St. Catherine and the Worm: A Family Odyssey

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St. Catherine’s Park between Lucan and Leixlip is the type of calm, beautiful suburban oasis that turns peaceful Sunday outings into family legends. It was here three years ago, for example, that I did serious damage to my shoulder when giving my wife a jockey-back up a steep hill. I can still remember the follow-up question the radiographer in the hospital asked when I told him about the fall. “Jockey back? Oh – do you do those wife-carrying competitions?” Alas, I did not. “But why were you carrying her?” he enquired. Embarrassingly, the best – and only – answer I had was “Because it was Sunday”. I have learned my lesson, though. Since then, I have made it a rule not to carry any women uphill.

I still visit St. Catherine’s regularly, however, and so, on a typical April morning, I set out – just myself and the childer – to spend the afternoon in the park. I had read a bit about the park’s history online – about how it had been intact since the Norman Invasion in 1172, about how the area was run by a religious institution – the rather pompous sounding Priory of Canons of the Order of Saint Victor. Indeed, the extensive ruins of the Priory are still very much visible in the park today. I had also read that somewhere around here was the old St. Catherine’s Well, the correct response to which is, I believe, “Is she now?”

I park the car and we walk along the ancient roadway alongside the ruins of the priory. Not far from the carpark, we see a little stream and, a few feet further on, we find the ruins of the still-functioning St. Catherine’s Well. My son and daughter instantly descend the steps into the shallow trickle and begin to splash around in it.

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St. Catherine’s Well – apparently renowned for curing sore eyes (or possibly psoriasis – I may have misheard).

After a few minutes, the children begin to climb the ridiculously steep and weed-wrought hill that that extends up from the well.

“Ouch! Daddy! Nettles!”, screams my daughter, followed immediately by “Daddy! stingers! Owwww!” and even an incidence of “Thorns! Everywhere!”. By the time I get to her, she has legs like a lattice-topped strawberry pie.

My three-year-old son is also suffering from the flora, but, in fairness, he seems to have brought it on himself. I spy him lowering his hand into some nettles. “Noooo”!, I roar. But it does not deter him. “Look Daddy – I picked a Dandelion”, he says, having spotted it beneath the nettles. This is soon followed with a “Daddy – my hand hurts”.

“Well that’s because you put your hand into nettles.”

“Oh.”

“Will you do that again?”

“No,” he states, solemn as a stoic philosopher.

No sooner have I turned my back when I hear “Look Daddy – another Dandelion!” followed by another plunging of tiny hands into more nettles.

While this is going on, my daughter spies a worm lying atop the mud. She picks him up and proudly brings him over for us all to see. And, in fairness, he is quite impressive with his sausage-ine physique. If served him with a rasher of bacon and some beans, you’d probably not send him back.

“Oh – look at my worm friend. I think he needs a new house. I don’t think he likes it up here,” says my daughter, wrapping him in a dock leaf.

“Ok. Where will be put him?”

“I think we should put him near the Well.”

And, with that, we descend the weed-strewn hill, picking up yet more red marks and participating in more screaming.

My daughter finds a quaint little patch of what look like Primrose leaves beside the Well. She places her worm friend beside them and covers him with a leaf.

“Look Dad – he likes it! Do you think he’s going to love his new home? I’m going to get him some more leaves.”

As she walks away, my son approaches. “Worm”, he says, as he picks it up and pulls it in two with the ease of wet tissue paper.

Oh feck. What do I do now? She’ll be distraught!

She arrives back. She looks down at the scene.

Oh feck …

“Dad! Look,” she says, holding two gruesome halves of the mascherated worm aloft – entrails trailing from one side. “He’s found a friend! They’re going to be so happy together,” she says – his digestive tract bouncing and bobbing as each half of him dangles from her fingers. Not wanting her to discover the barbarity, I try to move her on.

“That’s great – hey – lets go up here – you should leave the two worm friends in peace in their new home” I say, moving on up the road. She follows.

As she reaches me, she stops dead. There has been a flash of inspiration.

“Hey!”, she says to my son. “Was that really two worms or did you just pull him apart?”

My son cannot tell a lie.

“I separated him,” he states with the coldness of a serial killer.

There are tears from her, there is frustration from me and there is a worrying lack of remorse from my son.

I have no doubt that this place was a venerated well long before the Normans arrived and was most likely in pre-Christian times an area of pagan worship. And now, in the 21st century, it appears that a Carabini has reinstated a practice of sacrifice here. St. Catherine’s Well. But that’s more than I can say for the worm.

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The ruins of the Priory of Canons of the Order of Saint Victor. Useless fact of the day: St. Victor, one of the few African popes, is venerated on my birthday. Co-incidence? Yes. Absolutely.