‘Up to the early part of the nineteenth century a pattern or fair annually celebrated St John’s Day, 24th June, when well known bards and other artists from Louth and the surrounding counties would gather in the vicinity of Toberona bridge, to show their talents. It is recorded that over-indulgence in alcohol and rowdying brought an end to these patterns…..
But legend had it Toberona did not require either brewed or distilled liquor to engender anything like transports of inebriation. Toberona had its well of spring water, named after Saint John, and those quaffing of its draughts, if endowed to even the slightest extent with poetic or rhetorical talent, would be inspired to speech worthy of the most gifted orator or author. They had a saying in the Temple tavern (in Dundalk): Tell it in Toberona.’
Told in Toberona, 2008
John Swift 1896-1990 spent the formative years of his life in Dundalk, County Louth, before moving to Dublin in 1912.
‘The titular saint, or as some express it, the guardian, of this parish, is Columbkill. The 9th of June is his festival day, and is observed most ceremoniously by the old people in the parish: on that day they circumambulate certain places, repeating certain prayers, deified, as it were, for him.
They formerly drove down their cattle to the beach, on that day, and swam them in that part of the sea, into which runs the water of St Columb’s well, which is thereby made holy-water; but this custom, of late, has not been practised.
There is also a traditional story told here, that the earth of a little hillhock (tempo desh,) on the right of the road leading from the chapel to the church, formerly expelled all mice and rats, until the earth of it was vended, when its expelling powers ceased; still, however, they carry all their dead around it, as being an ancient custom.
There is a circular flat stone in the centre of the church-yard, about fourteen inches in diameter, on which are two round hollow places, which they say are prints of Saint Columb’s knees. On that day mass used to be celebrated, but of late, I believe, it has being discontinued.’
A Statistical Account or a Parochial Survey of Ireland – William Shaw Mason.
‘Lough Derg is in the centre of a lake in the wild and gloomy mountains of Donegal, and can only be approached by boat. The property in which it lies belongs to the Leslies of Glasslough. They have leased the ferry of the island to certain persons, who were contracted to pay them two hundred a year. I think it was in the year 1796, that a boat filled with ‘pilgrims’, as they are called, was lost, on its way across to the lake, owing to the drunkenness of the boatmen.
My father’s anecdote, or rather legend, went on to state that there was a holy priest in the boat who, when it sank with its freight, deliberately walked on the waters of the lake until he reached the island in perfect safety. I recollect observing to my father when he told me this legend: ‘It is strange that if he had the power of walking upon the water, he had not the power of saving the boat and all that were in it.’ He paused and looked at me, but said nothing.’
Wiilliam Carleton’s Autobiography, 1896
Pilgrimages to Lough Derg traditionally, as well as latterly, began in late May or early June, and continued until the Feast of the Assumption, 15 of August.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth century Station Island was often referred to as Saint Patrick’s Purgatory, a name that was adopted from a cave on the island. The cave itself received the name through a legend, where Saint Patrick prayed to God for assistance in converting the Irish, and God, answering his prayer, showed Patrick a cave which led to purgatory, where the horrors of hell could be viewed by pilgrims. The cave remained accessible to pilgrims who visited the island up until 1632, when the cave was closed by order of the Lord Lieutenant.
The Lough Derg Pilgrimage remains one of one Ireland’s most popular pilgrimage sites, and accounts of pilgrimages to the island date back to the twelfth century, with oral accounts bringing the site back to the fifth century. Shane Leslie bequeathed the site to the Bishop of Clougher in 1960.
‘In the immediate vicinity of Leighlin is a remarkable and very picturesque rath, and close to the cathedral is the well of Saint Laserian. This was until a few years ago a famous resort of the peasantry on the saint’s day, the 18th of April. However the patron was very properly prohibited by the parish priest and it is no longer the scene of gambling and intoxication. Two very old ash trees and a whitethorn which formerly overshadowed the well were cut down about 1823 by the late Captain Vigors of Erindale who leased a considerable tract of land here from the see of Leighton. The Whitethorn was formerly hung with all sorts of rags by devotees, pilgrims or visitors to this holy spot.’
Rev. Patrick Fitzgerald, Parish of Clonmacnoise, 1816;
‘There is but one patron day held here, on the 9th of September, in honour of St Kieran (Ciarán) their tutelar saint; it is numerously attended. From 3000 to 4000 people assemble there to do penance from different parts of Ireland, even from the county of Donegal.
Tents and booths are erected round the church-yard for the accommodation of people. The assemblage continues for two days, and often ends in quarrels. Its abolition would be a desirable circumstance. Some persons have been obliged to keep to their beds for weeks, in consequence of beatings received at such meetings.’
William Shaw Mason, A Statistical Account or Parochial Survey of Ireland Vol 2
‘In the parish of Modeligo, on the right bank of the Finisk, there may be found a remarkable specimen of the many holy wells of Ireland.
The name “well” is really deceptive : for the water is merely rainwater, and does not derive its existence from any spring, but is simply contained in a bath-shaped receptacle in a piece of limestone jutting up from the surface of the land. The dimensions of the well are about 4 feet long, by 3 feet broad, and 2 feet deep. I have called it bath-shaped, as it is an oval in appearance, and seems to be an unusually large bullaun, or a natural cavity in the rock. There is generally about six inches of water in it, and a legend asserts the existence of an inscribed cross and an inscription on the bottom. I have seen the cross myself, but it seems to be merely an accidental mark on the stone.
On the 14th day of August, the water is removed from the basin, and a fresh supply put in, by a man who lives close by; and the following day a pattern used to take place in the olden times. People may still be seen to congregate on the aforesaid date, and they invariably hang mementoes, in the shape of rags or other objects, on the ancient hawthorn bush that grows beside the well.
Tradition asserts that this well formerly existed some distance from its present position, and that a trooper of Cromwell’s led his blind horse, in mockery, around it, in order to find out and test the miraculous powers of the place. The horse was cured, but the soldier became blind, and the following day the well had taken up its present position. The place is known to the natives as the tobar beannuighte, and is marked on the 0. S. as ” Lady Well.”‘.
Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquities Ireland, 1911
‘The 3rd of August* is “St Molua’s Day” in East Limerick, and at this date a large “patron” is still held at “St Molua’s Well,” a rural district (in the townland of Balline and parish of Emly-Grenane), about seven miles east of Killmallock, and near Clareen cross-roads.
Arrived there the pilgrim turns up a bye-road or lane leading to St Molua’s grave-yard, where an abbey formerly stood, portion of the wall of which (of Cyclopean masonry) may still be seen incorporated in the boundary wall of the graveyard, which was sometime since erected by the Kilmallock Poor Law Board, acting as a sanitary authority. Proceeding past the grave-yard a little farther east we come on “St Molua’s Well,” situate nearly mid-way in a large green field, and without a shrub or bush of any kind, a very unusual circumstance in connection with such shrines.
The manner of “paying rounds” here is peculiar. The devotion consists in first reciting a rosary of six Paters, sixty Aves, and six Glorias, is recited while kneeling at the well’s brink. The water is then drank of and some taken away in bottles or jars for consumption in the houses of the pilgrims. It is looked on as a good omen if the pilgrims behold the fresh water stickle-back in the well – here known as “St Molua’s trout” – while performing their devotions. To have the “rounds” prove efficacious it is locally considered that they must be performed on three consecutive Saturdays, and even then, before sunrise. As the district is a rural one, far from a town, or even village, this last stipulation is not easily accomplished. From “St Molua’s Day” (August 3) to the 15th, however, those restrictions are not in force, and “rounds” may be performed at any time on those privileged days.
St Molua’s Well is now principally resorted to for the cure of ague (malaria or another illness involving fever and shivering) and kindred complaints, and such is the belief in the efficacy if this illness that the writer has been informed of many Irish -Americans who (afflicted with ague in the land of their adoption) who have written home to their kindred in the old land to visit St Molua’s Well on their behalf, and thus, by deputy, at the saint’s shrine, ask his intercession for them. We may add, we were informed that this pilgrimage was very often efficacious.’
Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society 1897
* Most sources maintain that Saint Molua’s Day is the 4th of August
‘The 24th of July is the patron day of Saint Declan, whom the Roman Calendar states to have flourished prior to the appearances of Patrick. He is said to have landed at Ardmore and to have there preached Christianity where he also, and in one night, built the famous tower and the adjoining church. The grave in which he is supposed to be buried and a singular mass rock on the sea-shore near the church are objects of peculiar veneration. This rock is believed to have floated over from Rome with the vestments of the saint, a bell for this tower and a lighted candle for the celebration of mass.
Though now a miserable village containing no house above the rank of cabin save that of the rector, there was a time when Ardmore was classed among the high places of Ireland. It was anciently an episcopal see erected by St Declan in the infancy of the Irish Church and before the arrival of St Patrick. St Declan, it is said, was a native to Ireland who travelled to Rome and returned to teach his countrymen in the year 402.The ruins of two churches which, from their architecture, must be of the Saint’s era, are in the immediate neighbourhood, and one of them, which had being used for service until very recently, is close to the famous round tower.’
Hall’s Ireland, 1842
Although Mr and Mrs S.C. Hall fail to provide information on the patron at Ardmore, Thomas Crofton Croker lets us know that it was a popular site of pilgrimage in the early decades of the nineteenth century. In his Researches in the South of Ireland, published in 1826 – less than twenty years before the Hall’s account, Croker comments that on Saint Declan’s Day, ‘vast numbers of the country people flock to Ardmore for the purposes of penance and prayer.’ The Catholic Church citing pagan practices attempted to stop patrons here on many occasions throughout the nineteenth century.
‘”St Ita’s Day” falls on the 15th of January, on which day a large gathering – “Pattern,” ie “Patron” is held at Killeedy [Ita’s Church], a rural district about six miles south-west of Newcastle West, and about an equal number north-west of Dromcolloher.
The Catholic clergy of the deanery have developed a most praiseworthy method of having this “patron day” properly observed. On each 15th of January they also assemble here, and at the little rural chapel of Raheena a solelm high mass is celebrated, and a suitable sermon on the life and distinguishing characteristics of the saint is preached. No manual work is done on St Ita’s Day in the Parish of Killeedy, and female children born in January in this parish are usually christened Ita, in honour of this saint – “The Mary of Munster,” as she is sometimes called.
“Rounds” are paid to St Ita’s Well, and an oblong hole in the ground near is called “St Ita’s Bed,” where if childbearing women roll themselves they will not suffer the pains of childbirth. Needless to add, no decent woman would do this in public, but I am told several come here privately on bye-days for that purpose, or take home a handful of the earth from the “Bed,” for the purpose of rubbing it around their bodies in the name of the Holy Trinity.
Near “St Ita’s Well” is a stone, which is said to bear the impress of the hoof of St Ita’s favourite ass. This beast was used for the purpose of bringing new milk to her convent here, from a farm she had four miles farther west, whither the donkey repaired every day, and without a guide. Someone who was acting as caretaker for the saint there milked the cows, when the milk was then placed in the two empty pails, which hung like panniers, one on each side of the faithful beast. On one occasion some robbers, who made a raid on this dairy farm, found the donkey with the two pails full of milk, and just ready to start on its return journey. Enraged at not finding any treasure as they expected, they overturned two milk-pails, allowing the contents to flow down the hill side. But the anger of God was immediately evidenced at that act, for that milk, which was intended for the support of St Ita and her household (nuns), as also to be distributed among the needy and poor, was now turned into blood, and that place was called (Irish Name), ie., “Plenty (or abundance) of blood”, and which event gives the name Turnafulla to the townland and parish of that name to-day.
Or another occasion this donkey stood on a strong thorn, which then entered the sole of frog of its hoof, laming it very much. St Ita pulled out the thorn, which she then thrust into the ground, at the same time “commanding” it not to lame her donkey evermore. This grew into a large tree, and a peculiarity of that whitethorn was that all it thorns were pointed downwards. The tree, I was assured, was flourishing until, in recent times, someone with the idea of effecting improvements dug the surface around it, when “St Ita’s thorn” withered and died off, and is no longer an object of veneration there.
St Ita is the special patroness of pregnant women (why? There is no tradition) and it is principally such who visit and pay “rounds” at her holy well. Besides Killeedy (“Ita’s Church,”) we have also Moveedy “My Mide, or Ita.”’
Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society.