From Castlebar - County Mayo -
The Influence of St. Patrick on Mayo Heritage.
By Brian Hoban
17, Mar 2012 - 13:30
1. Tochar Padraig
The Tochar Padraig is a pilgrimage of medieval origin, based on traditions which go back to the very dawn of Christianity in Ireland.St Patrick fasted for 40 days and 40 nights on Croagh Patrick before beginning his mission of preaching the Gospel to the pagan Irish in the mid-fifth century, in imitation of Moses, Elias and Our Lord. Among his first activities was to baptise converts at a well some distance from the mountain. This place came to be known as Baile an Tobair, or Ballintubber, the town of the well.
In 1216, Cathal Crovderg O'Connor, King of Connaught and brother of the last High King of Ireland, built an abbey for the Augustinian Canons Regular there. Ballintubber Abbey, which opened in 1220, was suppressed at the Reformation, but continued in use until it was burned down by Cromwellian troops in 1653, having been taken over by the Augustinian Friars in 1603. Catholics came to the ruined abbey in penal times to hear Mass and, after the lifting of the Penal Laws, Masses were still held in the roofless abbey until it was restored in 1966. Since then, it has been a parish church. It is the only church in use in Ireland where Mass has been said continuously since its foundation in the thirteenth century.
The Tochar Padraig follows the route of a highway which went from the ancient seat of the Kings of Connaught in Cruachan to Croagh Patrick. This was in use before the building of the abbey, and the Canons Regular included a hostel for pilgrims in the original plan. The path was one of the major pilgrimage walks in Ireland until the suppression of the pilgrimage around 1588 when it went into decline. The Tochar Padraig was restored from Ballintubber Abbey in 1987 and that is the route used for the Latin Mass Society of Ireland pilgrimage since it was initiated in 1998. Since then, it has become possible to walk the Tochar from Balla but, for the time being, the LMSI will use the more established route.
The Tochar Padraig pilgrimage is approximately 22 miles (35.4 km) and Croagh Patrick is 2,510 feet (765 metres) high. The walk takes place over a Saturday afternoon and evening and Sunday morning and afternoon, beginning with Mass in Ballintubber Abbey and ending with the ascent and descent of Croagh Patrick. Overnight (very basic) accommodation is provided in Aughagower. If a pilgrim cannot complete the walk or requires transport at any point, support will be provided, enabling the pilgrim to drop out. The walk is a mixture of roads and cross-country with a variety of terrains. Much of the walk is over private land, and pilgrims are asked to respect the property of those who generously allow us to walk over their land. Even in July, the weather in Co Mayo is unpredictable. The ground may be wet due to previous rains, even if the Tochar days are dry. The summit of Croagh Patrick can be very cold, even on warm days, and pilgrims are asked to take this into account in their preparations.
2. Early Christian Sites
There are numerous early Christian remains and traces of monastic sites along the route of the Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail, Balla, Loona More, Kilbrenan church, Drum or Knockatemple, Killavally, Templebanennaglosha, Aghagower.
These places were small monasteries where a traveller could stop and spend a night, rest up for a day or so, or perhaps work in return for food and accommodation. Those who lived there were often ascetics living out quiet lives of prayer and contemplation, traditions brought from the deserts of upper Egypt, the Coptic traditions of early Christianity.
3. Croagh Patrick
Known in Irish Celtic as Cruach Phádraig and colloquially as "the Reek," Mt. Croagh Patrick has been a sacred site since ancient times. Before the arrival of Christianity, the Celtic people regarded the mountain as the dwelling place of the deity Crom Dubh. The mountain was the focus of the harvest festival of Lughnasa, traditionally held around August 1. The sacred mountain was especially important for women, who would sleep on the summit during Lughnasa to encourage fertility.
Neolithic art can still be seen on a rock outcropping known as "St. Patrick's Chair" along the path to the top, and a Celtic hill fort was recently uncovered at the base of the mountain.According to Christian tradition, St. Patrick went up the sacred mountain at festival time in 441 AD. After fasting at the summit for 40 days, he banished all the snakes and demons from Ireland.
The site quickly became an important place of Christian pilgrimage. A stone oratory dating to between 430 and 890 AD was recently discovered on the summit.
Croagh Patrick is the most important Catholic pilgrimage destination in Ireland. Nearly one million visitors, most of them pilgrims, climb to the top every year. Almost 30,000 pilgrims make the trek on the last Sunday in July, known as "Reek Sunday."
For most Catholics who visit Mt. Croagh Patrick, especially on Reek Sunday, the pilgrimage to the top of the sacred mountain is an act of penance. Accordingly, some untake the journey barefoot or even on their knees. The summit has a small chapel where Mass is held each day.
The full pilgrimage route originates in the village of Murrisk, 8km outside Westport. The first main sight on the pilgrimage path is a statue of St. Patrick, erected in 1928 by a Westport pastor. Although it is not one of the official stations (see below), it has become a place of prayer and makes a good goal for those not able to climb all the way to the top.
There are three pilgrimage stations on the way to the summit of Croagh Patrick, each of which has a sign with instructions for the proper rituals and prayers. The stations are as follows:
First Station (Leacht Benáin): Base of the Mountain
Walk 7 times around the mound of stones while saying: 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Marys, 1 Creed
Second Station: The Summit
Kneel and say: 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Marys, 1 Creed. Pray near the chapel for the Pope's intentions.
Walk 15 times around the chapel while saying: 15 Our Fathers, 15 Hail Marys
Walk 7 times around Leaba Phádraig (Patrick's Bed) saying: 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Marys, 1 Creed.
Third Station: Roilig Mhuire
Walk 7 times around each mound of stones saying: 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Marys, 1 Creed. Walk 7 times around the whole enclosure of Roilig Mhuire praying.
4. Aughagower's Pilgrim Past
Aughagower lies five miles east of the Reek/Croagh Patrick, it was here according to The Annals, that St Patrick stayed before climbing to the summit. The name Aughagower is derived from the Gaelic Achad Fobuir, meaning 'field of the spring'.
Aughagower, judging by the frequency of references in the Annals of History appears to have been a place of some importance, with a large population dating back to earlier pagan times. There is an array of remains associated with pagan and druidic activities and of course later in history the strong and continuing association with St Patrick. St Patrick is said to have baptised the first converts here and alsohe church erected a church. It was called Teampall na bhFiachal, "the church of the teeth", and received its name from a line of rocks which resembled a set of teeth and which was visible from the church. Only a small part of the sidewall remains and is situated about two hundred yards north of the round tower. The remains however indicate that the building was from a later date than St Patrick, but is thought to have been built on the site of the smaller Teampall Na bhFiachal.
Other features of Aughagower are the graveyards, the round tower, which dates to the 12th century and the mediaeval church at the end of the graveyard within which the tower stands. Nearby there are also two holy wells Tobar na nDeochan, "Well of the Deacons" and Dabhach Phadraig, "St Patrick's Vat". These are still regarded by some as part of the stations in connection with the Reek.
The pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick, which followed the Tochar Phadraig, went through Aughagower. Tobar Na nDeochan is immediately outside the wall of the old graveyard and on the opposite side of the road is Dabhach Phadraig, a drain connects the two wells and growing inside the wall of the Dabhach is a very ancient tree of huge proportions. Though decaying at the base it is still capable of producing huge branches. The soil around the tree and even the rotting wood is said to have healing qualities. However if one removed soil from the tree for healing purposes it was necessary to return the soil to the base of the tree when the healing was complete.
The Station at Aughagower began at Leaba Phadraig, "Patrick's Bed", lying west of the tower at the base of a tree. Prayers are recited seven times and the pilgrim continues to each well in turn and recites the prayers again as they walk around the well. The tree over-hanging Leaba Phhadraig is larger than the tree over the Dubhach, with the trunk 24ft in circumference. Though decaying at the base it continues to thrive.
5. Ballintubber Abbey
The abbey was built in 1216 by Cathal Crovderg O Connor, King of Connaught (known as Cathal of the Wine Red Hand), for the Cannons regular of St. Agustine and dedicated to the Holy Trinity. The first Abbott was O Maicin. There had previously been a small church close to the present church that had been founded by St. Patrick in 441. Despite the fact that the abbey was suppressed by Henry VIII in 1524 and was wrecked by Cromwellian soldiers in 1653 and suffered the effects of the Penal laws in the 18th Century it has continued to be used as a place of worship up to the present day. It has been labeled "The Abbey that refused to die."
The nave of the church was rebuilt, following a fire, in 1265. In 1653 the Cromwellians destroyed the roof of the church but the ruined church continued to be used for mass throughout penal times. There were attempts to restore the church in 1846 and 1889(George C. Ashlin). The church was finally restored in 1966(P. Le Clerc), with Stations of the Cross by Imogen Stuart (1972), stained glass (Saints Patrick, Brigid and Colmkille) by Gabriel Loire, and a wooden statue of the Virgin and Child by Oisin Kelly.
The original church was an aisleless, cruciform building with a low tower over the crossing, and with the east part laid out on the Cistercian plan i.e. with east chapels in the transepts. The delicate late Romanesque/early Gothic details of windows, capitals etc. are characteristic of a school of masons active in Connaught around the turn of the 13th century. In the sacristy may be seen the battered remains of the elaborate Renaissance tomb of Tiobaid na Long (Theobald of the Ships) Burke (d.1629), son of Ghrainne Ni Mhaille, who was created Viscount Mayo in 1627. The claustral buildings include a chapter-house doorway in the Cong style. Excavations in 1963 uncovered remains of two or three successive cloister ambulatories, now partially restored. Through the generosity of the Church of Ireland, the 15th century west door taken to Hollymount in the last century has been returned to the abbey.
St.Patrick visited Manulla which was then known as Findmagh and founded a church there and Bishop Cainnech, Patrick's monk was put in charge.
Prior to this the area had been pagan and had a well called Slýn (the healer) which the natives venerated as if it were a God. Folklore had it that a dead prophet was buried under the stone that covered the well. He had been buried there so that the water from the well might wash his bones and also because he feared fire. St.Patrick instructed the locals to lift the stone but they were unable so so Patrick and Cainnech lifted it and Patrick said to Cainnech "Thy seed will be blessed forever."
The church founded here became the principle church in the region and the well was later to be renamed St Patrick's Well.
The town of Balla holds an important place in the history of the county and tradition has it that St Patrick himself rested in Balla. There also existed in the 5th Century the "Tochar Phadraig" which marked the route travelled by St Patrick from Croagh Patrick and which travels through places such as Ballintubber and Mayo Abbey. Today the "Tochar Phadraig" route has been revived and communities along this route are providing facilities which will help visitors explore this beautiful part of County Mayo. St Patrick's name is associated with the holy well near the round tower and there are a number of other holy well's in the area.
In early times the village was known as 'Ros Dairbhreach', translating as 'The Height of the Oak Wood'. The continuing importance of the oak to the community is reflected in the evocatively named 'Dawn Oak 2000 project. At the beginning of this new millenium, 2000 oak trees were planted, creating a new wood in Balla's magnificent town park.
8. Foghill, Lacken, Co. Mayo. The Link With St Patrick
Lacken is a parish with a long history. St Patrick in his ''Confessions''wrote '"After a few years, when I was in Britain, my family received me as a son, and asked me whether they could trust me now, as a son never to leave them again". But, while I was there, in a night vision I saw a man coming as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus and he carried many letters and gave me one of them. I read the heading "The voice of the Irish". As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea, and they cried out as one voice "We appeal to you holy servant boy to come and walk among us".
Liam de Paor, former lecturer in Archaeology and History in U.C.D. in his book "St Patrick's World" published in 1993, wrote " He (Patrick) gives us only one Irish place name, that of the wood of Foclut. He implies that this was the place of his captivity.
The weight of the evidence is that this was a wood in the West of Ireland, in what is now County Mayo, on the western shore of Killala Bay"
St Patrick's Statue and Well
St Patrick's well has been a place of pilgrimage for generations. People came from all over to do the stations here. There are three mounds of earth, where pilgrims circle while reciting prayers and the station ends by drinking water from the well. The statue of St Parrick was erected in 1936. The inscription on the statue reads "Erected by the people of Lacken parish, in honour of St Patrick, 1936 Micheal F. Quinn P.P.".
9. Downpatrick, Ballycastle, Co.Mayo.
Dún Briste The Sea Stack known as 'Dún Briste' (The Broken Fort) can be seen at Downpatrick Head, 3 miles north of Ballycastle. It was separated from the mainland in 1393 as a result of high seas and the people were taken off using ships ropes. It is 63 metres by 23 metres, 45 metres high and 228 metres from the shore.
According to one legend, a pagan chieftain, named Crom Dubh, lived there. He refused to listen to St. Patrick who tried to convert him to Christianity. St. Patrick hit the ground with his crozier and the stack was separated from the mainland, leaving Crom Dubh to die there.
On July 31st 1980, Dr. Seamus Caulfield, his father Patrick Caulfield and Martin Downes, Professor of Biology at Maynooth College, landed by helicopter on Dún Briste and spent two hours there examining the remains of the building and plant life. They discovered the remains of a stone building across the centre measuring 30ft by 13ft inside and built up along the south of a long continuous wall. The remains of another building 20ft by 10ft were on the western side. An interesting feature found there was a low opening about 2ft square, exactly like the sheep runs which can be found in many places which allow sheep to pass from one field to another
Downpatrick Head 3 miles north of Ballycastle village is a striking headland standing 126ft above the sea. From here, there are fantastic views of the Atlantic, the Staggs of Broadhaven to the west, and high cliffs along the shore. The small stone building at the top of Downpatrick Head was used as a lookout post during the Second World War. It is now used to view the many species of birds on 'Dún Briste'.
The ruins of a church, a holy well, and a stone cross mark the site of an earlier church founded by St. Patrick. Pilgrims visited Downpatrick Head on the last Sunday of July - 'Garland Sunday'. Mass is now celebrated on Downpatrick Head on this day. The old statue of St. Patrick was erected here in 1912 and this was replaced by a new statue in the early 1980's.
Here also, you see the spectacular blow-hole known as 'Poll na Seantainne' with subterranean channel to the sea, where 25 men lost their lives in the aftermath of the 1798 rebellion. They are said to have taken refuge on the ledge at the bottom, and the tide came in before the ladder could be replaced.
10. St Patrick's Cathedral, Killala, County Mayo (1817)
This has been a site of Christian worship since ancient times.
"The Episcopal SEE of KILLALA appears to have been founded between the years 434 and 441, by St. Patrick, who, during that period, was propagating the faith of Christianity in the province of Connaught; and built a church at this place, called Kill-Aladh, over which he placed one of his disciples, St. Muredach, as bishop."
11. ST. PATRICK'S WELL, Killala road, Ballina
The Shrine on the Killala Road is dedicated to St. Patrick. It was here according to tradition that St. Patrick baptised a local Prince Eochaid and first preached on his visit to the area. The Shrine was a place of pilgrimage until recent times. On the opposite side of the road is the rock from which St. Patrick is said to have preached
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