Pilgrimage to St Declan’s Holy Well at Ardmore, 1910

Pilgrimage in honour of St Declan at Ardmore, Co Waterford, can be traced back to the early medieval period.  During the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Ardmore was one of the most important pilgrim sites in the southeast of Ireland, attracting 1000’s of pilgrims for the annual pattern day celebrations.

Pilgrim rituals during this period have been extensively discussed by Dr Stiofán Ó Cadhla’s  in his excellent book The Holy Well Tradition. The Pattern of St Declan, Ardmore County Waterford, 1800-2000.

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Although the numbers of pilgrims have fallen over the years, the saint and the celebration of his feast day (24th of July) are still a very important part of village life in Ardmore.

The nineteenth century pilgrim landscape was quiet extensive and included St Declan’s grave (at the eary medieval monastery),  St Declan’s stone and St Declan’s holy well (see map on below).

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Image taken Google Earth showing location of the St Declan’s grave,  St Declan’s stone and St Declan’s Holy Well, nodal points in pilgrim landscape at Ardmore.

Today modern devotions are almost exclusively focused on St Declan’s holy well. They   include a prayer vigil on St Declan’s eve at the well, along with the traditional rounds on the feast day.

During the course of my research I came across a wonderful film on the Ardmore  pattern day, which I want to share with you. This short film was created by Horgan Brothers’ films in 1910. The Horgan’s began their careers as photographers and later worked with film, opening a cinema in their home town of Youghal, Co. Cork. It was here they screened their newsreel style short films, which they named the Youghal Gazette many of which can be seen on the Irish Film Institute Website.

It is most unusual for an Irish pilgrimage of this period to have been filmed, let alone  available to a wide audience today (through the Irish Film Institute).  I am very grateful to the Horgan Brothers for their efforts as their work provides a wonderful window into devotional activity in Waterford in the 1900’s.

 

The film opens at  St Declan’s holy well  the last station in the early modern pilgrimage.  There are many accounts which allow us to reconstruct the early modern pilgrimage at Ardmore but to see real pilgrims moving through the landscape is truly fascinating.

The photo below shows the location where the Hogan brothers set up their camera. They choose a position that over looked the well and church and also the approach route from the village.

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Image of St Declan’s Holy Well showing the site where the Horgans filmed the pilgrimage image from Waterford Co Museum Photographic Collection

 

As the film opens, directly in front of cameras are a group of six people, engaged, in what can only be described as people watching. Closest to the camera is  gentleman in straw boater hat.  He watches as people walk along the path to the well and is caught in the embarrassing act of picking his nose. Next to the man, is a lady dressed in a light coloured dress with a parasol.  It seems to have been a warm sunny day as many of the ladies present have parasols. The young woman relaxes on the grass after fixing her parasol behind her head to provide some shade. Again her position allows her to  comfortably view all who approach and leave. The remaining people in the vicinity of the camera are four ladies standing beside a wall adjacent to the entrance. They are watching the pilgrims complete their rounds and prayers with great interest.

At the time pilgrims began their prayers  in front of the well. They then walked clockwise around the church and well while reciting three decades of the rosary. They would then knee before the well, finishing  the rosary before moving to the well to say more prayers and take the water.

The film shows  people in different stages of their  pilgrimage. A cluster of people  are in front of St Declan’s Holy Well, they must have completed their rounds, while the stream of men and women, make a clockwise circuit of the holy well and  its adjacent church saying the rosary are only half way through theirs. It’s interesting to note the majority of men have removed their hats during the pilgrimage as a sign of respect for the place and the saint.

The landscape of the well has changed little since 1910. Below is a contemporary photo of the front of St Declan’s holy well which is obscured from view in the film.  The structure of well has changed little  over the years with the exception of the theft of the smallest of three medieval carved crucifix (on the left side of the photo) incorporated into the top of well superstructure.

 

Photo of three women at St Declan’s Holy Well  taken 1910 from Waterford Co Museum Photographic Archive

Part of the pilgrim rituals at the holy well involved  pilgrims carving crosses into the wall of the church and parts of the well superstructure. These actions are also caught by the camera. This practice is not unique to Ardmore but here as at the other sites,  it is unlikely to have begun earlier then the nineteenth century.

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Crosses carved by pilgrims into the walls of the church at St Declan’s Holy Well

From the well  the film then cuts to St Declans’ Stone,  an erratic boulder located at the southern end of the strand some 500m to the east of the holy well. According to tradition  the stone carried St Declan’s bell and vestments, floating across the sea from Wales to Ardmore. The stone was used as a penitential station by past pilgrims.

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View of St Declan’s Stone as the tide comes in

In the film we see a woman wearing a Kinsale clock,  a traditional  garment worn up until the early twentieth century,  standing beside the stone. A man wearing a long trench coat can be seem crawling out from under the stone. Traditional devotions at the stone involved the pilgrim saying set prayers before crawling under the rock. Given its located on the shore devotions could only take place when the tide was out. Outside of the pattern day the stone was also visited for healing and was thought to be particularly beneficial for those with backache or rheumatism. The stone was a central part of the pattern day devotions until the mid-twentieth century but  pilgrimage has now ceased here.

The film then ends abruptly as the woman kneels in prayer and we do not get to see her crawled under the stone but she surely did.

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Pilgrims performing rounds at St Declan’s stone (still from Horgan Brothers Film)

 

I plan to write a more detailed post about the post medieval and medieval pilgrimage rituals at Ardmore in the new year. I will also be discussing the site at an upcoming lecture for the Waterford Historical and Archaeological Society in February of 2019 so please come along if you want to find out more.

If you find this film interesting you may also want to check out some of the other films by the Horgan Brother that are on the Irish Film Institute website  at https://ifiplayer.ie/category/horgan/

References

https://ifiplayer.ie/the-horgan-brothers-collection-declans-well/

 

Pilgrimage at Knockpatrick Co Limerick

Knockpatrick Hill is located a short distance from the town of Foynes in West Limerick. According to folklore St Patrick visited here when traveling around Co Limerick.

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View of Knockpatrick Hill Co Limerick

The landscape includes the site of a church, a holy stone  and a  holy well, all dedicated to the saint.

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Knockpatrick landscape (image taken Bing Maps)

 

St Patrick’s Holy Well

St Patrick’s holy well is located to the west of Knockpatrick Hill in the corner of a large field.

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St Patrick’s Holy Well Knockpatrick

The holy well is a natural spring defined by an oval dry stone wall. Some time in the last century a larger concrete structure was built over the well and the wall. The spring well’s water flow into a rectangular trough or bathing tank.

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St Patrick’s Holy Well

A large statue of St Patrick sits in a statue niche over the doorway of the well house.

According to Ó Danachair (1955, 215) witing in the middle of the last century  large crowds came here on the 17th March. Devotion to the well has declined  and today the water in the well trough are covered in thick green algae.

Knockpatrick is only a few minutes walk from the well.

St Patrick’s Church and Graveyard

Its an easy climb to the summit of  Knockpatrick Hill. The  summit is dominated by the ruins of a late church surrounded by a historic graveyard. A modern altar and shelter are located on the west side of the graveyard.

The hill is 572 feet above sea level and has wonderful views of the surrounding countryside including the Shannon Esturary, with the exception of the view to the northeast which overlooks the Aughinish Alumina’s factory.

According to legend, St Patrick  built and consecrated the church at Knockpatrick when he visited the area in 448 AD. It was siad he blessed all  the land that he could see. Folk relating to the area  recorded in the The Schools’ Collection, for Shanagolden, Co. Limerick  also tells that St Patrick

while staying at Knockpatrick … blessed Co. Clare. He knelt down at the highest point of the hill, gazed northward across the Shannon at the County, stretched out his hands and said “My blessing over to you”. Volume 0483, Page 168

St Patrick’s stone

The ‘Suíochán Pádraig’ or St Patrick’s Seat is located on the eastern shoulder of the hill. The seat was said to be made up six stones.  Today the stones are enclosed by a concrete wall.

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The interior  floor is covered by patches of concrete and a large wooden cross stands in the center. The six stones cant be idenified and they may be covered  by the concreted or the briars and ivy. Folklore from the 1930’s relating to the stone  notes that

There was a flat stone to be seen at the summit of Knockpatrick until about twenty years ago. On it were two hollows which bore a rough resemblance to an impression which would be made by human knees. A local tradition connects this stone with St Patricks blessing of Co. Clare – that when giving his blessing he knelt on it, and as a sign that God had heard his prayer the imprint of his knees remained on the stone. The Schools’ Collection (Shanagolden) Volume 0483, Page 168.

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During the twentieth century  pilgrimage ritual at the site were focused on 17th of March.  Pilgrims recited three rosaries

‘one around the wall of the burial grounds, one while moving clockwise around St Patrick’s Well and the third at Suíochán Pádraig’ [St Patrick’s Seat] (http://www.limerickdioceseheritage.org).

 

Knockpartick is a lovely place to visit on a sunny day. Arpatrick Co Limerick  is another hilltop site assoicated with St Patick in Co Limerick a with the saint is also worth a visit.

References

The Schools’ Collection, Shanagolden, Co. Limerick (B) Volume 0483, Page 168

http://www.limerickdioceseheritage.org

 

Barrigone Holy Well and the Crimean War: An unlikely Connection

This post  is a shortened version of an article that I wrote,  ‘Barrigone Holy Well and the Crimean War: An unlikely Connection’,   published back in 2016  in the North Munster Antiquarian Journal .

The article details a little known the story of the mother of a young man from West Limerick. who went to fight in the Crimean war and the rituals she carried out  at Barrigone Holy Well, in the townland of Craggs,  to petition God for his protection.

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The 8th Hussars, the ‘King’s Royal Irish’, circa 1855, during the Crimean War. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Crimean war took place between 1854-6  and was fought on the Crimean peninsula. It was fought  between Russia and an alliance of Britain, France and the Ottoman Turkish empire. Irish soldiers made up around 30–35 per cent of the British army in 1854, and it is estimated that over 30,000 Irish soldiers served in the Crimea War. Approximately 7,000 Irish men died  during the war. David Murphy has a very readable and interesting book called Ireland and the Crimean War which details the war and Irish involvement.

In 1855, at the height the Crimean war,  a letter entitled ‘The Way to Save Lives in the Crimea’ was sent to The Catholic Layman Magazine.  The letter was written by one Humphrey O’Leary  who recounts his interaction with the mother of the soldier fighting in Crimea mentioned above. The woman, who was illiterate,  wished Leary to write down her words in a letter to her son. She also wanted to provide instruction for the use of a small number of stones taken from the holy well at Barrigone, that were to be sent with   the letter. Unfortunately the names of the mother or son  are not mentioned and this was most likely deliberately done as Leary is sharing their stories in a very public venue. Its clear from his writing that Leary was a middle class Catholic and had advantages not available to the soldier woman including an education who is of a lower social standing.  Apart from detailing the story of the woman and her son, the letter also provides an insight in life in nineteenth century Ireland, changing attitudes to pilgrimage within the Catholic population and the poor levels of literary.

Leary tells us the woman’s son  was ‘fighting with the Rooshins in Sebastable [Sevastapol]’. He was part of the British forces who, along with their allies, laid siege to the main Russian naval base in the Black Sea at Sebastopol.  Its clear the man’s mother was concerned for his safety and anxious to keep him safe.

Fig.1 View of Barrigone Holy Well

Barrigone Holy Well

 

Leary agreeded to help the woman and he writes that he wanted to write the letter ‘as well as ever I could; for I thought it would look mighty disgraceful entirely to send a bad letter as far way’. When he had filled the first page he told the woman ‘I am going to put your name to it now’: To which she replied ‘Oh Humphrey, avourneen for the love of all the saints keep a little corner of it empty a while, for I am sending him something, and I want you to explain it to him.’

The woman then asked Leary to fill a second piece of paper containing instructions ‘for I want to send him a thing that will save his life.’ To Leary’s surprise the woman pulled out a small red silk purse ‘that was for all the world as big as a tailors thimble’ filled with some tiny stones. The woman went on to say:

I am sending him the blessed stones of Barrigowen [Barrigone] well inside this purse, and tell him, that if he’ll receive them, and wear them in this purse round his neck with the same faith that his own mother is sending him, please God; that he will come home safe and sound again; for any one that ever wore them blessed stones about his neck could not be harmed.

Leary was not too impressed by the woman’s plan and thought it ‘very quare entirely that a small little bit like that could save one’s life.’ He pressed her on the matter, asking ‘is it in earnest you are, or do you think them stones will save him?’ The woman was staunch in her beliefs as she replied ‘Oh I am sure if they overtake him alive that there will be no fear of him’. To persuade the woman to abandon what he thought was a superstitious act, Leary answered ‘I’ll bet my life, Father Mick won’t let you send the stones, nor go to the well at all at all’ to which the woman replied ‘deed then, Father Mick knows that I gave rounds at the well for him, and I sent him the lining of the well in a letter, and he did not say “ill you did itto me when I told him’. Determined to make the woman see the folly of this task Leary persisted:

I am thinking it might be better for you to pray to God to spare your son to you than to go sending these little stones; and perhaps, you or your son may lose your life by provoking him against you.

Fig. 2 Pilgrims performing the rounds at Barrigone holy well 15th August 2015

Modern pilgrims at Barrigone Holy Well West Limerick

Leary response is typical of a move away from, and change of attitude within, the Catholic Church from favouring devotion at holy wells to it becoming perceived as backward and superstitious. The soldier’s mother was certainly not of this opinion and according to Leary became cross and replied ‘I will send the stones at any rate, for I am sure they will do him good’. Leary, realising his arguments fell on deaf ears, and accepting her sincere conviction they would save her son ‘from Rosshen [Russian] bullets’, continued transcribing the woman’s instructions about the stones. Leary ends his letter to the Catholic Layman by noting that after sending the letter with the stones the woman also had a Mass said for her son. He seems to have more faith in the benefits of the  latter. We don’t know if this poor woman ever saw her son again but I like to think these stone at least provided some comfort for him.

This account provides  a unique insight into folk tradition, beliefs and devotional practice in the mid-nineteenth century Ireland. It also highlights the changing attitudes of the middle classes who following the famine and renewed efforts to implementation of Tridentine values in the church, came to see holy wells and their ritual practices as superstitious. The full article which includes a discussion of the wells history and similar practices of taking stone can be found in the North Munster Antiquarian Journal

Nugent, L. 2016. ‘Barrigone Holy Well and the Crimean War: An unlikely Connection’,   North Munster Antiquarian Journal Vol. 56,

St Flannan’s Holy Well, Errislannan Co Galway

Just before Christmas I  spent some time at St Flannan’s Holy Well at Errislannan in the company of archaeologist Will Anderson.
Errislannan is a small peninsula, on the west coast of Co Galway, in the Connemara region, a few miles from the town of Clifden.  Errislannan or Iorras Fhlannáin in Irish, means “Flannan’s Peninsula”. The area gets its name from the seventh century St Flannan who according to local folklore spent some time in the area before settling in Killaloe. The saint is also the patron of a ruined the medieval church and  holy well.
The church and holy well are located on the shores of Lough Nakilla in the townland of Kill. Today the church  and surrounding graveyard are overgrown with briars and dense vegetation. We managed to get into the interior of the church which appears to be a rectangular structure, without any  internal division. It was impossible to examine the fabric of the building in any detail but a  number of gravestones were visible at the eastern end of the church.
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View of the interior of the St Flannan’s church at Errislannan.

 The Archaeological Inventory of County Galway Vol. I – West Galway, describes the church as follows
Small poorly preserved medieval church (E-W; L 10.3m, Wth 4.5m) dedicated to St Flannan of Killaloe. The only surviving features are a plain doorway in N wall and the Morris family tomb in interior. The oldest part of graveyard, oval in plan, surrounds the church. To S of church is a leacht consisting of a drystone wall (L 2.5m, H 0.5m) with a niche, set into the natural slope. A natural boulder, known as St Flannan’s Bed, lies c. 100m E of the graveyard and there is a holy well (GA035-048003-) to E.
According to the  seventheenth century Chorographical description of West or H-Iar Connaught by O’Flaherty, Roderic, 1629-1718,the church has no burials within the walls‘ due to a belief that the body would not stay buried and would be found on the ground the next say.  During the ensuing centuries this belief changed and today there are a number of grave markers in the interior of the church including the Morris family tomb. The heavy growth of vegetation made it impossible to examine these stones. The Morris family were landed gentry who had inherited part of the estate of the Frenchs of Errislannan and they had a house in Ballinaboy.  The surrounding graveyard was also very overgrown and I couldn’t find the leacht.
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Terrain on the southern side of St Flannan’s church Errislannan

On the west side of the medieval church and historic graveyard, is a modern walled cemetery filled predominantly with modern marble and granite gravestones.  St Flannan’s holy well is located close to the gate leading into the modern burial ground.
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Modern burial ground attached to St Flannan’s Medieval parish church Errislannan

The holy well  was once a place of pilgrimage on the 18th of December and we came here on this day to see if people from the area still visit.  Unfortunately I didn’t see anyone  here but some pilgrims could have visited before or after my visits.  It was a very wet day which could have been a factor in the lack of activity but I was told by some people in Clifden that the tradition of visiting the well on the feast day has all but died out here.

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St Flannan’s Holy Well

The well itself is  a rectangular stone lined  feature with steps down into the interior. It is in turn surrounded by a low dry stone wall.

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The well has the most charming appearance which is enhanced by its lakeside location. Evidence of  recent visits by pilgrims to the holy well are represented by a broken saddle quern on the external wall of the well, filled with votive offerings of coins (mostly euro currency) and the odd religious medals.

 

I must come back here again during the summer or on a nice sunny day as the location of the well is stunning and there is a real sence of peace and calm.

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View of the Lough Nakilla from the holy well

 

A Day Trip to the Parish of Kilmovee Co Mayo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

View Tobar na Bachaille.

View of Tobar na Bachaille

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

View of penitental cairn with ogham stone beside Tobar na Bachaile

View of penitential cairn with ogham stone beside Tobar na Bachaile

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

Ogham stone beside Tobar na Bachaile

Ogham stone beside Tobar na Bachaile

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

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

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

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

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

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

View of exterior of Caiseal ringfort

View of exterior of Caiseal ringfort

The fort is entered through a formal linteled entrance.

Linteled entrance

Linteled entrance

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

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

Stone steps in interior walls of ringfort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References and useful links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo Essay of Pilgrimage to Caher Island Co Mayo

Today is the 15th of August, the Feast of the Assumption. It is one of the busiest days in the Irish pilgrim calendar. One of the most spectacular pilgrimages to take place on this day occurs on Caher Island/Oileán na Cathrach off the coast of Mayo.

In 2014 I joined  with pilgrims in the annual pilgrimage to the island. This pilgrimage is a bit of a  journey if you don’t live in Mayo but worth any effort. Access to the island is also very much dependant on weather conditions so there is a risk of arriving and finding the boats are not going. I travelled from Cork to the town of  Louisburg in Co Mayo before continuing onto Ronnagh Pier. I then got on a boat organised by O’Malley Ferries  and  with other pilgrims sailed out to Caher Island. Boats also go from Inishturk island.

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Ronnagh Pier Co Mayo

Caher Island a small uninhabited Island around 128 acres in size. It lies halfway between Inishturk Island and Ronnagh Pier off the coast of Mayo. The island contains the ruins of a small early monastic site and has a very fine collected of early medieval cross slabs. I plan to write a more detailed post about the archaeology and history of pilgrimage on the island in the coming months.

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Heading for Caher Island

The waters around the island are treacherous so only an experienced boatmen familiar with the area can land safely.  The island has no pier so you have to climb up the rocks along the shore to get  to land.

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Pilgrims at Caher Island

The island was also known as Oileáin na Cathrach, Cathair na Naomh and Cathair Pádraig.  St Patrick is said to have spent time here following his 40 day and nights on Croagh Patrick.  Folklore also  says the island is the  end of a mythical road called the  Bóthair na Naomh/Saint’s Road, that ran across the sea  up to the summit of Croagh Patrick.

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Arriving by boat at Caher Island

Today devotions on the island are focused around the small rectangular stone church.

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Church at Caher Island

Within the church is a small altar with  a cursing stone known as the Leac na Naomh. The stone is a large conglomerate stone.  In times past people would swear on the stone to prove they had told the truth or in more sinister cases to make curses or cause storms.

 

In times past a complex series of pilgrim stations existed on the island . The pilgrim landscape  incorporated the church a large number   leactha  in the surrounding  landscape and a holy well on the north side of the island. Leachta  the plural for leacht  is a type of dry-stone altar that predominantly dates to the early medieval period.  The majority of the leachta at Caher Island are surmounted by decorated early medieval cross slabs.

Today pilgrimage rituals are focused around a mass held outside the church. A large leacht in front of the east gable is used as an altar.

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Priest saying mass at Caher Island

Some pilgrims will also include a visit to Tobar Mhuire/ Mary’s well, a holy well  located on the north side of the island. They will normally visit the well before the mass takes place.

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Tobar Mhuire Caher Island

For many people  this pattern day or pilgrimage is an integral part of the annual pilgrimage to climb Croagh Patrick on the last Sunday in July with some feeling their pilgrimage is only complete once they have climbed the mountain and visited  Caher Island some weeks later.

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Pilgrims on Caher Island 2014

Following devotion pilgrims leave the island and travelled by boat to the nearby island of Inishturk for food and refreshments  at the community centre before heading back to the mainland. There is a great atmosphere on Inishturk with plenty of good food  and music and a visit here was a fantastic way to end such a great day.

Pilgrimage to Caher Island is one of the best pilgrimage experiences  I have had. The island is a fascinating place and I cant wait to get back there again  for a visit and to write more about the islands rich pilgrimage history.

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Useful Links

http://www.inishturkisland.com/?pagid=caher-island

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/archaeological-find-shines-light-on-ancient-religious-rituals-1.1636852

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Cranavane Holy Well Co Carlow

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

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View of Carnavane holy well

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

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

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

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View of Barragh holy well

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

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Cranavane Holy Well (s)

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

 

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

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Coffin shaped trough in front of  Cranavane holywell.

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

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The second holy well behind the main holy well at Carnavane

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

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

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

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Stone cairn rebuilt by local community during restoration works at Cranavane

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

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

 

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

 

 

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