History of the Pattern in Brideswell
(summarised from Brideswell Pattern Committee Commerorative Booklet Celebrating Fifty Years of Mass at St. Brigid’s Well 1957 – 2007)
The Celts divided their year into two main seasons summer and winter, both marked by 2 festivals, giving the standard 4 seasons. Summer began with Bealtaine or May day and reached its point of celebration at Lughnasa, while winter began with Samhain, and changed to Spring at a feast called Imbolg.
The festival of Lughnasa is the origin of the assembly at Brideswell down through the centuries. The date of the festival has always been about the 1st of August, and for reasons including the influence of Christianity, the celebration moved to the Sunday before the 1st of August, namely Garland Sunday.
For centuries now people have assembled at Brideswell without any consciousness of an ancient celebration of a Celtic God, but to honour the patron saint of the parish, St. Brigid. The success of the spread of Christianity in Ireland owes a lot probably to the fact that the old pagan festivals such as Lughnasa became Christianised at an early stage and apparently without much opposition as Christian heroes or heroines like St. Brigid took the place of their pagan predecessors.
It is quite possible that the assembly at the well of Brideswell was essentially a Christian celebration from the 6th century onwards, as the cult of St. Brigid is known to have spread rapidly throughout Ireland. It is from these early centuries of Christianity that we get the traditional stations which used to be said at Brideswell, involving as it does the repetition of prayers and the walking around the mounds/cairns or rocks, which marked the seven stations. The recitation of the Rosary at the stations is probably no older than the revival of the pattern in the 1950s under the guidance of Fr Brendan Fitzmaurice.
In the early 17th century Brideswell had its most famous visitor in the person of Sir randall McDonnell, later the first Earl of Antrim who erected a bathing enclosure or chapel in thanksgiving for favours received and a plaque bearing his name and Arms and the date 1625. These have luckily survived until now, and they show that the pilgrimage was well established nationally by the early 17th century
In these difficult times the church gave its official approval to the pattern by granting a plenary indulgence to all who visited there on the last Sunday of July, this was done in 1661 at the same time the same privilege was granted to Croagh Patrick. A further indulgence was granted to Brideswell in 1670 following a petition from the Irish bishops which recalled a fourteenth century indulgence. The church probably wanted to give its blessing to this traditional celebration of the faith when it was becoming difficult for the faithful to attend mass or receive the sacraments with ease.
An indication of the continuing assembly for the Pattern in Brideswell on the last Sunday of July is to be found in the granting of a patent to hold a fair there in 1682. The patent was granted on 11thMay 1682, to Henry Dowdell to hold a fair in Brideswell on the Friday and Saturday before the last Sunday of July. The patent refers to the village as TubberBredy. This fair was in later years held on 8th August as a result of changes in the calendar.
The Pattern never died out. It continued to take place each year with little change until the mid-twentieth century. The village was visited by a number of traders and street entertainers who provided diversion for the younger people. Adults gathered to meet friends in the local public houses. The traditional stations continued to be performed by a small number of people throughout the day and in the days leading to 15 August.
The Pattern was revived in 1957 by Rev. B Fitzmaurice and the first Pattern Committee and others. They set about having a statue of St Brigid erected near the well. Fr Fitzmaurice arranged for mass to be said at the site on Garland Sunday 1957 and this was followed by the blessing of the statue by the parish priest of Kiltoom and Cam, Very Rev. Fr William Larkin, in the presence of a large gathering of people. The village was decorated for the occasion and there was a big influx of people.
The increased attendance at the Pattern once the mass became established as the central feature of the day led to an increase in the number of traders who found it profitable to attend at the Pattern. A pattern committee was established under the guidance of Fr Fitzmaurice and his successors to oversee the arrangements for the Pattern. The well and surrounding areas were made tidy and clean each year for the celebration and an altar and canopy were provided for the celebration of mass at midday. The mass was followed by devotions at 4pm and usually attracted a much smaller crowd.
People from the parish and surrounding areas made the Pattern a special part of their summer. It was a very special day for school children who had an opportunity to meet friends mid-way through their summer holidays and many emigrants organised their visit home around the Pattern.
The 1992 Pattern was a special occasion when Most Rev Emmanuel Gerada Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland attended. The bishop of Elphin Most Rev Dr Dominic Conway also attended and there were 9 priests at the mass that year. A plaque was added to the base of the statue to mark the event.
In 1995 the newly ordained Bishop of Elphin Most Rev Christopher Jones was the chief celebrant of the mass. A good deal of improvements had taken place that year prior to the Pattern. This was the first year of Celtic Music Festival which brought larger crowds to the village and the Pattern. However, by 2000 the Pattern was again the only event in the village of Brideswell as the Celtic Music Festival had moved to another venue.
In the years since, the Pattern committee have continued to work together to organise the event, with the progression this year to a three day event running from Friday 27th July to Sunday 29th July.