Mobilities of (Holy) Water

A woman collecting holy water at St Gobnait's holy well, Ballyvourney, on 11 Feb 2013, St Gobnait's Day.

A woman collecting holy water at St Gobnait’s holy well, Ballyvourney, on 11 Feb 2013, St Gobnait’s Day.

Visits to holy wells are a main part of my research. I usually leave with notes, audio recordings, video and photos, but also, frequently, a bottle of well water. In regards to the latter take-home, I am participating in one of the main activities of the holy well. People come to collected the holy water from the well, usually on the main feast day, to bring home or to carry to relations, friends and neighbours.

The water is mainly used as a blessings, invoking protection for the house and visitors, recovery from illness or warding off evil. Some wells are associated with specific cures or purposes; for example, the water from the City is used to bless crops and livestock in early May, while the water from Tobarín Súl near Lough Eyne is used for tooth aches.

A man taking away well water from St Brigid's holy well Liscannor on 1 Feb 2013, St Brigid's Day

A man taking away well water from St Brigid’s holy well Liscannor on 1 Feb 2013, St Brigid’s Day

This transfer of water is a form of mobility. Wells are necessarily located. It is at the exact point where the water surfaces, transforming from a subterranean substance to a grounded, earthly form, that it is held to be potent. It must be accessed at the source, for the very same water is not collected when it flows away to a stream or elsewhere. However, the forces and qualities of the well are mobile, through and in the water. Essences of the well, the saintly or supernatural can be brought to homes where it is stored and applied as required or as tradition sets out. While the well remains fixed, it is also highly mobile.


An audio clip of me collecting water from the well at the City near Rathmore on May Day, 2013.

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  1. Richard

    I remember going to a wedding of a friend from college in Mayo in the summer of 1985 and visiting Knock.

    I still have the photograph somewhere of the taps at Knock with the sign Holy Water above them.

    Not quite as romantic or credible as from a babbling well

    Reply

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