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In search of St Mologa

Today we were in search of St Mologa, two wells on the agenda both within a few miles of each other: one in Templemologa (church of Mologa) and the other at Labbamologa (bed of Mologa) – the area between the two seemingly being the Tearmon or sacred space, where Mologa offered protection and sanctuary. The Kildorrery Community Development website explains:

Saint Molaga’s ‘Betha’ (Life-story) was written in a church called ‘Tullagh Mien’ about 400 years after his death.  That church is believed now to have been near where Sraherla Church is today.  One such fact was the description of Molaga’s Thermon or Sanctuary which is bordered to the north by Labbamolaga Church where the Saint is said to be buried, and to the south by the river Funcheon where the ruin of the other church associated with the saint stands in Aghacross.

 St Mologa’s Holy Well, Tobar Mologa, Aghacross

img_3080-edit-tifFirst stop was Templemologa at Aghacross  – Ath na Crois – ford of the cross. It was here that an interesting meeting occurred between two saints and an elderly couple. This is the story as recorded by the late local historian Paddy Daly in 1929: In the early years of the faith in Ireland, it happened that St Cummin the Tall and St Cuman Mac de Chearda were passing by a place called Aghacross, midway between Mitchelstown and Kildorrey and in a field by the highway, they saw an old couple sowing flax. St Cummin wondered at an old couple doing the work unaided and he asked them what brought about that state of things. The man said ‘We are married more than thirty years and it was the will of God not to give us any children. As soon as we understood in our own minds that this was the will of God we thought also that it was his will that we should spend our lives in perfect chastity. We did so and with the help of God we will finish our time in this world in the same way.’Dubhlaigh and Mionchulla were the names respectively of this man and woman. The Saint spoke: ‘It is true that you will have spent your lives according to the will of God and that which lie did not bestow on you hitherto, he will do so now. God will give you a son and he will have great and holy virtues, and he shall give good example to all’ … Soon after their interview with the saints, a wonderful change came over the old people. The decrepitude of old age left them and the beauty and bloom of youth returned … In due time, Mionchulla gave birth to a son and that child was Molaga.

Some time later, as the happy parents prepared for the child’s christening, another miraculous event happened:

….. when the child (St Mologa) was being taken to be baptised the party met by the stranger.A well sprung up at this point and the stranger used the water to baptise the child. This well is at Mologa about two and a half miles north east of Kildorrery. This story was told to me by  a neighbour. Schools’ Folklore Collection.

Another entry from the Schools’ Folklore Collection describes exactly how to find it:

There is a holy well in the grounds of St Mologga’s Monastery. The well is called st Mologga’s Well and is about twenty yards in a southerly direction from the back wall of the ruined abbey. It is fifty yards from the river Funcheon and two ash trees grow one on each side of the well. The depth of the well is about 50 yards (?) and it is lined all round with a facing of stone. (0376:001)

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St Mologa’s Well

It is still there, a stone built rectangular basin, three slippery steps leading down to the water. It’s very overgrown, colonised by ferns, mosses and wallpennywort. The water is scummy and full of algae – 50 yards deep seems a bit hopeful. No sign of the two ash trees.

The young collector gives further information:

The annual pilgrimage to the well is held on Easter Sunday and people who have some disease still frequent it. The pilgrims make three or four rounds of the well reciting the Rosary and the Litany of the Blessed Virgin as they do so. Many visit this well for headaches and in this case wash their heads in water outside the well. The water of the well has never been used for domestic purposes and it is said that if anyone attempted to boil it the water would not boil. Money is never offered at the well but the cups and glasses used by the patients are left on a shelf and the pieces of cloth used to  in applying water to the sore parts are hung in the two trees. A trout lives in the well and the diseased people look out for it because they think their rituals more effective in the trout’s presence. In olden time sports were held at Mologga on the patron day. (0376: 001/002)

Colonel Grove White collected this story in 1905 which explains more about the trout:

Close to Temple Molaga is a copious spring well, which was always held sacred by the people and should be used only for drinking and curative purposes; but on one occasion, the lady of the manor, an unbeliever, would insist on cooking her husband’s dinner in the water of the sacred spring. When the water had time to boil, the cook remarked it was icy cold; more logs were placed on the fire, still to no effect. The logs were still being piled on, the fire blazed, but when the dinner hour arrived, the water was still as cold as ever. The lord waxed hungry, and, like other mortals, became angry; he rushed into the kitchen to ascertain for himself the cause of the delay, had the cover lifted off the huge pot, and, although the fire was crackling and blazing high about it, he felt the water was quite cold; but what astonished him more was to behold a beautiful trout swimming about in it, without apparently suffering the least inconvenience. He became wonder-stricken, and had his advisers called in. They told him to take the water back to the well without delay and pour it in. This being done, the trout again became invisible, and is since rarely seen, except by certain votaries. In the district it is a common saying when water is slow to boil: ‘perhaps the Molaga trout is in it’. (Historical and Topographical Notes Vol 1)

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Photo by Colonel Grove White, 1905, showing the array of cups at the well

The water from the well was once considered highly efficacious and attracted many pilgrims on the saint’s Feast Days, 20th January and 3rd October, and on Easter Sunday. A different entry from the Schools’ Folklore Collection has more to say:

Close to the ruin (of the church) is a holy well called Mologga’s Well. It is below ground level about four feet and is reached by three stone steps. On the feast day of the saint- 20th January – in years gone by great crowds used to visit the well and honour the saint. There were no special rounds for these visits. People simply went to the well said ten Paters, Aves and Glorias  and after each set of prayers they took a drink of water from the well…. Visits to the well are unheard of today. The only time the existence of the holy well is brought to mind is on the occasion of funerals in the adjacent graveyard. On such occasions people (not many) pray at the well and drink the water.The Well water was said to be good for curing internal complaints and also for external injuries. For the former it was drunk and for the later it was rubbed over the injured parts. Some years ago a bottle of the water was to be found in most houses in the district but today the custom has died out and people do not even know the feast day of the saint. (0375:419/420)

Another entry describes very precisely how the rounds were performed:

Rounds must be performed at least three days in succession – Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday  are the best days for these Rounds. A person can expect to be cured if they see a trout in the water on the third day. The Pattern Day in olden times was Easter Sunday. Rounds are made as follows:

1. Entering the churchyard and facing the well say Holy St Mologga cure (name ailment)

2. Kneel at the right hand side of the well and say the Lords Prayer, Hail Mary and Glory be to the Father seven times in honour of St Mologga

3. A part of the Rosary is said at the same place

4. Kneeling centre way, another part of the Rosary is said.

5. The Round is finished at the left hand side of the well

6. Still in the same place, the Lord’s Prayer, Hail, Mary and Glory Be to the Father are recited five times in honour of the five wounds of Our Lord. if any person wants to bathe any part of their body in the water of the well they must do so outside the churchyard. (0375: 022/25)

 

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St Mologa’s Church, Aghacross

There is nothing remaining of the original monastery here at Aghacross, the ruins of the church (CO019—2004) are of mixed dates: the west is twelfth century sandstone, while the east is fifteenth century limestone. A ballaun stone can be found inside the building and on one of the exterior walls is a very worn sculpture of a head. Some interesting gravestones can be found surrounding the church.

It’s an ancient and peaceful site. The name Aghacross – ford of the cross – may  refer to the wooden high cross that Mologa is said to have erected – either to mark the ford or to mark the extent of the Tearmon. A stile near the well leads to where the original ford may have been.

Labbamologa

Five miles north east of Templemologa is LabbaMologa, site of another monastery founded by Mologa and said to be his final resting place and possible site of another holy well.

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The impressive blocky entrance to the oratory

It is an extraordinary site: a walled ecclesiastical complex including two ancient churches (cO010-003004/3003), numerous cross slabs, the saint’s bed, a well, and in the field outside four standing stones (CO010-003007). More from the Schools’ Folklore Collection:

At Labbamologa are the ruins of two churches which stand side by side, in an old graveyard adjacent to the public road. The more important and ancient of these it the Leaba of the saint. This is an early Oratory with the chief characteristics of that type of structure, square headed doorway, inkling jambs and prolongation of the side walls. The doorway in the west gable still stands and is a perfect example of its kind. It is four feet ten high and two foot three wide at the top while it is three inches wider than that at the bottom. Within this little building is the reputed grave of St Mologga. The second church was built later and is larger than the Oratory. It is situated north of the Oratory. It is very dilapidated and it’s built of sandstone ashlar which suggests a pre-invasion date. This is known locally as the Eidhnean or ivy covered church of Mologga. It is thirty five feet by eighteen feet internally though unfortunately neither door nor window remain to give a guide as to its period …. In a field adjoining the cemetery on the south side is a monument of general Bronze Age. This consists of four massive pillars of stone arranged in the form of a rectangle and suggest the corner supports of  a house. The largest pillar stone is about six feet tall and two and a half feet broad. The origins of these stones is unknown but it is thought they were connected with pagan ceremonials in ancient times. (0375:418)

The little oratory may date from the seventh Century. Inside is the saint’s Leaba, or bed, his burial place:

… within it there is a kind of cist, consisting of a large flagstone, resting on low side stones and leaving an open space beneath, said to have been Mologa’s bed… Formerly a well of clear water was here and a brown stone cross , which rested on the covering stone of the leaba. (Colonel Grove White, Volume I)

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St Mologa’s leaba or bed

The large flagstone remains, bearing a curious carving described as being a volute. This seems to mean a spiral – now well worn at the top of the carving. Could the whole thing represent a crozier? Traditionally pilgrims would rest on the bed or crawl underneath it, this being seen as a special cure for rheumatism. This wouldn’t be possible today but the interior of this little church still contains a quiet and sacred air. The reference to the well inside the church is also interesting – was this the holy well? Apparently it vanished when a woman washed her dirty laundry in it. Irish Megaliths suggests the well is somewhere else and describes how it is now hidden in a tangle and was once part of the the turas or rounds and was visited on Easter Sunday – the same date as the rounds at Templemologa. I wondered if the site was just over the stile in the north wall of the enclosure, to the right where there was a jumble of hedge/ rubbish etc and definite signs of bogginess.

There are also meant to be cursing stones associated with the site; a skull that reappears in the walls no matter how often it is buried and then in the fields the four standing stones – possibly originally eight. Folklore explains them away as being four thieves who robbed the monastery. On their way out one dropped a chalice, went to retrieve it and was turned to stone – his partners in crime presumably suffering the same fate.

There is also reference to another odd relic:

…. There is another relic of Mologga in the locality and great faith is placed in its healing and protective powers. The relic is of sandstone and about the size and shape of a goose egg and it is said that the mother who has it in her possession on the occasion of childbirth will be protected from dangers attendant to that occasion.

Could this have been the origin of one of the cursing stones? There seems to be a childbirth theme throughout Mologa’s story – first his exceptional birth, then later he was supposed to have brought a recently dead mother back to life:

The saint was supposed to possess wonderful and even miraculous powers. He cured the sick, saved people from epidemics and even raised the dead. On one occasion he visited the dun of Cathal, king of Munster. Cathal’s wife had just died in childbirth and he was so touched at the grief of the king that he prayed over the dead woman and brought her back to life. (Grove White)

And finally the reference to the odd stone.

One last thing connected with the increasingly fascinating and enigmatic Mologa (I’ve got a bit sidetracked!) is his connection with bees. After his auspicious beginning, it was recognised that Mologa was destined for a spiritual life. As a young man he went on a missionary journey to Scotland and Wales, including spending some years with St David. On his return to Ireland he may have brought with him the first domesticated bees though this story gets quite confused with another saint St Modomnoc/Molochomog – also variously described as St Colman or St Dominic!

My jar of very good honey attributes full honours to St Mologa!

For more information about St Mologa visit this interesting account at Roaringwaterjournal. Voices of the Dawn also has some fascinating information about the site at Labbamologa.

The location of these wells can be found in the Gazetteer.

Three wells dedicated to St Gobnait, Ballyvourney

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11th February is St Gobnait’s Day,  the feast day of a very popular saint in north Cork and one who still has a very well attended Pattern Day where many pilgrims visit the sites in and around Ballyvourney to pay their respects and do rounds (Turas Ghobntan).

 

Tobar Ghobnatan
It seemed an appropriate day to visit. Many people seem to first attend Mass in St Gobnait’s Church (there were several Masses being held throughout the day), then go to the old church and St Gobnait’s shrine to do the rounds, finishing off with a visit to the second holy well just down the road. I went back to front and ended up at the second well first. This has recently been tidied up with smart new entrance gates and a large sign advertising its presence.IMG_0940What a beautiful place though, right on the edge of the river and nestling amongst mature trees. No one was there when I arrived but a jumble of plastic bottles were available for those who wanted to take the water home with them and a neat row of cups and glasses were lined up on top of the well. The well is sturdily constructed with steps down to the basin, and seating arranged around it.

The water is exceptional – clear, and very cold. A large tree behind is adorned with a variety of offerings. A woman came down with her grandson. She drank two cupfuls of water with gusto and declared the water good. I fully agreed.

The Rounds
I then went to the old church. Actually there are two churches there now – a church of Ireland church, and the ruins of a much older church. Many people had already arrived and were doing the rounds. The pilgrimage starts at the statue of St Gobnait, takes in the small well to the right of this, and finishes at the second well down the leafy lane.

IMG_0965Most walked slowly and respectfully, stopping at each of the five station to say prayers, others just came in and visited St Gobnait’s grave, took the water and shot off again. There are some intriguing artefacts that are now part of the stations: a tiny carving of a Sheila na gig high above a window, and an agate ball embedded in the wall – both of these are traditionally stroked as part of the turas or round.The atmosphere was reverential but also had a holiday feel. Everyone smiled and greeted each other.

Bees & Deer
Everywhere you will notice deer and bees for the story goes that St Gobnait was born on the Aran Islands and an angel appeared and told her to travel until she found nine white deer grazing together, and there she would find her resurrection. After much travelling she finally spotted the deer in Ballyvourney. Here she built a religious establishment for women. She became famous for her healing and for many miracles. One miracle concerned cattle rustlers who were trying to steal all the local cattle. She sent a swarm of bees after them; the rustlers were blinded and the cattle restored.

IMG_5704The bees are especially beautiful on the statue of St Gobnait carved by the renowned sculptor Seamus Murphy. Incidentally St Gobnait is patron saint of, among other things, bee keepers and metal workers.

The statue
I then went on the current Catholic church in the village. Mass had ended but a steady stream of visitors, young and old were coming in and out. This is the only day of the year that the ancient statue of St Gobnait is made available to pilgrims. It is supposed to date from the 13th century and is made of oak, now much worn but what an extraordinary artefact it is. She is laid on a table and people queue to visit her. First though you must buy your ribbons, each cut to the length of the statue (Tomas Gobnatan, or Gobnait’s Measure). You wait your turn then once at the statue wind the ribbons around her neck, around her body, lengthwise on her body and some people scrunched the ribbons up and placed them over her heart. Finally St Abbey, as I heard her referred to, is kissed or embraced. (Abigail or Abbey is the anglicised form of Gobnait).

You take the ribbons home and they protect you from illness over the coming year. It seems she was once considered effective against smallpox for this prayer was regularly said in Irish:
O Gobnait, bring us safely through the coming year, and save us from every harm and infirmity especially smallpox.
It looked as though many people still thought she was very potent. She seemed much loved and respected, almost like a much adored member of the family.

Kilgobnait holy well

20160211-IMG_1041160211I then decided to visit the well and shrine of her supposed brother, St Abbán, found just outside the village but you’ll have to wait for this, he deserves his own blog entry! I did travel a little further out of Ballyvourney to Kilgobnait and visited a spot where St Gobnait is said to have prayed. This small walled enclosure right on the side of the road, now surrounded by fir trees was an extraordinary place. It seems it may have originally been a cillín (unconsecrated childrens’ burial ground) for there were many stone markers and interesting bumps and contours. Most extraordinary of all was the little well: a large ballaun stone filled with water, an odd milky blue. Quartz stones had been carefully laid around it, a few cups thoughtfully provided, and a small statue of Infant of Prague watched proceedings. There is also a large circular stone – could this be associated with the ballaun as a wishing or cursing stone?  A tiny tree growing up behind it gave this place a magical quality. Originally this formed part of the rounds on St Gobnait’s Feast Day but I don’t know how many other visitors it was going to get today.

A small postscript to Kilgobnet. I have just had supper with a friend from the area who confirmed that it was indeed a cillín and one held with special reverence as the site was considered to be as good as consecrated ground as it had St Gobnait’s blessing and protection.

Others have  written excellent accounts of the pilgrimage Here are two accounts I would recommend:

Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland   Roaringwater Journal

Information about the location of these wells  can be found in the Gazetteer.