stones barefoot whilst praying. They then walk to the altar, over the hill whilst saying the rosary. At the altar they circumnavigate the stones found there before mass is said. 15 decats of the rosary are said whilst walking around the well. ( Unpublished project by Fiona Beglane)

Meehan (1997, 14-15) states

As well as prayers being said at the well the Rosary was recited and Paters and Aves were said as the pilgrim made his or her way round the heaps or cairns walking on the right hand or deiseal and placing a pebble on top of the cairn as the prayers were said.

Disert  is renowned for cures,  and I have already mentioned  the healing stone east of the megalith where penitents lay on the flag and pressed their back into the cavity, to cure backache. The stone reminded me of  St Kevin’s chair at Hollywood. Penitents would also crawl through the megalith (St Colmcille’s arch)  and  rub the affected part of the body against the stone. The water of the well was a cure for tooth ache. The water in the bullaun stone was a cure for warts. The quern stone was used to cure eye complaints, the pilgrim would hold the stone up to their eye and look through  the hole at its centre.

06-RIMG0281

Quern stone known as the “Cure”.

Local tradition  has it that a test of male virility was to carry two stones from the altar in the graveyard to the well and back three times, whilst holding them from the top.

07-RIMG0282

On the left of the photo are the stones carried to the holy well and back.


The soil from Disert   is reputed to be holy and to have certain powers.  Like other Columban sites in Donegal, such as Gartan and Tory, the clay at Disert is said to banish rats. The clay must be lifted from the right hand side of the altar and in former times great stress was laid on it being asked for and received with great reverence. Newspaper reports have suggested that uranium in the clay caused it to banish rats but these reports haven”t lessened the belief in its power. Until recently Disert clay was often put in the foundation when houses were being built  (Meehan 1997, 17)

References

Anon. Information Board at the Site.

Beglan, F.(unknown) Disert: St Colmcille’s Well and Megalith.unpublished.

Meehan, H. 1997. ‘Disert in the Blue Stacks.’ Donegal Annual, Vol. 49, 12-23.

O’Donovan, J. 1835. Ordnance Survey Letters Donegal.

The Disert Circular Walk http://www.walkingireland.ie/section-2.aspx?item_id=140

Pilgrimage to St Gobnait at Ballyvourney, Co. Cork

Saint Gobnait: first impressions

I first came across St Gobnait when I wandered in to the Honan Chapel  around 14 years ago.  The Honan chapel is  very  beautiful  church located on the campus of University College Cork. It has many splendid stained glass windows by Harry Clarke, who in my opinion was Ireland’s finest stain glass artist.

As I wandered around the chapel I looked up at one of the many windows which depicted various Irish saints and there was Gobnait. Her window is one of the most beautiful depictions of a saint I had ever seen. The window shows  Gobnait of Baile Bhúirne/Ballyvourney adorned in blue robes and surrounded by bees, at her feet  are two men with   fearful expressions.  My curiosity immediately demanded that I find out who this saint was, where she came from and most importantly what was the connection with the bees?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/feargal/6388195535/

Stain glass image of St Gobnait in the  Honan Chapel . Taken by Fergal of Clabbagh (http://www.flickr.com/photos/feargal/6388195535/)

Who was Gobnait and where did she come from?

Much of what we know about Gobnait comes from folklore. Unlike many other Irish saints, Gobnait’s  life story was not written down during the medieval period. Tradition  and  links with  St Abban (also associated with Ballyvourney) suggests  she lived during the 6th century.  Today the main centres of devotion to Gobnait are  on  Inis Oírr/Inisheer ( one of  the Aran Islands), Dún Chaoin in West Kerry, Kilshanning, Co. Cork  and Baile Bhúirne/Ballyvourney near the Cork/Kerry border, where the local people venerate the saint on her feast day,  the 11th of February. Evidence of the saint’s cult  is also found in the dedications of churches and holy wells in the counties of Cork, Kerry, Limerick and Waterford.

There are two  folk versions of the  saints life. One  tells us that Gobnait was born in  Co Clare and due to a family feud fled of to the island of Inisheer where she founded a church. One day an angel appeared to her  and told her to head inland and  to find the  place of her resurrection. She was told she  would know this spot as it would be marked by  the presence of 9 white deer. She travel south in search of  this place and her  many stops  are marked by  churches and  holy wells dedicated to her, such as the medieval church at Kilgobnet,  Co Waterford.

At various stages of her journey Gobnait met  with white deer of varying numbers but it was only when she reached Ballyvourney that  she found the nine deer grazing  and it was here she  ended of her journey. In a Kerry version of her life, Gobnait  was said to be the daughter of a pirate who came ashore at Fionntraigh (Ventry, Co. Kerry).  Once ashore an angel appeared to her and  told her to go forth and search for the site  of her resurrection  and to travel on until she saw nine white deer grazing, which she did in Ballyvourney.

I will post more in the coming months about  Gobnait’s journey around Ireland and the other sites associated with her.  This post  will focus on the  evidence of  pilgrimage at Ballyvourney.

Metal working and bees

Gobnait was likely the patron saint of iron workers. The hypocoristic (pet name) form of her name Gobba come from Gabha which means smith.  Excavations  St Gobnait’s House/Kitchen at her shrine in Ballyvourney  in  the 1950’s,  prior to the erection of the modern statue of St Gobnait, revealed evidence  of iron working (smithing and smelting).

Gobnait was also the patron saint of bee keepers and kept her own bees.  There are a number of  legend  in which she unleashes her bees to attack enemies. In one  story soldiers came to Ballyvourney and stole livestock, as they left the village the saint  let loose her honey-bees upon them.  Another version of this tale has a band of robbers stealing her cattle and she sends her bees  after them and they promptly return the  cattle. It is this legend that inspired the Harry Clarke window. Many modern depictions of the saint  associate her with bees such as the  statue at her shrine in Ballyvourney by  Séamus Murphy.

20130211_152850

St Gobnait in the rain. Statue of St Gobnait created by Seamus Murphy in the 1950s.

Medieval Pilgrimage at Ballyvourney

Gobnait is not the only saint associated with Ballyvourney. St Abban had established a monastery here prior to her arrival. Abban gave her land and  helped she established a nunnery here. The traditional  site of Gobnait’s nunnery is the old graveyard and medieval parish church known as Teampall Ghobhatan ( the church of Gobnait).   I will come back to St Abban and his links to Ballyvourney in another post.

There is  little evidence  to suggest when pilgrims first began to come here. Unfortunately the archaeological and historical sources tell us nothing about pilgrimage prior to the 17th century.  Given the popularity of the saints cult  in the 17th century it is likely pilgrimage  likely  began many centuries prior to this date.

The silence of the historical and archaeological record concerning pilgrimage at Ballyvourney, should not be seen as  evidence that pilgrimage was not taking place in the early or later medieval period. Pilgrimage is seldom mentioned in the historical records and the act of pilgrimages  in most cases leaves little physical trace behind.

The earliest written reference to pilgrimage at Ballyvourney dates to the early 1600’s.   In 1601 Pope Clement VIII granted a special indulgence  of 10 years to those who, on Gobnait’s  feast day, visited the parish church, went to Confession and Communion and who prayed for peace among  ‘Christian princes’ , expulsion of heresy and the exaltation of the church’.  It is clear from this and other 17th century references,  such as the  poetry  of Dáibhidh Ó Bruidar, the writings of Don Philip Ó Súilleabháin and Seathrún Céitinn, that Gobnait’s  cult  was strong and popular during this period.

In 1603 Donal Cam Ó Súilleabháin during  his flight from Béara  stopped at Ballyvourney with his men to pray at Gobnait’s shrine, to offer gifts and to ask for her protection. The importance of Gobnait’s cult  is also attested by the  visited of  the Papal Nunico Rinuccini   in 1645 (Ó hÉaluighthe 1958, 47).

Devotion to Gobnait is again mentioned in the writings of Sir Richard Cox  in 1687,  who stated

Ballyvorney, a small village, considerable only for some holy relick (I think of Gobbonett) which does many cures and other miracles, and therefore there is great resort of pilgrims thither.

The relic  described by Cox is  a small  13th century medieval statue of St Gobnait, now in the care of the parish priest of Ballyvourney.

20130211_132934

Medieval statue of St Gobnait

Gobnait’s statue was again mentioned in 1731 when it is noted that

this Parish is remarkable for the superstition paid to Guibnet ‘s image  on Gubinet’s Day.

The literary sources suggest that  the hereditary keepers of the shrine and relics of Gobnait (the statue) were the  O’ Hierlihys family. Many of the relics of Irish saints  survived the reformation as they were kept  by individual families and passed down from generation to generation. These families were descendants of the family of stewards, or airchinnaigh, who controlled monastic lands and were often remunerated with a specific plot of land and fees when the relic was used. During the 18th & 19th century many of these families  fell on hard times and sold the relics some have been lost but thankfully many are now in the National Museum of Ireland. The statue of Gobnait continued to be cared for by the O’Herlihy family until 1843 when the statue was given into the care of the parish priest and it remains  in the care  to  church of Ballyvourney to this day.

John Richardson, a protestant gentleman with a low opinion of pilgrimage, gives an account of the 18th century pilgrimage at Ballyvourney in his book The Great Folly of Pilgrimage.  His account suggests that  devotion was focused on the aforementioned statue of St Gobnait  and makes no mention to any of the stations visited by modern pilgrims.

An Image of Wood, about two Foot high, carves and painted like a Women, is  kept in the Parish of Ballyvourney, in the Diocese of Cloyne, and the County of Cork; it is called Gubinet. The pilgrims resort to it twice a year, viz on Valintine’s Eve and on Whitsun Thursday…. it is set up for adoration on the old ruinous walls of the church. They go around the image trice on their knees saying a certain number of Paters, Aves and Credos. Then following prayer in Irish ‘A Gubinet, tabhair slan aon Mbliathan shin, agus sábháil shin o gach geine agus sórd Egruas, go speicialta on Bholgach’ and they conclude with kissing the idol and making an offer to it every one according to his ability, which generally amounts in the whole to 5 or 6 pounds.  The image is kept by one of the family of the O’ Herlihy’s and when anyone is sick of the small-pox, they send for it and scarifice a sheep to it, and wrap the skin about the sick person, and the family eat the sheep. But the Idol hath now much lost its Reputation, because two of the O Herlihys died lately of the Small pox. The Lord Bishop of Cloyne was pleased to favour me with the narrative of his rank idolatory, to suppress which he hath taken very proper and effectual methods (Richardson 1723, 70).

He goes on to say

Pilgrims kissed the statue, rubbed aching limbs to it, tied handkerchiefs about its neck, to be worn afterwards as a preventative against sickness (Richardson 1723, 71).

Richardson’s writings are very anti Catholic and written at a time when pilgrim was viewed as superstitious and backward by the established church, despite his negative tone his writing provides one of  the most detailed of the early accounts of pilgrimage at Ballyvourney.   During the  18th and 19th century pilgrimage was not just under pressure from the established church, many Irish pilgrimages were suppressed by the Catholic clergy  but thankfully the efforts of the then Bishop of Cloyne  to eradicate the pilgrimage at  Ballyvourney were in vain.

The modern pilgrimage at Ballyvourney on the saint’s feast day

I have been to Ballyvourney  on a number of occasions,  but this year was the first time I attended a pilgrimage. I arrived in the village around 10.30 am.   I was  told by some people i meet that was mass in honour of Gobnait, would be said at   11.30am  &  16.00pm  and that a rosary would be said at the shrine at 15.00 pm.  I was also informed  that people  visit the statue of Gobnait and  the shrine &  holy well to do their ’rounds’ (pilgrim prayer) throughout the day .

I headed first to the church to see the medieval statue of St Gobnait. The statue is a treasure possession of the parish of Ballyvourney and it is fascinating to think that it has survived here in this parish since the 13th or 14th century. Made of oak, it is approximately 27 inches/ 68 cm tall. The back is hollowed out from the shoulder to the feet. The face is now very worn and traces of  paint can be seen  on the front of the statue.  The folds of the saint’s dress and a belt are still visible. The feature of her face are now undiscernible but the details of her hands  (one hand is raised  to her chest and the other by her side) are clearly visible.

St Gobnait's Statue showing detail of hands

St Gobnait’s Statue, photo  showing detail of hands & robe

On the saint’s feast day the statue is displayed within the church. On the occasion of my visit it  was placed on a small table in the church in front of the altar.  A table with a large jar of colourful ribbons, key rings and booklets about Gobnait (all for sale) was located a few meters away  from the medieval statue in front  of a modern plaster statue of the saint.  People queued up and purchased fistful of ribbons and formed orderly lines to approach the medieval statue. The pilgrims armed with their ribbons (which they had brought with them or just  purchased) , were  no ready to  perform the ritual called St Gobnait’s measure. This is a practice  were pilgrims use the ribbons  to ‘measure’ the statue.

20130211_120807

Pilgrim’s taking ‘St Gobnait’s measure’ after mass in Ballyvourney church.

The ribbon(s) is held along the length of the statue and then wrapped around the neck, then the  waist and finally the feet of the statue. Some pilgrims make the sign of the cross when this is done, others pick up the statue and kiss it, while  others bless themselves with the statue.  The ribbon or in most cases ribbons are  then brought home and  used to ward off and to cure sickness.  Farmers often  placed  the ribbons in outhouses where there is livestock. As I sat in the church waiting for mass there was a constant line of people waiting to get to the statue. The scene reminded me of Richardson’s description  of pilgrims in 1723,  which tells of pilgrims tieing  handkerchief to the statue and then wearing them about the neck  as a preventative against illness.  It was fascinating to see that  modern pilgrims  are interact with  the statue in much the same manner as their ancestors almost 300 years before.  The church soon filled to capacity and a  mass was said in Irish.  There was a mix of people from within and outside the parish in attendance. Many  people had travelled some distance to get  here  and I heard one man say he came  that morning with his son from Killorglin in Co Kerry.

After  mass a new group of  people lined up  to visit the statue with their ribbons. I was told people would come throughout the day to visit the statue but the main burst of activity focused around mass times. When I passed by the church later at 16.15 the car park was again chock-a-block with cars.

Pilgrim stations at St Gobnait’s shrine.

A short distance from the village is St Gobnait’s shrine,  the other focus of devotion for pilgrims to Ballyvourney. As I mentioned above St Gobnait’s shrine is the traditionally held to be the site of St Gobnait’s nunnery and the burial-place of the saint. Throughout the year it  attracts pilgrims on a daily basis. The main peaks in pilgrimage are Whitsun, the feast of St Gobnait, on the 11th of February and an open air mass in July.

StGobnait'sair004

Aerial shot of St Gobnait’s shrine (taken from http://www.leevalleywalking.com/about.htm)

The landscape of the shrine is divided  in two  with  St Gobnait’s house, holy well and statue  separated from  the other stations by a  modern road.  During the course of my visit  I meet another  blogger  Richard Scriven  (Geography UCC)  who is currently doing PhD research  on the modern pilgrimage at Ballyvourney. For more details of Richard’s research check out his blog http://liminalentwinings.com/.

The day was  very cold with light to heavy showers but during the time I was here there was a constant  stream of pilgrims. Most  pilgrims  were  in  small groups of two or three and many were alone.  A small crowd gathered  at  15.00, for the rosary ,  in the area beside St Gobnait’s house.  Many of the people here who attended  the rosary  left afterwards perhaps to catch the 16.00 mass, while a small group remained to do the stations.

Pilgrim's at the Rosary  at Ballyvourney

Pilgrim’s  hiding from the rain during the recitation  of the rosary at Ballyvourney

Modern  information boards  are found  beside all the  pilgrim stations and detail the required prayers for each stations.

20130211_145224

One of the modern notice boards located at the shrine.

The  following details of the rounds is taken from the book  Saint Gobnait of Ballyvourney by  Bernie Donoghue Murphy written in c. 2007.

Pilgrimage begins in front of the  statue of Gobnait.  The  pilgrim recites  7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary’s and 7 Gloria,  then walks clockwise ‘ ar deiseal’  around the outer path (around the periphery of the site) reciting the Apostles Creed. The practice of  pilgrims walking in a clockwise circuit can be traced back to early medieval times and  continued in post medieval and modern times.

???????????????????????????????

Pilgrims beginning their round  before the modern statue of St Gobnait.

At St Gobnait’s House (station 2)  the pilgrim recites 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary’s and 7 Gloria.  The pilgrim  walks clockwise around the  station reciting the apostles creed. I also saw people go inside the hut and walk clockwise around the interior and finish by marking a modern pillar with a cross.

20130211_152925

Pilgrim within St Gobnait’s house marking the centre pillar with a cross.

This station  was in ruins  1950s. It was restored   following an  excavation of the site by M. J. O’Kelly  and rebuilt  to its current state. The results of this excavation suggests the structure was used for craft working in the early medieval period. Large amounts of slag (the waste product of  iron smelting),  a crucible  and other artifacts connected with iron working were recovered. Two  bullaun stones (stones with man-made depressions), artifacts which many scholars believe were used to grind metal ores are found close by at the site of Gobnait’s grave.

20130215_135753

Pilgrim praying at St Gobnait’s house (Ó hÉaluighthe 1958, Pl. 2)

Modern pilgrims  have marked  stones around the  shrine  with crosses as part of their prayers.  The two entrance stones to St Gobnait’s house are marked by crosses,  as are the  modern  cylinder shaped pillars within the  hut and various stone in St Gobnaits church. This practice is seen at other pilgrim sites such as St Declan’s well at Ardmore. Such activity dates to  post medieval and modern times. Small pebbles are left on top of these stone for  pilgrims to  incise the sign of the cross.

20130211_153121

Crosses marked on the top of the modern pillar.

Having finished the prayers at station 2 ,  the pilgrim goes to the near by holy well , one of two wells associated with Gobnait at the shrine. The pilgrim then kneels down and  drinks some water from the holy well.

20130211_135140

Holy well beside St Gobnait’s house.

The remaining stations are  found  within the old graveyard. The pilgrim then crosses the road and enters the old graveyard.

20130211_153157

Crosses etched on the modern styles

Station 3 & 4 are located beside each other, close to the main entrance to the graveyard.  At station 3  the pilgrim  recites 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary’s and 7 Gloria. The pilgrim  walks  twice clockwise around the this station ( station 4 is at the centre of this path) reciting the apostles creed.

20130211_142618

Pilgrims praying at Station 3 & 4.

Station 4  is a sod-covered mound of loosely packed stones (4m N-S; 5.6m E-W; H 1.3m) known as  St Gobnait’s grave. The pilgrim recites 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary’s and 7 Gloria.  The pilgrim then walks  twice clockwise around  this station reciting the apostles creed.

20130211_154604

Station 4 St Gobnait’s grave.

On top of the mound is a large flat slab which pilgrims  have  incised with a  cross. A small pebble is left beside the cross. This station is very colourful and eye catching. Pilgrims have  left  behind votive offerings such as  holy statues, medals,  rosary beads & crucifixes.

20130211_153327

Cross incised by pilgrims on slab on top of St Gobnait’s grave.

From here the pilgrim walks past the 19th century Church of Ireland to Station 5, located at the corner of the  old church. The pilgrim  recites 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary’s and 7 Gloria.  The pilgrim  then walks  around St Gobnait’s church 4 times, reciting at each  circuit,  one decade of the Rosary.

20130211_141859

Pilgrim’s doing rounds of the church.

The pilgrim then enters the interior of the church. Station 6  is located  at the east gable of the church.  The pilgrim recites 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary’s and 7 Gloria .

20130211_141501

Station 6 in the interior of the church.

Modern pilgrims have left there mark within the church. There are statues placed in putlog holes ( small square holes used to hold wooden beams,  used in the initial  building of the church) some of the stone in the fabric of the church and   two 19th century grave stones have  had  crosses incised on them.

The pilgrim then moves on to station 7, located at the window at  east end of the south wall of the church. A  rectangular recess (cupboard) has been filled over the years by pilgrims  with statues and beads and other religious memorabilia.  The pilgrim recites 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary’s and 7 Gloria.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Station 7

On completion of prayers  the pilgrim reaches out through the window and makes the sign of the cross above the top lintel on a piece of  medieval sculpture known as  Sheela-na -gig. Sheela  are  figurative carvings  of naked women, usually bald and emaciated, with lug ears,  squatting and pulling apart their vulva.  These carvings are found many medieval churches, sometimes castle sites in  Ireland and England. There is much uncertainty as to their original function some think, they were used to ward off evil, warn against lust or even fertility figure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Window with Sheela-na-gig

The pilgrim then moves outside of the church to station 8, which is known as the  priest’s grave.  The grave marks the burial of Fr Daniel O’Herlihy  was buried here in 1637. The pilgrim then  recites 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary’s and 7 Gloria  at this station.

20130211_140812

Station 8, the priest’s grave

Station 9 is at the southwest corner of  the west gable of the church. The focus of devotion  is a polished  agate stone ball, call the bulla. The ball is located in a rectangular recess and  is renowned for its healing power. The  pilgrim  recites  7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary’s and 7 Gloria. Some pilgrims had left a religious medals  and a  piece  of paper probably with a petition to the saint beside the ball.

20130211_143031

Station 9  the polished agate ball surrounded by votive offerings.

There is a folktale associated the with the stone.  Legend has it an invader decided to build a castle in the area. Gobnait could see the castle walls from her church.  Throwing the bulla  at the castle  she razed the castle walls to the ground.  The stone then miraculously returned to the saints hand. Each time the walls of the castle were rebuilt the saint would knock them down again with the bulla. Finally the invaders gave up and move away.

To complete the pilgrimage the pilgrim walks down the road to St Gobnait’s well (Station 10). The pilgrim recites 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary’s and 7 Gloria,  one decade of the rosary and drinks the water from the well.

20130211_145404

St Gobnait’s well

Like many holy wells in Ireland  St Gobnait’s well is associate with a  rag tree and there is a tradition of leaving votive offerings at this tree. Below is a photo of the tree taken when I last visited here in 2006,  as you can see is covered rags and bead  and tokens left be pilgrims. I think it  looks quiet lovely.   Since my last visit   most of these offering have been removed but a few are still to be found.

RIMG1830

Tree beside St Gobnait’s well taken in 2006.

I came across another book  called Saint Gobnait  of Ballyvourney by  Eilís Uí Dháiligh written in 1983. This book notes that many pilgrims begin there stations with the traditional prayer

Go mbeannaí Dia Dhuit, a Ghobnait Naofa,

Go mbeannaí Muire faoi mar a bheannaím féin dhuit.

Is chughatsa a thána ag gearán mo scéal leat,

Go dtabharfá leigheas i gcuntais Dé dom.

May God and Mary bless you,

O Holy Gobnait, I bless you too,

and come to you with my complaint.

Please cure me for God’s sake.

She also notes the traditional finishing prayer is

A Ghobnait an dúchais

do bhiodh i mBaile Mhuirne

Go dtaga tú chugamsa

le d’chabhair is le d’ chúnamh

(O St Gobnait of Ballyvourney, come to my aid).

Uí Dháiligh  gives instructions for  the pilgrimage as follows (taken directly from her book pages 25-26).

There are five  Stations or Ulacha and each has a particular significance.

I The First Station or Ula Uachtarach is the site of Gobnait’s House. (Stop 1 & 2).

II The Second Station or Ula láir is her grave (stop 3 & 4).

III The Third Station brings us to her Church (stops 5 & 6).

At each of the three stations the pilgrim walks ar deiseal, that is clockwise, and prays. The  customary practice is to say seven Paters; seven Aves; and either seven Glorias or the Apostles’ Creed at the outer ring of each Station which is traversed twice. The same is repeated around the inner circles twenty-eight Paters; twenty-eight Aves; and either twenty-eight Glorias or four Creeds in all.

20130211_142533

Pilgrim praying at Station 5 and a group of pilgrims praying at Station 9 the bulla stone

IV The Fourth Station (Stops 7 & 8) is inside the church where one pater; one Ave; and either one Gloria or one Creed is said. The pilgrim pauses at the south window in honour of the effigy over the window head through by some to be an old image of Gobnait herself.

V The Fifth Station consists of a visit to the Priest’s Grave which lies outside the right corner of the East Gable, where one pater; one Ave, and one Creed are said (stop 9); a visit to the bulla in the south corner of the west gable (Stop 10) and the journey to the well (Stop 11). The pilgrim goes down the main road a little distance and enters the grove where he will find the old Well. Here he says one Pater, one Ave, and one final creed. He drinks the water and says a final prayer.

20130211_145311

Cups and statues left on top of St Gobnait’s well.

Conclusion

Despite the lack of  evidence for pilgirmage in the medieval period, I have no doubt that pilgrims were coming to Ballyvourney from an early date. Gobnait’s reputation as a healer and miracle worker  would have attracted pilgrims from the immediate locality and further afield. We can never know how medieval pilgrims interacted with the shrine, but the  pilgrim rituals would not have been  static and  would have  constantly evolved as evident from the slight variation of the accounts of the modern stations described above.  The  medieval pilgrims to Ballyvourney like those in the 17th , 18th century  would have  come here for much the same reasons as modern pilgrims, to ask for help from the saint and in search of  healing.  Above all it is  the devotion to Gobnait  through the  little wooden  statue  that links the people of Ballyvourney with their medieval forefathers.

© Louise Nugent 2013

References

Chaomhánach, E. ”The Bee, its Keeper and Produce, in Irish and other Folk Traditions’. Department of Irish Folklore.http://www.ucd.ie/pages/99/articles/chaomh.pdf accessed 8/07/2012.

Power, D. 1997. Archaeological Inventory of County Cork: Mid Cork v. 3. Dublin: Stationary Office.

Henry, F. (1952) The decorated stones at Ballyvourney, Co. Cork. Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 57, 41-42.

MacLeod, C.  1946.  ‘Mediaeval figure sculpture in Ireland’ JRSAI Vol. LXXVI, Part II.

Harris, D. 1938. ‘Saint Gobnet, Abbess of Ballyvourney’, JRSAI Vol. LXVIII, 272-277.

Ó’ h-Éaluighthe, M. A. 1958. ‘St. Gobnet of Ballyvourney’, JCHAS Vol. LVII,  43-62.
O’Kelly, M. J. (1952) St Gobnet’s House, Ballyvourney, Co. Cork. Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 57, 18-40.

Richardson, J. 1727. The great folly, superstition, and idolatry, of pilgrimages in Ireland; especially of that to St. Patrick’s purgatory. Together with an account of the loss that the publick sustaineth thereby; truly and impartially represented. Dublin: Printed J. Hyde

http://www.dioceseofkerry.ie/page/heritage/saints/st_gobnait/ (accessed 21/01/2013).

http://www.seandalaiocht.com/1/post/2010/11/st-gobnets-house-ballyvourney-co-cork.html (accessed 18/02/2012).

The modern pilgrimages at Faughart on the feast day of St Brigit

Last week I managed to make it to Faughart, one of Irelands most interesting of pilgrim sites. My visit coincided with  the feast of St Brigit the patron of the area. Faughart  claims to be the birth place of St Brigit and the landscape of the area has a strong cult association with the saint.

dundalk

Map showing Faughart in relation to Dundalk (after google maps)

This has been one of the most difficult posts I have written. It was difficult as  there is so much to say regarding the cult of Brigit,  the history and the archaeology of the pilgrimage at Faughart. After a lot of thought,  I decided to focus on my experience at this years St Brigit’s day pilgrimage and at a later date to write another post on  the origins and history of pilgrimage at Faughart and the cult of Brigit.

Location

Before I begin to describe my pilgrimage  just some words on the location of the site. Faughart is situated about 1-1.5 miles outside of Dundalk. The modern pilgrimage landscape stretches between the old graveyard  at Faughart hill with its medieval church and holy well dedicated to St Brigit  and St Brigit’s shrine a series of station,  holy stones and modern oratory  located along the  banks of the a small stream know as St Brigit’s stream.

new map

Map showing the old graveyard and St Brigits shrine at Faughart

The distance between the two sites is about half a mile.

Faughart is a very popular pilgrim shrine and  pilgrims come here each day throughout the year.  It  is renowned as a place of  healing. The main days of  group/mass devotion  are the 1st of February, the feast day of Brigit and the 1st  sunday in July,  a  day of the national pilgrimage.

My visit coincided with  on the 1st of February. I return also on the 3rd of February when I joined a group of pilgrims walking from Dundalk to Faugart. This second pilgrimage was part of the annual ‘Brigid of Faughart Festival’, a four-day  annual event with lectures, workshops and pilgrimages that  focuses on Brigit . The festival  is a celebration of Brigit, both Goddess and Saint.   For more information  about the event see the link http://www.doloreswhelan.ie/events/brigid-faughart-festival/ .  St Brigit is very important to the people of Louth and  because of her pre-christian origins she bridges the gap between the christian and pagan world. She is a very interesting saint  and I will discuss her cult further at a later date.

St Brigit’s Day at Faughart/pilgrimage part I

Faughart is the other end of the country from where I live, so I travelled up to  Dublin on St Brigit’s eve and headed to Faughart the morning of the 1st of February. I had been to Faughart once before in 2006  but my memory of how to get there was a little rusty.  I decided to stopped first at Dundalk and get directions at the tourist information office .  A big thank you to Sinead who works there for all her help.  I also dropped in to the County Museum where the staff were equally helpful.

I eventually arrived about mid day to St Brigit’s shrine which is the main attraction for modern pilgrims. This site consists of a series of holy stone located on the banks of St Brigit’s stream. The shrine fills  a long rectangular field divide in two by a road. The stream known as St Brigit’s stream runs through its centre.

shrine

Map showing the landscape of the shrine of St Brigit. The shrine is located within the tree covered area and the field showing the stream channel (after google maps).

The  car park was full to capacity  so I packed along the side of the road with the other cars . There was a constant stream of people coming and going . The area of the shrine is quiet large so its easy to underestimate the numbers.  One of the first things I noticed  was   people selling St Brigit’s crosses, candles and  holy mementoes and like any good pilgrim I left with about four St Brigit’s crosses which I have since  distributed among friends and family .

20130201_125554

A vendor selling religious memorabilia and St Brigit’s crosses

Dotted about the shrine  are set instructions for the traditional  stations at the shrine  and   many pilgrims still adhere to them  but others  seem to follow their own  route around the shrine.  As I arrived the day was dry and sunny but it soon turned into  a ‘fine soft day’ Irish code for  a constant light rain.

Instuctions for the traditional stations

Instructions for the traditional stations at the lower end of the shrine

Pilgrimage  begins at the upper shrine.  This is  a lovely place  with lots of  mature trees and a  stream running  through the centre. During the main day of pilgrimage relics of St Brigit (owned by Kilcurry parish) are kept in a simple oratory dedicated to the saint  and many begin their pilgrimage here entering through the main gates and  climb the steps to the oratory past the statues of SS Patrick, Colmcille, Malachy and Oliver Plunkett.

???????????????????????????????

A pilgrim climbing  the steps to St Brigit’s oratory

Pilgrims then pause in front of the oratory to  pray.   For St Brigit’s day a priest in charge of the relic,  is in the oratory during set times  and the  pilgrims can go to  be  blessed by the relic of St Brigit if they wish. The  relic is a  tiny piece of bone (skull)  kept   in a small box with glass lid. The story of the relic  is an interesting one and I will come back to it in another post.

20130201_143632

Pilgrims praying at oratory

The reliquary ( which  holds relic) is place on forehead  of the pilgrim and prayers recited by the priest who asks  St Brigit  to pray for and bless the pilgrims.

The traditional stations begin at the fountain  a stone structure    that reminded me of the corbelled well  (St Brigit’s well) at the nearby old graveyard.  Water from the stream that flows through the site is pipe into the structure  and flows into a large  stone with a hollow  which like many of the other hollowed stones at the site may be  possible bullaun stones.

20130201_143129

Pilgrims praying at station 1

This structure has been renovated since my last visit and  two concrete paths  placed across the once open stream  just opposite it.  At station  1 the pilgrim is to recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Gloria.  I saw many  queue  up here to take the water  home in plastic bottles and to simply bless themselves.

RIMG1587

Station 1 taken in 2006 not the open stream bed in the background which leads to station 2.

Station 2  is located beside station 1 and the pilgrim  must walk a few steps and cross to the  far side of steam. The stream   is railed on either side and the pilgrim must recites one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Gloria .

RIMG1586

Photo of station 2 & 3 & 4 taken in 2006

Station 3  is a stone located at the center  of the stream bed, the pilgrim recites one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Gloria here .

RIMG1585

Station no 3 taken in 2006

The photo above shows station 3 in 2006.  Since this date the stone has been incorporated into the concreted  path (mentioned above) to link the two banks.  I wonder was this done for insurance reasons to make the crossing safer for those who are unsteady on their feet ?  Unfortunately it is not as aesthetically pleasing as before, but I suppose it is safer.  The rest of the site seems unchanged.

Once station 3 is complete the pilgrim crosses over  to the other side of the  stream and begins Station 4 . This station is  at the modern looking celtic cross. Here the pilgrim is to perform 10  circuits  reciting one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Gloria at each circuit . Most of the people I observed just prayed in front of the cross, although I did see some people do the circuits.

The pilgrim continues south along the east bank of the stream, they pray at the  stations of the cross which are dotted along the bank. Some also stop and pray at   a grotto dedicated to the Our Lady.

Pilgrims praying at the stations of the cross

Pilgrims praying at the stations of the cross

This route takes the pilgrims  across the road   into the lower shrine which is much more open and landscaped. One lady I meet told me in the past there was a lot more bushes and trees here which she felt gave more privacy for pilgrims praying.

As one enters the lower part of the shrine  on the left is a small chapel.  According to the noticeboard on the 1st of February mass was said here at 10.30, 12.00 and 13.00.

The stream  continues down slope.  I also notices a modern well type structure built over the stream. Pilgrims  made their way down slope  stopping  to pray at the stations of the cross and some at the well structure  and some people also collected water from here in plastic bottles.

pilgrims saying stations of the cross

Pilgrims at the lower shrine

Pilgrims begin station 5  at the point  just where the stream turns and heads east  along the field boundary wall  of the shrine.  Again the   pilgrim recites one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Gloria .

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

View of pilgrims at stations 5-10.

Close by is station 6,  which is  known as the  hoof stone.  Again pilgrims recites one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Gloria.

Hoof stone

Station 6 the hoof stone

Stations 6-10 are all invested with origin legends connected with St Brigit.  If I remember correctly, folk tradition states that St Brigit was living with her sister at Faughart but a young prince wanted to marry her and wouldn’t take no for an answer. One night she decided to run away to escape him  and  as she was making her way out of Faughart following the stream the prince  who had heard about her leaving came  in pursuit.  Brigit knelt down to pray beside the stream leaving her knee prints in the stone. She then plucked out one of her eyes to make herself less attractive and unrecognisable.   The prince caught up with her but didn’t recognise her and the hoof mark of his horse was left behind in the  stone known as the hoof stone.

Station 7  is  the knee stone, which marks the spot where the saint knelt to pray. It is a large rock with two hollow. The pilgrim kneels in the hollows of the  stone  and  then on top of the stone while reciting one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Gloria .

knee stone

Station 7, the knee stone

Others  simply  recite their prayers standing beside the stone.

Pilgrim kneeling in the knee stone

Pilgrim praying in the knee stone on the 3rd February

The pilgrim continues  along the modern path to station 8  which is known as the waist stone . I noticed that some pilgrims sat on the stone but most stood by it . The pilgrim is required to recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Gloria .

waiste stone

Station 8 the waist stone

Station 9  is called the eye stone ( this supposed to be  the eye the saint plucked from her head, a similar stone was said to have existed in Dunleer). The traditional prayers require  here are ten circuits of the stone while reciting one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Gloria at each circuit.

Eye Stone and modern Grotto

Eye Stone and modern grotto

I saw some pilgrims sit/lie on the stone  they then blessed themselves with water from a little hollow on top of the stone.

Pilgrim sitting on eye stone

Pilgrim sitting on eye stone 3rd February

Many pilgrims also pray at the  modern grotto beside this stone. The final station (station 10)  the head stone  is a large stone with a hollow whose outline has been pained in white.  The stone is part of the boundary wall and rags and tokens, the same type of thing you get on rag trees, are tied onto the fence  in the boundary bank. The pilgrim places his/her  head in the stone  and recites  one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Gloria.

20130201_142209

Station 10 the head stone.

This ends the  pilgrimage at St Brigit’s shrine and stream. I noticed that many pilgrims stated  at the headstone and ended their prayers at the eye stone, reminding me that pilgrim rituals are fluid.  I will delve more into the history of the shrine and these stones in my next post on Faughart.

St Brigit’s Holy well on Faughart hill

St Brigit’s well is located in the nearby graveyard,  it is also a focus of pilgrimage in the area, although on a much smaller scale. I  headed up to the old graveyard at Faughart hill around three. There were significantly fewer people here but again there was a constant flow of people coming and going .  Buckets  of water from the well had  been place outside the walls of the graveyard  for those too busy to go to the well.  I saw several people arrive  armed with plastic bottles , some filled them from the buckets and then left .  Others went into the graveyards and followed the path down to the holy well  located below the ruins of a 12th century church.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Water from St Brigit’s well by the wall at Faughart old graveyard

During the 19th century pilgrimage at  the well was much more popular.  The well  a corbelled structure is entered by walking down steps (added in the 1930’s) .

St brigit's well

St Brigit’s well.

Pilgrims continue to come here and take water away with them and  pray. The  bushes that surround the well are covered with rags and rosary beads showing that pilgrims still come here to ask  Brigit for help.

Local lady carring water from the well

Local lady carrying water from the well

Also at the site  are two  penitential  station  which were visited by 19th century pilgrims, again I will discuss these further in the next post on Faughart. One is a circular mound surrounded by kerbing  is called St Brigit’s pillar. The base of a medieval cross sits on top of the cairn.

20130201_152610

St Brigit’s pillar

The second station is a horse-shoe shaped   mound with two upright stones at the entrance, it is known as  St Brigit’s  bed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

St Brigit’s Bed

I didn’t see anyone visit these  two stations  during my time here, generally people left after visiting the well and collecting  their water. A local man I meet, told me that no one does prayers at them anymore.

So I headed back for some food and  came back again to Faughart for part II of my pilgrimage  the annual torch-light procession.

Torch Light proscession/pilgrimage part II

The procession  is a night walk  from the old graveyard at Faughart to the shrine of St Brigit. This year it began at  8 o’clock and I roped my friend Nikolah  into coming along. It had been a wet day and but when we arrived at Faughart Hill  the night was cold with a clear sky full of shining stars. The lights from Dundalk and the motorway below were spectacular. The procession is really an event for the local community to connect with Brigit and people of all ages from tiny tots to the elderly were there. Everyone was in good spirits despite the cold and I spotted some very fancy lanterns.  The procession began with the  priest reciting a prayer to St Brigit, then   two men carrying a large processional St Brigit’s cross and flags set off  down the road,  those carrying the reliquary containing the saints relics fell in behind and then everyone else assembled on the hill  fell in behind them  and we headed off on our pilgrimage.

20130201_201025

  Finding our way in the dark wasnt as difficult as I had thought. There was something very relaxing about walking under the stars. You have to be aware of those around you so you didn’t trip or trip someone who was walking at a slower pace. Prayers and songs were sung and the journey  felt like no time at all.  When we  arrived at St Brigit’s shrine there were many people already  there. We all lined up along the banks of the stream at the upper shrine , while the reliquary was brough to the small shrine mentioned earlier. The parish priest  stood at the shrine gave blessing to all present and he also blessed the St Brigit’s crosses , which most people had brought along with them. Prayers were recited in English and Irish. It’s hard to gage how many people were there but there were 100’s  one estimate  I heard was 600 people.  There were also guardaí present to make sure there were no traffic or crowd control problems. The atmosphere was great and I really enjoyed  the experience.

Pilgrims at the end of the Torch light procession

Pilgrims at the end of the torch light procession

Many of those present  proceeded to do the pilgrim stations in the dark before heading home. The procession was one of the nicest pilgrim experiences I have  had. It has been running for the last 37 years . Night pilgrimage and vigils were very important in the medieval world and it is really lovely to see this  tradition being adapted  in the modern world.

Saturday was my day of rest  but Sunday was the last  day of  my pilgrimage.

Sunday Imbolc Festival Pilgrimage walk/Pilgrimage  part III

The final part of my pilgrimage to Faughart took place on Sunday the 3rd.  As I mentioned earlier this pilgrimage walk from Dundalk to Faughart was organised as part of the  St Brigid of Faughart Festival 2013 (link to their site in references). The walk was  followed by a historical tour of Faughart given by local historian Pat O’Rourke.

The walk began at the peace shrine at Linenhall Street in Dundalk.  The group was made up of around 20  women, our local historian Pat O’Rourke and a sheepdog called tara .  I couldn’t have met a more lovely bunch of people. The walk leader Dolores Wheelan, one of the organisers of the Imbolc festival  gave an introduction to the walk and the ethos of the  pilgrimage.  A candle which had been brought from Kildare on St Brigit’s eve  was lit in front of the peace monument  and was then  carried at the front of the group  as we walked along.  Each member of the group  got to carry the torch and lead the group.

20130203_101214

The walk  was about 1-2mile to shrine. This would have been the traditional route chosen by pilgrims from Dundalk to Faughart. The road heads out of Dundalk and  crosses over the motorway by a foot bridge.  Members of the group were free to  engage in the pilgrimage walk as  they wished, some chatted to  each other, others walked in silence , while some chanted a simple  line Oscalite mo Chroí  (Open my heart). We were asked simply to think of Brigit and any prayer that we had  for her while walking along  and to be respectful to other people.

20130203_105929

Once we crossed over the motorway we were walked along quiet county roads.  As we neared the shrine  most people around me  fell silent and were deep in contemplation.

20130203_112012

Pilgrim leading group  while carrying the  light of Brigit

When we reached Faughart  we were treated to hot tea, coffee and soup and  tea  brack.  A very welcome treat for the pilgrims.  After our refreshments Dolores  brought us around the lower shrine  and explained the significance of all of the holy stones and we were all given the opportunity to do our own pilgrimage around the shrine.

The final stage of our  journey was  a historical tour of  old Faughart given  by Pat O’Rourke .  Pat explain about Faughart’s past, from pre-historic to modern times. He  brought us around Old Faughart graveyard  and pointed out many interesting  facts about the well, the church and the penitential stations.

20130203_140817

Historical tour of old Faughart graveyard

I must say I had a very enjoyable day. The group also called my attention to a new pilgrimage walk planned for the summer called Slí Bhride.

During the summer Faughart will  be part of a new exciting pilgrim walk.  A new pilgrimage walk is planned on the 7th July -15th of July  2013  called Slí Bhride. The walk will start at  Faughart in Co. Louth, pass through Louth, Meath and Kildare and end in Kildare Town. I will keep you all posted as I find out more  but  if anyone is interested in finding out more check out  www.brigidsway.ie

or email

eolas@doloreswhelan.ie

I am going to write more about Faughart in the coming months so watch the space

© Louise Nugent 2013

References

http://www.doloreswhelan.ie/events/brigid-faughart-festival/( accessed 2/02/2013).

http://www.createlouth.ie/brigid-festival-dundalk (accessed 2/02/2013).

http://j2.catholicireland.net/mass-times?task=churchbyparish&ParishID=1300 (accessed 25/01/2013).

http://www.faughart.com/local-history-page26988.html (accessed 27/01/2013) excellent source for the history of the site.

Save

Lady well or Tobar Mhuire in Modeligo, Co Waterford

The village of Modeligo has one of the nicest holy wells,  it is  a real gem. The well like the parish church is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and local people still gather here on the 15th of August the Feast of the Assumption, to say the rosary.

Medieval Parish church at Medeligo, Co. Waterford

The Ordnance Survey maps record the well as Lady well, while Forsayeth in 1911 says the well was known as Tobar Beannuighthe. Beary also writing in 1911 notes that local people referred to the well as Tobar Mhuire or Mary’s well. Today local people just call it the Holy well.

I first heard about this well from a friend Gillian McCarthy who happens to be from Modeligo and for the last two years I have been trying to visit. Finally in August 2012, I was able to visit and Gillian kindly gave my mum and I a guided tour of the village and the well, which is located in the townland of Knockgarraun a short distance from the local community centre, in farmland own by Gillian’s father Roger.

Lane way leading to Holy Well

The main focus of devotion at the well is the 15th of August and a pattern day is held in the village around this date but it is now a separate event to devotions at the well. The pattern appears to be a revival of an older tradition as in 1911 it was recorded that the pattern day;

‘used to take place here in olden times. People may still be seen to congregate on the aforesaid date, and they invariably hang mementoes, the shape of rags and other objects on the ancient hawthorn that grows beside the well’ (Fortheysth 1911, 187).

This year mass was to be said for the first time at the well but it was cancelled like many other events this summer due to the torrential rain and wind.  To get to the well you have to park at the community centre and walk down a long grassy boreen which leads into farmland. The well is located on steep slope on a rock outcrop that overlooks the Finisk River.

The well is a roughly circular hollow in the rock outcrop, the result of natural erosion by rainwater. The water within the well is a result of the hollow filling with rain water. Coming up to 15th of August a member of the McCarthy family will clean out the well getting rid of any algae growing in the water.

Forsayeth (1911, 186) noted that when the well was emptied a cross carved into the base was visible and Gillian confirms seeing this.

The hawthorn tree mentioned above still grows beside the well and Gillian’s father Roger, told me that rags and rosary beads were tied to the tree up to the 1960’s but the tradition has died out now.

Image of the Holy Well in 1911 ( Forsayeth 1911, 186).

Little is known about the well prior to the early twentieth century, Lewis writing in 1837 about the parish noted ‘There is a vitriolic spring in the parish the water of which is clear and sharp’.

Smith in his book the The Ancient and Present State of the County and City of Waterford in 1746 notes

‘On the south side of the parish lies the church; and near it, is a reputed holy well’

A local elderly lady called Mrs Cronin of Knocknageragh (a nearby townland) told Beary in 1911

‘ The rounds were made here. The water of this well may be used for any purpose, such as applying or pouring on the head, or rubbing on parts of the body, and some sup it out of the palm of the hand…. The rounds each time however, are finished  at the flowing spring well 60 yards below, on the flat Inch, and near the brink of the Finisc River. Here  three  sups or swallows are to be taken in honour of the Blessed Trinity’

The tradition of going to the Trinity well has died out in the area and I only came aware of the wells existence following my visit so I wasn’t able to seek it out.

View of the River Finisk from the Holy Well

Another very interesting fact about Lady well is that according to folklore from the 19th century this well  has moved its location in the past.

It was originally in the townland of Scart on the land of a Mr Healy and was resorted to for a cure for bad eyes and blindness.

‘….Mr. Healy used to hear all the people that was cured at this well talking about the well. So he told his steward to take a blind horse he had to the well. But the steward wouldn’t take the horse, so he had to take him himself to the well. So the horse got his sight back there and then, and Mr. Healy, who had  the impudence to take a dumb animal to the well, was struck blind himself, and the well disappeared. So there was no trace of the well to be found where it was. But after some days the well was found where it is at present, up a boreen under the chapel of Modelligo’  (Ussher 1914, 120).

There is another tradition which  states that it was a one Cromwell’s men who led his blind horse to the well in mockery and to test out the healing waters of the well, the horse was cured the solider stuck blind and the well up and moved to Modelligo (Forsayeth 1911, 187).

Bibliography

Beary, M, 1911. ‘Holy Well at Modeligo’JRSAI  Ser. 6, Vol. I, 393-394.

Forsayeth, G. 1911. ‘Holy well near Modeligo, Co. Waterford.’  JRSAI  Ser. 6, Vol. I,  186-187.

Lewis, S. A. 1837. A topographical dictionary of Ireland.

 Smith, C. 1746. The Ancient and Present State of the County and City of Waterford:

  Being a Natural, Civil, Ecclesiastical, Historical and Topographical Description

  Thereof. Dublin: Printed by A. Reilly.

Usher, E. 1914. ‘Waterford Folklore 1’, Vol. 25, No. 1 (Mar. 31, 1914),  109-121.

The Pattern Day at Clonmacnoise

The ecclesiastical complex at Clonmacnoise is truly an amazing place. Founded by St Ciarán in 545, the site  developed into a vast ecclesiastical complex and became one of the great power houses of the medieval church in Ireland.

Aerial photo of Clonmacnoise (from http://www.athlonespringshotel.com/attractions.htm)

I have  visited Clonmacnoise on many occasions and each time I spend hours walking around , there really is so much to see here.

Plan of the ecclesiastical complex at Clonmacnoise

This visit coincided with the Pattern Day celebrations of St Ciarán’s feast day on the 9th of September. Clonmacnoise is one of the very few Irish ecclesiastical sites to have an unbroken tradition of pilgrimage that stretches from the 6th /7thcentury to modern times. The history of pilgrimage during the early to late medieval period and  the early modern period is very interesting and complex and is best discussed in more detail in another blog post.

 

According to the Clonmacnoise Heritage Centre there are two special days of devotion here at Clonmacnoise. The Church of Ireland hold an open air  service on the last Sunday in July which I hope to attend next year, while the annual St Ciarán’s Pattern Day  is held on the third Sunday in September, or if possible celebrated on the 9th of September (St Ciarán’s feast day) as it was yesterday.

 

Pilgrims beginning to arrive for the Pattern day

 

The Pattern celebrations began around 3pm. From around 2.30 pm people began to come into the main ecclesiastical complex in small groups and before  the main celebrations began there must have been well over a 100- 150 people present. A local man I spoke too said that even more people would normally be present but  the All Ireland final between Kilkenny and Galway had kept many away.

Unlike the pilgrimage I documented earlier this year at St Mullins, pilgrims were spread out around the site. A large group of people were seat on chairs in front of the open air oratory, which was  built for Pope John Paul II ‘s visit in 1979,

Pilgrims seated in front of the open air oratory

Pilgrims seated in front of the open air oratory

the rest of the pilgrims were scattered among the gravestones and the ruins of other churches at the site.

 

Pilgrims scattered around the ruins of the churches

Like the  Pattern at St Mullins, there is also a social element to this occasion,  this it is time for people to catch  up and chat, it is also a time for people to remember those who have died. Many of  people who attended the pattern also visit the graves of loved ones buried within the main complex and the modern graveyard beside it. Visiting of the graves takes place  before and after the Pattern Day mass.

 

During the nineteenth century and up to recent times   St Ciarán’s well, located a short distance away on the Shannonbridge road,  was a central part of the Pattern Day.  According to one lady that I spoke too,  mass and the stations here are now the main focus of pilgrims  but  some people still visit the well on the saints feast before or after the mass.

St Ciarán’s Holy Well

 

Clonmacnoise is part of the Catholic Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise.  St Ciarán is one of the patron saints of this diocese. The pilgrimage  is an import part of the Diocesan Calendar, so much so that  the Bishop of Colm O’Reilly officiated at the mass, aided by 11 priests.

The pilgrimage began with the procession of the ‘Pilgrim Cross’ (a processional cross) around the  monastic complex while the rosary was recited.

Pilgrim Cross being carried in procession to the first station

Local people were invited to join in the procession but most preferred to pray where they were and only a small group of people joined in the procession. The first station began at the small oratory known as Temple Ciarán, the  traditional burial-place of St Ciarán.

 

The first station at Tempel Ciarán

The Pilgrim Cross then  moved  to the second station at the top of the enclosure  among the gravestones.

The second station among the gravestones

 

The cross was then carried on to the third station at the Cross of the Scriptures opposite the Cathedral church.

The third station at the Cross of the Scriptures

 

The Pilgrim Cross then moved on to the fourth station was at the Round Tower.

The fourth station at the Round Tower

 

The Pilgrim Cross was then brought on procession down to Temple Connor the fifth station. This is the only church at Clonmacnoise which is still use, built in 1010 by Cathal O’Conor, it has been used as a place of worship by the Church of Ireland since the eighteenth century and services are still held here.

Procession past Temple Connor, the fifth station

The stations ended with the bishop reciting a litany of the saints of Ireland .  The mass began and  just as the sermon was being delivered by Fr Liam Hickey PP of St Ciaran’s parish Hartstown , Dublin, who was originally from this  area, the heavens opened and the Clonmacnoise became a very pretty sea of colourful umbrellas.

The umbrellas come out with the rain

As quickly as it began the rain cleared away. As the mass continued a few curious tourists looked on taking photos, perhaps wondering what was happening.

Bishop O’Reilly giving communion to the pilgrims

 

Looking around at the Clonmacnoise I really felt like the site was transformed from a museum into a living place belonging to the community. There was also a real sense of history and tradition, the pilgrims scattered around the site were following the same age-old traditions of their ancestors,  arriving here to celebrate St Ciarán just as their parents and grandparents had done before them and their parents before them and so on. As I will discuss in another post on Clonmacnoise the pilgrim rituals have changed through the centuries but the core act of pilgrimage, the community coming together in honour of their saint  on his feast day is unchanged and I feel really lucky to have been here to experience this.

 

Pilgrims praying during mass at the Clonmacnoise Pattern Day