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St Moling’s Pilgrim’s Route

Location St Mullins, Co. Carlow
Categories Social practices, rituals and festive events
Oral traditions and expressions, including language
Keywords Religion, pilgrimage
Contact organisation SMART (St. Mullins Amenity & Recreational Tourism) Group Lt

St Moling’s Pilgrim’s Route is a devotional practice and water-based ritual, performed in honour of St. Moling around the annual Pattern Day, (Sunday nearest to St. James’s Day, July 25). It has its beginnings in the rich cultural heritage of the Early Medieval period in Ireland. It is significant that this tradition has survived over a thousand years as a continuing and evolving practice embedded in the local community.

Background information

The Pilgrim Route is associated with the early 7th century ecclesiastical complex situated on high ground above the east bank of the river Barrow in south Co. Carlow founded by St. Moling (614 – 696). The “pilgrimage” is performed in supplication to the saint, seeking the miraculous curative power of the water from the ancient well.

Ritual Observance of the Pilgrimage:

  1. Pilgrims enter by path from existing road.
  2. They continue to the Blessed Well (Tiopra), a roofless stone structure enclosing the well, which is fed by an upper pool that contains several springs. Recent research by T. O’Carragáin “Churches in Early Medieval Ireland” (Yale University Press 2010, p199 – 208), shows this to be the remains of a baptismal chapel, built c.1100, as part of the regularizing of baptismal practices in the Irish church.
  3. Pilgrims circumambulate the Tiopra and the pool of springs praying all the time.
  4. They enter the Tacarda (wading stream, channel of water from Blessed Well to river Aughavaud) barefoot and wade the water against the flow back to the Blessed well.
  5. Walking close to the field boundary formally marked by a path, they cross the river Aughavaud near the monastic site and 18th century millrace. There is a place at the river where pilgrims used to cross on stepping stones. These are still visible.
  6. Once across the millrace, pilgrims ascend the steep ground towards a set of stone steps that led to the monastic site.
  7. They then pray around the ancient granite high cross.
  8. Moving eastwards, further rituals are observed at the tiny ruined oratory known as St. James’s Cell, (Patron saint of Pilgrims).
  9. Walking and praying around each ruin in the monastic site three times, the pilgrimage ends in Teampall Mor, which is held to be the burial place of St. Moling.

A slightly different route for this pilgrimage was well documented at the time of the Black Death (1348) by a Franciscan friar, John Clynn of Kilkenny when he described the hordes of people who thronged to St. Mullins in search of a cure or protection from plague at that time.

Practice and practitioners

The pilgrimage as originated by St. Moling when he consecrated his millrace on the Feast of St. James (July 25), c. 650 has been modified through the centuries. On that day St. Moling promised “healing of mind and body” to all who made the pilgrimage and waded the water “against the flow”. Oral and written tradition has insured that this promise has never been forgotten by the people of St. Mullins and district.

During the 1970’s to the mid 1990’s wooden footbridges across the river Aughvaud and the 18th C millrace allowed pilgrims to pass to the higher ground of the monastic site. These were dilapidated and removed for reasons of safety and complicated land ownership in the mid 1990’s. Since then doing the full pilgrimage has been curtailed. Many people still do a modified version of the pilgrimage centered on the Blessed well and the monastic ruins.

Many local people continue to do this pilgrimage, as do many people with St. Mullins connections living abroad. It is still done to petition St. Moling for cures for various sicknesses, cures for ailments of the head for safe-keeping and in thanksgiving. Water from St. Moling’s well is requested all over the world by the St. Mullins diaspora and is regularly taken to local hospitals, so strong is the belief in the cure still.

Development, transmission and safeguarding

The authenticity of the ritual is not in doubt due to the extensive evidence in the medieval literature and in the local archaeology. It has been a living tradition for a thousand years as a continuing and evolving practice embedded in the local community. This tradition is reinforced every year as the feast day of St. Moling, (June 17), and the annual Pattern Day, (Sunday nearest July 25) are celebrated in St. Mullins. The pilgrimage is kept alive by the many emigrants and people with St. Mullins connections who regularly return to take part in the traditional pilgrimage. Young children learn about the tradition by participating in a special open-air

children’s Mass for the Feast of St. Moling and preparing for and attending the annual Pattern each year.

The community has persisted in the belief of the curative powers to be obtained from doing the pilgrimage ritual. They took on the role of custodians of the traditional culture and continue to act in this role. For the past twenty years, SMART Ltd has availed of every opportunity to highlight and promote the pilgrimage. This included publication of a Heritage Trail Booklet (1996), guided walks of the route for Heritage Week, explanation of the customs and rituals for those attending the Gathering (2013), the Ireland-Newfoundland Connections visit (2014), various historical society tours. A brochure on St. Mullins by Archaeology Ireland, Heritage Guide No.5 was published in 1999. A leaflet entitled St. Moling’s Millrace – An extraordinary heritage in South Carlow (2013), was compiled by Rev. Fr. E. Aughney, P.P. St. Mullins.

Contact organisation

SMART (St. Mullins Amenity & Recreational Tourism) Group Ltd