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A Folklore Survey of County Clare by Thomas Johnson Westropp


Patterns and Religious Rites

The three chief patterns, (or religious rites at wells and holy places), were held on Iniscatha or Scattery Island in the Shannon, at Killone near Ennis, and on Iniscaltra in Lough Derg. To all three thousands of persons came from Clare, Kerry, and more distant counties, until by degrees dissipation crept in and the clergy suppressed the festivals, leaving only a purely devotional shadow.

The Scattery pattern was held at the beginning of March, and celebrated St. Senan’s victory over the ‘Cata’ monster. Its best record is a stone, which I last saw and sketched in 1875 in a garden at Naboclish Lodge in Kilkee, to which it had been brought from Kilrush by the late Capt. Kennedy. It had been brought over from the island to Kilrush when the pattern was suppressed by Dean Kenny,—some say in 1810 and others ‘before 1827,’ though the pattern was still celebrated in 1816. John Windele some sixty years ago thus copied it:—

‘In the name of God, Amen | Bare head, bare feet, all pious Christians are to kneel | At every station say or read, five Paters, Aves and a Creed | Five times round each blessed place | singing hymns and partner (? pater) beads. | Round the altar is a first | And two noted stations on the strand annex (? are next). | Round the Island on the water’s edge: | Fourth, the Nun’s [151] tomb on the strand du (sic) west.| Whoever kneels and read (sic) a prayer will not meet a watery grave. | Bringing up a stone to Monument Hill [152] perform there and that’s the fifth. | Sixth, N. East a place called Laoth [153] and at our Lady’s church women stop. | Eighth, the large church. Ninth is the Srs (? Saviour’s). Tenth is the bed called St. Synan’s grave.[154] | The well is eleventh finish and pray for ye souls of ye erectors of this blessed place.’

The names Thomas, James, and Patt. Cusack, and carvings of the round tower, Crucifixion, an angel, and a figure with a chalice, also appeared, as well as St. Senan with a crozier driving out a beast with a serrated back, belly, and tail, and the inscription ‘St. Synon and the Angel casting the amphibious beast out of the blessed Island.’ I could not find the stone after 1878. The devotees in 1816 took their rounds about the holy well annually on their bare knees, and it was the practice of those who could not conveniently attend to hire for a small payment some poor person to act as their substitute. The pattern was sometimes held on Easter Monday, and, as it was degenerating into drunkenness, the Roman Catholic Dean of Killaloe endeavoured to stop it.[155] His curate also persuaded several women to enter St. Senan’s church, but their families were soon after evicted and left the Island, so that the fame of the saint’s legendary misogyny was established more firmly than ever. But in 1878, when I first visited the Island, women entered the church without protest.

At Killone the great patterns have been long since suppressed,[156] and I could learn nothing about the actual rites. ‘Rounds’ are still performed at other times, being frequently vowed in sickness or for a sick relative. The rite consists in going on the bare knees, with bare head, sunwise round the green tongue of land from the altar between the crags and the lake. This being done, prayers are offered at the altar itself. Some pilgrims also wash their heads, feet, and hands in the bathing tank. The details vary according to the vow, and count is kept of the rounds and prayers by the rounded stones on the altar. None of the observances seem to extend to the neighbouring abbey. The Pilgrim’s Road is still visible, running north from the well far towards Ennis. The altar was last repaired by Anthony Roche, an Ennis merchant, in 1731.

The patterns on Iniscaltra, in Lough Derg, have long been nearly forgotten. In 1877 an old boatman told me that he had heard from old people of the flotillas of boats from every side of the great lake, the villages of tents, and the crowds of beggars, devotees, and merrymakers. A legend was then told how a wild young squire of the Brady family in attempting to carry off a lovely peasant girl from the pattern was overtaken by the vengeance of St. Caimin. The boat was upset by a squall, and the squire and his ‘understrapper’ (a foster-brother) were drowned; the girl and boatman clung to the keel, and floated ashore unharmed. The local horror of the sacrilege was emphasized by the gruesome addition that, when ‘the young master’ was waked in the ‘big house’ and the foster-brother in the barn, all stole away to the better entertainment, and, when the barn was unlocked in the morning, the bare skeleton of the instigator of the outrage was found covered with rats and, keerogues (black-beetles). The horrible ‘turf rick legend’ says that the Iniscaltra pattern lasted for three days.

Other less famous patterns were held on the sandhills near Lehinch in honour of St. MacCreehy. The celebration got shifted to ‘Garland Sunday’ (Domhnach cruim duibh, the last in July), and to the honour of St. Brigit of Kildare. It was finally replaced by races, which at Kilnaboy and elsewhere may also represent degenerated patterns.

At St. Lachtin’s well, near Miltown Malbay, a few poor old people may be seen, especially on Sundays and Thursdays, making ‘rounds.’ These are usually two sets of five each,—the first on the causeway round the well, and the second on a wider circle ‘sunwise.’ The devotees take off their shoes, stockings, and hats, (or, if women, their shawls and bonnets), and start for the well repeating the prescribed prayers. They climb to kiss a cross on the branch of one of the weird old weather-bent trees in the hollow, and, lastly, pour water from the well on their faces, hands, and feet.[157]

Patterns were held near the very early church of Termonchronain, near Castletown in the Burren, and, not many miles away, on the last day of summer ‘rounds’ are performed at the two altars of the oratory of St. Colman MacDuagh at Kinallia. Stations were held till late years at Kilmoon, and at Tobermogua well at Noughaval, both in Burren. At the last well a huge hollow ash collapsed before 1896, and the fragments rooted and grew up into considerable trees; the pattern was on Feb. 10th. The stations at Kilcarrach Hospital near Kilfenora had nearly ceased by 1839. In that year the ‘Ordnance Survey Letters’ record others at Tobermacraven well, in Kilshanny parish; Clooney, Corcomroe; Moy, Ibrickan, (Sundays and Thursdays); at Tobernamanorha at Moyasta Creek; St. Martin’s well at Kilinny or Clarefield in Moyarta;[158] Toberkeereen, Killoffin, (on Sundays); and Ballynagun, Tobermurry in Drimelihy, and Tobersenan in Cahroo, these three being in Kilmacdúan. We have little information about these rites in eastern Clare, but stations subsisted in 1839 at Uggoon; St. Brigit’s well, Kiltanon; the Tobermochullas at Knockdrumleague and Fortanne; St. Senan’s well, Killaneena, Clonlea; and at Kilseily. Although opposed by the parish priest, stations were also held at Tobermaleery, south from Newmarket-on-Fergus.

Somewhat different from ordinary patterns are those held on Sundays at Lough Fergus.[159] A credo, paternoster, and other prayers are said, and then the devotees make a circuit round certain cairns, one called the ‘altar’ having a rude ‘cross’ at which the ‘rounds’ commence. There is also a well, Toberlonan, a little more than a mile from the lake near Clooney church (Corcomroe), at which ‘rounds’ are performed, but these are reputed to be useless until after the rites are done at the lake, with which the well is supposed to communicate by a long passage. It is possible that the Lough, being the source of the chief river in County Clare, was an object of worship in early times, as no church nor saint is connected with the shore and cairns, and the ‘cross’ is natural.

There are ‘rounds’ at other wells, but these depend for their time and details on the devotee, who very often does not know even the name of the patron of the well.


Chapter 14


Chapter 16