Tample - St Attracta's Shrine, Charlestown in Co. Mayo

Attracta's well or Toberaraght, in Tample, has been venerated by local people for hundreds of years. On August the 11th, a special day in the area, they visited the well and prayed there and a Pattern took place afterwards. This Pattern included horse and donkey races, tug-o-war, and racing was enjoyed by all.

There was another Pattern venue about seven miles south of Tample in Urlaur and tradition held that if Urlaur Pattern, on the 4th of August was wet, Tample, on the 11th would be fine and vice-versa. Who was Attracta? And where did she come from? As we say in Irish: 'Ni feider a ra go cinnte ca rugadh í' ... Nobody knows for certain where she was born. Though both the date of Attracta's parentage and birth are uncertain.

Thomas Knox, historian, writing on information from the life of Saint Patrick, says she was a daughter of Cathbad of Gregraide of Lough Techet (Lough Gara) and lived in parts of the fifth and sixth centuries. Attracta left home against her parents wishes to become a religious and was supposed to have received the veil from St Patrick who made her Abbess of a Convent he founded at Lough Gara, Coolavin.

It is possible that Attracta worked for Christianity in Connacht before Brigid arrived on the scene. She founded a Convent in Killaraght in Sligo and another in Roscommon. The Hospice which she established near Lough Gara endured for one thousand years.

There are many stories and legends about Attracta handed down through the ages and it is difficult to know which is fact and which is fancy. The following one tells of Attracta's encounter with the King of Connacht.

The King carried away some hostages from the area known as Leyney, and held them in his strongholds. Soon their friends liberated them, but the King of Connacht and his troops followed them and came upon them at Killaraght, surrounded them on the land side, leaving no room to escape, except through the lake which was impassable. However, Attracta, who lived in her Convent on the shore of Lough Gara, came to their rescue by opening a passage for them through the waters of Lough Gara.

Immediately the waters of the lake divided and the people of Leyney marched through to the opposite shore. Another tale concerning the same Chief of Leyney and his people, who were harassed by a ferocious wild beast ravaging the country about the Gap in the Parish of Kilmacteige in County Sligo, requesting the help of Attracta to rid the inhabitants of this scourge, which ended in success. One account states that she dispatched the animal with her staff, similar in appearance to a small crozier. Another version is that the Lady killed the monster half dragon-half bear, with her own hands.

In Charlestown Parish Church, to the right of the high altar, a stained glassed window depicts St. Attracta with a beast of strange parts and make-up. The Church in Kilmacteige is dedicated to St. Attracta. She is the Patroness of the Diocese of Achonry and her cult is very strong, especially in the west of Ireland.

The strength of the veneration in which Attracta has been held for fourteen centuries is illustrated by the act of Pope Pius IX in 1829, when he authorised the Mass of St. Attracta on her feast day in the Diocese of Achonry. This was the year in which the Catholic Emancipation Act was signed, and the event was of great importance throughout the Catholic Church. It was very significant that the Pope chose to honour an Irish Saint and indicates the strength of the devotion to the Lady, St. Attracta, at that time.

Her name became popular among Irish girls and there are so many lasting memorials to Attracta, even to this day, in the names and places such as: Killaraght, and Toberaraght in our own Parish of Killbeagh, and also near Tubbercurry.

The name Attracta is sometimes shortened to Atty and it is to be hoped that the folklore which has been preserved by our ancestors, will be cherished by the present generation as a legacy for posterity. There can be little doubt that St Attracta, whose name and fame has survived for hundreds of years was much loved and respected in the Diocese of Achonry.

In 1954, the Marian Year, a Shrine was erected in Tample, which includes a statue of the Saint and a stone with the date 1767 etched on it. The well is preserved by a surrounding wall too.

From that year on The Rosary was recited by a Priest at 2 o'clock on the 11th of August each year. In 1977 the Tample Committee of that time, with the permission of the Parish Priest, Very Rev Canon Gallagher, invited Most Rev Dr Flynn, Bishop of Achonry, to come and say the first Mass at the shrine on August the 11th. Since then Mass has been celebrated at the Shrine each year on her feast day.

© Delia Henry. 2003. Also many thanks for their help to Paddy Harrington and Eamon Campbell

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