5. St Patrick and Connemara

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Maumean or Mám Éan – ‘the pass of the birds’ – is one of the two main passes through the Maumturk mountain range, the old boundary between Connemara proper and Joyce Country in Co. Galway. According to legend, St Patrick was travelling through the Maam Valley, on his return from Croagh Patrick in Co. Mayo, when he climbed up to the top of the pass, and blessed the land to the west – Connemara. That night, he slept in a little hole in the hillside known as Patrick’s Bed (Leaba Phádraic), but ventured no further into Connemara. In time, Maumean became an important place of pilgrimage where locals gathered for an annual ‘pattern’– a day when people prayed (and celebrated) at a holy site – in honour of St Patrick.

‘A Pattern in Connemara’ (engraved by H. Griffiths after a picture by W. H. Bartlett), from The Scenery and Antiquities of Ireland, 1842.

‘A Pattern in Connemara’ (engraved by H. Griffiths after a picture by W. H. Bartlett), from The Scenery and Antiquities of Ireland, 1842.

Englishman Henry D. Inglis (1795-1835) attended the pattern at Maumean in 1834 and left a vivid description of the lively celebration in his book, A Journey through Ireland throughout the Spring, Summer and Autumn of 1834:

“When I reached the summit of the Pass, and came in sight of the ground, it was about four in the afternoon, and the pattern was at its height; and truly, in this wild mountain spot, the scene was most striking and picturesque. There were a score tents or more,—some open at the sides, and some closed; hundreds in groups were seated on the grass, or on the stones, which lie abundantly there. Some old persons were yet on their knees, beside the holy well, performing their devotions; and here and there apart, and half screened by the masses of rocks which lay about, girls of the better order, who had finished their pastimes, were putting off their shoes and stockings to trot homeward; or were arranging their dress; or perhaps,—though more rarely,-exchanging a word or two with a Joyce, or a Cunnemara boy. All was quiet when I reached the ground; and I was warmly welcomed as a stranger, by many who invited me into their tents. Of course I accepted the invitation; and the pure potheen [póitín or mountain dew] circulated freely.

By and by, however, some boastful expression of a Joyce appeared to give offence to several at the far end of the tent; and something loud and contemptuous was spoken of by two or three in a breath. The language, which, in compliment to me had been English, suddenly changed to Irish. Two or three glasses of potheen were quickly gulped by most of the boys; and the innkeeper who had accompanied me, and who sat by me, whispered that there would soon be some fighting. I had seen abundance of fighting on a small scale, in Ireland; but, I confess, I had been barbarous enough to wish I might see a regular faction fight: and now I was likely to be gratified. Taking the hint of the innkeeper, I shook hands with the “boys” nearest to me, right and left; and taking advantage of a sudden burst of voices, I stepped over my bench, and, retiring from my tent, took up a safe position on some neighbouring rocks.

I had not long to wait: out sallied the Joyces and a score of other “ boys” from several tents at once, as if there had been some preconcerted signal; and the flourishing of shillelahs [a stout stick used as a weapon] did not long precede the using of them. Any one, to see an Irish fight, for the first time, would conclude that a score or two must inevitably be put hors de combat. The very flourish of a regular shillelah, and the shout that accompanies it, seems to be the immediate precursors of a fractured skull; but the affair, though bad enough, is not so fatal as it appears to be: the shillelahs, no doubt, do sometimes descend upon a head, which is forthwith a broken head; but they oftener descend upon each other: and the fight soon becomes one of personal strength. The parties close and grapple; and the most powerful man throws his adversary; fair play is but little attended to; two or three often attack a single man; nor is there a cessation of blows, even when a man is on the ground. On the present occasion, five or six were disabled; but there was no homicide; and after a scrimmage, which lasted perhaps ten minutes, the Joyces remained masters of the field. The women took no part in the fight; but they are not always so backward; it is chiefly, however, when stones are the weapons, that women take a part by supplying the combatants with missiles. When the fight ended, there were not many remaining, excepting those who were still in the tents, and who chanced to be of neither faction. Most of the women had left the place when the quarrel began, and some of the men too. I noticed, after the fight, that some, who had been opposed to each other, shook hands and kissed; and appeared as good friends as before. The sun was nearly set, when the pattern finally broke up; and, with the bright sun flaming down the cleft, and gilding all the slopes, the scene was even more striking now than when we ascended. The long line of pedestrians and horses stretched many miles down the lengthened defile; and the mountain notes of the pipe, and the occasional burst of voices, and the lowing of the cattle, roused by these unwonted sounds, filled all the hollow of the hills” (1836, 227-228).

As a result of drunkenness and faction fighting, the Church eventually suppressed the pattern day at Maumean. It was revived as a place of pilgrimage in the 1980s, and has since drawn great crowds on St Patrick’s Day, Good Friday and the first Sunday in August.



Henry D. Inglis (1836) A Journey through Ireland throughout the Spring, Summer and Autumn of 1834;  Tim Robinson (2007) Connemara: Listening to the Wind

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