Thursday 21 July 2016

St Patrick's Chair and Well ... a place of pagan wonder ...

The other day we headed off in search of an ancient druid site, where some of the old magic still lives on in the dappled light of the forest floor. Like many of Ireland's pre-Christian sites it had to reinvent itself when St. Patrick brought Christianity to these shores, but it was a fairly simple process. A few tweaks here and there and the new order was born.

Saint Patrick's early disciples carried on their missionary work from nearby Clogher and slowly, slowly they drove out the old ways, but you can still hear echoes of the pagan past here in the quiet shadows of Altadaven Glen, where they've rebranded the Druid's Chair and the mystical well that never runs dry as St. Patrick's Chair and Well. Whether or not St. Patrick ever made it out here to sit on his chair or drink from his holy well is unknown to the annals of recorded history.

The glen is to be found in what is now known as the People's Millennium Forest, but back in the day was part of the old Favour Royal Demesne, so named because it formed a grant from King James I in 1611 to one of his supporters, Sir Thomas Ridgeway.

The druids never committed much to paper, but the folk hereabouts believe that this was a place where they came to worship, and that the mighty throne, standing 2 metres (8 foot) high, and carved from a huge boulder of local stone, was intricate to their rituals. 

The throne sits on the shoulder of a steep hill, and there's another story that St Patrick came here and banished a few badly-behaved, marauding demons from up there on the ridge, back down the cliff, and into the fiery pits of hell.  Altadaven is an anglicisation from the Gaelic for the Demons' Cliff

The well, just below the throne, is said to never run dry. When we were there on the hottest day of summer it was pleasantly filled with water. In reality the well is a bullaun depression sculpted into the rock of another huge boulder. And to this day the local people believe in its special healing properties.

There are accounts into the modern era of this place being used to celebrate Lughnasadh, or Lammastide, the ancient Celtic Festival that celebrated the beginning of the harvest. 

Next to the well are two rag trees, where people tie a scrap of cloth to anchor their prayers for healing. Devotional pictures of the Virgin Mary, do little to tie this into the Christian tradition. Like just about everything else in Altadaven Glen, it resonates with an earlier belief-system rooted way back in our ancient past.

The last Sunday in July has traditionally been celebrated hereabouts as Blaeberry Sunday, when people would traditionally go out and harvest blaeberries, better known outside of Ireland as bilberries, the wild European blueberries, that grow in wetlands and on the damp floor of the forest here in Altadaven. No doubt in times past our ancestors would have come here to gather blaeberries as part of their Lughnasadh harvest festivals in late July/ early August. We picked a few in passing, and enjoyed their contradiction of tart and sweetness as we walked along the forest paths.

I'm not much of an expert on the druids or on my early Celtic ancestors, but even I have to admit that there's a special sort of energy here. It's a place where the world of reality seems to meet the realms of magic and maybe. Standing in the great cathedral of trees you can just about believe in the other world. In fact it feels as though you could almost reach out and touch it ...  

And on an uncharacteristically hot summer's day when the mercury was rising there was a beautiful fresh coolness to be found under those trees. 

If you'd like to come and visit for yourself you can find the details here: Altadaven Standing Stones.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

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