About Tobernalt

The Meaning Of Tobernalt

The meaning of Tobernalt is open to a number of interpretations. It is an Anglicisation of an Irish phrase and most likely means the Well in the Cliff. The curative powers attributed to the Holy Well provide the basis for the interpretation, Tobar na nAlt. Usage would most likely have elided this form to become Tobar nAlt or Tobernalt. Alt refers to a body part or joint. Therefore, Tobernalt is the curative well for body pain.


Penal Times At Tobernalt

Tobernalt is also associated with penal times in Ireland. This was a period where English laws controlled the property, educational and religious rights of the Catholic population in Ireland. Tobernalt became a secluded refuge for the celebration of Mass in the early years of the eighteenth century when the penal laws were applied most harshly.

It was to Tobernalt the people flocked from the surrounding neighbourhood when news spread by word of mouth that the Priest was expected. Priests were hunted with a price on their heads; they travelled in disguise through the country from one Mass rock to the next. The faithful often set out the night before to journey in small quiet groups to be at Tobernalt before dawn. They would wait in some nervousness for the Priest to appear at the Mass rock. A close watch was kept against surprise attack by soldiers.

The Mass in Latin was attended with reverence; the raised Host and Chalice were adored on bended knee and God was thanked for his goodness because only He knew when the next Mass would be celebrated at Tobernalt.

penal altar tobernalt

Garland Sunday At Tobernalt

The history of Tobernalt Holy Well predates the advent of Christianity to Ireland in the fifth century. It is a natural spring well that established itself in a primeval forest. When the Celts settled, Tobernalt quickly became the main area where the festival of Lughanasa, the harvest festival, was celebrated. Along with St Patrick bringing the Christian dimension to Tobernalt, the festival of Lughnasa also became Christianised and came to be called Garland Sunday.

The costom of assembling at the Holy Well on every Garland Sunday (Last Sunday in July) has been in existence from time immemorial, some frequenting the place for devotional exercises and others for sight-seeing and amusement. Latterly, however, the “Pattern” has assumed a more religious, devotional, and national character.

Garland Sunday itself starts early. Traditionally people walk in pilgrimage up to Tobernalt from Sligo for the first mass at 6am which is usually celebrated by the Bishop of Elphin. Additonal masses follow in the morning with anointing of the sick and Adoration of the Blessed sacrament at the mass rock with special prayers in the afternoon.

Historically, 1921 was the year when the first mass was celebrated at Tobernalt since penal times. With the exception of 1922, when mass was cancelled due to activities associated with the Civil War in the area, mass has been celebrated on every Garland Sunday since 1921.

It was also traditional that on Garland Sunday many families got a boat from Riverside and rowed up to Cairns Quay, just adjacent to Tobernalt, to attend the ceremonies during Garland Sunday.

history tobernalt

The Origins Of Garland Sunday In Ireland

Garland Sunday is held on the last Sunday in the month of July. The history of Garland Sunday – or Bilberry Sunday as it is known in some areas – goes back to pagan times. One story has it that it was considered the end of the ‘hungry season’ when people could enjoy a good meal of new potatoes at this time of year.

In "The Sabbats - A New Approach to Living the Old Ways" by Edain Mc Coy the origins of the tradition of Garland Sunday is explores.

"Many pagans believe the traditions surrounding Garland Sunday grew out of the older Mabon tradition of making pilgrimages to burial grounds to honour the dead. Garlands were constructed of native vines and apples by a village's unmarried women and taken by them, along with all unmarried men, to a churchyard. If an apple fell during a procession it was a bad omen since apples often stood as symbols for the human soul and for the Goddess. At the churchyard the garland was then broken apart and strewn over the graves amidst loud keening. Feasting and dancing near the cemetery followed, and it was obligatory to show hospitality to strangers on this evening."

In the days before Christianity came to Ireland, August 1st was called "Lá Lughnasa", the feast day of the Celtic god of the harvest "Lugh". It is believed that the pagan feast of Lughnasa was turned into a Christian feast by Patrick and re-named Garland Sunday.

Garland Sunday is also sometimes referred to as "Domhnach Chrom Dubh" (Black Crom Sunday). Crom Dubh is often translated as the Dark Stooped One. In pre-Roman times, Crom Dubh seems to have been considered a despotic deity with evil powers. On the other hand, Lugh was personified as both young and strong. It is believed that he grasped harvest riches from the hands of fate each year by defeating the older god Crom Dubh. Each year the ritual involved cutting the first of the harvest and taking the head of Crom Dubh from its sanctuary and temporarily burying it in a high place.

What is Tobernalt

Tobernalt Holy Well is a place of reflection and nurturing serenity. It predates the advent of Christianity to Ireland in the fifth century. Its importance as a meeting place and a sustainer of life predates our Celtic ancestors.

Tobernalt is a natural spring well that established itself in a primeval forest. It is situated at the South West corner of Lough Gill in the North Sligo Barony of Carbury, the Parish of St. John, the Townland of Aughamore Near and the Diocese of Elphin, Ireland.

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