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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Holy Wells


I've been meaning for some time to delve a little deeper into the area of Holy Wells which I do not know much about but curiosity attracts me to them.  Some time ago I met a woman from Dundalk, Brid McDonnell, who had a great interest and seeming knowledge of folklore and the local history of that area of Louth.  She writes about her faith in Jesus and Heaven in her poem Little Flower which can be found in New Poems of Oriel but she is just as comfortable writing about the old pagan gods and goddesses. In Boyne Berries 5 she has a poem called An Cailleach (the cailleach may well have been the antithesis of the pagan Brigid).  I suppose then that the Holy Wells are a bit like Brid's poetry, a marriage between Pagan Ireland and Christian Ireland.

In pre-christian Ireland the holy wells were sacred places and they served as places of natural religion.  These wells are usually found in quiet parts of the countryside near trees and many believe that the wells cure specific ailments.  Some people tie ribbons or handkerchiefs to the trees or branches near the wells as memorials of their visits.  The Hill of Tara here in Meath is believed to have seven holy wells but some are not visible and some destroyed.  The Well of the White Cow and St. Patrick's Well are two of them.

I have visited the well of St. Feichin in Fore, Co. Westmeath which is a stunning place.  At the weekend however I went to see St. Brigid's Shrine in Faughart outside Dundalk.

There is a great view of Dundalk from here and I did of course bend down to touch the waters of the stream.  My friend told me a story about St. Brigit and how she plucked her eye out to avoid marriage to have it restored by God again when she was able to follow her calling to be a nun.  The pagan Brigid was a Celtic Goddess who was worshipped throughout Europe.  She is a triple goddess; poetess and muse, goddess of inspiration, learning, poetry, divination, witchcraft, occult knowledge. A second aspect of Brigid was as goddess of smithcraft, carrying a famous cauldron for this purpose. The third aspect of Brigid was that of healer, goddess of healing and medicine. These three aspects were united through the symbol of fire.  I was excited this year to read about Imbolc and its coinciding with the feast of St. Brigid.  I had not been able to sleep the night of the last day of January and the first day of February and found myself getting up to work on my poetry - was this a coincidence - I'm curious!

Another poet who writes about the holy wells is Susan Connolly and she has a poem called Well Fever.  Connolly also has a poem about St. Brigid called Brigit.

I am sure that there is a lot more that I have to learn about these wells and all that they encompass.


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