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St. Declan's Pattern

The Ardmore Journal

7. St. Declan's Pattern

Title: "Saint Declan's Well in Ardmore. Het ontstaan en de ontwikkeling van een devotionele beweging". (Saint Declan's Well in Ardmore. The origin and development of a devotional movement)

Degree: Thesis submitted to the Free University of Amsterdam for a master's degree in cultural Anthropology.

Date: 31/08/88

This thesis describes the origin and development of the Pattern of Saint Declan, and endeavours to interpret its history in terms of "religious regimes". At one time this Pattern was an important pilgrimage, as of now however, celebration of the event is more local.

In the 19th century the diocesan clergy tried to suppress certain pilgrimages or devotions such as Ardmore, calling them 'pagan' practices. These 'pagan' practices differ little from other pilgrimages e.g. Knock and Lough Derg, which are however controlled and supported by the diocesan clergy. The question is why control certain pilgrimages and not others? We cannot find the answer to this question with the general theories, which study religion. They are biased and do not go further than regarding religion as a system of meaning.

The research perspective developed by Prof. M.M.G Bax of the Free University of Amsterdam seems to give insight into these problems. (Ref. "Religious Regimes and state formation: Towards a research Perspective." In: Anthropological Quarterly, January 1987, Vol. 60 Pages 1 – 11). He introduces the term "religious regime". Religious Regimes play an important role in processes of state formation and development. They are also dependant on the state for their development.

People and groups are attached to one another by power and dependency relations. This is also the case with religious people/groups. According to Bax changing power balances between secular and regular (monastic) clergy are connected with power balances in the society as a whole. The regular and secular clergy form in alternation a dominant and dominated regime.

With this anthropological – sociological perspective, which looks upon religion from a power perspective, the origin and development of the pilgrimage pattern in Ardmore is mappeo. To work with this perspective we need a broader outlook. In part 1 of the thesis the history and development of Roman Catholicism in Ireland is described. Part 2 deals with the development of Ardmore as a devotional centre.

Origin & Development Of Irish Catholicism
The National Setting: Origin & Development Of Irish Catholicism.

1. The Birth of Christianity: Development of a Monastic Regime.
St. Patrick came to Ireland in 432 A.D. to transform it into a Christian country. A characteristic of the first phase in the establishment of Christianity – not only in Ireland – is the development of the monastic order. After his death the monasteries became centres of religion and learning, retaining this position until the 12th century. This period is characterised by a decentralised monastic regime over which Rome had little influence.

2. Development of the Diocesan Regime (1000 – 19th Century)
Attacks by the Viking raiders in the period 800 – 1000. A.D. dealt a severe blow to the wealthy monastic settlements. It wasn't until the 12th century however, at the Synod of Rathbreasail in 1111 A.D. that the first step was taken in establishing a diocesan organisation and restricting the power of the monasteries.

The Norman invasion began in 1169. Two years later Henry II arrived in Ireland with the support of the Irish bishops and the pope. We presume that in this period a "coalition" took place between Rome and the King. They both had their reasons; a diocesan organisation is much better to control than the monastic possessions. The state was powerless however to make the coalition 'effective' and remained so up till the 16th century reformation when Henry VIII began suppressing the monasteries.

This period is characterised by the struggle between the diocesan and monastic regimes. The monastic regime still had a hold on the devotional organisation but lost the parochial organisation to the diocesan clergy.

3. Expansion of the Diocesan Regime (19th Century – Present)
The diocesan organisation reached its final shape in the 19th Century and the monasteries were encapsulated in the diocesan regime, supported by the state.

St. Patrick's College Maynooth was founded in 1775 as a Catholic University to educate the secular clergy. By the early 19th Century the monastic regime was reduced to one quarter of what it used to be. The final blow was the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, which made concessions to the diocesan regime, but further restricted the religious orders. Archbishop Paul Cullen (1803 – 1829) consolidated the bond of the Irish Catholic Church and Rome. He presided over the Synod of Thurles in 1850, which resulted in stricter church discipline.

During the 19th Century attempts were made by the diocesan clergy to suppress pilgrimages/patterns with little effect. Pilgrimages did in fact decline but this was due to the Famine and social change.

Following the early 20th Century struggle for independence, the Irish Republic gave a diocesan clergy a dominant role in healthcare, education and moral affairs. The diocesan regime also controlled the devotional organisation, e.g. the promotion of Knock.

During the 1960's resulting from the second Vatican Council and Humane Vitae, clerical authority eased and dissention occurred. Counter movements developed, as did other fields of religious experience outside the control of the diocesan clergy. In 1980's the phenomenon of moving statues came about, although the question remains why at that time?

Ardmore As A Devotional Centre
The Development of Ardmore as a Devotional Centre.

St. Declan founded his seminary at Ardmore and from this centre he converted the Decies. Little information is available on the Christian settlement in Ireland before the arrival of St. Patrick. The Patron Saint of Ireland would certainly be lacking in authority if it should transpire that other saints had been spreading Christianity before him. It is not surprising therefore, that there is no reference to St. Declan in the life of St. Patrick.

The Annals of Innisfailen of the year 1203 read "Mael Etáin Ua Duib Rátha, noble priest of Ard Mór died after finishing the building of the church of Ard Mór." Literature varies in opinion as to weather this refers to Temple Dysert or the Cathedral. It is possible that the 12th Century, when many old churches belonging to monastic parishes were confiscated under diocesan rule. Temple Dysert, St. Declan's retreat, became the new parish church. The absence of any information about Ardmore in the archives seems connected with the power struggle between the monastery and the diocesan regime.

The earliest reference to the Pattern in Ardmore can be found in the calendar of State Papers of June 12th 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 form the centre of the festivities on St. Declan's Day. The parish priest's, now of diocesan origin, are at odds with the devotional organisation."

From about 1800 on, the pilgrimage is shifted slightly as the effects of the diocesan regime become noticeable at local level. The rituals around St. Declan's Stone and Oratory disappear quietly. The little black stone amulet "Duibhin Deaglan" and the Saint's miracle working, 'Staff' vanished. The rounds at the Holy Well are now the central feature of the Pattern – cults involving water are more adaptable to Christian doctrine. Attempts to suppress the Pattern on grounds of pagan practices had failed at Ardmore as elsewhere. In 1900 a few thousand pilgrims are still visiting Ardmore on the 24th July.

From the early 1900's the records start mentioning that the main gathering takes place on 'Pattern Sunday' – the Sunday nearest the 24th July, Canon Power says that under a kind of ecclesiastical semi-approval a revival of the celebration commenced. Fr. John Walsh P.P. obtained an indulgence in 1903 from the Holy See for the celebration in the church. These services ceased after some years however. It is possible that the midnight vigil on the eve of the 24th July developed as a reaction to this.

St. Declan's Well at Toor near Clashmore is a recent phenomenon. The origins of the Well are rather vague and it is not mentioned in any of the literature. Various cures have been attributed to it, and the Saint is reputed to have quenched his thirst there en route to Cashel, although it is some distance from St. Declan's Road. The area is now landscaped and has a Lourdes like appearance. The celebration of Mass there since 1951 has effectively made it a diocesan approved devotion.

Acknowledgement: The Author wishes to thank Mr. Vincent Comerford of Maynooth College, and all in Ardmore who helped her while researching this project including Josie Lincoln and James T. Quain.

Scanned by: Ursula Ansell

Text by: José Komen 

Author: Siobhán Lincoln

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