THOUSANDS flocked to Ballyheigue on Sunday in one of the great scenes of religious devotion in rural Ireland for the local Pattern Day.
The Pattern at Our Lady's Island in Wexford is the only other gathering of its type in the entire country now comparable to the phenomenal popularity of Ballyheigue's big day.
It also marked the first significant event in north Kerry for new Bishop of Kerry Ray Browne; who was reportedly deeply impressed with the scenes as upwards of 4,000 attended Mass on Sunday morning.
"We were delighted with it as it really appears to be getting stronger every year," Ballyheigue Parish Priest Fr Tommy Leane told The Kerryman. "It's phenomenal really and Our Lady's Island Pattern in Wexford is the only one of a comparable magnitude in the country.
"We were also delighted that it afforded Bishop Ray Browne an opportunity to meet with so many people in north Kerry and he remarked on how impressed he was with the event. He certainly hadn't experienced anything like it in his former diocese," Fr Leane explained.
Bishop Browne made a big impact on Pattern devotees, meanwhile, as so many warmed to his personable and warm manner. In his homily he introduced himself to the masses of north Kerry and spoke of his own personal devotion to the Virgin Mary - a pull felt strongly by hundreds through the Grotto over the entire week.
Falling on a Sunday in the year of The Gathering, Pattern Day had an even bigger impact than usual. But it has provided a Gathering in and of itself for the village ever since it was first established as a modern event following the Eucharistic Congress.
"It's a fantastic day for the whole community as so many people come home especially for it. In that sense it is bigger than Christmas here as sons, daughters, schoolfriends and everyone else get to meet up with one another," Fr Leane added.
Hundreds of stalls were set up on the beachfront meanwhile as the village rang to the sound of great cheer over the course of the rest of Sunday.