Canon Power says, "The Pattern of Ardmore was perhaps the most remarkable celebration of its kind in Ireland and certainly the most ancient and notable popular assembly in Decies." This is fitting, considering St. Declan's Well is the most ancient christian settlement on this Island.
A first-hand account of the Pattern in Ardmore was given by 'a gentleman of high attainments and undoubted veracity' to Mr & Mrs Hall, who toured the country in 1838 and 1840. After coming up to the Well the people knelt down and said their prayers. At twenty different periods, I counted the people as they prayed; they averaged fifty five a minute which gives a total of 12 or 15,000 persons." Eating, drinking and dancing went on down the village so "bloody knees from devotion and bloody heads from fighting is not uncommon". Fr. McGrath, parish priest, suppressed it in the 1830's, but it survived and later on, got ecclesiastical approval.
For generations, Pattern Week has been the highlight of the year in Ardmore. People aimed to have their whitewashing and general tidy-up done before the Pattern. Children looked forward to getting their Pattern Fayrin (féirín, present). It was exciting going down to see all the stalls and hurdy gurdies, which seemed to fill the lower end of the street. The public houses were of course full and there was a dancing platform out in Rooney's yard (An Tobar now) and also in Harris' garden. People would have gone up to do the Rounds before this, gone under St. Declan's Stone and paid a visit to St. Declan's grave in the Beannachán.
Clodagh Anson (now deceased) says in her article 'Ansons at Ardmore' in the Ardmore Journal 1988 "We always looked forward to Pattern Sunday with the bands and stalls and people crawling under St. Declan's Stone. We watched from our drawing room window thinking someone very fat might try, and get stuck." This would have been in the early years of the century, and they were watching from the house now known as Stella Maris.
In Tigaluinn (my home) as in other places, teas were served and I remember in the 30's and 40's, being run off our feet all the evening. One of the girls helping in the house was from Limerick and when she saw all the food supplies being brought in, beforehand, she asked in bewilderment, "How long does the Pattern Last?" One had to be careful to put supplies aside for the breakfast next morning. Another point to be noted, was, that home-made bread was not served to the Pattern visitors; they had too much of that at home. We were visited not alone by paying customers but by relations from surrounding parishes, whom we hadn't met since the previous Pattern.
Pat Ormond, The Square, Dungarvan, talks of the family outings there. He also talks of his grandmother and others walking from Dungarvan to Ardmore, up Towlers Glen and the old short cut which emerged at the Seanchaí and on to Ardmore selling what he thought was probably dried hake. They walked back again in the evening. My uncle Paddy from the Dungarvan area says anything that had a wheel under it in Dungarvan and Cappoquin went to Ardmore for Pattern Sunday.
Some of the Helvick and Baile na nGall people often made their pilgrimage to Ardmore Pattern by boat.
About 1943 or 1944 the two boats that came were the Comhluadar and the Betsie with about 14 to 15 people in each boat. On that particular occasion one of the boats, because of bad weather conditions, could not manage to get into Ardmore Bay and had to continue right around to Youghal, leave the boat at anchor there and return to Ring on foot, a call to Flemings' Pub in Grange being the nearest they got to the Pattern in Ardmore.
The other boat had its adventures too. It went aground at the end of Carraig an Ánn. Paddy Flynn and Jim Quain ferried the passengers to the pier; P.J. Morrissey from Dungarvan stayed on board and endeavoured to start the boat, but sometime in the middle of the night signalled for help and in response, Dan Gallagher the local sergeant, disturbed the slumbers of Jack Brien and Jimmie Rooney. Jimmie had to get a can of petrol and ferry it across, hand over hand by rope, to the boat, a somewhat hazardous undertaking since swimming was not one of his accomplishments. I have had these stories from both Jimmie Rooney and Nioclás Ó Gríobhtháin of Ring. I can't say they tally exactly in the details but 1943 is a long time ago.
At any rate, there were other pilgrimages by boat from Ring to Ardmore Pattern, not usually accompanied by such adventures.
My mother speaks of meeting two men from Kilmacthomas who walked from there and back, spending the night at the Well. She had them down for breakfast in the morning. This happened on at least a few occasions.
There was a Pattern Céilí at Coláiste Dheugláin and tired and sore as our feet were, after the day, we always went over. There was also a dance at Halla Dheugláin.
An announcement (under Local Happenings) in the Dungarvan Observer in 1930 says, "Aeríocht. Ardmore Patron on Sunday next will enjoy a feast of music, song and dance at the aeríocht Céilí to be held in the College grounds. The programme includes pipers bands, contests, tugs of war etc. Three artistes from the Dublin Broadcasting Station will contribute to the programme".
Things are entirely different nowadays. Efforts have been made from time to time to renew the sense of carnival. In 1967 and 1968, there were 3-day events incorporating football, greasy pole contests, wheelbarrow races, scavenging hunts, bands and ballads (Note from Festival Committee: see photos on our Facebook page). The ICA always has something special, like the Antique Fair and afternoon tea.
There was midnight mass at the Well for a few years in succession, with a candlelight procession from the church beforehand. On at least one occasion it was followed by an all-night Vigil, with Fr. Butler carrying the Monstrance at dawn, across the New Line and down to the old cathedral in the graveyard, where we knelt and prayed. It was a very moving experience praying publicly there, after some hundreds of years.
The bogey of insurance has now intervened and mass did not take place last year 1998, but the faithful came and said the traditional prayers there at midnight. The Whelan family and friends from Ballyquin had illuminated the place beautifully with lighted candles in the ground and so the tradition goes on.
A point worthy of note is that the feast of St. Declan was indeed celebrated with special ceremony in the local church, but till about 10/12 years ago when Mass first took place there, the prayers at midnight and any ceremonies at the Well were solely carried out by the laity.
Crowds still come to the Well on Pattern Sunday; a much smaller gathering at midnight on the eve of the feast and people also come and do the Rounds in the evenings during Pattern Week.
This hymn was composed by Tadhg Gaelach Ó Súilleabháin and the tune taken down from Síle Foley of Ardmore. Síle, who was born in 1772, probably learned it from an older generation. The tune could be hundreds of years older than the words. In fact, this tune and the Rounds associated with St. Declan's Pattern Day were thought by a 19th century bishop to be relics of an ancient pagan superstition.
The Bishop came to the beach and ordered a man called Diarmuid Ó Foghlú to break the stone with a sledge. Diarmuid answered, "Tabhair-se féin, a thiarna easpoig an chéad bhuille dí agus brisfidh mé ansan é" ("You hit it first, Your Lordship and then I will break it"). The stone is still on the beach.
Strangely, the tune is an almost perfect canon. It is fanciful to think that this tune evolved from the Rounds themselves, as harmony (or canon) did not exist in Irish tradition. It could have happened like this. As one group of people circled the tower or church, starting the tune as they did, they were likely to be overlapped by other groups who started later. So to avoid absolute cacophony, a song emerged which sounded well, even overlapped on itself i.e. canon. We give the tune here as a strict canon, with ostinato.
Mo ghrá-se mo Dhia, mo Gharda, mo líagh
Mo ghrá gheal, mo Thiarna trócaireach
Mo ghrá mhilis Críost, agus gráim uile chroí
Mo ghrá 's tú Rí na Glóire.
This tune and commentary are unsigned, but it is more than likely they were provided by T. Horgan of Youghal.