2013 Pattern day at Old Leighlin Co Carlow

Last year I attended the pattern/patron day celebration in honour of St Laserian  at Old Leighlin, Co Carlow.  I had planned to write this post the following day but life got in the way as it so often does, and before I new it days, weeks, months and over a year had gone by.  So better late than never.

Old Leighlin is a small sleepy village  a short distance from Carlow town.  St Gobban founded a monastery here in the  7th century.  He was succeeded by St Laserian  also known as Molaisse , who became the patron saint of the site and surrounding area.  In 630 AD, during Laserian’s  rule, a synod was held here to consider the correct time for the celebration of Easter (see my post on the Easter Controversy). Laserian died in AD 639 and tradition holds he was buried  here  and it is likely his grave was visited by pilgrims from an early date, although the site of his grave has long been forgotten.

Following Laserian’s death the  settlement  prospered and grew in strength and influence, becoming one of the foremost churches in Leinster.   By the 12th century it became the see of the diocese to which it gives its name. All that remains of the  medieval settlement are  the medieval Cathedral church, a holy well, bullaun stone,  two early medieval cross slabs and early medieval stone cross.  Following the reformation the Old Leighlin Cathedral came into the possession of the Church of Ireland and  it continues to function as a place of worship.  I will discuss the medieval and post-medieval evidence for pilgrimage  at a later date.

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St Laserian’s Cathedral church at Old Leighlin, much of the fabric dates to the late 13th century.

Modern Pilgrimage

Today as in  medieval times St. Laserian is the focus of a yearly pilgrimage at Old Leighlin  on the 18th of April.  The modern pilgrim celebrations at Old Leighlin  takes place each day  on the saint’s feast day, when an ecumenical  service  is held at  the Church of Ireland Church (medieval cathedral of Old Leighlin) followed by a procession to the nearby holy well dedicated to St Laserian. This year in 2014 the feast day fell on Good Friday and it was held Easter Sunday.

The service is normally presided over by two bishops,  the Anglican Bishop of the United Diocese of Cashel , Ferns, Leighlin, Lismore, Ossory and Waterford and the Catholic  Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, highlighting the importance of St Laserian within both diocese.

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Doorway in the south wall of the cathedral nave.

In 2013 the ecumenical service was held  in the evening  at around 7.30pm.  The Cathedral which is dedicated to St Laserian  is a very beautiful structure.

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The cathedral with a magnificent stained glass window behind the alter.

The Cathedral has many interesting features such as a  magnificent stain glass  window designed  by Catherine O’Brien, in the east gable.  The window depicts Irish and Universal saints  Moling, Bridget, Fiach, Canice, Patrick, John, Paul and  Laserian.

The 2013  service was presided over  by Right Reverend Michael Burrows, the Anglican Bishop of Cashel, Waterford, Lismore, Ferns, Ossory and Leighlin, as the Catholic diocese of Kildare and Leighlin was without a Bishop at the time.  As well as commemorating St  Laserian  with prayers and hymns, 2013 marked a special occasion for Old Leighlin, with the unveiling of an icon of St Laserian that had been specially commissioned for the Cathedral.

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The unveiling of the icon of St Laserian in 2013

The Old Leighlin pilgrimage is one of only a handful  of modern Irish pilgrimages that incorporates a procession.  Following  service all of  those present lined up and walked behind  by the bishop(s) and clergy of both churches in a  processional walk, from the Cathedral along the main road which skirts alongside the north wall of the Cathedral graveyard  to St Laserian’s  holy well.

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Pilgrims leaving the church following the ecumenical service.

The procession began outside the church leaving via the main church gates and on to  St Laserian’s  holy well a  few hundred metres to the west of the church.

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2013 processional walk to St Laserian’s holy well.

As the procession approached the holy well a  band who had been waiting patiently in the car park, beside the holy well, began to play music as the pilgrims approached.

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Procession as it approached the holy well.

The well is located within a landscaped green  field that slopes  sharply to the south.   The  clergy gathered at the well, located at the base of the slope.  Most pilgrims  gathered at the top of the slope  with a second group  standing around the rag tree near the holy well.

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Pilgrims begin to gather for the blessing of the waters.

Once everyone was assembled a short prayer service then took place and the waters of the wells  were blessed.

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Blessing of the waters of St Laserian’s holy well.

 

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Pilgrims gathering for the blessing of the well.

Following the blessing of the water, and despite the rain  most of the pilgrims  assembled at the well to drink  or take home its water.  Many pilgrims had brought plastic bottles with them to carry the water home.

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Pilgrims taking water from St Laserian’s holy well.

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Pilgrims taking water from St Laserian’s holy well.

The  evening ended  on a very social note  with most people  heading to the nearby local community hall for a very welcome cup of  tea, cake and a chat.

Each summer from mid June until the end of August  the Old Leighlin Cathedral is  open to the public from  Monday-Friday from 10.a.m. until 4 p.m  so I hope this post might encourage some of you to visit, as it is an amazing place.    I plan to write another post about  history of the Cathedral the  more ancient  pilgrimage traditions at the site  later in the year so watch the space.

 

Links to information on Old Leighlin

http://www.carlowcountymuseum.com/carlow-county/pages/old-leighlin-cathedral.aspx

http://carlowtourism.com/st-laserians-cathedral-3/

http://cashel.anglican.org/information/diocese/cathedrals/leighlin.html

 

 

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.

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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 .

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Pilgrims walking along the road within Durrow Demesne.

The procession continued past  St Colmcille’s Church of Ireland

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 .

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

Pilgrimage to St John’s well at Mushera Mountain Co Cork.

On Monday evening last on mid summers day  I headed to the annual  pilgrimage at St John’s holy well on the slopes of Mushera Mountain.  So after work armed with directions from my friend Cork based archaeologist Flor Hurley, I headed off to find the well and got very lost …. Nothing to do with Flor’s directions and a bit to do with my bad sense of direction  but I  did find my way eventually. My short unplanned diversions helped me to appreciate  that this is truly a beautiful part of the country. I noticed a lot of signposts for wedge tombs, stone circles and standing stones in my travels  so I will have to take a trip back to do some exploring.

The well

The holy well sits at the edge of a forestry plantation close to the road through the mountains.

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St John’s well and surrounding landscape

The well is a natural spring that is cover by a large grotto.   Within  is a statue niche with a large statue of St John. There were lovely bunches of wild flowers and  some cups left beside the statue. The well is accessed through a rectangular opening below the statue and I noticed that some coins had been thrown in. There was also a box for petitions or notes what would be written by pilgrims to ask the Saint to intercede on their behalf.

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Statue of St John and recess for access to Holy Well

A circular area has been tarred in front of the grotto/well and  twelve stations of the cross are found along the edge of this area. This circular area is linked to a lower car park and the main road via a small tarred roadway.

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Station of the cross along the edge of the car park in front of the well

The modern grotto was erected in the 1950’s and the car park and stations of the cross are also a recent creation. There are a number of benches which have been donated by families in memory of loved ones which make for a peaceful place to sit.

The site looked very different  in the past as this photo from the 1920s shows  it consisted of a small corbelled structure set in heath land.

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St John’s well in 1920

Traditional Stations at the Well

Those partaking in the traditional pilgrim rituals at the well  are said to be “paying of the rounds” this is an expression I haven’t heard before as  at other well sites the pilgrim is described as “doing the rounds”.  The rounds consist of  Seven Our Fathers and Seven Hail Mary’s and Seven Gloria said while kneeling in front of the well. Then one decade of the rosary is said three times as the pilgrim circles the well. The prayers conclude with the Rosary being said in front of the well.  I noticed two flat portable stones with crosses incised by pilgrims on the step in front of the grotto. The incising of the crosses appear to be part of the modern pilgrim traditions here.

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Stone incised with crosses made by pilgrims

This well is one of   three holy wells located on Mushera mountain. All three  are called St Johns’s Well and all dedicated to the same saint. One is in the adjoining  parish of  Aghina  on top of the mountain and the   second is located on the old Butter road   in Banteer parish.  The well discussed here is  found is  in the parish of Millstreet.  Devotion to the other wells has waned over the years and now  the well in the parish of Millstreet is the main focus for devotion in the area. Time didn’t allow for me to visit the other wells but I do plan to head back before the end of the summer.

Like many other Irish wells the waters here are believed to have a cure . The wells waters are reputed to cure warts and one lady I spoke with at the pilgrimage mass told me her son had been cured of warts after coming to the well.

Folklore of the Saint

Tradition holds that  the saint came to the  Muskerry hills with  his three sisters.   His  three sisters  were saint’s  Lasair,  Ingean Bhuide and Latiaran who I discussed  earlier in the year on Facebook page. The feast days of the sisters   were honoured at quarterly periods and may be associated with pre Christian religion. The connection with the well here with mid summer may also suggest that St John like his sisters evolved from pre Christian deity at the well when an earlier cult at the well was Christianised.

Past Pilgrimage & the Pattern Day Tradition

Like many  holy wells this was the focus  of a pattern day festival

The Millstreet.ie blog  gives the following  discussion of the pattern day

June 24th is the feast day of St John and down through the ages it has been a big occasion on the mountainside.  Up to about 1940, St John’s Day had a pattern as will.  The pattern consisted of tents set up abut a mile and a half from the well on the Macroom side, in the townland of Moulnahourna.  There were sweet and cake stalls, lemonade, cigarettes and porter tents, and of course the indefatigable three-card-trick men.  Occasions for celebration at that time were few and far between, Christmas, St John’s Day and March fair which lasted three days in Millstreet.  Due to this and the presence of the porter, these occasions rarely ended without a fight, these may have been faction fights.Two sisters from Millstreet, Han and Judy Murphy sat on either side of the Well “selling the water”.  One of them would fill a saucepan with water from the Well and received payment for it.  Pilgrims wisited the Well in the morning.  It was normal practice from Ballinagree and Rylane areas to visit the Well on top of the mountain in their own parish.  Most other pilgrims visited the Well  on the Millstreet side as is the case today.  After doing the “round” they continued on to the pattern to enjoy the remainder of the day.  An old character from Ballinagree, Bill O’Dea always turned up to entertain the crowd with his songs.  Another man from Bawnmore, nicknamed   St Joseph because of his long white beard also sang to the crowds.  His real name was Lucey.  Over the years the crowds got smaller at the pattern until eventually it was no longer held.  The dancehalls took over at that time, but local people still come to pay their “rounds” as usual.

Modern Pilgrimage at St John’s Well

This years  pilgrimage consist of mass which began at 8pm at the well on the 24th of June.  Many people visited the well before and after mass and took water home in bottles.  Despite it being June it was really cold probably due to the altitude of the site.

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Pilgrims assemble for mass at St John’s Well

Many of the older people parked in the area in front of the well and some stayed in their cars throughout. The rest of the people gathered around the edge of the  circular carpark.

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The Priest saying mass

Three priests  officiated at the mass Canon Jackie Corkery, Fr Frances Manning and Fr James McSweeney. The Millstreet Pipe band and the choir provided music throughout.

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The Millstreet Pipe Band at St John’s well

This is a real community  event and people from all the surrounding areas assemble here each year. I look forward to returning to find the other Holy Wells and seeing what I can find out about the history of the site.

References

http://www.millstreet.ie/blog/history/st-johns-well

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

The ‘Deer Stone’ a 19th century pilgrim station at Glendalough

Today is the feast of St Kevin of Glendalough. In recent months I have been doing some work on the 18th and 19th century Patron ( pronounced Pattern) Day celebration at Glendalough. Given the day that is in it, I will briefly talk about one of the post medieval stations visited by pilgrims to Glendalough called the ‘Deer Stone’.

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The Deer Stone at Glendalough

Location
The ‘Deer Stone’ is located beside the main ecclesiastical settlement at Glendalough. It sits on the south side of the Glenealo River, directly opposite ruins of St Ciarán’s church,
beside the green road leading to the upper lake.

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Ordnance Survey 25 ” map showing location of the Deer stone

What is the The Deer Stone ?
The Deer stone is a bullaun stone. It is one of a large cluster found around the main monastic settlement and the lower reaches of St Kevin’s road. I have explained what bullaun stones are in earlier post but just to recap. Bullaun stones are artificial basins or hollow/depressions in rocks, boulders and stones. They are thought to date to the early medieval period. The majority are found at early medieval ecclesiastical sites but some are found in isolation.

There is a lot of debate as to their original use and function. Some argue that they are medieval pilgrimage stations/monument pestles of ritual or devotional use for  turning stones within the hollows. Others think they has a more practical use such as for grinding metal ores or herbs.It is interesting that an archaeological excavation carried out in 1979 prior to the construction of a car park for the visitor centre revealed large amounts of slag. Slag is a waste product of metal processing and its presence implies an iron working industry at Glendalough.

Whatever their original use many of these stones over time developed associations with the saints and were part of the post medieval pilgrim rituals.

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The basin of the Deer Stone at Glendalough

The Deer Stone is a large granite boulder ( .77m by .86m by .30m) with a single conical depression or basin. It is not mentioned in medieval sources but it was a point of devotional object for post medieval pilgrims.

Where did the stone get its name?

The stone derives its name from a legend associated with St Kevin. The legend hold that the wife of one of the saint’s workmen died giving birth to twins. The workman came to the saint to ask for help. St Kevin  set about solving the problem and having prayed to God for help  a doe came to a certain spot and everyday shed milk into a hollow in a stone while the workman sat on a nearby boulder. Legend has it that the man’s finger prints caused the hollow in the boulder  which was hence forth known as the ‘Deer Stone’.

The origin legend of the stone appears to be an adaptation of a story mentioned in the Saint’s Life. St Kevin fostered  a  boy child called Foelán. Fostering began when the boy was still a baby. To feed the baby a  doe came down from the mountain each day and waited until she had been milked by one of the monks. The child thrived  and ultimately inherited his father’s estate.

Evidence for Pilgrimage

Glendalough was a place of pilgrimage from the time of St Kevin’s death and pilgrimage is recorded sporadically throughout the early and  late medieval period, it is generally expected that Glendalough was a centre of regional if not national pilgrimage during this period. Following the reformation  pilgrimage continued within the valley and the main burst of pilgrimage activity were focused on the saint’s feast day the 3rd of June. Like the patron day celebration elsewhere in Ireland St Kevin’s day at Glendalough was a mix of pious devotion and boisterous merriment hat involved eating and drinking, dancing and something fighting.  The day also attracted tourist who came to observe the patron day celebrations. In 1813 Joseph Peacock painted  the patron day at Glendalough and it shows the secular side of the celebration.

The patron day celebration  was suppressed by Cardinal Cullen in 1862 as part of a movement by high-ranking Catholic clergy to wipe out the celebration. They believed that the secular elements brought the religion into disrepute and that the religious devotions  rounding, walking in bare feet or crawling in bare knees were backward and superstitious.

Accounts of the pilgrimage from the 19th century suggest that the devotional landscape of the pilgrimage was confined to the area between the upper and the lower lake ( main monastic cluster).  Bullaun stones and holy wells played a central part of the 19th century pilgrim landscape at Glendalough. The Deer Stone was one of several devotional stations for pilgrims.

I am still in the process of researching  this landscape  and the Deer Stone but here are some comments on the stone.

Writing in 1873 William Wilde

The Deer Stone was visited by strangers and pilgrims, and always found to contain water.

Fitzgerald writing in 1906 noted

There is  said to be a cure obtained from the water lodged in the hollow in “Deer Stone”; but to be effective, it should be visited fasting before sunrise on a Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in the same week and on each occasion a part of the ceremony is to crawl round it seven times  on the bare knees with the necessary prayers.

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Woman in prayer at the Deer Stone (Photo taken the Roundwood & District Historical & Folklore Society Facebook page)

 

 

St Laurence’s well Clonmult, Co. Cork

A few days ago  while driving  to Cork, I took a small detour to the village of Clonmult. Clonmult, Co. Cork  is best know as the site of  an IRA ambush which took place on  the 20 February 1920 during the war of Independence.  On the outskirts of the village  is a lovely holy well dedicated to St Laurence.

St Laurence’s well is located in the townland of Garrylaurence/Garraí Labhráis meaning Field/Garden of Laurence.  It is located in a small enclosure  beside a narrow road that runs through the  townland.

St Laurence's well situated beside road

St Laurence’s well situated beside road

The well consists of a  natural spring  with a circular well house, with a corbelled roof  covered in concrete. The well house looks like it was built in the 19th century.  A plaque over the doorway states ‘St Laurence’s  Holy Well Renovated by Clonmult Muintir na Tíre 10. August 1969‘.

St Laurence's well

St Laurence’s well

The well is accessed through a narrow doorway . There is  a step  down into the water and inside the door on the left  is a small recess.  Power writing in 1917  mentions the recess kept an iron drinking-ladle attached to a chain.  On my visit there was a  small candle with Padre Pio  in the recess.

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Recess inside the well house at St Laurence’s Well

A large statue of St Laurence and a small stone cross bearing the inscription INRI Saint Laurence  and  the date 1824, sit on top of the roof.

The  holy well looks  well maintained and appears to be still in use.  Beside the well is a small monument with an iron cross.

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Monument beside the holy well

Past Pilgrimages

St Laurence is Laurence O’ Toole a 12th century Irish saint who was abbot of Glendalough and later Bishop of Dublin. He died in the monastery at Eu, in Normandy and  his tomb in Eu  became a place of pilgrimage and many miracles were attributed to his intercession. He was canonized in 1225 by Pope Honorius and his remains were translated to a tomb in front of the High Altar on the 10th of May.The nearby church  church at Clonmult is also dedicated to the saint.

The saints feast day is the 14th of November , but  the 9th of August  was the main day for pilgrimage at Garrylaurence.

The Ordnance Survey Namebooks written in 1841 state

A holy well called ‘St Laurence Well’ where paterns were annually held some years since on the 9th of August…

In 1917 Power records that rounds were made here chiefly on August the 9th and  votive offering of ‘usual character ‘ on the tree branches ‘which are immediately over the scared fountain’.

References
Ordnance Survey Name books of Cork (http://www.logainm.ie/Place.aspx?PlaceID=12246)
Power, P. 1917. ‘Place-names and Antiquities of S.E.  Cork II’, PRIAI,  184- 230.

St Patrick’s day at St Patricks well in Glassely, Co Kildare

Last week I visited St Patrick’s well at Glassely/Glashealy in  Co. Kildare   to record the annual St Patrick’s day  pilgrimage. Sharon Greene a local archeologist and good friend of mine was at hand to  helped me to find the site which is difficult for a non local like myself to find, being located off the road in private land.

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Statue of St Patrick at Glassely

Location

The townland of Glassealy about 5 miles from Athy.   St Patrick’s  well is located  in the corner of a field close to the site of an old  graveyard  also dedicated to St Patrick.  The graveyard is semi circular in shape and the outer wall seems to enclose a circular bank. The dedication to St Patrick and the shape of the enclosure may suggest and early medieval date. The church no longer survives,  there is an underground vault or crypt  slightly east of center of the enclosure  and  also present are fragments of a  seventeenth century  altar tomb of the Fitzgerald family. Other features of note are the two portions of the shaft of a memorial cross dated to 1615.

Map of the area  by FitzGerald  created in 1912.

Map of the area by Lord Walter FitzGerald created in 1912 (J.K.A.S, 82)

St Patrick’s graveyard is situated at the edge of the road.  An old pilgrim path runs along the  north side of the stream which runs past the graveyard. The path follows the stream until it reached the well. The path  was known as the glen. ‘Glen’ is a term  often used in Ireland to refer to a small stream.   Running parallel to the stream is an old millrace  now dry which in former times powered a corn mill located close to Glassely House . A large mill-pond was located above the well. The well sits  in the corner of the adjoining field and its waters flow into the stream. Today most pilgrim get to the well through the roadside gateway of the well field  and on the main pilgrim day the farmer opens the get so that people drive there cars into the field .

The Well

The earliest reference I found concerning the well is the OS name books of 1838 which state

a well called St Patrick’s Well about 300 yards S. E. of the grave yard.

The well  is a natural spring  that rising out of rock  and is now located in a very pretty landscaped garden close to the banks of the stream.  The site is extremely peaceful and the modern renovations are very tastefully done. The landscaping was done about 15-20 years ago. I especially  liked the statue of St Patrick  which sits above the well as it  depicts the saint  as  a friendly and approachable character.

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St Patrick’s well and garden

The well itself has not been changed although paving has been added around it to make access easier. Many coins have been left in the well and  the small tree over the well has some  ribbons and rosary beads tied to it, which show it is still visited  by pilgrims.

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St Patrick’s well

The well and surrounding  area looked  very different 50-60 years ago.  The image below shows the well in the early 1900’s when it was surrounded by bushes and  scrub.

Fitzgerald (1912-1913) writing in 1912 wrote

The well itself, near the smaller of the two mill-ponds: the water from it  flows into the stream…The numbers of rags, coloured glass beads, and religious medals fastened to the overhanging branches and briars, testify to the reputation the well has for cures.

Image of the well from 1912

Image of the well taken by Lord Walter FitzGerald in 1912 (J.K.A.S, 97)

An article written in 1899-1902 on folk traditions in County Kildare  notes a tradition the water from the well would  boil (Greene 1899-1902, 371).

Tradition  states the well was  created by the saint. A large boulder  close to the well  has  three small holes/depressions in its side which tradition holds were created by St Patrick toes and are known as St Patrick’s footprints.  It is very interesting that FitzGearald in 1912  records the a stone known was St Patrick’s foot marks a short   distance  to the northwest in the field beside St Patrick’s graveyard (see map above).

 About a quarter of a mile up “the Glen,” through which the little stream flows, above the churchyard, and close to a sheep-dipping pool, there are some large boulders of a course brown kind of granite, in the side of  one which there are two indentations, which from time immemorial have been attributed to the Saint, and are called St Patrick’s Foot-marks’. Fitzgerald goes on to say local people said Patrick   “threw a lep” from the Blessed Well to this boulder. A few perches further up “the Glen”.

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Image of St Patrick’s stone taken by Lord Walter FitzGerald. Note the X marks the spot of the foot prints. (J.K.A.S, 97).

Today a rock with St Patrick’s foot steps is located beside the well. During the landscaping this rock was exposed  as were several other similar boulders but there was no suggestion  that the boulder with the toe print’s  was moved to its present location. From talking to local people it was exposed but not moved. One of the boulders has a bowl-shaped depression, which looks like it was made by a chisel. It looks very similar to a bullaun stone but to me it looks quiet modern.   Some local people I spoke to  told a story  that St Patrick jumped from the rock and when he landed the holy well was created.

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Boulder at St Patrick’s well with depression known as St Patrick’s footprints

It is not unusual for there to be several version of the an origin tale for a holy well . I also came across another version in the article on Holy wells of County Kildare.  The author Patricia Jackson records a version by Mr John O’Brien in 1979

Tradition has it at on St Patrick’s way to Tara after landing in Co. Wicklow he camped at the foot of Mullaghmast. Some of the local chieftains were converted to Christianity and asked St. Patrick to bless the nearest well as was the custom – this  being Glashealy well.

St Patrick’s Day Pilgrimage

People visit St Patrick’s well throughout the year but the main  day of devotion for pilgrims is the feast of St Patrick.   The Patrick’s day pilgrimage attracts a large crowd. According to local man Tommy Hurley in the 1950’s on St Patrick’s day  a band made up of local people would gather at Grange crossroad and march in a procession  (followed by other  local people)  to the well . Then a football match used to be  played in the field beside the well but  over the years the tradition died  out.

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Pilgrims at St Patrick’s well

In recent years a man named Jack O’Connor who is since deceased would play some hymns on the  pipes before the annual service began.

This years pilgrimage was on a very wet and cold day. Despite the weather  well over 60 people turned out to honor St Patrick. I was told that in fine weather crowds of over 100-200 people could be expected. Many of those who arrive were wearing the traditional shamrock.

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Pilgrim wearing the shamrock

Shamrock is worn on St Patrick’s day all over Ireland as  tradition holds that when converting the Irish to Christianity Patrick explained the mystery of the Holy Trinity to the people using the shamrock plant whose leaves are clustered in threes. So much as St Brigit’s cross is a symbol of Brigit , the shamrock represents St Patrick.

The people of the area celebrate St Patrick’s day with an  Ecumenical Service at the well and people from all denominations attend and pray together. The service  began at 3 o clock and was led by Rev Isaac Delamere and Fr Tim Hannan.

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Fr Tim and Rev Isaac shelter under an umbrella during the service

Despite the sporadic heavy showers and occasional hail stones everyone was in good spirits. Prayers and hymns were sung.  The prayer St Patrick’s Breast Plate  was recited in Irish by Tommy Hurley.  A poem was recited by  Louise Plewman the daughter of T.P. Plewman  the farmer who owns the land the well is on. This poem was written by her grand-uncle Tom Plewman.  It is a tradition that each year a member of the Plewman family recite this  poem each year.

Your St Patrick is a holy man

With Churches and Cathedrals,

Catholic and Protestant;

Your St Patrick is a learned man

With colleges and schools,

Green and red;

Your St Patrick is a healing man

With hospitals and homes

For sick and dying;

Your St Patrick is a pilgrim

Claiming his own Purgatory

May God and Mary and St Patrick be with you.

My St Patrick is a gentle man

Scarcely four foot tall,

Carved in stone, flat faced,

In simple Celtic style;

He stands alone.

His church is but a few square yards

Of grass rock and shrubs,

With healing water from his well

Offering peace to all without.

May God and Mary be with him.

There are no set rounds at the well. Before and after the service people went to the well and drank  its waters. Being a spring the water is crystal clear and is said to have curative powers.

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Pilgrims getting water from the well

Conclusion

Despite the harsh  weather this was one of the nicest and intimate pilgrimages I have attended. On this special day St Patrick brings all the local communities  together and there is a real sense of pride in the well and St Patrick’s connection with the area. The local area is steeped in history  and I hope people continue to use and take care of this very special well.

© Louise Nugent 2013

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Tommy Hurley, John O’Donovan and T.P Plewman for  information on the well. Also Sharon Greene for all her help and for having the foresight to  bring a large umbrella.

References

Greene, Miss,  1899-1902. ‘County Kildare Folk-tales. Collected from the narration of Tom Daly.’ Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society, Vol. III, 368-71

FitzGerald, W. 1912-1914. ‘Glassealy and its tenants. With the career of Walter “Reagh” FitzGerald.” Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society, Vol. VII, 83-108.

Jackson, P.  1980. ‘ The Holy Wells of County Kildare’  ,Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society   Vol. XVI, 133-61.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 .

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 .

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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 .

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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.

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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 .

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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.

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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 .

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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 .

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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St Bartholomew’s Holy Well Kinsalebeg, Co Waterford.

Yesterday I visited my first pilgrim site of 2013, St Batholomew’s holy well or Tobar Phárthanáin. The well is to be found  in the  parish of Kinsalebeg in Co Waterford, a short distance from the village of Pilltown and a few miles from the town of Youghal.

Location map of Holy well

Location map of St Bartholomew’s Holy Well. Image taken from Bing maps.

The well is located in a field of rough pasture on the east side of the Blackwater estuary, close to a cross roads in the townland of  Moord/Mord,  (An Móird/An Magh Ard or  “The High Plain”) about  mile south of Piltown. It’s really hard to find, I was really lucky to meet a local man who despite being in a hurry  brought me to the well.

The well is dedicated to St Bartholomew, who was one of the twelve apostles. The saints   feast day is  on the 24th of August.  There are a number of accounts of pilgrimage to the well   in the not too distant past, on this day. According to Power  writing in  1937  St. Bartholomew was traditionally held  to be the patron saint of the parish of Kinsalebeg. He also noted that his feast was kept  by local people

on the 24th of August, by visits to the ” Blessed Well” dedicated to him and that on the Sunday nearest to the feast, a public ” pattern ” is held at the well and at the adjoining village of Piltown.

From the NE the well is hidden   in a hollow  in the field close to the boundary ditch.  A short distance to the W is a small stream running into the estuary.

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St Batholomew’s Holy Well

The well itself consists  of a small  of a rectangular stone and mortar built superstructure,  with a triangular-shaped top.

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Stone built rectuangular superstructure of St Bartholomew’s well with triangular-shaped top.

There are two rectangular recesses one at the base where the water can be accessed.

Recess for access to well waters

Recess for access to well waters

The second recess sits  just above the lower opening  and below the apex of the structure. When I visited here  a modern ceramic mug  was housed within. The structure is white washed.

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Upper recess in well superstructure . Note the modern mug.

Stone flags act as steps to the well and  divide it from  the large rectangular trough located beside it.

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The larger trough is cut into the earth and  stone faced . The eastern face appears to have collapsed in but the side is still well-preserved. The west  wall is stepped with stone facing  sitting on top of three large  flags which may have acted as steps into  the trough. Perhaps in the past  pilgrims would have taken water from the smaller trough and washed their limbs   in this one.

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FitzGerald writing in 1856  notes that  the well

is greatly resorted to for ‘giving  rounds’ at. It is celebrated for several cures, but especially for sore eyes.

A patron at the well is mentioned in a number of sources.  The Ordnance Survey Letters of 1840, state that a pattern was last held here in 1812 on St. Bartholomew’s Day. FitzGerald in 1856 wrote ‘there is a patron held here every 24th of August’. Power writing in  1937 notes

This is a well-known holy well at which a pattern is held and “rounds” made on August 24th.

However the I.T.A. survey of 1945  noted that

up to about 50 years ago this well was held in high repute and hundreds of people came here to “make their rounds”.Of late years very few visit it’.

This may suggest the pattern was reviewed for a time after 1840 before declining in popularity  in the early 1900’s. Today the well looks like it is maintained, the white washing of the masonry   and the presence of the mug suggests its probable still used but I wonder by how many people.  Despite the grey day it is really one of the nicest wells I have visited.

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Nearby stream flowing out into estuary.

Rituals  performed by  pilgrims  here in the 19th century  involved the ‘making of rounds’  a tale told by Fitzgerald in 1856 suggests that the pilgrim landscape extended beyond the well.

“ when I visited it last, a couple of months ago, a very intelligent young man of the neighbourhood  pointed out to me two houses some twenty yards from the well, which he said were built on the ground that was formerly taken in by the pilgrims in their circuit of ‘rounds’ , and that to his own knowledge the parties who made the encroachments all dwindled away to nothing – none of them ever had a day’s luck afterwards.”

I haven’t had time to consult the 1st or 2nd edition OS maps but  it is interesting to note that a short distance from the well are two small cairn of  what looks like building rubble .

The well was once associated with a rag tree which  is unfortunately no longer in existence. Fitzgerald gives the following colourful description of the tree and its associated rituals.

the fine old venerable  thorns which overshadowed  it bore a most motley appearance, actually crowded with old red, blue, and green ribbons and rags, as if torn from the dresses of pilgrims, and tied up as a finale to their ‘rounds’  and prayers.

He goes on to describe a conversation with a lady that he meet at the well  who described to him the meaning of this practice at the well.

An old crone engaged in giving her ‘rounds’ told me they were tied up by each to leave all the sickness of the year behind them.

This description of the tree sounds  so very colourful and vibrant. It makes you wonder  how many other wells also had rag tree that have disappeared.

St Batholomew’s holy well or Tobar Phárthanáin is a really peaceful and lovely well. If anyone has any other information about  the well or  modern traditions associated with  it,  I’d love to hear from them.

© Louise Nugent 2013

Bibliography

FitzGerald, E. (1856-7) Proceedings – “Jottings in archaeology”, JRSAI 4, 40-49, 289-91.

I.T.A. Topographical and General Survey of County Waterford. Ireland, 1945. [on-line] http://snap.waterfordcoco.ie/collections/efolders/155321/ita_survey.pdf [accessed 4/08/2012]

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

Power, P. 1937. Waterford & Lismore : a compendious history of the united dioceses. Cork: Cork University Press, 128.