The pattern or feast of the patron saint of an area was once an integral part of popular religious practice in every parish. An ancient institution, it was associated with holy wells and cemeteries and usually included Mass. It was a great festive occasion, so much so that in 1629 David Rothe was worried about the outcome of a Government inquiry ordered in the wake of a recent pattern celebration in his diocese. One of the best known patterns was that of St. John’s Well on 24th June which attracted people in great numbers from far and near. In the second half of the 18th century, various edicts were issued designed to distance the church from these occasions that were frequently marked by faction fighting and intemperance. The patterns continued into the following century and the demise of many only came in the quarter century or so before the famine. Some survived and a number were renewed albeit in a different form later in the 19th century and even in recent years.
One of the oldest patterns in the diocese is that of St. Moling at Mullinakill. Suspended in 1867, it was revived not long afterwards and is still celebrated annually on the first Sunday after the 20th August, the feast of St. Bernard. The ceremonies are ancient – the taking up a stone from the stream feeding the well and leaving it on the altar (symbolizing the leaving behind of a burden), doing rounds of the well, stopping at various stations, saying prescribed prayers including the rosary. By the well is an ancient alder tree from which people take twigs as a protection against fire and shipwreck.
Other places of pilgrimage include Lady Well in the parish of Ballyragget which has increased in popularity over recent years. The pattern falls on 15th August and people come there until 8th September for various devotions which include Mass and the rosary. St. Fiacre’s well is a celebrated holy well where public devotions were carried out up to the early part of the 19th century and which has been revived in recent years.
Seir Kieran is perhaps the most important pilgrimage site in the diocese. It celebrates the patron of the diocese on 5th March which is a day of special devotion for the people of the locality. The procession is the highlight of the celebration. After Mass everybody goes from the church to the well, round which two decades of the rosary are recited. The well is blessed and all drink from its waters.
The next station is St. Kieran’s Bush, where the rosary is continued, and the last is the monastic site where the final decade is said and a hymn sung. During the octave people continue to visit the well, reciting the rosary and making the rounds. The climax of the celebrations is reached on the Sunday after the feast when crowds come to follow the processional route and recite the rosary. The pattern at Kennyswell in Kilkenny City has been revived even more recently