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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

References

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

 

Pilgrimage at Knockpatrick Co Limerick

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

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View of Knockpatrick Hill Co Limerick

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

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Knockpatrick landscape (image taken Bing Maps)

 

St Patrick’s Holy Well

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

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St Patrick’s Holy Well Knockpatrick

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

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St Patrick’s Holy Well

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

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

Knockpatrick is only a few minutes walk from the well.

St Patrick’s Church and Graveyard

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

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

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

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

St Patrick’s stone

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

References

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

http://www.limerickdioceseheritage.org

 

Stories from the Landscape: The Cat with Two Tails

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.

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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.

 

All of the sites have folklore connecting them to the Gobán Saor and the story of  his carving of a cat with two tails.

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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.

 

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Filming Workshop Sculptor David Gorey

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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.

Barrigone Holy Well and the Crimean War: An unlikely Connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fig.1 View of Barrigone Holy Well

Barrigone Holy Well

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern pilgrims at Barrigone Holy Well West Limerick

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

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

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

St Flannan’s Holy Well, Errislannan Co Galway

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

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

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

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

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St Flannan’s Holy Well

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

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

 

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

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View of the Lough Nakilla from the holy well

 

The Statue Niches of Malta

I recently spent some time  Malta. A unique feature of the Maltese architecture is the   tradition of statute niches found on the exteiror walls and corners of buildings.

Some of the niches are covered  while others are free-standing. The statues that they contain also come in a variety of sizes and generally depict Christ, the Blessed Virgin or the saints, while some show the souls of purgatory.

 

Valletta the capital city of Malta has a large number of corner niches, many of which were built in the 16th century during the rebuilding of the capital by the Order of the Knights of Saint John.

 

 

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Statue Niches in Valletta

Niches serve several functions. Firstly, they offer the opportunity for faithful to express their beliefs in public. The locals decorate these niches with flowers and lit candles (Camilleri 2015, 24).

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Lady lighting candle at statue of the Blessed Virgin at Triq il-kbira, L-Imdina, Malta.

According to  A Taste of Maltese Folklore

Another function is that of providing a familiar landmark to locals. Whenever someone wishes to meet another person, they would often decide on a particular niche as a meeting place, as this would be well known by  the locals (Camilleri 2015, 24).

Many of the statues are  associated with a plaque that details the

… number of days’ indulgence granted to those who stop for a while to offer a prayer (Camilleri 2015, 24).

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Statue niche and plaque in Sliema, Malta

I also noticed a number of niches that contained  paintings or religious images.  Below is an elaborate wall plaque from a street in Valletta.  I forgot to make note of the street name.  Above the plaque is the date 1752.

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Image of the Blessed Virgin in niches in Valletta

I came across another at Lvant in Valletta, with a   a plaque and small altar filled with   fresh flowers underneath.

 

I noticed a similar  one at Sliema with three alters filled with fresh flowers beneath the image of the Blessed Virgin at Sqaq Guaz Fava.

 

 

So if you ever make it to Malta make sure you keep your eyes pealed for these wonderful statue niches.

References

Camilleri. J. C. 2015. A taste of Maltese Folkore tradtions and heritage. BDL Publishing.

 

Re-discovering St. Willibrord, Patron Saint of Luxembourg and his County Carlow Connection

I’m delighted to introduce  a new guest post by  Dermot Mulligan, Museum Curator, Carlow County Museum on St Willibrord.  The Feast of St. Willibrord, Patron Saint of Luxembourg, will be celebrated with an ecumenical service in the Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow Town at 7.30pm on Tuesday November 7t.  In June of this year a  ‘Relic of St Willibrord’  now on displayed in the Cathedral was presented by the people of Luxembourg to Carlow to say ‘thank you’ for training and ordaining him in the 7th century. Dermot’s post explains Willibrords ‘connections with Carlow,  how and why his relics is now in Carlow. He also tells us about  Carlow Museum’s new yearlong exhibition on St. Willibrord, his time in Carlow, his mission etc.

Re-discovering St. Willibrord, Patron Saint of Luxembourg and his County Carlow Connection by  Dermot Mulligan, Museum Curator, Carlow County Museum

On Monday June 5th,, 2017 in the Basilica of St. Willibrord, Echternach, Luxembourg the Most Reverend Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg presented a specially commissioned ‘Relic of St. Willibrord’, Patron Saint of Luxembourg, to the Most Reverend Denis Nulty, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin. St. Willibrord is one of the most important Saints in Europe spending twelve years in county Carlow before he led a mission to the continent in AD 6901. The Relic is a gift from the people of the town of Echternach, Luxembourg to honour the near 1,330-year link between both areas and to say, ‘thank you’ to county Carlow for training and ordaining Willibrord in the 7th century.

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St. Willibrord as featured in a stain glass window in the Basilica of Echternach, Luxembourg. Photo Carlow County Museum.

Both Bishop Nulty and the Right Reverend Michael Burrows, Bishop of Cashel, Waterford, Lismore, Ferns, Ossory and Leighlin led a joint ecumenical diocesan pilgrimage of nearly sixty people from Carlow to Echternach not only to accept the relic but to also partake in the UNESCO World Heritage Status annual ‘hopping procession’ in honour of St. Willibrord in Echternach. The Carlow pilgrims are the first known Irish group to partake in this centuries old procession2. The procession is the culmination of three days’ celebrations that begin on Pentecost/ Whitsun Sunday every year in honour of St. Willibrord.

 

 

 

 

The first known written reference to the hopping procession in Echternach appears in a collection of legal texts dated AD 1497. This reference gives the impression that this particular custom originated much earlier. The exact origins of the hopping procession are unknown. The saga of Veit the Tall, an Echternach fiddler, suggests that the custom originated around the time of St. Willibrord. The hopping custom almost certainly arose in connection with the tithe processions which occurred directly after Pentecost Sunday when people from all the parishes under the abbey’s authority were required to walk to Echternach in a procession. However, there are those who say that it is a vestige of a pagan ritual which has been absorbed into the Christian tradition3.

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Hopping Procession in honour of St. Willibrord, over nine thousand people hop a two kilometer route from the monastery to the Basilica and past St. Willibrord’s tomb. Photo Carlow County Museum.

The Relic is a piece of his bone, and is contained within the rose window of a scale model of the Basilica of St. Willibrord, which a bronze statue of a young missionary St. Willibrord is holding in his right hand. He holds his crozier in his left hand. Willibrord is standing on a piece of sandstone taken from the remains of his original abbey, which is in the crypt of the Basilica. The Echternach based Willibrordus Bauverein (Willibrord Foundation) commissioned German artist Mr. Bernd Cassau to make the beautiful statue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Through the mists of time his Carlow connection, for the most part, had been forgotten. Pierre Kauthen, former President of the Willibrordus Bauverein, speaking in Carlow, stated “our historians long thought that Willibrord’s monastery was situated at Mellifont or Clonmacnoise. It was your historian, Prof. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín who located it on the site of Killogan/ Clonmelsh, Co Carlow” 4. Professor Ó Cróinín, based in the Department of History, NUI Galway, first wrote about Willibrord in 1982 and has published many papers on Rath Melsigi, Willibrord and his contemporaries since then5 + 6.

Over the course of the following thirty-five years this historical connection between both areas has been re-established. During April 2000, the Willibrordus Bauverein visited Carlow for the first time7. In 2002 His Excellency, Henri, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, paid a state to Ireland, and in 2009, Her Excellency, Mary McAleese, President of Ireland, as part of her state visit to Luxembourg, visited Echternach.

St Willibrord is the Patron Saint of Luxembourg and is buried in the Basilica of Echternach, which is the centre of his monastic foundation. Located near Milford, Co Carlow, is the archaeological site Rath Melsigi8. During the seventh and eighth centuries, this site was the most important Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical settlement in Ireland9. It was here from AD 678 to c. AD 720 that Willibrord and many other Englishmen were trained for the continental mission. In AD 690 Willibrord led a successful mission from Carlow, made up of Irishmen and Englishmen. As part of his abbey in Echternach, he established a very important scriptorium and for a considerable period the abbey produced many of the bibles, psalms and prayer books that are to be found today in the great libraries of Europe. It is likely that the first generation of these scribes were from Co. Carlow or had trained here. Many of the earliest Anglo-Saxon manuscripts were written in Irish script by Irish monks based either in Britain or by Anglo-Saxons who were trained by the Irish.10

From Echternach Willibrord continued to co-ordinate missions to the surrounding countries until AD 739, when he died aged 81. He is buried in Echternach, and he is said to be the only saint buried in Luxembourg. St. Willibrord’s signature is the oldest datable signature of an English person and oldest datable use of Anno Domini (A.D.) dating. Both are contained in a book most likely written in Co. Carlow in advance of his mission. Today the book is known as the ‘Calendar of Willibrord’ and is housed in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris. The Calendar is a listing of saints’ feast days that were being honoured during Willibrord’s lifetime11.

Willibrord is relatively unknown in Ireland, but much devotion and religious festivals are held to this day in his honour in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg. The most famous is the annual hopping procession, a dance that dates back to, if not predates St. Willibrord’s lifetime. The hopping procession takes place annually on the Tuesday after Pentecost Sunday and sees thousands of people descending on Echternach to partake along with dozens of Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops from across Luxembourg, Belgium, Holland and Germany.

 

On Tuesday, June 6th, after 8am Mass, the assembled clergy lead the Relic of St. Willibrord out from the Basilica of St. Willibrord into the adjoining square of the secondary school where thousands have gathered. The procession is led by a large group singing the ‘Litany of St. Willibrord’ who are then followed by local firemen carrying the Relic along the approximately 1.5km route. They in turn are followed by between 10,000 and 13,000 people hopping from their left to right foot in his honour. Participants wear white shirts/ blouses with black trousers/ skirts and hop in rows of five joined together by holding white handkerchiefs. Each of the thirty-nine hopping groups participating in the 2017 procession were led by a marching band all playing the exact same tune. The procession is a physical pilgrimage, and those who participate are known as the ‘people who pray with their feet’12.

The Carlow hopping pilgrims were wonderfully led by members of the Presentation School Band from Carlow town under the baton of Edwina Hayden, Music Teacher. The Carlow pilgrims, group number 29 of 39, received a warm welcome from the many thousands who lined the streets to watch the procession. The group was joined by several people, also hopping for the first time, who had heard of an open invitation to join with the Carlow pilgrims. The group hopped through the medieval streets of Echternach before entering the Basilica, hopping down the side aisle, down into the crypt located under the altar and past St. Willibrord’s remains.

 

Arriving on Thursday 22nd June, twenty-nine visitors travelled from Echternach to Carlow and spent four days here. The highlight was the ‘Walk with Willibrord’ which took place on Saturday June 24th. The Relic was walked over 13km from St Laserian’s Cathedral, Old Leighlin to the Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow via the beautiful Barrow Way, a National Waymarked Trail, along the banks of the river Barrow. The walk was make up of nearly two hundred people from Ireland and Luxembourg and led by Bishops Burrows and Nulty. Earlier that same morning the visitors from Echternach had a special visit to Rath Melsigi. As a group, with a number of Carlow chaperones and permission from the landowners, they held a short reflection and all joined hands in a circle around the 7th century cross hopping on the spot while humming the hopping tune.

 

Pic1

Members of the Willibrordus Bauverein (Willibrord Foundation) visiting Rath Melsigi in advance of the ‘Walk with Willibrord’ on Saturday June 24th last. They are gathered around the granite cross which dates from the time when St. Willibrord and his colleagues were in the area undertaking their studies. Photo: Carlow County Museum.

 

The ‘Walk with Willibrord’ began at the Holy Well in Old Leighlin at 10am on the morning of Saturday 24th. The ‘Eucharist of the Saints’ service continued in the nearby St. Laserian’s Cathedral, Carlow’s oldest working building.

 

 

 

 

At the end of the service, shortly after 11am, the relic with music from three pipers from the Killeshin Pipe Band the two hundred people, led by Bishops Burrows and Nulty, began the walk to Carlow Cathedral.

 

Pic2

A view of the ‘Walk with Willibrord’, entering the Barrow Way on the Banks of the River Barrow at Leighlinbridge. Photo: Sean McDonnell.

 

 

 

In Carlow town the Relic was walked in procession from St. Clare’s Church to St. Mary’s Church and then onto the Cathedral of the Assumption. Members of the Carlow Fire Service carried the Relic through the streets of the town, mirroring the tradition in Echternach where their Fire Service carry the Relic at the head of their annual hopping procession. The procession in Carlow was led by the Presentation Band who had led the Carlow pilgrims in Echternach. They played the hopping tune as they approached the Cathedral and the visitors from Echternach hopped to the front door of the Cathedral, the first known occasion that hopping in procession has been undertaken in county Carlow13. The Relic was blessed by Bishop Nulty with Holy Water taken from both Old Leighlin and Echternach holy wells.

 

Pic3

Members of the Willibrordus Bauverein and people from Carlow hopped in procession for the last kilometer of the ‘Walk with Willibrord’ to Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow town. Photo: Grzegorz Kaczorek.

 

Carlow County Museum, who coordinated the project from the Carlow side, has opened a free yearlong exhibition about St. Willibrord, his time in Carlow, his mission, his present-day impact and the UNESCO World Heritage Status ‘hopping procession’. A copy of Willibrord’s own hand writing, the oldest datable signature of an English person, is on display along with samples of the beautiful manuscripts that were produced in Echternach. It is clear that several of them are influenced by the Irish manuscripts that these islands are famous for. The method of making a manuscript is shown in detail, from producing the inks and the vellum to how the letters and designs were laid out.

 

Pic4

View of the ‘St. Willibrord, Patron Saint of Luxembourg and his County Carlow Connection’ exhibition in Carlow County Museum. Photo: Carlow County Museum.

 

The project has been shortlisted in the Chambers Ireland ‘Excellence in Local Government Awards 2017’.

 

References:

  1. ‘Calendar of Willibrord’, MS. Lat. 10837, fol. 39v, Bibliothèque National de France, Paris. Translation from Latin to English provided by Professor Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, Department of History, NUI Galway.
  2. According to the Willibrordus Bauverein, who organise the procession, they have no records of any Irish groups participating. The first known Irish participaticants in the hopping procession was in 2010 and the second known was in 2015. Although, a few Irish people have participated in the past but their participation would not have been officially recorded.
  3. Emile Seiler, ‘The Echternach Hopping Procession’, Carloviana, 2000 edition, p. 55
  4. Speech by Pierre Kauthen, former President of the Willibrordus Bauverein (Willibrord Foundation) on Friday June 23rd, 2017 at 8.30pm at the Carlow County Council reception in the Seven Oaks Hotel, Carlow for the Willibrordus Bauverein.
  5. Prof. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, Department of History, NUI Galway, ‘Pride and Prejudice’, Peritia Vol.1 (1982) pp. 352-62.
  6. Prof. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, Department of History, NUI Galway, ‘Rath Melsigi, Willibrord and the Earliest Echternach Manuscripts’, Peritia, Vol. 3 (1984) pp. 17-49.See also footnote 30 which in abbreviation states “Mr Kenneth Nicholls of University College, Cork, has proposed that the site which occurs in some early charters as Cluain Melsige (now Clonmelsh, Co. Carlow) is identical with the Rath Melsigi of Bede’s account. The identification of Cluain Melsige with Rath Melsigi had been made independently by the late Éamon de hÓir, Irish place names Commission … Fr Columcille Conway had suggested the same identification (see Aubrey Gwynn and R.N Hadcock, Medieval religious houses: Ireland (London 1970) 402”.
  7. Emile Seiler, ‘St. Willibrord’, Carloviana, 2000 edition, p. 55
  8. Record of Monuments and Places, CW012-025 Garryhundon.
  9. Professor Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, Department of History, NUI Galway.
  10. Prof. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, Department of History, NUI Galway, ‘Rath Melsigi, Willibrord and the Earliest Echternach Manuscripts, Peritia, Vol. 3 (1984) pp. 17-49.
  11. Calendar of Willibrord’, MS. Lat. 10837, fol. 39v, Bibliothèque National de France, Paris.
  12. Emile Seiler, ‘The Echternach Hopping Procession’, Carloviana, 2000 edition, p. 55
  13. There are three known occasions when hopping has taken place in county Carlow. In April 2000 and June 2017, the Willibrordus Bauverein, along with their Irish chaperones, hopped in a circle around the 7th century cross at Rath Melsigi. The conclusion of the ‘Walk with Willibrord’ in Carlow town, June 24th, 2017, is the first known hopping procession in county Carlow in the manner that takes places in Echternach, ie, people in rows of five, holding handkerchiefs and with a marching band playing the hopping tune.

 

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