By Ann Marie Foley - 10 September, 2013
Up to 10,000 people descended on the village of Ballyheigue in Co Kerry for its annual celebration of Pattern Day on Sunday 8 September.
“It went very well. It is a long tradition – St Mary’s well, St Mary’s church, in St Mary’s parish,” Fr Tom Leane, PP, told Catholidireland.net. “The day was fine, and the crowd was great, with thousands here.”
He explained that in the old days the holy well was very secluded, but even if there is a road near it now it is still a peaceful place.
Mass was celebrated here as far back as penal times. It was in 1933 that the current tradition of celebrating Mass for pattern day was introduced by the then parish priest, Fr Behan.
Over the years since, successive bishops have celebrated Mass and this year the new Bishop of Kerry, Bishop Raymond Browne made his first visit.
“It is a time when all Ballyheigue people come back. Wherever they are, they try to come back for pattern day, lá an phátrúin, day of the patron. I believe the only thing comparable to Ballyheigue would be Our Lady’s Island which is of the same magnitude. A lot of pattern days have fallen or maybe have gone very small compared to Ballyheigue,” Fr Tom Leane explained.
The day coincides with Our Lady’s birthday on 8th September. Water from the well is regarded as having special properties and people can drink it or take some home.
The celebrations around pattern day go on for a week with people doing ‘rounds’ and saying special prayers while visiting the well. It is also a social event for the townspeople and traders move in to sell their wares for the week.
“It is a novena tradition for Ballyheigue people, the older people, and the younger ones too – they look forward to it. It is also a festival, it marks the end of summer and going back to school and it is a time when they all meet, and they come home – brothers and sisters. And they meet their own friends so there is a great community bond there,” said Fr Leane.
Fr Danny Broderick and 25 of his parishioners have their own tradition. They set off at 6 am from the Dominican Church in Tralee on a camino.
Along the way they prayed the rosary and other prayers during their pilgrimage walk to Ballyheigue for the annual Mass at the holy well at 11am.