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?
The unofficial custodian
Eoin Downing is 85, and he is the unofficial custodian of the pattern sites, as both the mound and what remains of the lake are on his land. In his farmhouse after the pattern Mass, over ham and tomatoes, he recalls his earliest memories of the stories he heard about doing a pattern of the lake. He remembers when the lake was the “size of quarter of an acre”. Now, it is the size of his small kitchen.
“I used to hear about the woman who was blind, and her husband took her to the lake to the do the rounds. And didn’t she get her sight back, and what she saw first was a priest,” he says.
“My mother told me her mother told her that horses and carts used to be lined up near the field on pattern day. You’d be coming a long way, if you had a horse and cart. That was long before cars. They didn’t come for nothing. It’s hard to explain what brought people. Maybe they thought they’d be cured of something. They do the pattern because it’s tradition.”
Like many long-standing rituals, people who observe them generally don’t tend to question why they do so. Puzzlement descends over everyone I ask in Kilmakilloge as to why they continue to make the pattern-day rounds. These are some of the answers I received over the evening.
“It’s what we’ve always done.”
“People travelled long distances to come here for the pattern, so there must be something in it.”
“Everyone takes their own meaning from it.”
“Isn’t it like doing the Camino: people do these things because there is some spiritual meaning in it for them?”
“Whatever it is, it’s not Christian at all, it’s pure pagan.”
“It’s about respect.”
“It’s our local tradition.”
Deep grooves in stone
After talking to Eoin Downing, I go back to the field where people had been doing their pattern rounds all day. The grooves of both stones with the deeply carved crosses in them are newly white with fresh markings. The grooves are the depth of my finger. They bring to mind the dip of spiral stone steps at castles, where centuries of treading feet have gradually worn away solid stone to show that people have long passed that way.