ST DECLAN’S WELL & HERMITAGE – ARDMORE
Seaside Monastery Coast Cliff Path
Legend holds that St Declan came to southeast shores of Ireland and Christianized the area of surrounding modern Waterford County in the 5th Century A.D. before the rise of St Patrick. There is some dispute as to the dates of St Declan, but in the region of the south his primacy is assured. On the hills and coast of the fishing village of Ardmore, a few miles from the historic harbor of Youghal where the cliffs look out to where the Irish Sea meets the Atlantic, the sites of St Declan make for a journey back to the very earliest days of Christianity in Ireland.
Cathedral and Round Tower
On a hill just south of the village stands the ancient Cathedral of Ardmore with the famed Round Tower, and St Declan’s Oratory. The Oratory is a small church from the 8th Century with later reconstructions where St Declan was once said to be buried, but now long removed. The Cathedral ruin is more the size of an abbey church from the 11th and 12th Century. On an outer wall can be found some stone carvings from an earlier 9th-century church, including one of the earliest images of a harp in Ireland, and images of the story of Adam and Eve.
Inside the Cathedal ruin are two of the few remaining Ogham Stones, stone cuniform inscription marker, the earliest known form of Irish Gaelic writing, consisting of lines in a alphabet called “trees”. The writing is generally believed to be of proper names, perhaps marking land ownership, though otherswise indecipherable. The 12th Century Round Tower, one of several found in early Irish religious settlements like Glendalough in Wicklow to the north. The 30 meters (97 feet) high tower, with four levels inside its stone walls tapering to a pointed roof, stands amidst the hillside cemetery of ancient and more recent gravestones next to the cathedral. The purpose of the Round Tower was to serve as a bell and watch tower, as well as refuge for the monks with safe keeping of their books and relics in case of attack.
St Declan’s Well and Hermitage Church
On the coastal path along the jutting cliff shore, just past the noted Cliff House Hotel and Restaurant (see Cliff House Ardmore), follow a walking path along the cliff edge to St Declan’s Well and Hermitage Church. St Declan, late in his life reputedly sought the the peaceful solace of a hermitage and found it near a well spring on the cliff from a point where he could see across to the distnt Welsh coast.
There is no recognized date for the building of the Hermitage Church, the western end is the earlier construction, where the eastern end standing wall is probably 13th and 14th Century on the spot where the monk lived in his hovel. St Declan's Holy Well is a place of popular religious devotion and pilgrimage. The well is believed to have curative powers dates and from the 5th Century time of St Declan. The devotion associated with St Declan is the Feast Day of St Declan, the 24th of July, commonly called Pattern Day - coming from the Irish work Patrun meaning Patron as in Patron Saint. St Declan's Well and Oratory draw several hundreds on devotional celebrants in late July, on Pattern Sunday, with a mass sometimes at midnight on the 23rd of July.
The ceremonial pilgrim's devotion of "doing the rounds" is to make the sign of the cross with the water from the Holy well, say the Lord's Prayer and Hail Mary, then walk around the ruins of the Hermitage Church clockwise. After three rounds while saying the rosary, the pilgrim traces the sign of the cross underneath the ancient stone cross at the old east altar. Then after praying, one can drink the curative water from the well.
Coastal Path – Monastery Walk
Follow the coastal pathway along the edge of the cliff, called the Monastery Walk, for its journey leading along the sea edge from St Declan’s Well and Hermitage back to the Cathedral and Tower. The full walk takes about an hour or a bit less with stunning views of the wild sea, below the sharply escaped cliffs, walking right along the cliff with undisturbed green fields to the cliff edge, occasionally lined with berry brambles.
Along the walk you’ll find the incongruous wreck of the Samson, a crane barge which grounded on the rocky point of Ram Head in a storm in 1987 while being towed from Liverpool to Malta. The crane is now a popular scuba diving sport. A bit farther is the concrete Lookout Post built in 1940 as guard watch in WWII for invading axis ships and bombers. And the “Castle”, really a concrete bunker built at the same time as the lookout, now mostly a refuge for sea birds. Down along the shore can be found St Declan’s Stone, which legend says floated across the waters from Wales following Declan's visit there where St David established his monastery to the Decries people a century later (see St David’s Bishop’s Palace). Beneath the two points of the large stone where it is supported on others is a small hollow, through which devotees of St Declan pull themselves in prayer on Pattern Day for spiritual benefit.
St Declan’s Way - Walking Trail
For a long distance hike for the serious walker, a marked path called St Declan’s Way, begins at the Round Tower cemetery and leads to Cashel near Tipperary where the Rock of Cashel is one of the most spectacular religious ruins in Ireland (see Rock of Cashel). All of the St Declan sites at Ardmore are free to visit and cliff walk well worth the view, if the weather is fair. © Bargain Travel Europe
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