Patrick’s Stack: Reek Sunday & other Irish Traditions associated with the Last Sunday of July


Croagh Patrick & Rosbeg - Westport Croagh Patrick & Rosbeg – Westport (Postcard)

Reek Sunday, the last Sunday in July, is traditionally known for the great pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick, a mountain in County Mayo. Croagh Patrick, or Cruach Phádraig as it is known in Irish, literally means Patrick’s Stack, the site, according to hagiography, was where Saint Patrick fasted for 40 days. For over four thousand years Patrick’s Stack has has attracted pilgrimages, with the site originally hosting pagan gatherings which were gradually to become more Christianised from the time of Saint Patrick. The popular nineteenth century British writer William Thackeray recorded the following details regarding the Croagh Patrick Pilgrimage which he witnessed in 1842;

‘The first station consists of one heap of stones, round which they must walk seven times, casting a stone on the heap each time, and before and after every stone’s throw saying a prayer.

The second station is on the…

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Saint Maelruain’s Feast Day



Saint Maelruain's Chuch, Tallaght Saint Maelruain’s Chuch, Tallaght. Laurence Collection 1870-1914

WSA Joyce, Tallaght, 7 July;

‘St Maelruan’s patron or “pattern”, was every year celebrated here but in the later years the original Saint’s name was lost sight of altogether, and replaced by the corrupted form, “Moll Rooney”, under which title “the pattern” continued to be annually held, until it came to be such a nuisance, owing to drunkeness and debauchery, that it was suppressed in 1874.

The proceedings consisted of making a kind of effigy, supposed to represent the saint, and carrying it about from house to house in procession, headed by a fiddler or piper. The occupants of each house then came out as they were visited and danced to the music after which a collection was made to be spent on drink. Few went to bed that night; many slept in ditches on the way home, and drinking, dancing and…

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The Dead Month: The Hunger & Thirst of July


poitin_still Poitín Still

For our nineteenth century ancestors July was the month when food was scarcest. By the time that July  arrived food from the previous harvest was almost a year old, and many families found that their stores of food were much depleted or had disappeared entirely at this late stage. The decline in living standards, present throughout the nineteenth century Ireland, would peak during the Famine which would eventually take a million lives and force further million Irish men and women to emigrate from the land in which they were born. For families who had cattle running out of stored crops was not as lethal, but for the quarter of the population that relied on the potato as their sole source of sustenance July could be a difficult month to get by even without famine.

These tough conditions gave July many alternative names including, most generally, the “Hungry Month”…

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