Tag: Ballylanders

Happy Pattern Day!

Wednesday, 15 August, 2018

The “drawing in” of the hay was a typical activity around the Pattern Day and a trip to the meadow on the horse-drawn “float” was a really big adventure. On board (right to left): Madeleine, Jacqueline, Helen, Mary, Eamonn and Michael John. Head and shoulders above us all is Father, in his prime.

On the float

Background: Ireland has thousands of “holy” or “blessed” wells. These ancient water sources were attributed mystical powers in pagan times and the related customs and beliefs were incorporated by Christianity when it arrived on the island some 1,600 years ago. The converts assigned a “patron saint” to each well and thus began the custom of the “Pattern Day” (from the pronunciation of the Irish Pátrún, “patron”). The “Pattern Day”, then, is the feast day of a parish’s patron saint and entails a pilgrimage to the sacred well and the saying of specific prayers in a certain sequence. Bottles are filled with the “miraculous” water, which is often applied to wounds or sprinkled on children, visitors, travellers and animals for their well-being.

Ethnologists describe patterns as “community generated festivals”. In 1810, Crofton-Croker counted up to 15,000 people at the Pattern of St. Declan, which is still held annually on the 24th of July in Ardmore, County Waterford. This tradition of vernacular religious practice and the carnivalesque continues in Ballylanders, County Limerick, where the 15th of August, the Feast of the Assumption, is the local Pattern Day.


The 11 th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month

Saturday, 11 November, 2017 0 Comments

It’s Armistice Day. The event is commemorated every year on 11 November to mark the truce signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne in France for the cessation of hostilities. The agreement took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning — the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. More than nine million combatants and seven million civilians died as a result of the First World War.

Lieutenant Robert Martin O'Dwyer Today, we remember the World War I dead of Ballylanders, Co. Limerick: Sergeant John Brazil, Lieutenant Robert Martyn O’Dwyer and his brother Rifleman Peter O’Dwyer. Their bodies were interred in places as far apart as Pas de Calais in France and the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. May they rest in peace.

“The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.” — Czesław Miłosz


The Pattern Day in Ballylanders

Tuesday, 15 August, 2017 0 Comments

Today is the Pattern Day as the 15th of August is still called in some parts of rural Ireland. Despite all the signs of the country’s secularization, people will journey the “holy well” in Ballylanders for the Pattern observances that echo a disappeared world and this brings us to The Irish Countryman, a book that allows us to contrast the Ireland of today with that of 80 years ago.

When the young Harvard-trained anthropologist Conrad Arensberg arrived in Ireland in 1935, he was a man with a plan. “Like Caesar we divide our Gaul,” he wrote and proceeded to treat the country as four regions, more spiritual than geographical. The first was “the seat of an age-old tradition, of the remains of a once brilliant Celtic civilization.” The second was one “some among the nationalists dislike” because “It is the Ireland of the merry and happy-go-lucky present” that revealed a “talkative, mercurial, witty people.” Arensberg’s third Ireland was a “grimmer land”:

“It is a sober, hard-working land of minute towns and small farms upon a soil not always grateful. It is a land of hard realities. This Ireland is subject to hot flashes of anger and dispute which throw into relief deep-lying hatreds and fierce loyalties… This is the Ireland of bitter economic fate and political unrest. Much of this can be laid at England’s door, but not all.”

The anthropologist’s fourth Ireland was “the land of the devout, where word and deed breathe a religious fervour which most of us have forgotten. This is the land of holy wells and pilgrimages and roadside shrines… To many of us, perhaps a paradox lies here. Fierce love of political liberty goes hand in hand with a deep devotion to the most authoritarian of Christian creeds.”

Conrad Arensberg was not the only visitor to be perplexed by a country where “a puritanical morality” coexisted with “the hilarity of the race meeting.” That was then. Or was it? In the 80 years since he explored Ireland, the country has moved from being a rural to an urban society, from an agrarian to a post-industrial economy. As a result, those “doing the rounds” of the holy well in the Ballylanders graveyard today will be accompanied by a soundscape of mumbled prayers and purring smartphones. Conrad Arensberg would not have been surprised, though, because as he wrote in the conclusion of The Irish Countryman, “the chief expression of traditional social life is calling the countrymen together through a whole countryside for a re-enactment, both solemn and gay, of their sentiments about their fellows and about their view of life and death and destiny.”

Getting ready for the Pattern


Meditations on meat

Friday, 30 December, 2016 0 Comments

“How good it is, when you have roast meat or suchlike foods before you, to impress on your mind that this is the dead body of a fish, this the dead body of a bird or pig.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

301216bull

Image: Sean Fitzgerald’s butcher shop, Main Street, Ballylanders, Co. Limerick, Ireland.


The Pattern Day

Monday, 15 August, 2016 0 Comments

In 1810, the Irish antiquary Thomas Crofton-Croker recorded that up to 15,000 people had attended the “pattern” of St. Declan in Ardmore in Waterford. The event is held annually on the 24th of July and central to the occasion is a visit to St. Declan’s Well. In her thesis submitted in 1988 to the Free University of Amsterdam for a master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology, Siobhán Lincoln noted that, “Various cures have been attributed to it, and the Saint is reputed to have quenched his thirst there en route to Cashel.”

Ireland has thousands of “holy” or “blessed” wells. These ancient water sources were attributed mystical powers in pagan times and the related customs were incorporated by Christianity when it arrived on the island 1,600 years ago. Christianity then assigned a “patron saint” to each well and thus began the custom of the “pattern day” (from the pronunciation of pátrún or patron). The “pattern day”, in other words, is the feast day of a parish’s patron saint and entails a pilgrimage to the well and the saying of specific prayers in a certain sequence. The wells are too small for bathing in and, anyway, the water is cold so bottles are filled with the “miraculous” liquid, which is often applied to wounds or sprinkled on children, travellers and animals for their well-being.

Ethnologists describe patterns as “community generated festivals” or as “the dramatisation and sacralisation of rural Ireland’s own social structure”. This tradition of religious practice and the carnivalesque will be continued in Ballylanders today, the Feast of the Assumption. Our thoughts are with all those doing the “rounds of the Well.”

The rounds of the Well


The sixth Station: Childhood

Sunday, 29 November, 2015 0 Comments

One of my best friends in this photo is a dog. Actually, the dog is more of a playmate than a friend here. Animals are not toys, but they can offer children endless delight. Cuddly creatures are far more fun than gewgaws of wood or metal, no matter how cleverly these things might be designed and crafted. Farms are zoos of a kind, and while most of the animals are involved in the earnest business of converting their meals into milk, meat and eggs, there are other players on the periphery, such as cats and dogs, and their roles blur the line between work and play.

Childhood in Cullane

One of the noticeable things about this photo is the lack of things, apart from a very utilitarian bucket, a tin can and some items drying on the wall. Subsistence farming in the rural Ireland of my childhood did not generate luxury. It wasn’t quite a cashless society, but there was little in the way of disposable income. Despite this, there was no hunger and neither was there material or spiritual poverty. Ghosts still existed and fireside stories about “the troubled times” and characters who “drank the farm” had the power to enchant — if one was disposed towards enchantment, that is. And I was.

Even the prosaic had charm. On the last night that I sat and spoke to my mother beside the fireplace, she told how a neighbour, Hanny Egan, assisted her with the knitting of jumpers. Going to a shop and buying clothing for children was still a novelty at the time. The money wasn’t there, anyway, so the alternative was to make the clothes oneself. Hanny Egan wore a long black coat and she would put a large ball of yarn in each pocket. As she walked to the village of Ballylanders and back, with her knitting needles in hand, she would cast on the stiches — one plain, one purl — and pass away the journey productively. Hanny specialized in the knitting of sleeves, which was quite tricky; my mother worked on the bodies of the jumpers, which required more exertion, and the two of them would then join up the parts over tea.

Love cannot always be articulate, but this act of love was one of many that made for a happy childhood and the creation of those jumpers says all that one needs to know about these people. Within their limited means, my parents did heroic things for their children. They were totally selfless. No holidays for them. No extravagances, either. There may not be much in the way of stuff in that photo but the things that are absent could not be bought nor captured by a camera.

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Farming.


Celebrating the Pattern Day

Thursday, 15 August, 2013 1 Comment

The “pattern” or pátrún was celebrated in almost every parish in Ireland from the middle ages to the mid-20th century. Primarily, a religious event associated with the patron saint of holy wells, the Pattern Day was also an important occasion in the social calendar. “We whiled away the time by drinking whiskey punch, observing the dancing to an excellent piper, and listening to the songs and story-telling which were going on about us,” wrote Crofton Croker after attending the Pattern Day at Gougane Barra in West Cork in 1813. With daylight fading, the revellers, Croker included, retired to tents:

“As night closed in, the tent became crowded almost to suffocation, and dancing being out of the question, our piper left us for some other station, and a man, who I learned had served in the Kerry militia, and had been flogged at Tralee about five years before as a White-boy, began to take a prominent part in entertaining the assembly, by singing Irish songs in a loud and effective voice. These songs were received with shouts of applause, and as I was then ignorant of the Irish language, and anxious to know the meaning of what had elicited so much popular approbation, I applied to an old woman near to whom I sat, and found that these songs were rebellious in the highest degree. Poor old King George was execrated without mercy; curses were also dealt out wholesale on the Saxon oppressors of Banna the blessed (an allegorical name for Ireland); Buonaparte’s achievements were extolled, and Irishmen were called upon to follow the example of the French people.”

In 1834, the English author Henry Inglis visited Connemara and was invited to a Pattern Day at Maumean in the Maamturk Mountains:

“It fortunately happened, that on the second day of my sojourn at Ma’am, a very celebrated pattern was to be held, on a singular spot, high up amongst the mountains, on a little plain… on an elevation of about 1,200 feet… The ascent to the spot where the pattern was to be held was picturesque in the extreme, for up the winding way, for miles before us and for miles behind too, groups were seen to be moving up the mountainside — the women with their red petticoats, easily distinguishable; some were on foot, some few on horseback, and some rode double. About half way up, we overtook a party of lads and lasses, beguiling the toil of the ascent, by the help of a piper, who marched before, and whose stirring strains, every now and then prompted an advance in jig-time, up the steep mountain path.”

On arrival at the summit Inglis was invited into a tent where “the pure poteen circulated freely.” However, heated words were exchanged and a fight developed. Inglis describes the row, how five or six “were disabled: but there was no homicide.” Afterwards, “some who had been opposed to each other, shook hands and kissed; and appeared as good friends as before.”

In 1682, Sir Henry Piers attended a Pattern Day at a church on a hill overlooking Lough Derravaragh in County Westmeath noted that quarreling was very much part of pattern procedure:

“For ale sellers in great numbers have their booths here as in a fair and to be sure the merry bag-pipers fail not to pay their attendance. Thus in lewd and obscene dancing, and in excess drinking, the remainder of the day is spent as if they celebrated the Bacchanalia rather than the memory of a pious saint or their own penetentials; and often times it falls out that more blood is shed on the grass from broken pates and drunken quarrels when the pilgrimages are ended than was before on the stones from their bare feet and knees during the devotions.”

Let’s hope that today’s Pattern Day in Ballylanders will a peaceful and happy affair.

Pattern memories