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.

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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) .

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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.