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St Patrick's Chair and Well

Bullaun Stone

OS Ref (GB):   NV7020911472
Latitude:54° 23' 28.86" N
Longitude:   7° 4' 53.66" W

Added by Rhiannon


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Folklore

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Altadavin - St. Patrick's Altar and Chair.

Altadavin though belonging to this parish of Errigal Truagh is situated in the County Tyrone. It is a picturesque wooded glen. Various explanations of the name have been given:- "The high place of Daimen." Daimen was high King of Airghialla 513 AD. It also means "Glen of the Gods" or "Glen of the Demons."

The glen is entered by a narrow path running by a clear stream, the precipitous sides being clothed with a dense growth of under wood surmounted with stately forest trees. About midway down the glen, a vast mass of rock, some three or four hundred yards long, covered with wood of natural growth, rises up leaving a choice of paths in the two narrow ravines. Keeping to the right a little green velvet lawn opens out before us. Right under the rock, that rises sheer and steep from the green sword, is a spring well issuing from a stone.

This lovely glen has an interesting history, a mingling of the older and the newer faiths. Tradition has it that in Pagan times the glen was sacred to the rites of Druidism. It is a very reasonable probability that St Patrick, on one of his visits to Clogher, made it his object to overthrow this centre of Druidical Cult, and following his usual course, dedicated this home of heathenism to the true God. Here, surrounded by tangled under wood is a rude altar formed of solid rock. The ledge that forms its table is four feet high, six feet long and two feet wide. Towards its centre is roughly chiselled to a smooth surface. It shows no other tool marks.

Opposite the Gospel side of the altar is a large rock, in the form of a high-backed chair, known as St Patrick's chair. The seat of this natural chair is about four feet high from the present ground level, and the back rises to a height of eight feet from the ground.

On a rocky platform overlooking the stretch of green, and some twenty feet above it, is a large square stone about five feet high in the top of which is scooped out a basin fourteen inches in diameter and twelve inches deep. There is a detached boulder sitting on other detached boulders, yet the basin on the driest summer day is to be found half full of water. It is affirmed that as often as it is emptied, it will, with in half an hour, fill up to the same level, and except as a result of rainfall, will not rise to a higher level. Science has not yet explained whence the water comes, or why it rises to a certain height. That it does so is an undoubted fact, and equally undoubted is the fact that no natural source of supply can be discovered.

Local tradition affirms that when St Patrick turned this stronghold of Druidism to Christianity, he was attended by a great concourse of people. Having converted large numbers of them, he proceeded to baptise them. Water was necessary. Here at hand was a font, and what surer method of strengthening the faith of those who still wavered, than by drawing water from a rock. He did so and the font has never since dried up.

The wooded glories of Altadaven have departed, the venerable timber that shaded the glen and that lent enchantment to the scene have been cut down and turned into money. However the Department of Forestry of the Government of 'N. Ireland' have replanted Altadavan, but many, many years must elapse ere the charm of by gone days can return.
Altadaven still holds a high place in the popular respect for many miles around, when crowds assemble at the time that the blae-berries are ripe, which usually falls about the last Sunday in July and first Sunday in August, known in the district as "the Big Sundays".

Last Sunday was one of the "big Sundays". I was there and I saw crowds and crowds of boys and girls all enjoying themselves, laughing, courting, singing, and dancing, some picking the ripe blae-berries, some climbing up to see St Patricks altar and chair, all wearing happy faces and enjoying themselves to their hearts' content. I went to see St Patrick's Well. It is near the chair, but a little further down in the rocks. There was a great number of pins and needles and hair pins in it, also a few coppers left by those who made a "Wish" at the Well.

Cathleen Sweeney 4th August1938.
From the Schools Collection, now being digitised at Duchas.ie. Elsewhere the special days at Altadavin are just called "Blaeberry Sundays".
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
5th February 2020ce
Edited 5th February 2020ce

Perhaps no place in Ireland seems closer to the dark Celtic Otherworld than "Spink-ana-gaev"or Pinnacle Rock, a strange and eerie pile of boulders. "St Patrick's Chair" is a massive block about 2 metres high, shaped like a chair and probably at least partly-artificial, sitting on a another large block amongst a dozen or more other blocks, one of which has a cup-mark and an unfinished cup-mark. Below the Chair is the well - in fact an open chamber above which is another massive boulder containing a fine bullaun 25 cms in diameter. It is said "never to run dry" - this is not surprising as the fern-covered site is like a miniature rain forest: every rock drips with water. A supporting boulder has a good cup-mark. Between the bullaun and the chair above are two Rag Trees, where some 'offerings' remain.
From Anthony Weir's excellent 'Irish Megaliths' website.
http://www.irishmegaliths.org.uk/tyrone.htm

A little more detail from the NISMR:

"The chair faces S & is 1.7m high & 1.6m broad; the seat part is 0.75m high.

"The "well" consists of a large flat stone slab with a large bullaun & a possible smaller one on its upper face. There is a small cup mark carved on a supporting stone below. The large slab rests on several tumbled boulders. The bullaun is c.0.25m in diam. & 0.1m deep."
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
4th March 2009ce