The word pattern is derived from the Irish Patrun or English Patron and, in the old days, most parishes in County Kerry had a patron saint.
The name pattern is a corruption of patron, as in "patron saint".
Many patterns are linked to rituals at wells and other special places, suggesting associations with pre-Christian rituals, adapted to Christian practice. They often took place at around the same time as the great festival of Lughnasa.
In pre-Reformation times, festivities began with religious devotions at the church, but this came to an end with the confiscation and/or destruction of Roman Catholic churches in the century and a half between the 1540s and the 1690s. By 1700, the devastation was such that very few, if any, churches remained under Catholic control and public religious ceremonies almost disappeared. With the passage of the Penal Laws, the institutional church was an outlawed religious society; its churches few, its clergy scarce. With the central location of their devotions gone, people found alternative ways to honor their saint's feast day. While many of the faithful paid homage at the saint's shrine or in the ruins of their local church, most devotions took place at a nearby holy well, celebrated for its curative power. The earliest reference to the Pattern in Ardmore can be found in the calendar of State Papers of June 12, 1611, which mention "a grant of a fair to be held at Ardmore Co. Waterford, on St. Declan's Eve or Day. Before 1800 St. Declan's Stone and the Oratory containing his skull formed the centre of the festivities on St. Declan's Day. Other places noted for large attendance include St. Patrick's Purgatory andCroagh Patrick.
Priests would often assign making a pattern at a local well as a penance for sins; pilgrimages to such sites as Croagh Patrick also had a penitential purpose. The largest patterns would attract thousands of people. Although held in rural areas, the patterns attracted crowds from nearby towns. People would “pay rounds” by circum-ambulating a Holy Well a prescribed number of times in a clockwise or sunwise direction, reciting a rosary during each round, replicating an ancient Celtic rite known as the deiseal. At some sites, participants would proceed to various "stations", such as a small oratory, the saint's grave, or a Celtic cross in a predetermined and customary order. Having completed the religious devotion participants would also engage in activities such as gaming, singing, dancing, and horse racing. Some patterns lasted for several days.
Patterns were a common part of Irish rural tradition until the reforms of Cardinal Paul Cullen in the 1850s. Eventually, the clergy began to oppose the excesses of these popular festivals—the fighting, the drunkenness, and immorality. They also criticized the popular pious belief in the magical powers of the wells and other holy sites. This opposition gained momentum in the late eighteenth century as bishops began to issue edicts forbidding the people to participate in such wild festivals. Pilgrimages did in fact decline but this was due to the Famine and social change. This coincided with a decline in the Irish language and the expansion of popular education. As the Gaelic language and culture waned, the traditional lore and rituals faded as well.
In the case of a local folk saint from Celtic Christianity, there may be archaeological remains traditionally associated with the saint, such as holy wells reputed to have healing powers. Often the parish priest will sayMass or lead prayers at such a site, sometimes processing between several locations. In some parishes, Pattern Sunday coincides with Cemetery Sunday.
The word pattern is
derived from the Irish Patrun or English Patron and, in the old days, most
Irish parishes had a patron saint. On the saint's feast day, the parishioners
celebrated what was known as a Pattern Day.
In pre-Reformation times, the festivities began with religious devotions at the church, but this came to an end when the confiscation and/or destruction of Roman Catholic churches took place in the century and a half between the 1540s and the 1690s. By 1700, the devastation was such that very few, if any, churches remained under Catholic control and public religious ceremonies almost disappeared.
With the central location of their secular devotions gone, the faithful found alternative ways to celebrate their saint's feast day. While many of the laity paid homage at the saint's shrine or in the ruins of their local church, most devotions took place at the holy well.
In general, devotions at these sacred wells began with making what was called 'the rounds.' The people would walk around the well a certain number of times while saying special prayers. Part of the ritual included drinking the water as well as bathing with it. It was said that water from a sacred well had curative powers and some wells became famous for curing specific ailments. At the end of their visit, the people usually left behind a small token - some coins, a piece of cloth which was hung up, or any other small object they happened to have with them.
These sacred well traditions, rituals, legends and customs date back hundreds of years, and were common throughout the British Isles long before Christianity came to Ireland. However, for Irish Catholics, the disappearance of their churches and the Penal Laws made well-gatherings an important event - especially on the feast day of their patron saint.
Without official clerical direction, Pattern Days became noted for unorthodox forms of devotion and often rowdy amusements. The clergy tried to keep matters under control and at the Synod of Tuam in 1660, the following decree was announced:
"Dancing, flute-playing, bands of music, riotous revels and other abuses in visiting wells and other holy places are forbidden...."
Of course, no-one paid much attention to that decree or even the Penal Laws of the early 18th century which included the following infamous 'Act to prevent further Growth of Popery." It prohibited "the riotous and assembling together of many thousands of papists to the said wells and other places and prescribing a fine of 10/- on all who met at wells and 20/- on vendors of 'all ale, victuals or other commodities' with a public flogging in default of payment, enjoined on all magistrates the demolition of 'all crosses, pictures and inscriptions that are anywhere publickly set up, and are the occasion of any popish superstitions."
While this law caused the destruction of most embellishments at wells and shrines, it was ineffective in suppressing Pattern Days because it depended on the local gentry for enforcement. While there were a few religious bigots who enjoyed making life miserable for the faithful, most of the gentry turned a blind eye on what was, for the most part, a harmless local custom. Thus, Pattern Days continued to flourish on into the 19th century.
In Thomas Croften Croker's "Researches in the South of Ireland," he gives a detailed description of the revels during a Pattern Day in Gougane Barra. The year was 1813:
"After having satisfied our mental craving, we felt it necessary to attend to our bodily appetites, and for this purpose adjourned to a tent where some tempting slices of curdy Kerry salmon had attracted our notice. In this tent, with the exception of almost half an hour, we remained located from half-past seven in the evening, until two o'clock the following morning, when we took our departure from Cork.
After discussing the merits of this salmon, and washing it down with some of "Beamish & Crawford's Porter" 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.
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 who I sat, for an explanation or translation, which she readily gave me, and I 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); Bonaparte's achievement were extolled, and Irishmen were called upon to follow the example of the French people."
While the clergy and then the Penal Laws did everything to suppress Patron Day celebrations, it was the great Famine that caused the custom to almost die out. In his book of 1849, "Popular Irish Superstitions," Sir William Wilde paints a bleak picture of the land and the culture at that time:
"The old forms, and customs too, are becoming obliterated. The festivals are unobserved and the rustic festivities neglected or forgotten - the bowlings, the cakes, the prinkums,* do not often take place when starvation and pestilence stalk over a country, many parts of which appear as if a destroying army had but recently passed through it. Such is the desolation which whole districts, of Connaught at least, at this moment presents. Entire villages being levelled to the ground; fences broken; the land untilled and often unstocked, and miles of country lying idle and unproductive, without the face of a human being to be seen upon it."
After the Famine, other developments served to suppress old customs and traditions. During the Victorian era, what was left of the Catholic laity slowly began to regain middle-class status. It was a time when Victorian "respectability" assumed the sanctity of moral law and many of the old customs were discouraged or forbidden because they offended the sanctimonious.
Even more distressing to this writer was learning that many Catholics began to borrow the code of acceptable behavior from their Protestant neighbors who were not merely largely puritan, but also out of touch with the manners and modes of the country folk.
In general, many of the people who survived the Famine and stayed in Ireland, chose to put as much distance between themselves and the old ways as they could. This was also true of the masses who emigrated to America, Australia and other countries throughout the world. And, succeeding generations have continued to distance themselves from what was once perceived as the old-fashioned ways of a poor, down-trodden and ignorant country.
Thus, in the course of a few hundred years, much of the gaiety of traditional rural life is gone. A sad fact that. However, with the resurgence of interest in all things Irish, combined with the confidence of a country celebrating the economic power and teeth of the Celtic Tiger, there is a renewed pride in our history and heritage. That said,
will we see the resurrection of Pattern Days? Probably not. But, we still have Puck Fair, the MatchMaker Festival in Lisdoonvarna, and many other celebrations steeped in the old traditions.
More importantly, as we learn as much as we can about old Ireland's culture and customs, the intention is to share the knowledge so that in a small way, we can help preserve the legacy of our ancestors for future generations.
*Prinkums were peasant balls
Resources: The Year in Ireland by Kevin Danaher
Image: St. Brigid's Well, County Clare.
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.
It is worth noting that 15 August is an ancient Roman holiday now called Ferragosto in Italy and widely celebrated. It predates any Christian feast day. Pattern days probably originated from the Roman day.
“The term Ferragosto is derived from the Latin expression Feriae Augusti (Augustus’ rest), which is a celebration introduced by the emperor Augustus in 18 BC. This was an addition to already extant ancient Roman festivals which fell in the same month, such as the Vinalia rustica or the Consualia, which celebrated the harvest and the end of a long period of intense agricultural labor. The ancient Ferragosto, in addition to obvious self-celebratory political purposes, had the purpose of linking the main August festivities to provide a longer period of rest, called Augustali, which was felt necessary after the hard labour of the previous weeks.
The present Italian name of the holiday derives from its original Latin name, Feriae Augusti (“Festivals [Holidays] of the Emperor Augustus”.)”
“During the festival, workers greeted their masters, who in return would give them a tip. The custom became so strongly rooted that in the Renaissance it was made compulsory in the Papal States.”