Midsummer Eve, in Ireland
[Extracted from Hibernian Magazine, July, 1817, No. 27.]
At Stoole, near Downpatrick, in the north of Ireland, there is a ceremony commencing at twelve o'clock at night on every Midsummer-eve. Its sacred mount is consecrated to St. Patrick: the plain contains three wells, to which the most extraordinary virtues are attributed. Here and there are heaps of stones, around some of which appear great numbers of people running with as much speed as possible; around others, crowds of worshippers kneel with bare legs and feet as an indispensable part of the penance. The men, without coats, with handkerchiefs on their heads instead of hats, having gone seven times round each heap, kiss the ground, cross themselves, and proceed to the hill; here they ascend on their bare knees, by a path so steep and rugged that it would be difficult to walk up: many hold their hands clasped at the back of their necks, and several carry large stones on their heads. Having repeated this ceremony seven times, they go to what is called St. Patrick's chair, which are two great flat stones fixed upright in the hill; here they cross and bless themselves as they step in between these stones, and while repeating prayers, an old man, seated for the purpose, turns them round on their feet three times, for which he is paid; the devotee then goes to conclude his penance at a pile of stones named the altar. While this busy scene of superstition is continued by the multitude, the wells, and streams issuing from them, are thronged by crowds of halt, maimed, and blind, pressing to wash away their infirmities with water consecrated by their patron saint; and so powerful is the impression of its efficacy on their minds, that many of those who go to be healed, and who are not totally blind, or altogether crippled, really believe for a time that they are by means of its miraculous virtues perfectly restored. These effects of a heated imagination are received as unquestionable miracles, and are propagated with abundant exaggeration.