• Ali Isaac

Planning Your Visit to Ireland? 6 SACRED HOLY WELLS YOU MUST VISIT

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

After all, we have plenty of them. Most of our holy wells are nowadays named after famous and beloved Christian saints, mostly Patrick and Bridget, but also some others, too. Personally, I think these were sacred springs long before Christianity came to Ireland, but that’s just my opinion. At the end of the day, your religion is of no consequence; these sites are clearly places of healing energy and spiritual peace regardless of your belief system, and I challenge you to visit one and be unaffected by your experience.

My favourite holy wells are those which lie somewhat off the beaten track. They are harder to get to, and therefore, the reward is greater. You feel you have earned the right to be there. However, these may be least impressive in terms of what you find when you get there… they may be untended by all but the wilderness, but for me that only adds to their charm and authenticity. I am a supporter of the underdog, though, it has to be said. The easier the access, the more commercial these sites tend to be. You have been warned! 😁

Don’t forget to take a personal offering of some kind, and please treat the fairy tree with respect: too many of these special trees are dying because they are poisoned with coins hammered into their trunks, or strangled by items being tied to their branches. Biodegradable offerings are best. Most of all, enjoy your experience.

The well of Healing, heapstown cairn

The Cath Magh Tuireadh gives a fine example of this; at the Battle of Moytura, Dian-Cecht established a well of healing at a small nearby lake with his children, Miach and Airmid. Into it, they threw many herbs and walked its perimeter muttering incantations.

Heapstown Cairn
Heapstown Cairn, Moytura, said to be the site of the Well of Healing at the famous battle

The wounded and exhausted warriors bathed in it every night, emerging refreshed and fully restored. It was said the healing magic was so powerful, that even the dead could be brought back to life.

This gave the Danann a distinct advantage when battle was rejoined every morning, which did not go unnoticed by the enemy. The Fomorians sent a spy into the Danann camp to suss out their secret. When they discovered the Well of Healing, they sent a company of men to secretly attack the Danann camp while the Denann warriors were all occupied in the battle.

The Fomorians filled the Well with boulders dragged from the River Drowse, so that it was impossible for anyone to enter the water and bathe in it thereafter.

The Well of Healing at Moytura is said to be located beneath a large cairn at Heapstown. There’s no well there now, of course, or if there is, it remains buried beneath this enormous mound, which interestingly, has never been excavated by archaeologists. Who knows what secrets lie beneath it? In any case, its well worth a visit. Go.

St Colman’s Holy Well

St Colman’s Holy Well is exactly one such place. I mean, just look at it! It’s everything I imagine a holy well would be. Here, the crystal pure waters were said to be restorative for eye afflictions; handy, I thought, as my eyes were sore from the constant wind and stinging from the suncream which had run into them. When I saw the brown sludge awaiting me at the bottom of the well, however, my faith sadly deserted me; I decided I’d rather suffer a bit longer.

St Colman's holy well in Co. Galway
This is St Colman’s Holy Well, Co Galway.

So back to St Colman. Who was he? He was born c. 560AD in Kiltartan, Co Galway, the son of local chieftain Duach and his Queen, Rhinagh. It was foretold that he would grow up to be a man far greater than all others of his lineage. Fearing for her son’s life, Rhinagh ran away but her husband caught her and had her tied to a huge stone and thrown into the Kiltartan River. Miraculously, she survived, and gave birth to Colman soon after.

She took her baby to a priest to be baptised, only to find they had no source of water for the font. As she sheltered under an ash tree, praying, a spring bubbled up from the ground at her feet, and so Colman was baptised after all. Rhinagh then gave her son into the care of the monks, where he would be safe from his father.

Seems to me that the well should have been named after his kickass mother. She sounds like a mighty strong and determined woman who prayed a powerful prayer.

Colman was educated on Inishmore, where he lived as a hermit. Later, he moved to the Burren, seeking greater solitude. King Gaire, the local King, was so taken with his holiness, that he asked the hermit to build a monastery in his kingdom. Colman was then ordained a bishop. He died on October 29th, 632 AD.

Colman was said to have loved animals, and had several unusual pets; a cockerel which was trained to wake him at the same time every morning in order to ring the bells calling the monks to prayer; a mouse which woke him  for Lauds at the same time every night by nibbling his ear, and a fly which marked his place in the manuscript he was reading, if he was ever called away.

At the end of one summer, his pets all died, and Colman was heartbroken. He wrote of his sorrow to St Columba, who replied, rather austerely:

“You were too rich when you had them. That is why you are sad now. Trouble like that only comes where there are riches. Be rich no more.”

There’s nothing quite like sympathy, and that really was nothing like sympathy! Perhaps compassion wasn’t approved of in the church. So poor old Colman realised one can be rich even without wealth.

St Patrick’s Holy Well, Deerpark, Virginia

Sadly, I can tell you nothing about this well, its ancient lore has been truly lost to the mists of time, but nonetheless, it is still a lovely place well worth visiting, although I have never seen it honoured with sacred offerings of any kind. Its a very atmospheric site, though, and full of energy to those who can feel it, I’m sure.

The Holy Well of MairE of the Gaels

We came across this most amazing holy well dedicated to Maire of the Gaels, in other words, St Brigid, quite by accident. Judging by what we found, people have been visiting her there for a very long time. Reading all the messages and prayers, and seeing all the tokens left behind was a very humbling experience.

St Bridget’s Holy Well, Lisnabantry

It was a really cold day. Drifts of snow lay on the ground, and frost iced the branches of trees and blades of grass with sparkling fairy dust. I decided to mark the festival of Imbolc by visiting St Brigid’s Well at Lisnabantry, about five minutes drive from where I live.

It is situated on the edge of bogland, near a very ancient looking cemetery called Roffney Burial Ground. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. It was well looked after, and clearly quite recently visited, as you can see from the pictures; there was evidence of many candles having been lit, and gifts had been left for Brigid.

It was a very peaceful place, in lovely, quiet countryside. I said my bit to Brigid, swirled my hand in the bone-chilling water, and turned to leave. It was only then that I noticed the magnificent milk-white bull at the top of the hill, watching me. His presence felt right.

the calf’s well, hill of tara

The Calf’s Well is one of four holy wells at the Hill of Tara, and one of the most accessible. If you go to Tara, I recommend you visit it, but you must come out of the main site and walk down the road past the book shop. You will find the Calf’s Well through a small gate to your right.

These are just a selection of the holy wells I have visited, and as you can see, they all vary tremendously. You never know what you are going to get. If you are interested in holy wells, you should visit this blog, HOLY WELLS OF CORK What this lady doesn’t know about holy wells quite frankly isn’t worth knowing, and besides, she’s a lovely lady into the bargain.

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