Saint Patrick’s Day
I hope you will enjoy the festivities of Saint Patrick’s day which is celebrated the world over, pretty amazing for a little country like ours!. It is also amazing how long this tradition has endured and where its origins lie, right back to the fifty century. This blog post is not about baking but I hope you will forgive me as I am sure there are more than enough shamrock covered cup cakes out there!
As you may have gathered I have a grá for archaeology and heritage so I thought I would share the story of a place connected with Saint Patrick not far from where we live, near Tinahely, Co. Wicklow. Saint Patrick has left his mark here on the landscape, in the townland which bears the name Toberpatrick- Patrick’s well.
The late fifth century in Ireland saw the beginnings of extensive missionary activity. Saint Patrick, our patron saint is of course the best known of the early missionaries. This was a time of massive social change as pagans were converted to the new and soon to be dominant religion. Pagan customs were adapted and often assimilated into Christian beliefs and the holy well which would have been held sacred in pagan times were blessed by saints. The water in the well was used to baptise pagans who converted to Christianity. Holy wells became places of popular religious devotion where people come to pray and leave simple offerings.
Many holy wells appear to have held cures for specific diseases for example toothache, headache amongst other ailments. There is also a tradition that red rags were tied to the trees at holy wells as it was believed that the colour red would ward off evil spirits. Once the rags had rotted away so too did the illness.
There are two stories about Saint Patrick’s holy well recorded by Liam Price which I came across recently. Liam Price. Price was a district justice in County Wicklow between 1920 and 1950. Between his visits to the local courts he recorded local history, folklore and antiquities along his travels. He visited Toberpatrick. One story was that about two trout which lived in the holy well. A local man caught the trout and tried to cook them but when they wouldn’t cook he brought them back and placed them under a stone. The weeds were also reputed to be good for curing people and a surgeon in Dublin is reputed to having used the weeds for curing yellow jaundice. Price also notes that on the feast day of Saint Patrick up to one thousand people would visit the well, times have changes and there are few visitors now. But it is visited by a few whom have left mementos on the hawthorn tree. Interestingly the ‘offerings’ are a mixture of religious and non religious gifts.
This blog post is nothing to do with spelt or baking so I hope you will forgive me! I felt that it would be good to illustrate how Saint Patrick left his mark on our local landscape.
If you want to know more about pilgrimage during this era, my friend Louise who is also an archaeologist has an excellent blog on pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland. This blog contains a wealth of information which Louise gathered whilst doing her PhD thesis. There is a great post written on Saint Patrick by Terry O Hagan on Louise’s blog. Terry is an expert on the saint, so if you want to know more about Saint Patrick check out Terry’s blog post, well worth a read.
Happy Saint Patricks Day!
Corlett, C. & Weaver, M., 2002. The Price Notebooks. Vol. 1 & 2. Dublin: The Heritage Service.