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There are 100s of holy wells all over of Ireland, many of which were sacred places long before they were credited with the Christian saints names they bear today and are well worth a pause and a prayer if you are lucky enough to come across one of them. ‘Tobar’ is the Irish word for well, so anywhere with a name that ends in ‘tubber’ as in Baile an Tobair (the town of the well) or Ballintubber is bound to have one.
By the way, you will find that particular one in the grounds of Ballintubber Abbey, County Mayo, where Pierce Brosnan was married second time around. Others, you will spot these easily enough by the roadside, as they are often adorned with statues, colourful (plastic) flowers and dozens of rosary beads and holy pictures. But to visit many more, you will have to ask for directions locally and possibly cross over some muddy fields and ditches to get to them.... but many are well kept like the one below, Holy Cross Well in Gleninagh, County Clare.
Which will be 'well' worth the trouble (call it penance) as nearly all these holy wells are in stunning locations (the celts, monks, saints knew how to pick them) high up in the mountains, isolated on islands, or in wild and remote places such as the Burren which has over forty holy wells with various cures attributed to them, these holy wells certainly lend themselves to peaceful prayer, contemplation and appreciation.
And while many are named after Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland quite a few are named for St Brigid, who was a pagan goddess originally before she was adopted as a Christian saint Her feast day is on the February 1st which will become another National Holiday from 2023 onwards and is supposed to herald the start of Spring, you will find the well about a mile down on the right hand side from the Cliffs of Moher. Local saints include St Colman in County Clare who wells are credited with being a cure for most ailments, but most popularly for eyes and teeth....
Whether that was because of the lack of dentists or the expense of spectacles back then who knows, but these places are still being visited today probably even more so. Indeed, during Covid another well founded by St Finian below in County Kerry as a cure for the Plague in the 6th century was revisited as a cure for Covid, now for you!
Whether that belief worked or not the Irish were the first to embrace vaccination, 95% of our population is double vaccinated and boosted. World weary travellers often found solace in nature, where the water (a symbol of new life in many cultures) gushes forth from the earth. People often left and stilt do leave small (if odd) tokens like chocolate wrappers, coins or pieces of cloth tied to the branches in the overhanging trees. Which makes me wonder about the lives of the people who have visited these same wells over 100s of years, hopefully their prayers were answered and their ailments cured.
We visit St Brighid's Well in County Clare and St Finian's Well in County Kerry on my Guided Tour of Ireland's Hidden Gems.
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