Saint Mullins, Co. Carlow is one of Ireland’s most picturesque and hidden gems. Named after St. Moling the founder of the a monastic settlement here in the 7th Century, the valley has been drawing people for both religious and secular reasons for over a thousand years. One of these draws was “The Pattern”, an annual gathering on the Sunday before the 25th of July which was known as “Sum-a-lins” Sunday. This tradition continues to the present day and a description of the range of activities carried out can be found over on the Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland blog. Accounts from the National Folklore Collection describe similar activities a century ago as well as some differences.
Just as today the gathering was known as “The Fair” when people assembled on “The Green”, the area in front of the monastic settlement. They would then proceed either individually or in groups to the holy well where they would wash their heads and drink the water. Some recited the rosary stopping at each of the five stations around the well, one for each mystery. Water was also taken home in jars to be administered to sick family members or animals in the coming year. The well was noted for curing toothache’s headache’s and all head related ailments.
An old mill race said to have been dug by St. Moling himself is located near the site. An account from 1942 describes how people used to walk barefoot along the stream in the bottom of this mill race but that the tradition had died out by the time of recording.
A stroll around the graveyard within the church enclosure today shows that people have been buried here for centuries and is still in use. A century ago, visiting the family grave was a major part of the pattern day. Weeds were trimmed and flowers laid.
Children were treated on the day with sweets and fruits from special stalls. Those with a toothache were instead washed at the holy well for a cure. Dancing was a major part of the day as well as competitions like weight throwing. Some people went down to the River Barrow where they went boating or crossed the river to pick fraughan’s on the Kilkenny side (see some of my earlier posts for more traditions on fraghaun picking in the Blackstairs region). That night country dances were held all across the region with large crowds attending and staying up until morning.
There must have been a lapse in the activity at some stage in the 19th Century as one account collected in The Rower, Kilkenny (1942) stated that it had not taken place for at least 60 years. Weather on the day was renowned for being particularly wet and misty and noted in all accounts.
The last Sunday in July (tomorrow) was known as “Mountain Sunday” in the Blackstairs region. This was a hugely important festival in the Blackstairs region with many detailed accounts given to the National Folklore Collection, a post on which will appear tomorrow.
National Folklore Collection Main Manuscript 890, page 413-431. Information collected by Tomas O Riain in December 1942.
National Folklore Collection Main Manuscript 890, page 577-579. Information collected by Labaoise Nic Liaim from Bean Uí Matúin, The Rower, Co. Kilkenny in October 1942.
National Folklore Collection Main Manuscript 946, page 95-98. Information collected by P. O’Leary, Graiguenamanagh, Kilkenny from Cormac O Riain, Newtown Borris in February 1943.