Keith Parker, MA anthropology, is a Carlow County Development Partnership Tús participant. His placement is with the Scout Troup in Borris where he also contributes to the design and content of the Parish Newsletter.  From his own personal interests and his area of study, Keith has developed excellent skills in the areas of local history and traditions and he is researching in a number of areas to support local tourism and heritage.    Keith has had articles published in The Carlow Nationalist.  His most recent appeared on July 11th 2017, detailing the pilgrimage in St Mullins which has its origins in the 7th Century.  Below is a copy of the article.

 

EACH July sees the annual celebration of the pattern take place at St Mullins in the south of Co Carlow. It is an ancient tradition in the form of a pilgrimage and accompanying fair, which usually occurs on the first Sunday before St James’s Day (25 July).
St James was one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ and is the patron saint of pilgrims. The term ‘pattern’ is believed to be a corruption of the word ‘patron’ and is by no means a tradition unique to Carlow. Legend has it that the initiation of St Mullins as a place of pilgrimage occurred in the seventh century AD. St Moling, who was quite an industrious and entrepreneurial character, laboured for many years to realise the construction of a millrace (a stream which powers the turning of a mill wheel). He is said to have consecrated the completion of this stream on St James’s Day and the earliest form of the pilgrimage consisted of wading against the water of the millrace to obtain the intercession of the Irish saint in the afterlife.
However, it is thought by many that patterns in general and their association with holy wells have some of their origins in pre-Christian rituals.
The circumambulation of holy sites during the pilgrimage, which involves the circling of a stone or stone altar as part of a religious rite, bears similarity to the circular movements (deiseal) which are believed to have occurred during pagan rituals and can still be seen in some belief systems today.
Whatever the origin of this annual event, the curative powers of the holy well and the yearly fair seem to have maintained the ability to draw thousands of visitors to the site throughout ancient and modern times. Other historical events also served to add momentum to the development of the pilgrimage.
The Black Death of 1348AD saw thousands of pilgrims descend on St Mullins in the hopes of obtaining a cure or gaining protection from the deadly pestilence.
From the 1540s AD onwards, the confiscation and/or destruction of Catholic churches began a movement of Catholic parishioners back towards these holy sites. This movement was extended even further with the introduction of the Penal Laws in 1607AD and Catholicism in Ireland was forced to relocate outdoors as holy sites became centres of secret worship and devotion.
The route and ritual of the pilgrimage also progressed in form and function. At one stage, the bearing the pattern took consisted of walking around the site of St Moling’s mill nine times before progressing to the ruins of St James’s cell (which may have been built in honour of the original consecration of the millrace).
By the 19th century, it had evolved into a much more elaborate form of ritual which consisted of three penitential rounds of the holy well, the drinking of water from the well, wading through a stream which flowed from the well, progressing uphill for  silent prayer at the high cross, three rounds of the ruins of St James’s cell, three further rounds of the ecclesiastical site itself, nine rounds at the grave of St Moling in the ruins of Teampall Mór (big church) and final prayers in the sanctuary of this same church.
At various stages of the procession people crawled on their hands and knees or walked barefoot. Today, people drink from the holy well before attending the graveyard Mass held at the penal altar.
Although the millrace, which gave birth to the pilgrimage, at least in legend, no longer featured as a focal point for religious devotion, it was used in other ways over the centuries. In 824/5AD, for example, Vikings diverted water from the millrace into a nearby moat as part of the tactical fortifications they made in the area. The millrace has long ceased to function as a water course, but evidence of its existence can still be clearly traced along the landscape.
The fair, however, has retained its special importance throughout the ages and at times has taken the profile of a more boisterous affair than might be expected. In 1839, a staggering 80 gallons of whiskey were brought in for the celebration of the pattern. The resulting outbreak of public disorder resulted in a riot with police before one man was shot dead.
Copious amounts of whiskey may no longer form part of the pattern today; however, you can be sure of a huge attendance at an event that has managed to bridge the centuries and seems set to continue in the same manner for some time to come.