Seskinane Church at Knockboy Co Waterford

The medieval  church of  Seskinane/Seskinan is located in the townland of Knockboy Co Waterford about 3/4 mile from Bearys cross, just off the Clonmel-Dungarvan road.  Although a little out-of-the-way the site is signposted from the Clonmel-Dungarvan road so can be found relatively easily.
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Location map showing the site of Seskinane church

In medieval times this church functioned as the parish church for the parish of Seskinane and was part of the prebend of Lismore. It is located in the ancient territory of  Sliabh gCua. By the late sixteenth century it was in a state of ruin and was recorded as derelict in 1588.
According to Power (1952, 56) the placename  Seskinane signifies “Little Sedgy Moor. The  townland today is made up of rough pasture.
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View of mountains from carpark

Medieval Parish Church

 The church is found at the end of a long  narrow winding bohereen.  It is surrounded by a historic graveyard enclosed by a modern earth and stone bank.
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Seskinane medieval parish church surrounded by a historic graveyard

 

The graveyard  surrounding  the church  is filled with graves ranging in date from the 18th century to the present and it possesses  quiet a number of  very finely carved 18th and early 19th century gravestones. The interior of the church is also filled with gravestones of 18th and 19th century date.

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 The church has a rectangular plan  without any internal division. The west gable had a double belfry with pointed arches.  The belfry was badly damaged in storm in the early 1990s and what remains   is covered in ivy. The majority of the wall is still standing although without some intervention it is difficult to know for how much longer.  The west gable wall is in poor condition and slightly bowed,  the ivy that covers it is probably holding it together. The wall has a sign ‘danger falling stones from church building’ . The sign tells of the risk to anyone approaching the church. Those who access the site and enter the church do so at their own risk.
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One of several signs at the sight illustrating the dangers of falling masonry from the church walls.

The  west wall is lit by two ogee-headed windows, placed one above the other.
The east gable of the church is  lit by a central ogee head window and the lower section of  this window has been turned into a small shrine incorporating a  statue of the blessed virgin.
 The walls of the church are built of rubble stone with dressed stones  used for windows and doors.  Two  opposing pointed doorways  provide access into the interior of the church in the north and south walls. At present door in the north wall is partially blocked with masonry from the church.
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Doorway in the south wall of the church

 

Windows survive at the eastern end of the  north and south walls.  Other features include a  cut water stoup inside the south door and an amubrey at the east end of the south wall.

 

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View of the south door in the interior of the church and holy water stoup.

Ogham Stones

This little ruined church is very special as it incorporates six ogham stones within its fabric.
The presence of these ogham stones  has led some  to suggest the  church stands on the site of an earlier church. In the late 19th century traces of a possible ecclesiastical enclosure, no longer  upstanding, were recorded in the field to the south of the church and within the graveyard (Brash 1868-9, 127; Power 1898, 84). There is also very pronounced curve in the field boundary  to the east of the church that along with the 19th century evidence may tentatively suggest the presence of an enclousure.
The majority of  ogham stones at  Seskinane were reused as lintels  and are found in the windows in the north, south and west walls and  in the south door. Two other free-standing stones were also found at the site only one of which is still present at the site. The inscriptions  from the stones were transcribed by Brash (1868-9) and Macalister (1945, vol. 1, 286-9).

The South Wall 

A large greenstone ogham stone acts as the lintel of the southern doorway.  The ogham script is visible along the lower edge of the stone.  A circular hole  pierces the stone at the western end it appears to post date the ogham script as it cuts the some of the ogham letters. Macalister (1945, 287) records the inscription as
Q[E]CC[IAS] M[U]C [OI   B] R[O] E[ NIONAS]
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Ogham stone used as a lintel in the southern doorway. The ogham script is found on the lower edge of the stone.

 seskinane ogham

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A second ogham stone has been used as a lintel in the southern window beside the east gable. Macalister (1945, 286)   transcribed the inscription as
…]RG[…]BRENE [….
One of the voussoirs that make up relieving arch above this lintel also features some ogham script which Macalister transcribed as   CROB (Macalister 1945, 287).
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Ogham stone used as lintel in the southern window beside east gable. The second voussoir on the left also has ogham script.

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Close up of ogham script on the lintel and voussoir in the southern window.

 The North Wall

The  window at the east end  of the north wall of the  church also incorporates a ogham stone of as a lintel. Macalister (1945, 286)recorded the inscription as
…]ER[A]T[I] M[U]C[OI] NETA-S [EGAM] ONAS

The West Wall

The west wall  of the church is covered in thick ivy at present. It contains two windows both of which have ogham stones as lintels.
Macalister (1945, 287-288) noted the upper stone of the  top window had the inscription
…]CIR   MAQI   MUC[…..
and the lower window had the inscription
VORTIGURN
A seventh ogham stone is  located in the northwest corner of the church. Macalister (1945,  286)  recorded the inscription as
…]ER[A]T[I] M[U]C[OI] NETAS[EGAM]ONAS
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Ogham stone in the northwest corner of the church

There was an eight ogham stone at the site, in the past it was moved to a house near Cappoquin but it  has since been lost. It was read by Redmond (1885-6, 418-19) as OMONG EDIAS MAQI MUI BITE, and by Macalister (1945, vol. 1, 289) as [MAQI?] MOnEDIAS MAQI MUIBITI

 The Church and Community in modern times

 The parish of Seskinane was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.  In the past a pattern was held here, it was known locally as La Féilé Mhuire Chnoc Bhuí  and it was celebrated on the 8th of September but over time the tradition died out.
Since 1978 the local community has celebrated mass outside the ruins of church on or as close to the 8th of September (the feast of the nativity of the Blessed Virgin) as possible. It is also a time for the local communities to visit their graves.

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Local Folk Tale:  Seskinane Church and the Bell

A local folk tale recounts that when this the church  was  built it lacked a bell
  to call the faithful to Mass.  It was decided to take a bell from the nearby church at Kilkeany (this church has not survived to the present although its location is still remembered) and  use it at Knockboy. Thus the bell was removed from the belfry of Kilkeany church  and brought to the church at Knockboy.
However, when the bell was brought to Knockboy, it was found that no matter  how hard it was rung the well would not chime. It was  said  that the bell broke from where it was hung and made its way back to Kilkeany, in the middle of the night, chiming the length of the journey and that shrieks of mocking laughter could be heard (Keane 2015, 36).

 To sum up

Seskinane church  preserves  physical evidence of medieval devotional practices within the medieval parish of Seskinane.    The presence and survival of such a large collection of ogham stones is culturally significant at a local and  national level. The presence of the ogham stones within the fabric of the church also tells us a little about medieval ideas of re-use and recycling. Given the state of the fabric of the church and the constant barrage of storms our country is currently experiencing, I do worry for the  future of the site, I really feel that this site is significant to warrants a program of conservation.
If anyone is interested in finding out more about ogham stones check out the wonderful Ogham in 3D website. The site  details the work of the Ogham in 3D project  that is currently  carrying out a  laser-scan  of as many as possible of the approximately four hundred surviving Irish Ogham stones and to make these 3D models available online.  The results of the project to date can be seen on the website.
References
Brash, R. R. 1868-9 ‘On the Seskinan ogham inscriptions, County of Waterford’, JRSAI 10, 118-30.
Keane, T. 2015. ‘Churches Old and New ‘ Sliabh gCua Annual  No.21, 35-36.
Macalister, R. A. S. (1945) (reprint 1949) Corpus inscriptionum insularum Celticarum, 2 vols. Stationery Office, Dublin.
Moore, F. 1999. Archaeological Inventory of County Waterford. Dublin: Stationery Office.
Ogham in 3D:  https://ogham.celt.dias.ie/menu.php?lang=en&menuitem=00
Power, Rev. P. 1898 ‘Ancient ruined churches of Co. Waterford’, WAJ 4, 83-95, 195-219.
Redmond, G. 1885-6. Proceedings – ‘Remarks on an ogham stone lying in Salterbridge Demesne’, JRSAI 17, 418-9.

The story of the 2014 Patten Day at Durrow through StorymapJS

In June I attended the pattern day at Durrow Co Offaly and I wrote a post about it.  I have been trying out some new social media platforms and here  is  the story of the pattern day at Durrow adapted and  re told through photos and maps using   StoryMap

Durrow Pattern day.

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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