British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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330                                      MIDSUMMER DAY.                          [JUNE 24*
witnessing the religious assemblies and ceremonies of the peasantry. The scenery of Gougaun lake is bold and rugged, surrounded by rocky and barren mountains; in its centre is a small and solitary island, connected with the shore by a narrow artificial causeway, constructed to facilitate the rites of religious devotees, who annually flock thither on the 24th June (St. John's Day), and the celebra­tion of a pious festival. The principal building on the island is a rudely formed circular wall of considerable solidity, in the thickness of which are nine arched recesses or cells, called chapels, severally dedicated to particular saints, with a plain flag-stone set up in each as an altar.
On the celebration of the religious meeting these cells are filled with men and women in various acts of devotion, almost all of them on their knees. Croker, in his Researches in the South of Ireland (1824, p. 275), describing one of these pilgrimages, says: To a piece of rusty iron con­siderable importance seems to have been attached ; it passed from one devotee to another with much ceremony. The form consisted in placing it three times, with a short prayer* across the head of the nearest person to whom it was then handed, and who went through the same ceremony with the next to him, and thus it circulated from one to the other. The banks of the lake were the scenes of merry­making. Almost every tent had its piper, two or thr young men and women dancing the jig.
* " Copy of the prayer to be said at the well of St. John.—' Almighty God, as I have undertaken this journey by way of pilgrimage in and through a penitential spirit, in the first place I hope to render myself worthy of the favour I mean to ask, to avoid drunkenness and licentiousness, and hope to find favour in thy sight; I therefore pay this tribute and fulfil the promise I have made; I ask you therefore, through the intercession of St. John, to grant me the following favour (here mention your ailment, the particular favour you stand in need of)- I know how unworthy I am of being heard, but I resolve, with thy gracious assistance, henceforward to render myself worthy of your favour. I implore this gift through the intercession of St. John, and the sufferings of Christ our Lord. Amen.'
"N.B. You must be careful to avoid all excess in drinking, dancing in tents, for it is impossible characters can find favour in the sight of God, such as these. Fasting going there had formerly been the custom."
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