In 1472 the Irish Chieftain Finghín Ó’Driceoil (d. 1472) and his son Tadhg made a pilgrimage to the shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
O’Driscoll More, Fineen, the son of Maccon, son of Maccon, son of Fineen, son of Donough God, died in his own house, after having performed the pilgrimage of St. James, and his son Teige died penitently one month after the death of his father, after having returned from the same pilgrimage.
Given the Ó’Driceoil clan’s connections with trade and the sea, it is likely that Finghín and Tadhg used one of the family owned ships to sail to La Coruña. They would have continued to the shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostela on foot.
Pilgrimage to Santiago was for many of Ireland’s medieval elite a family tradition. We know that Finghín and Tadhg were following in the footsteps of at least one family member know as the Ó’Driceoil Óg. He had made pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in the year 1445, but died during the return voyage from Spain.
Finghín and Tadhg survived the journey to and from the shrine of St James but Finghín died ‘in his own house’ upon his return home and Tadhg died one month later. Perhaps the stresses of the journey had exacerbated underlying medical conditions.
The sudden death of Finghín and Tadhg’s was no doubt a shock to the Ó’Driceoil family, they may have gained some comfort from knowing that the father and son had gained indulgences during their pilgrimage to St James shrine. It was widely believed at the time that an indulgence would have shortening the souls time in purgatory.
St David’s holy well -Tobar Chinnín Dháithí – is one of my favourite holy wells in the whole country. This isnt a statement I make likely.
The main thing I love about the well is that it is very fortunate to have escaped the over use of cement that many Irish holy wells experienced in the 1950’s or some of the bad “restoration” work of the 1980’s-2000’s – the holy well at Brulee, Co Limerick immediately springs to mind. The charm of St David’s holy well is its simplicity. When you stand at the waters edge there is a real connection with the past and you can imagine your experience is very similar to pilgrims 100 or 200 years ago. The trees, flowers and bush that surround the well also help to connect the visitor to the natural world of which holy well are very much rooted.
St David’s well is situated in an out of the way grove of trees on private land. In appearance it is very like the holy well at St Berriherts Kyle but more compact.
The well itself is a large spring that fills a circular pool defined by a low stone wall, set flush with the ground. The water bubbles up through white sands on the base, before escaping into an over flow channel that takes it the water from the pool into a nearby stream.
It is said “The well never dried even in the warmest summer” (The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0643, Page 155).
The bubbling waters are magical and I have sat for long stretches of time here just watching the water and listening to the rustle of leaves and chatter of birds. The wells beauty is enhanced by a large oak tree that cast shadows over the water. When I last visited here in March 2016, it was surrounded by a thick carpet of yellow daffodils.
It is a round well and there are trees growing all around it. The people hang the tokens on the trees. The statue of St David is erected there. There is a lovely sand bubbling up out of the well. It is so clear you would imagine it was silver.
The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0643, Page 167
Unusually the well is dedicated to St David the patron saint of Wales whose feast day is the 1st of March. The south-east of Ireland has long established connections with Wales. St David and his monastery (at St Davids in Wales) are mentioned in several Lives of Irish saints. St Finbarr of Cork is said to have visited St David on his return from Rome, while SS Aidan of Ferns, Finnian of Clonard, along with Scothin and Senanus, are all said to have studied at the monastic school at St David’s.
St David’s holy well at Woodhouse is located in the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore. The patron of the diocese is St Declan of Ardmore who also spent time in Wales in the company of St David.
On one of these occasions Declan paid a visit to the holy bishop of the Britons whose name was David at the church which is called Killmuine where the bishop dwelt beside the shore of the sea which divides Ireland from Britain. The bishop received Declan with honour and he remained there forty days, in affection and joy, and they sang Mass each day and they entered into a bond of charity which continued between themselves and their successors for ever afterwards. On the expiration of the forty days Declan took leave of David giving him a kiss in token of peace and set out himself and his followers to the shore of the sea to take ship for Ireland.
Power, Rev. P. 1914. Life of St. Declan of Ardmore, 25
A large statue of a very serious St David, dressed as a bishop, sits a plinth of concrete overlooking the holy well. The date 1923 is carved into the base.
This statue was a gift, donated by Br Benigus Tracy in this year having experieneced a cure (NFSC, An Eaglais, Ceapach Chuinn (roll number 1395).
The wells waters are said to have healing properties. The waters are especially beneficial to those suffering from headaches or migraines. The connection with healing of complaints the head is reflected in the Irish name for the well, “Tobar Chinnín Dháithí” translates roughly as the ‘Well of David’s Little Head’.
According to the Schools essays to obtain relief from sickness pilgrims had to walked three times around the well saying whatever prayer they wished (An Eaglais, Ceapach Chuinn (roll number 1395). Other accounts tell us that the pilgrim were to drink water from the well and rub it to their forehead to obtain the cure.
three sups of the water is taken. People leave a medal or a bead or string, there as a token of getting cured.
Mount Stewart, Ceapach Chuinn (roll number 0643)
In the past the well was visited throughout the year but a special pilgrimage was made on the 1st of March the feast day of St David. Pilgrims in the 19th century were said to ‘hang tokens on the trees’ around the well ( Mount Stewart, Ceapach Chuinn (roll number 0643). The tradition of leaving offerings has died out some local people still visit the well on the 1st of March.
Like many other Irish holy wells, folklore relating to St David’s well suggests it is now in a secondary location.
People say that the well was further up the field. One day Major Fitzgeralds washed his face in the well, and from that second onwards it started, to dry until it was dry as the field. Then it sprang up in the field further down, and it is there to this day.
An Eaglais, Ceapach Chuinn (roll number 1395)
This is not the only holy well dedicated to St David in the south-east. Another more well known well one can be found at St David’s holy well at Olygate in Wexford. These two wells are reminders of the long established l links between the south-east of Ireland and Wales and the spread of the cult of medieval saints.
Thanks to Dr Ann Buckley for translating Irish language material in Schools Folklore Essays relating to the well.
Moore M. 1999. Archaeological Inventory of County Waterford. Dublin: Stationery Office, 203. ITA. (Irish Tourist Authority Survey )[1941-45] Topographical and General Survey, 122. Power, Rev P. 1907. ‘Place-Names of the Decies’, JWSEIAS Vol. 10, 193. Power, Rev P. 1914. Life of St. Declan of Ardmore, and Life of St. Mochuda of Lismore, (edited from ms. in Library of Royal Irish Academy). London : Irish Texts Society.
Inislounaght Abbey was one of the great Cistercian monasteries of Co Tipperary. Unlike other well preserved examples like Kilcooley, Holycross or Hore Abbey little survives above ground.
Inislounaght would have had the same ground plan as other contemporary Cistercian monasteries with a central open cloister surrounding by monastic building with the church located on north side of the cloister. We can only speculate as to its size or choice of windows, doors and carvings Was it as elaborately decorated as Holycross abbey?
Inislounaght once stood at or close to the site of St Patrick’s Church of Ireland church, at Marlfield village on the outskirts of Clonmel on the northern bank of the river Suir. The large stone buildings of the medieval settlement are long gone replaced by a church and historic graveyard.
St Patrick’s church, built in 1818, is an elegant building dominated by a crenellated tower. Unfortunately the church was locked when I visited this week. I have been inside before many years ago and I remember that the building incorporates fragments of the earlier monastic church, the most prominent being a Romanesque doorway rebuilt into the interior of west wall.
Inislounaght was founded as a daughter house of Mellifont in the year 1148 but shortly afterwards became affiliated with Monasteranenagh Abbey in Co Limerick . The monastery went on to have daughter houses in Fermoy, Co Cork; Corcomroe, Co Clare and Glanawydan, Co Waterford (Stalley 1987, 246). A detailed history of the monastery can be found in Ó Conbhuidhe’s The Cistercian Abbeys of Tipperary. The monks here would have also been in control of pilgrimage at near by St Patrick’s holy well.
In the year 1540 the monastery was dissolved and by 1746 the monastic church was described as being ‘in ruins’ (Smith 1746, 48).
Glimpse of what the monastery may have looked like can be seen in the surrounding historic graveyard. A very prominent example being a 16th- /early 17th-century tapering graveslab incorporated into the graveyard wall.
“The slab is decorated, in relief, with a seven-armed segmental-headed cross with fleur-de-lis terminals. There is a three-barred knop at the base of the cross-head. The cross-shaft rests on a stepped base. There is a latin inscription, in Black Letter script, on the sinister side of the slab which begins beneath the cross-head. The HIC is in relief but the rest is incised. The inscription is quite worn, it has been transcribed and translated by Maher (1997, 66-67) as: HIC IACET PIUS V(I)(R) D(U?)S L/IBA..ER…. (Here lies Pius, noble husband?)” (Farrelly 2017).
A short distance away, part of 13th/14th century sandstone cross-slab has been reused as a modern grave marker. Both graveslabs would have been originally located inside the main monastic church.
Monastic churches were the favoured burial places of the great and good of society and it seems that Inislounaght was no different. Donations of land and money were given in return for burial within the church and the recitation of masses and prayer for the deceased.
Two elaborate pieces of funerary sculpture can also be seen in the graveyard. One is a fragment of a chest-tomb – a free standing, box-like funerary monument. Chest-tombs date from the 13th century AD onwards. Many late medieval examples have finely carved images of the saints (often referred to as weepers) set in niches surrounding the sides. When complete the Marlfield tomb have looked something like the chest-tomb in the photo below found at Jerpoint Abbey Co Kilkenny.
The Inislounaght example dates to around the 16th-century and is carved from limestone(Farrely 2017). I believe it to be an example of the O’Tunney school of sculpture, whose work is also found at Kilcooley and Holycross Abbey.
The fragment is decorated with three images of saints each set in a niche. The figure on “the right (the least in tact) holds a cross-staff, of which only the cross head survives. This figure may represent St Thaddeus who is often represented carrying a cross-staff.” The central figure is St Peter who carries a large key in his right hand and a book. The figure beside him is probably St Thomas, as he appears to be holding a spear in his right hand and a book in his left. His cloak is held in place by a diamond shaped brooch (Farrelly 2017).
Close to the chest-tomb fragment, is a heavily weather carved sandstone head of a woman. The stone is carved in high relief would have formed part of the top of an effigial tomb.
According to Farrely (2017)
“It appears to be a lady, wearing a gorget under the chin and possibly a nebuly head-dress, where the hair is held in place by a crespine of fabric or fine wire. The hair appears to be gathered at the top of the head and flows down over, and to the base of, the roll-moulding. The head is reminiscent of an effigy (KK022-055—-) from Ballykeefe, Co. Kilkenny which has been dated by Hunt (1974, vol. 1, 165) to c. 1340-1360.“
Structural element of the abbey’s building are also to be found. Fragments of cut stone are scattered around the graveyard with some reused to mark later graves. Several pieces of what was once a large tracery window and parts of a carved column sit around a modern grave. I’m told other carved fragments and cut stone from the abbey can be found in the stores of Tipperary County Museum.
When taken together the funerary monuments and cut stones all suggesting a finely decorated and beautiful church. A place where the wealthy from the area wanted to be laid to rest.
Anyone interested in folk art and gravestone will enjoy the many fine examples of 18th & 19th-century gravestones. I suggest a visit early morning on a sunny day.
Throughout the medieval period many people made pilgrimage in times of crisis such as personal illness, outbreaks of disease and natural disasters like drought. The Black Death was one of the biggest crisis to be faced by people during the fourteenth century in Ireland.
The Annals of Ireland written between 1333-1349 by John Clyn, a Franciscan friar of Kilkenny, contains a chilling first hand account of the Black Death as it raged through Ireland.
The text also records a very rare account of pilgrimage to the ecclesiastical site of St Mullins whose ruins are now at the centre of a picturesque village of the same name in Co. Carlow.
Remains of St Moling’s ecclesiastical site along side the Anglo Norman motte at St Mullins Co. Carlow ( image from SMART (St. Mullins Amenity & Recreational Tourism Group) Facebook Page.
The ecclesiastical site of St Mullins traces its history back to the seventh century, when St Moling founded a monastery on the banks of the river Barrow. Following the saints death his monastery went on to become one of the most importance pilgrim sites in Leinster.
In the year in 1348 John Clyn recorded great numbers of pilgrims arriving at St Mullins. The pilgrims were drawn here because of St Moling reputation for healing and miracles. They hoped that by praying to the saint in the presence of his relics they might be protected from the plague.
This year, and chiefly in the months of September and October, great numbers of bishops and prelates, ecclesiastical and religious, peers and others, and in general people of both sexes, flocked together by troops to the pilgrimage and wading of the water at Tigh Moling [St Mullins] so that many thousands might be seen there together for many days; some came out of devotion, but the greater part for fear of the pestilence which raged at that time with great violence….” ( Williams 2007, 246).
The pilgrims made their prayers at St Moling’s holy well and millrace located just outside the main monastic enclosure. The twelfth Latin Life of St Moling, recalls how the saint single handed dug the mill race over seven years and then consecrated ‘…by walking through it against the flood…’. The pilgrims hoped that by washing or ‘wading’ in the of the waters of the millrace and the holy well they would be protected from the plague. We do not know how the pilgrims fared in the coming months how many died or survived.
St Moling’s Holy Well Co Carlow
Interior of well house an early medieval baptisimal church at St Mullens Co Carlow
Remains of the medieval millrace at St Mullen’s Co Carlow
The plague spread rapidly after its arrival to Ireland. In June of 1349 Clyn wrote that the pestilence was so contagious that those who ‘touched the dead or the sick were immediately affected themselves and died’. Shortly after writing the description below Clyn contracted the disease and died.
Many died of boils, abscesses and pustules which erupted on the legs and in the armpits. Others died in frenzy, brought on by an affliction of the head, or vomiting blood. This amazing year was outside the usual order of things, exceptional in quite contradictory ways – abundantly fertile and yet at the same time sickly and deadly… It was very rare for just one person to die in a house, usually, husband, wife, children and servants all went the same way, the way of death… (Williams 2007, 250).
I am delighted to announce that my new book, Journeys of Faith. Stories of Pilgrimage from Medieval Ireland, published by Columba Books, is now available to per-order through the Columba Books website with free shipping.
Front cover of my new book on Irish Pilgrimage Journeys of Faith. Stories of Pilgrimage from Medieval Ireland
Just to give you a taste of what the book is like. The layout follows the stages of pilgrimage from departure, arrival at the pilgrim shrine and the return home.
Table of Contents for Journeys of Faith
Chapter 1 explores what type of pilgrim sites existed in early and late medieval Ireland.
Chapter 2 highlights the known pilgrim destinations outside of Ireland visited by Irish pilgrims such as Canterbury and Rome.
Chapter 3 explores the many and varied reasons and motivations that prompted Irish people to make pilgrimage such as penance – indulgences- the quest for healing.
Chapter 4 looks at the spiritual and practical preparations made by pilgrims in advance of undertaking their pilgrimage.
Chapter 5 discusses the evidence for travel in medieval Ireland, focusing on the well known pilgrim road – Tóchar Phádraig, along with the journeys of individual Irish pilgrims.
Chapter 6- explore the evidence for travel outside of Ireland to exotic places like Rome and Jerusalem and tells the story of the pilgrimage of Irish Franciscan friar Simon FitzSimon who traveled to Jerusalem in the 14th-century.
Chapter 7 & 8 focus on the pilgrims arrival at their destination and teases out they interacted with relics, the graves of saints and holy statues as well as other pilgrims.
Chapter 9 the final chapter looks at the pilgrims return journey along with, the archaeological evidence for pilgrimage such as pilgrim souvenirs and pilgrim burials.
Throughout the book I highlight many interesting stories of Irish pilgrims who made journeys big and small across this island and overseas. Some of my favorite stories include the pilgrims who traveled to St Mullins, Co Carlow in 1348, in search of a miraculous cure for the Black Death. Or the pilgrimage of Heneas Mac Nichaill who made pilgrimage to atone for the murder of his son by visiting nineteen pilgrim sites around scattered across the island of Ireland in 1543.
I think one of the best things about researching this book was visiting so many amazing Irish pilgrim sites. Those of you who follow this blog already know I love to use photos in my posts and I am delighted to say the book is full of photos of many of these special places.
Its so exciting a conference devoted to the pilgrimage will take place in Ireland on Saturday, 5 October 2019 at The Printworks Event and Exhibition Centre in Dublin Castle.
A one-day conference Encountering the Sacred: The Archaeology and Heritage of Pilgrimage, will explore a wide range of pilgrimage topics from prehistory to the present day and have an Irish and International focus.
The conference has a great line up of speakers:
Professor Robin Coningham, UNESCO Chair in Archaeological Ethics and Practice in Cultural Heritage, Department of Archaeology, Durham University
Dr Lee Clare, German Archaeological Institute, Berlin.
Frank Coyne, Aegis Archaeology.
Dr Robert Hensey, Archaeologist.
Pat Holland, Archaeologist, former museum curator, and annual participant on pilgrimages across Europe.
Dr Małgorzata Krasnodębska-D’Aughton, Department of History, UCC.
Dr Louise Nugent (Archaeologist & Blogger)
Dr Tomás Ó Carragáin, Department of Archaeology, UCC.
Br Colman Ó Clabaigh, OSB, Glenstal Abbey.
Professor Ruth Van Dyke, Department of Anthropology, Binghamton University, New York.
Encountering The Sacred: The Archaeology and Heritage of Pilgrimageconference is presented by the National Monuments Service of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in partnership with the Office of Public Works and organised by Archaeology Ireland.
Pilgrimage in honour of St Declan at Ardmore, Co Waterford, can be traced back to the early medieval period. During the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Ardmore was one of the most important pilgrim sites in the southeast of Ireland, attracting 1000’s of pilgrims for the annual pattern day celebrations.
Pilgrim rituals during this period have been extensively discussed by Dr Stiofán Ó Cadhla’s in his excellent book The Holy Well Tradition. The Pattern of St Declan, Ardmore County Waterford, 1800-2000.
Although the numbers of pilgrims have fallen over the years, the saint and the celebration of his feast day (24th of July) are still a very important part of village life in Ardmore.
The nineteenth century pilgrim landscape was quiet extensive and included St Declan’s grave (at the eary medieval monastery), St Declan’s stone and St Declan’s holy well (see map on below).
Image taken Google Earth showing location of the St Declan’s grave, St Declan’s stone and St Declan’s Holy Well, nodal points in pilgrim landscape at Ardmore.
Today modern devotions are almost exclusively focused on St Declan’s holy well. They include a prayer vigil on St Declan’s eve at the well, along with the traditional rounds on the feast day.
During the course of my research I came across a wonderful film on the Ardmore pattern day, which I want to share with you. This short film was created by Horgan Brothers’ films in 1910. The Horgan’s began their careers as photographers and later worked with film, opening a cinema in their home town of Youghal, Co. Cork. It was here they screened their newsreel style short films, which they named the Youghal Gazette many of which can be seen on the Irish Film Institute Website.
It is most unusual for an Irish pilgrimage of this period to have been filmed, let alone available to a wide audience today (through the Irish Film Institute). I am very grateful to the Horgan Brothers for their efforts as their work provides a wonderful window into devotional activity in Waterford in the 1900’s.
The film opens at St Declan’s holy well the last station in the early modern pilgrimage. There are many accounts which allow us to reconstruct the early modern pilgrimage at Ardmore but to see real pilgrims moving through the landscape is truly fascinating.
The photo below shows the location where the Hogan brothers set up their camera. They choose a position that over looked the well and church and also the approach route from the village.
As the film opens, directly in front of cameras are a group of six people, engaged, in what can only be described as people watching. Closest to the camera is gentleman in straw boater hat. He watches as people walk along the path to the well and is caught in the embarrassing act of picking his nose. Next to the man, is a lady dressed in a light coloured dress with a parasol. It seems to have been a warm sunny day as many of the ladies present have parasols. The young woman relaxes on the grass after fixing her parasol behind her head to provide some shade. Again her position allows her to comfortably view all who approach and leave. The remaining people in the vicinity of the camera are four ladies standing beside a wall adjacent to the entrance. They are watching the pilgrims complete their rounds and prayers with great interest.
At the time pilgrims began their prayers in front of the well. They then walked clockwise around the church and well while reciting three decades of the rosary. They would then knee before the well, finishing the rosary before moving to the well to say more prayers and take the water.
The film shows people in different stages of their pilgrimage. A cluster of people are in front of St Declan’s Holy Well, they must have completed their rounds, while the stream of men and women, make a clockwise circuit of the holy well and its adjacent church saying the rosary are only half way through theirs. It’s interesting to note the majority of men have removed their hats during the pilgrimage as a sign of respect for the place and the saint.
The landscape of the well has changed little since 1910. Below is a contemporary photo of the front of St Declan’s holy well which is obscured from view in the film. The structure of well has changed little over the years with the exception of the theft of the smallest of three medieval carved crucifix (on the left side of the photo) incorporated into the top of well superstructure.
Photo of three women at St Declan’s Holy Well taken 1910 from Waterford Co Museum Photographic Archive
Part of the pilgrim rituals at the holy well involved pilgrims carving crosses into the wall of the church and parts of the well superstructure. These actions are also caught by the camera. This practice is not unique to Ardmore but here as at the other sites, it is unlikely to have begun earlier then the nineteenth century.
Crosses carved by pilgrims into the walls of the church at St Declan’s Holy Well
From the well the film then cuts to St Declans’ Stone, an erratic boulder located at the southern end of the strand some 500m to the east of the holy well. According to tradition the stone carried St Declan’s bell and vestments, floating across the sea from Wales to Ardmore. The stone was used as a penitential station by past pilgrims.
View of St Declan’s Stone as the tide comes in
In the film we see a woman wearing a Kinsale clock, a traditional garment worn up until the early twentieth century, standing beside the stone. A man wearing a long trench coat can be seem crawling out from under the stone. Traditional devotions at the stone involved the pilgrim saying set prayers before crawling under the rock. Given its located on the shore devotions could only take place when the tide was out. Outside of the pattern day the stone was also visited for healing and was thought to be particularly beneficial for those with backache or rheumatism. The stone was a central part of the pattern day devotions until the mid-twentieth century but pilgrimage has now ceased here.
The film then ends abruptly as the woman kneels in prayer and we do not get to see her crawled under the stone but she surely did.
I plan to write a more detailed post about the post medieval and medieval pilgrimage rituals at Ardmore in the new year. I will also be discussing the site at an upcoming lecture for the Waterford Historical and Archaeological Society in February of 2019 so please come along if you want to find out more.
If you find this film interesting you may also want to check out some of the other films by the Horgan Brother that are on the Irish Film Institute website at https://ifiplayer.ie/category/horgan/
Knockpatrick Hill is located a short distance from the town of Foynes in West Limerick. According to folklore St Patrick visited here when traveling around Co Limerick.
View of Knockpatrick Hill Co Limerick
The landscape includes the site of a church, a holy stone and a holy well, all dedicated to the saint.
Knockpatrick landscape (image taken Bing Maps)
St Patrick’s Holy Well
St Patrick’s holy well is located to the west of Knockpatrick Hill in the corner of a large field.
St Patrick’s Holy Well Knockpatrick
The holy well is a natural spring defined by an oval dry stone wall. Some time in the last century a larger concrete structure was built over the well and the wall. The spring well’s water flow into a rectangular trough or bathing tank.
St Patrick’s Holy Well
A large statue of St Patrick sits in a statue niche over the doorway of the well house.
Statue of St Patrick at Knockpatrick
Statue of St Patrick at Knockpatrick
According to Ó Danachair (1955, 215) witing in the middle of the last century large crowds came here on the 17th March. Devotion to the well has declined and today the water in the well trough are covered in thick green algae.
Knockpatrick is only a few minutes walk from the well.
Trough at front of St Patrick’s Holy Well Knockpatrick
Stone wall surrounding St Patrick’s Holy Well Knockpatrick
Cross over the door of St Patrick’s Holy Well
St Patrick’s Holy Well & trough at Knockpatrick
St Patrick’s Church and Graveyard
Its an easy climb to the summit of Knockpatrick Hill. The summit is dominated by the ruins of a late church surrounded by a historic graveyard. A modern altar and shelter are located on the west side of the graveyard.
The hill is 572 feet above sea level and has wonderful views of the surrounding countryside including the Shannon Esturary, with the exception of the view to the northeast which overlooks the Aughinish Alumina’s factory.
According to legend, St Patrick built and consecrated the church at Knockpatrick when he visited the area in 448 AD. It was siad he blessed all the land that he could see. Folk relating to the area recorded in the The Schools’ Collection, for Shanagolden, Co. Limerick also tells that St Patrick
while staying at Knockpatrick … blessed Co. Clare. He knelt down at the highest point of the hill, gazed northward across the Shannon at the County, stretched out his hands and said “My blessing over to you”. Volume 0483, Page 168
St Patrick’s stone
The ‘Suíochán Pádraig’ or St Patrick’s Seat is located on the eastern shoulder of the hill. The seat was said to be made up six stones. Today the stones are enclosed by a concrete wall.
The interior floor is covered by patches of concrete and a large wooden cross stands in the center. The six stones cant be idenified and they may be covered by the concreted or the briars and ivy. Folklore from the 1930’s relating to the stone notes that
There was a flat stone to be seen at the summit of Knockpatrick until about twenty years ago. On it were two hollows which bore a rough resemblance to an impression which would be made by human knees. A local tradition connects this stone with St Patricks blessing of Co. Clare – that when giving his blessing he knelt on it, and as a sign that God had heard his prayer the imprint of his knees remained on the stone. The Schools’ Collection (Shanagolden) Volume 0483, Page 168.
During the twentieth century pilgrimage ritual at the site were focused on 17th of March. Pilgrims recited three rosaries
‘one around the wall of the burial grounds, one while moving clockwise around St Patrick’s Well and the third at Suíochán Pádraig’ [St Patrick’s Seat] (http://www.limerickdioceseheritage.org).
Knockpartick is a lovely place to visit on a sunny day. Arpatrick Co Limerick is another hilltop site assoicated with St Patick in Co Limerick a with the saint is also worth a visit.
Some of you may already know, apart from my interest in pilgrimage, medieval and modern, I am also very interested in post medieval folk art. In 2016, I set up the Irish Folk Art Project to documents and records non funerary folk art around Ireland. Last year I was invited by Roisin O’Grady, the Tipperary Heritage Officer, to contribute part of my folk art research to the ‘Stories from the Landscape’ project.
‘Stories from the Landscape’ is a collaborative project between the Heritage Offices in Tipperary, Galway and Clare and the Galway Film Centre, supported by the Heritage Council. It consists of a series of nine short films, three from each county. Each film showcases a unique heritage story relating to the county.
Tipperary Stories from the Landscape
The Tipperary stories feature environmental Heritage of Tipperary with Gearoid O Foighil from Cloughjordan telling the story of Schohoboy bog restoration, social history of Mining in Slieveardagh area by former miner Michael Cleere. I was very honoured that my research on the Tipperary Folk Art was chosen as the archaeological story for the county.
My Short Film ‘A Cat with Two Tails’
My film showcases an aspect of my research on Tipperary Folk Art. It explores the links between a series of late 18th/19th century carvings of cats with two tails found in Tipperary and contemporary folklore about Goban Saor. It also show the results of a photogrametry survey of the Tipperary Folk Art commissioned by the Irish Folk Art Project and funded by the Tipperary Heritage Officer . The survey was carried out by Gary Dempsey of Digital Heritage Age.
Making the Film
Filming took place on a very cold day last Novemeber. The film was directed by Paul Murphy , with camera work by Ivan Marcos. It was a pleasure to spend the day working with these two very talented and professional people. Paul Murphy is also the director of the award winning short film The Weather Report (https://www.facebook.com/theweatherreportshortfilm/) which is playing as part of this years Irish Film Festival Australia.
Rock of Cashel Co Tipperary
Filming took place on location at a number of well-known Tipperary Heritage sites such as Holycross Abbey, the Swiss Cottage, and the Rock of Cashel.
View of Holycross Abbey from across the river
View of the cloister
View of Church from Cloister
All of the sites have folklore connecting them to the Gobán Saor and the story of his carving of a cat with two tails.
Cat with Two Tails Swiss Cottage
The film also shows how the carvings of the cats and the folklore of the Goban has influnced the work Tipperary sculptor David Gorey. David who is based in Fethard kindly allowed us to film in his studio.
Filming Workshop Sculptor David Gorey
Looking at modern carving of Cat with Two Tails at David Gorey’s Workshop.
I highly recommend that you check out some of the other films in the series for Tipperary, Clare and Galway.
This post is a shortened version of an article that I wrote, ‘Barrigone Holy Well and the Crimean War: An unlikely Connection’, published back in 2016 in the North Munster Antiquarian Journal .
The article details a little known the story of the mother of a young man from West Limerick. who went to fight in the Crimean war and the rituals she carried out at Barrigone Holy Well, in the townland of Craggs, to petition God for his protection.
The 8th Hussars, the ‘King’s Royal Irish’, circa 1855, during the Crimean War. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The Crimean war took place between 1854-6 and was fought on the Crimean peninsula. It was fought between Russia and an alliance of Britain, France and the Ottoman Turkish empire. Irish soldiers made up around 30–35 per cent of the British army in 1854, and it is estimated that over 30,000 Irish soldiers served in the Crimea War. Approximately 7,000 Irish men died during the war. David Murphy has a very readable and interesting book called Ireland and the Crimean War which details the war and Irish involvement.
In 1855, at the height the Crimean war, a letter entitled ‘The Way to Save Lives in the Crimea’ was sent to The Catholic Layman Magazine. The letter was written by one Humphrey O’Leary who recounts his interaction with the mother of the soldier fighting in Crimea mentioned above. The woman, who was illiterate, wished Leary to write down her words in a letter to her son. She also wanted to provide instruction for the use of a small number of stones taken from the holy well at Barrigone, that were to be sent with the letter. Unfortunately the names of the mother or son are not mentioned and this was most likely deliberately done as Leary is sharing their stories in a very public venue. Its clear from his writing that Leary was a middle class Catholic and had advantages not available to the soldier woman including an education who is of a lower social standing. Apart from detailing the story of the woman and her son, the letter also provides an insight in life in nineteenth century Ireland, changing attitudes to pilgrimage within the Catholic population and the poor levels of literary.
Leary tells us the woman’s son was ‘fighting with the Rooshins in Sebastable [Sevastapol]’. He was part of the British forces who, along with their allies, laid siege to the main Russian naval base in the Black Sea at Sebastopol. Its clear the man’s mother was concerned for his safety and anxious to keep him safe.
Barrigone Holy Well
Leary agreeded to help the woman and he writes that he wanted to write the letter ‘as well as ever I could; for I thought it would look mighty disgraceful entirely to send a bad letter as far way’. When he had filled the first page he told the woman ‘I am going to put your name to it now’: To which she replied ‘Oh Humphrey, avourneen for the love of all the saints keep a little corner of it empty a while, for I am sending him something, and I want you to explain it to him.’
The woman then asked Leary to fill a second piece of paper containing instructions ‘for I want to send him a thing that will save his life.’ To Leary’s surprise the woman pulled out a small red silk purse ‘that was for all the world as big as a tailors thimble’ filled with some tiny stones. The woman went on to say:
I am sending him the blessed stones of Barrigowen [Barrigone] well inside this purse, and tell him, that if he’ll receive them, and wear them in this purse round his neck with the same faith that his own mother is sending him, please God; that he will come home safe and sound again; for any one that ever wore them blessed stones about his neck could not be harmed.
Leary was not too impressed by the woman’s plan and thought it ‘very quare entirely that a small little bit like that could save one’s life.’ He pressed her on the matter, asking ‘is it in earnest you are, or do you think them stones will save him?’ The woman was staunch in her beliefs as she replied ‘Oh I am sure if they overtake him alive that there will be no fear of him’. To persuade the woman to abandon what he thought was a superstitious act, Leary answered ‘I’ll bet my life, Father Mick won’t let you send the stones, nor go to the well at all at all’ to which the woman replied ‘deed then, Father Mick knows that I gave rounds at the well for him, and I sent him the lining of the well in a letter, and he did not say “ill you did it” to me when I told him’. Determined to make the woman see the folly of this task Leary persisted:
I am thinking it might be better for you to pray to God to spare your son to you than to go sending these little stones; and perhaps, you or your son may lose your life by provoking him against you.
Modern pilgrims at Barrigone Holy Well West Limerick
Leary response is typical of a move away from, and change of attitude within, the Catholic Church from favouring devotion at holy wells to it becoming perceived as backward and superstitious. The soldier’s mother was certainly not of this opinion and according to Leary became cross and replied ‘I will send the stones at any rate, for I am sure they will do him good’. Leary, realising his arguments fell on deaf ears, and accepting her sincere conviction they would save her son ‘from Rosshen [Russian] bullets’, continued transcribing the woman’s instructions about the stones. Leary ends his letter to the Catholic Layman by noting that after sending the letter with the stones the woman also had a Mass said for her son. He seems to have more faith in the benefits of the latter. We don’t know if this poor woman ever saw her son again but I like to think these stone at least provided some comfort for him.
This account provides a unique insight into folk tradition, beliefs and devotional practice in the mid-nineteenth century Ireland. It also highlights the changing attitudes of the middle classes who following the famine and renewed efforts to implementation of Tridentine values in the church, came to see holy wells and their ritual practices as superstitious. The full article which includes a discussion of the wells history and similar practices of taking stone can be found in the North Munster Antiquarian Journal
Nugent, L. 2016. ‘Barrigone Holy Well and the Crimean War: An unlikely Connection’, North Munster Antiquarian Journal Vol. 56,