Pattern Mass: a centuries-old tradition carved in stone
The annual pattern Mass at Kilmakilloge on the Beara Peninsula – part ancient spiritual ritual, part secular knees-up – brings people in their hordes each year. What keeps them coming back?
Fr Martin Sheehan distributing Communion at the annual Kilmakilloge pattern Mass. Photograph: Frank Miller
There is no sign along the twisting coast road on the northern Beara Peninsula that indicates the significance that lies in a field about half a mile from Kilmakilloge Harbour. Yet the high mound of stones woven together with grass that is on farmer Eoin Downing’s land in the parish of Tuosist has attracted believers to it for hundreds of years.
This is where people come to make a pattern in honour of St Kilian, their local saint, on July 8th each year. People make five “rounds” of the mound, which is believed to be the ruins of an old oratory. They pause when they have completed these rounds to add their infinitesimally small double strokes to the two flat stones that lie partially buried on either side of the mound. Over the generations, a cross has been carved into each stone by people doing rounds, who make the shape with a sharp pebble.
In this field also, there used to be a small lake with “floating tussocks” in it: lumps of vegetation that came adrift from time to time and moved around the lake, to the mystification and respect of locals. This lake was reputed to have healing powers, and rounds were done of that also, on pattern day. Today, time has knitted the vegetation together, and while water remains, you could no longer describe it as a lake, and the former floating tussocks are now firmly fixed in place.
‘Our parents did it. It’s tradition’
And yet, local people of Tuosist parish, such as Helen and Jeremiah McCarthy, still come each year and do their ritual pattern-day rounds. Helen struggles to explain why. “Our grandparents did it. Our parents did it. It’s tradition,” she says. She keeps searching for other words to describe what pulls her to pattern day each year, but “tradition” is the only one that keeps recurring, mantra-like.
Kilmakilloge is a tiny place, overlooking a pier and harbour. Its focal point is Helen Moriarty’s charming old bar, with rooms above, a landmark premises that has been there for generations. The bar, the pier and the road that leads to the harbour have always been important parts of pattern day, in what used to be called the “secular” part of the pattern.
Celebrating the pattern of St Kilian used to be a three-day event. People set up stalls selling food and porter along the pier, and musicians came from the Iveragh peninsula by boat to play on the pier, where people danced in their best clothes.
There is a photograph dating from 1917 that show throngs of people outside what is now Helen Moriarty’s bar, with tents in the background, at the secular pattern. There is another showing elegant women formally dressed in hats and long skirts dancing on the pier: they look as if they could be in a ballroom.