St Gobnait

Gobnait is one of the best loved local saints in the areas where her cult is strong yet she remains relatively unknown in many other places. Her feastday the 11th of February has been added to the national calendar this year, she is among a group of Irish saints whose feastday has been given national rather than just local recognition. This revised calendar follows the confirmation by the Congrgation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome of the calendar submitted to it by the Irish Bishops (cf. Note 29,Liturgical Calendar for Ireland 1998/1999, Veritas, 1998, p.20).


In this revision there is much more focus on the Irish saints in the calendar used day by day in the Irish Church, the various diocesan saints have had their days marked for general celebration throughout the country. Ita, Kevin, Ciaran and Malachy, representing the four 
provinces, have been given special attention and prominence.

The Irish Martyrs have also been given prominence and a fuller list has been made available. Fursa, David, Aengus, Enda, Damhnait, Moninne, Willibrord, Aidan of Lindisfarne and Fergal as well as Gobnait, have been added to the national calendar. The note in the Liturgical Calendar also mentions that proper texts for the Mass for these days have been prepared by the Irish Episcopal Commission for Liturgy and are presently with the Congregation in Rome awaiting approval.
The main centres of devotion to Gobnait are Inis Oírr (Aran Islands), Dún Chaoin in West Kerry and Baile Bhúirne near the Cork / Kerry border. There are a number of other places which carry her name – often as Kilgobnet or Cill Ghobnait – near Dungarvan and Milltown in Co. Kerry for example. All of these sites carry a link to the story of Gobnait and the journey undertaken by her to seek “the place of her resurrection”. 
I am not sure what happens these days on Inis Oírr or at the lesser known sites but the 11th of February is the pattern day in Dún Chaoin and in Baile Bhúirne, the day is marked as a holiday/holy day in the two parishes.
In Dún Chaoin there is Mass at 10:00 in Séipéal N. Ghobnait and the rounds are paid afterwards at Tobar Gobnatan and Cill Gobnatan (Ceathrú an Fheirtéaraigh). This time of the year often brings rather inclement weather, there is also a tradition of paying the rounds on Easter Sunday.
Tradition records that people came from the surrounding parishes and from the Blaskest to the pattern. Micheál Ó Gaoithín recorded that there was formerly a fair on the Pattern day and that the drinking and selling went on for three days but that this finally ended due to clerical opposition. Ó Gaoithín also tells us that one PP was very strongly opposed to the Pattern, this upset the locals who argued with him, he cursed the people of Dunquin and they responded by throwing him over a cliff!
A number of Masses are celebrated in Baile Bhúirne (at 11:00, 4:00 and 8:00 , check locally!) and the rounds are paid at Cill Gobnatan (the main site associated with Gobnait which contains the graveyard wherein Seán Ó Riada and Seán Ó Ríordáin are buried). There has been a tradition among the people of keeping vigil in the old church at Cill Gobnatan overnight on the eve of the feast. Rounds are also paid here all through the year, the site is very well maintained and the traditional rounds are clearly marked. Information plaques and a map of the site and the rounds are available both here and at Tobar Gobnatan. There is a tradition, in the case of a special intention, of paying the rounds each day over twenty one successive days at the end of which one cleans out the well and goes to Mass and Holy Communion.

In 1601 Pope Clement VIII granted a special indulgence to those who, on Gobnait’s day, visited the parish church, went to Confession and Communion and who prayed for peace among ‘Christian princes’ , expulsion of heresy and the exaltation of the church. There is a copy of this grant in the Carew Papers.
A medieval wooden image of Gobnait, kept traditionally in a drawer in the church during the year, is venerated in the parish church on this day. The devotion is known as the tomhas Gobnatan . People bring a ribbon with them and ‘measure’ the statue from top to bottom and around its circumference. This ribbon is then brought home and is used when people get sick or for some special blessing. The statue is thought to belong to the 13th c. A second pattern in honour of Gobnait was traditionally celebrated in Baile Bhúirne at Whit.
An area known as “St. Gobnait’s House” at Cill Gobnatan was excavated in 1951, before the erection of the statue of Gobnait by Séamus Murphy, an account of which is found in the Journal of the Cork Archaeological and historical Society , Vol. LVII, No.185, Jan-June 1952, 18-40).

Only traditions survive in relation to the story of Gobnait. John Colgan OFM (1592-1658), one of the great collectors of Lives and material about the Irish Saints, referred to a Life of Gobnait which was, he claimed, available in the South Munster area in his own time but there is now no trace of this.Tradition records that Gobnait left her native Clare to escape some enemy and went to Inis Oírr where an early medieval oratory dedicated to her is extant on the north side of the island near the shore (cf. Archaeological Inventory of County Galway (West Galway), BÁC, 1993, p.96 No. 552, it is known locally as Cill Ghobnait). While on Inis Oírr an angel appeared to her and told her that the “place of her resurrection” was not to be there but in the place where she would find nine white deer grazing. Gobnait then left Inis Oírr and travelled through the southern, coastal counties – Kerry, Cork and Waterford.

The foundations associated with her mark her various stops in her search for the nine deer. These places include Dún Chaoin as mentioned, Kilgobnet near Dungarvan and Kilgobnet (between the MacGillicuddy Reeks and the Laune, accessible from the Killorglin / Beaufort Road on the southern side of the Laune; it is interesting to note that this Kilgobnet is also said to have been the original site of the Lughnasa festival now held in Killorglin – Puck Fair! cf. Máire Mac Neill, The Festival of Lughnasa , Oxford, 1962, 299). At various stages of her journey Gobnait met white deer – three at Clondrohid and six at Baile Mhic Íre – but it was only when she crossed the Sullane river that she found the nine as foretold at Baile Bhúirne. This place, on a rise overlooking the Sullane and looking towards the Derrynasaggart hills was where she settled, died and was buried “to await her resurrection”.

She is regarded as the great protector of Baile Bhúirne and is much associated with healing. One story tells of how she cured one of her nuns who was sick and how she kept the plague away from Baile Bhúirne by drawing a line along the eastern borders of the parish with her stick beyond which the plague never came. Many accounts exist of how Gobnait prevented invaders (said to have been O’Donoghues of the Glens) from carrying off the cattle – on their approach she let loose the bees from her hives and they attacked the invaders, forcing them to flee. One version of the tale has the beehive turning into a bronze helmet and the bees themselves turning into soldiers. It is said that it was the O’Herlihys who sought her help and that they handed down the bronze helmet from one generation to the next as a great source of protection. M.T. Kelly, writing in the JCHAS , Vol.III No. 25. (1897), p.102 , suggests that Windele had come across accounts of this helmet but that it had been lost somewhere in Kerry. Another version has the beehive turning into a bell which then became Gobnait’s bell.
Another story is told of how, during her lifetime, foreigners came intent on building a castle in Baile Bhúirne. but that the locals opposed this (reminiscent of more recent times and rows over development!). Every night after the builders had left the saint knocked down their building by throwing her bell at the castle. Eventually they gave up, the site, ‘Carraig an Chaisleáin’ is still pointed out as proof of the power of Gobnait. Another version of this tale has Gobnait casting a stone ball at the castle each night. This ball is now said to be the one in the wall of the medieval church and can be seen on the rounds.

Not far from Baile Bhúirne we find that Gobnait is part of a different tradition from that celebrated at the major Gobnait sites.In the area around the foot of the Paps she is venerated as one of three sister saints, this veneration extends to the modern parishes of Rathmore/Knocknagree, Milllstreet/Cullen, Dromtariffe and Ballydesmond. We don’t get agreement on the names of her two sister saints in the tradition. Most usually Latiaran of Cullen and Crobhdhearg are found in the tradition but sometimes a saint called Iníon Buí is substituted for either Latiaran or Crobhdhearg.

The centre of Latiaran’s cult is Cullen or Cuilinn Uí Chaoimh. Crobhdhearg is associated with Cathair Crobhdhearg, “the city”/Shrone at the foot of the Paps.The Iníon Buí is associated with the parish of Dromtarriffe.All three places are quite close to each other and indeed are quite close to Baile Bhúirne. Local tradition has the three sisters coming from France, then splitting up to go their separate ways. Gobnait is seen as going to Baile Bhúirne. One tradition from the area states that a pilgrim or petitioner must go to the three wells on the feasts of the particular saints in order to have their petition granted.
Their Feast days are: Crobhdhearg: 1ú Bealtaine/1st of May; Iníon Buí: 6ú Bealtaine/6th of May; Latiaran: 25ú Iúil/25th of July or the Sunday closest to it. With the feast of Gobnait falling on 11ú Feabhra/11th of February one can see associations between these sisters and the beginning of Spring/Imbolc, the beginning of Summer/Bealtaine and harvest / Lúnasa.

It should be noted that there are 11 daysbetween Lá ‘le Bríde and Lá ‘le Gobnait. There are similarities between the tradition about both saints and indeed as noted above there is some suggestion that their names parallel those of a triad of bandéithe in the mythological tradition (although, as already stressed in relation to Bríd it must be noted that our mythological sources are very much mediated through Christian medieval hands and it is too simplistic to start talking about the ‘Christianisation of pagan deities’ here without some qualification).

In regard to the 11 days it is interesting to remember that the reform of the Julian calendar in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII led to 11 days being omitted, thus restoring the accuracy of the calendar (Gregory also gave us our leap year system which has kept us more or less right since). Is it possible that Lá ‘le Gobnait was originally on the 1st of February? Is the 11th of February in the the Julian calendar the same as the 1st of February in the Gregorian Calendar? It would be interesting to take this further…… all suggestions welcome! It seems that a similar situation might apply with the 1st of November / Lá Samhna and the Feast of St. Martin of Tours / Lá ‘le Máirtín on the 11th of November.

The following gives an account of the traditional pilgrimage or “turas” in Dún Chaoin at Cill Ghobnait. The prayer at the beginning is one which is associated with many saints, the name of the saint being invoked can simply be changed to suit……..

If you do drink water at the well you take responsibility for your own well being!….. tá creideamh agus creideamh ann!

Go mbeannaí Dia dhuit, a Ghobnait Naofa,
Go mbeannaí Muire faoi mar a bheannaím féin dhuit.
Is chughatsa a thána ag gearán mo scéal leat,
Go dtabharfá leigheas i gcuntais Dé dom.
An Turas: Sula dtosnaíonn tú, téir ar do dhá ghlúin agus abair an phaidir thuas.
Téir isteach ansin go dtí an áit ina bhfuil an chros, téir ar do dhá ghlúin ansin agus abair paidir.

Téir seacht n-uaire timpeall ar an gcros leis an ngrian ag paidreoireacht leat i gcónaí. Tabhair póg don Chros ansin, téir ar do ghlúine arís agus abair cúpla paidir sara théann tú go dtí an tobar.
Téir ar do ghlúine arís ag an tobar agus abair cúpla paidir. Seacht dtimpeall ansin ar an dtobar leis an ngrian. Tógann tú trí dheoch as an tobar le do láimh is fágann tú rud éigin id’dhiaidh sa tobar…. biorán, cnaipe, airgead nó rud éigin. Téir ar do ghlúine arís agus abair paidir sula fhágann tú an tobar.

Téann tú ansin go dtí na clocháin agus tugann tú naoi gcinn de chlocha beaga leat. Téir ar do ghlúine arís in aice leis na clocháin agus abair cúpla paidir. Téann tú timpeall ar an gclochán mór cúig uair, agus cloch a chaitheamh isteach agat ar gach timpeall. Téir ansin timpeall an chlocháin bhig ceithre uair, agus cloch a chaitheamh isteach agat ar gach aon timpeall. Téann tú ar do ghlúine arís don uair dheireanach. Má bhíonn roinnt daoine le chéile ann is féidir an Choróin a rá, má bhíonn tú i d’aonar abair cúpla paidir agus as go brách leat arís tríd na goirt.