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?
Both these photographs come from Tuosist 6000, an anthology of local history, published in 1999 by the Tuosist History and Newsletter Committee. The book also contains several period accounts of pattern day. One of these is by John O’Donoghue, and thought to date from some 70 years ago.
After O’Donoghue had done his rounds and made his mark with a sharp stone on the “big stone on which countless generations of people before me had cut the Sign of the Cross”, he cycled down to Kilmakilloge. Tents were serving food and porter.
“I could hear the pleasant hum of music as I came near the pier and when I got there the dances had already started on the road. I saw the heads of young people hopping up and down as they tripped it out together . . . Further out on the pier were groups of young people dancing to the music of melodeons and concertinas.”
Back in the present, Jim O’Sullivan is sitting by the pierside where, decades previously, hundreds had gathered to dance on this date. O’Sullivan recalls the excitement of his childhood, in the days leading up to the pattern, when fairground-style attractions were set up. “I remember wanting to get out of school to go on the swingboats,” he says. “People used to come over from Sneem by boat for the pattern.”
A pattern Mass has now become part of the modern-day rituals, with people doing their rounds either before or after the Mass.
This year the pattern Mass takes place at 8pm, at the picturesque site of the old ruined church at Kilmakilloge, a mile or so inland from the pier.
An audience of hundreds
From 7pm onwards, hundreds come; on foot, by bike, in cars. Under blue, hot skies that glaze the landscape with haze, two stewards direct traffic, with cars parked three-deep in the small carpark, and all along the road either side.
In the beautifully kept Kilmakilloge cemetery, people wait for the Mass to start. They quietly line the walls, and stand or sit companionably beside the graves of deceased family members. Half a dozen names are repeated on headstones, over and over: O’Sullivan, O’Shea, Healy, McCarthy, Sheehan, Harrington.
Children lie on rugs on the lawn. The strata in the distinctive red sandstone mountain of Knockatee curves like petrified waves in the distance.
This year, the pattern Mass is concelebrated by Fr Martin Sheehan, parish priest, and Fr Ted Harrington. Starting the Mass, Fr Sheehan says: “Heaven and Earth meet here in our graveyard.” He pays warm tribute to what he described as “our lovely community”.