Saturday, 11 February 2017

St. Gobnait of Ballyvourney

Twin towns fascinate me. I don't mean towns twined with foreign towns but two towns that are so close to each other that as they grow, they grow until they are almost one town. In Cork we have two good examples, Enniskean and Ballinkeen on the road to Bandon (where even the pigs were Protestant, it used to be said) and Ballyvourney and Ballymakeery that lie along the Sullane River and on the road thatt takes you from Macroom by way of Coolea over the top of Coom towards Kilgarvan in Kerry.

Bandon was a plantation town. That is, in the 17th century the native Catholic Irish were dispossessed of their lands and Protestants were planted in the locality instead. Over the gate of Bandon the following words were placed by the Planter inhabitants that "Turk, Jew or Atheist may enter here, but not a Papist". It wasn't long before native wit wrote the reply. "Whoe'er wrote this/ hath written well/ for the same is writ/ o'er the gates of hell".

St. Gobnait, another 6th century Saint, lived just to the south of Ballyvourney. Every year on this day and also at Pentecost there are large pilgrimages to do the "turas" or rounds of the beds of her church and to drink the water and a medieval wooden statue of her is displayed for veneration in the Parish Church.

Go mbeannaighe Dia dhuit,
a Ghobnait Naomhtha,
Go mbeannuighe Muire dhuit
is bheannuighim féin dhuit.
Is chughat-sa a thánag ag
gearán mo scéil leat,
Is a d'iarraidh mo leighis
ar son Dé ort.

That means in English:

May God bless you,
Holy Saint Gobnait,
And may Mary bless you,
And I bless you myself.
For it is to you that I come,
To plead my case with you,
To request my healing,
From you on God's part.

She made her foundation in fulfilment of a prophesy. She had fled from home to the Aran Islands to escape persecution but she was told that "her resurrection" was not to take place there but only in the place where she found nine white deer grazing. She returned to the mainland and began her pilgrimage. It is said that at various places she saw white deer grazing along her path but never nine together until she crossed the Sullane River at Ballyvourney and so she settled there and was buried there to await "her resurrection".

It is told of her that when a plague threatened, she marked the boundary of the Parish with her stick and the people of Ballyvourney were spared.

The beehive is the symbol of St. Gobnait because, when a pagan chief was attempting a cattle raid, she took up one of the beehives of the convent and directed it at the raiders. The thieves fled and the cattle were saved.

In the ruins of her church there is a smooth round iron ball set into the wall, known as St. Gobnait's Bowl. It is said to have been used to destroy a fort built by a pagan chief on the hills north of Ballyvourney and was said to have returned to the Saint each time she threw it. Those who have grasped the bowl in the wall will know the miraculous nature of this feat. The grave of Séan O'Riada, the famous musician of Coolea, is here.

A few miles north of Ballyvourney, close to the Foherish River that feeds into the Sullane near Macroom, is Liscarrigane where 'An tAthair Peadar' or Canon Peter O'Leary was born in 1839. His great purpose was to revive the Irish language that he knew as a living language (and which remains a living language in that part of Cork to this day). He wrote "Séadna" and the autobiography "Mo Scéal Féin" which give a vivid impression of the countryside around Liscarrigane and Muskerry.

The Glendav of "Séadna" is to be found at the head of the Foherish valley where Mullaghanish Mountain rises to a height of over 2,000 feet, towering over the Derrynasaggart Mountains that shelter Cork from Kerry but are now punctuated by wind turbines just as a broadcasting mast stands atop Mullaghanish.

He was an outstanding member of the Gaelic League and received the Freedom of buth Cork City and Dublin as well as an honorary Doctorate from the National University of Ireland. He died away to the north east of the County as Parish Priest of Castlelyons just a few months before the achievement of Independence at the height of the Black and Tan persecution.

Devotion to St. Gobnait was given international standing in 1601 when Pope Clement VIII granted an indulgence for pilgrims to her shrine and in 1602 he published a proper office for her feast.

These dates are not coincidental for they mark the last stands of the Irish princes against the English with the help of the Kings of Spain. In 1602 the Irish princes were defeated at the Battle of Kinsale. It spelled the end of the Catholic cause in Ireland for more than three centuries and the end of the the power of the native Irish princes forever. Donal O'Sullivan Beare held out in his castle at Dunboy on the Beara Penninsula for another year but was finally starved into retreat. His famous winter march brought him to the territory of the princes of Ulster, O'Neill and O'Donnell, who were themselves forced into complete exile on the continent in 1607.

O'Sullivan Beara continued to uphold the honour of Ireland while in exile in Spain, where he was assassinated in 1618 by an Englishman. He founded the Irish College at Santiago. His nephew Philip O'Sullivan Beare was both soldier and scholar, publishing Historiae Catholicae Iberniae Compendium, a Catholic History of Ireland in 1621 among other works in an attempt to reply to the English writers who attacked the Irish, just as their compatriots attempted to destroy our native culture and its texts.

[First Published on the St. Conleth's Catholic Heritage Blog in February, 2010

Another splendid account of St. Gobnait can be found on the blog Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae here.

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