All posts tagged Holy Well

  • Within the Well

    St John 1

    Clam and shade on a sunny late June morning. June is the time to visit St John’s Well. Trees encase the site, as the beehive structure encases the well itself. Noises drift in from out of sight, while rays of sunlight piercing the canopy catch the broken glass spread across the ground, asserting the space’s hosting of other activities. A small flow of water gently emerges, the water which restored sight and started veneration. The edge of the well, the small rectangular entrance, is the cusp. The exact point of significance, the well water is accessed here before flowing off, the sacred diluting into the profane.

    St John Inside 1

    Within the well another realm awaits. An inner sanctum, the tabernacle within the church. Reaching down to collect, to drink or bless draws you into this sphere. The cooling ambiance of the water, the reflections onto the vaulted walls, sparkle and shade on rock, moss and mould. Inside the beehive structure is reminiscent of subterranean consistency. It is calm here, removed from that which is outside. Temperate, dusky and muted; perhaps it always is.

    The steady dripping of the water is a further layer of consistency. It captures an essence of the place. Always present, known but unobtrusive. It invites reflection and appreciation. The water – the substance of the well – emerging from the earth, gathering and flowing. It quietly splashes and echoes about, the reverberations affirming the chamber. Water sounds defining purpose and giving space.

    Within the well remains. A steady emergence: earth, water, well.

  • Lady’s Well, Cork: Renovations

    I had previously commented on the deteriorating state of Lady’s Well in Cork city. Thanks to works by Cork City Council* the site has been cleaned up and new structures have been put in place around the well. The necessity for grids over the well may be seen as unfortunate, but will not impinge on the well excessively as does not seem to be used for religious-spiritual reasons. These additions will ensure the preservation of the site and perhaps a revival of devotional activity in the future?

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    *I had raised the matter with one of my local representatives, Kiernan McCarthy (corkheritage.ie), who has done significant work in promoting Cork’s heritage.

  • Votive Offerings at St Brigid’s Well

    Whenever I’m in the Burren or the north-western part of Clare, I try to call by St Brigid’s Well near Liscannor. It is a wonderful site complete with a marvelous collection of votive offerings, for which it is known, in the grotto leading to the well.

    The vast collection of offerings which fill the grotto leading to the well.

    The vast collection of offerings which fill the grotto leading to the well.

    Votive offerings are beautiful objects each of which as an intention behind it. It has been left there for a particular reason by a person who firmly believes in the power of the place and the saint and the benefit of partaking in this custom. While some of the intentions may appear obvious, others relating to seemingly odd items are shrouded from everyone except the believer and the saint.

    The grotto spaces is crammed full of offerings, with every conceivable space being used to leave and insert items.

    The grotto spaces is crammed full of offerings, with every conceivable space being used to leave and insert items.

    Initial fascination with these objects, is replaced by curiosity, concern and speculation on their intentions. This is a rich material-based cultural practice, linked both to Catholicism and folk customs, but it is also people’s lives. Dreams, despairs, anxieties, losses and a host of deeply personal motives are materialised. Accordingly, regardless of your beliefs they and the place should be treated with respect.

    A small bible (wettened from the exposed spae above the well), with rosary beads inside, sits next to a whiskey bottle filled with some of the (presumably) well water.  The rest bwetween a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a cushion.

    A small bible (damp from the exposed space above the well), with rosary beads inside, sits next to a whiskey bottle filled with some of the (presumably) well water. The rest between a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a cushion.

    A collection of offerings hanging from the ceiling, including rosary beds, miraculous medals and a feather.

    A collection of offerings hanging from the ceiling, including rosary beds, miraculous medals and a feather.

    The rag tree which is over the well, with a selection of rags tied to the branches.

    The rag tree which is over the well, with a selection of rags tied to the branches.

  • ‘Doing the Rounds’: Video

    ‘Doing the Rounds’: Pattern Days at Holy Wells

    This is a collection of short clips of pilgrims completing the rounds at different holy wells. It captures some of the movements and circumambulations that occur as part of the annual Pattern Day at these places. The completion of the practices continues established traditions in honour of a patron saint, while also ensuring that the site remains an active devotional space.

    Featured in the video: St Gobnait’s Well Ballyvourney, Co. Cork, 11th Feb 2013; (2.01) St Fanahan’s Well, Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, 25th Nov 2012; (2.34) ‘The City’, or Cathair Crobh Dearg, Shrone, Co. Kerry 1st May 2013; (5.29) St Brigid’s Well, Liscannor, Co Clare, 1st Feb 2013.

  • Lego Holy Well (1)

    Inspired the the great work of the good people at Follow the Things, I’ve attempted to use Lego to convey aspects of my research. It is a type of materialisation of research, which will complement more standard visualisations in photos and video. These are the photos of my first attempt at this process, it is an imagined holy well been visited by two pilgrims. The well has a bee-hive structure and a rag tree beside it. As an imagine place, although with specific features, it can be several holy wells or no holy well. It is a sort of creative non-fiction.

    Two Pilgrims visiting a holy well.

    Two Pilgrims visiting a holy well.

    The well has a beehive structure over it.

    The well has a beehive structure over it.

    There is also a rag tree next to the well

    There is also a rag tree next to the well

    Check out the Follow the Things blog for more about their good work.

  • Excursion to ‘The City’ and Tubrid

    Last week Vickie Langan (artist, soundy person and all round lady) and I visited two holy wells, The City, near Rathmore, Kerry and Tubrid, Millstreet, Cork. Below are a number of photos, videos and audio recordings, punctuated with text, that came out of the excursion. I also have a post on Researching with your Smartphone, based on our previous excursion.

    This photo of the well, which was posted while we were on site, shows the cement structure along with a cup and glass. Unlike many other wells, the one at the City is not adorned with many votive offerings or extra materials. Like the site itself, it has a certain rawness. On a wind swept Tuesday in February, with the threat of serious rain, we had the places to ourselves.

    Using the Soundcloud App on my phone, I took several recordings of the cup in the water, you can hear me lifting it, submerging it, pouring out some water and replacing it. This simple activity is central to these wells.

    Vicky with her hydrophone, a superb piece of equipment for working with wells.
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    The altar at Tubrid holy well, on the Rathmore side of Millstreet. The altar is sheltered by a structure with offerings, signs and memorial cards throughout.

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    This short video of the candles on the altar indicate the recent visits by numerous people that day. Each one serving as an elemental remnant of a believer’s intentions and memories.

    The site is very well maintained, as is demonstrated by this rack made especially to hold the cups used to drink the water and the other structures. It is at this point, where the water bubbling up in the well flows out, that people collect and drink the water.

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    Another recording using the SoundCloud App, of the water flowing.

  • Gentle Waters: Holy Well, Gortnacullia

    The water gently emerging in a roadside holy well in Gortnacullia, Co. Galway. There is a particular peacefulness to this well, a sense of which is conveyed in this short video clip. The shallow ripples indicating a soft flow of water and ambient sounds enrich the experience.

    Site record:
    GA128-055 (Archaeological Survey of Ireland, Record Details) on http://www.archaeology.ie. Posted: 10 May 2007

  • 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.

  • The Holy Well and Holy Wells

    While holy wells can be found across Ireland, each one as a unique character. The physical location, site features, number of visitors, votive offerings, origins, saintly or supernatural associations and numerous other elements all combine to make each spot distinct. To this we can add the context of the visit – the time (both in a day and seasonally), the purpose, whether we are alone or with others – and the meanings and emotions we, and others, bring to the site.

    Ronan Foley (2011, p. 470) outlines how holy wells “range from literal holes in the ground to substantial landscaped sites with a mix of natural and culturally introduced elements. In general, the sites contain the wells themselves, streams, stone crosses and covers, paths, trees and bushes, altars and statues, all of which have physical form but wider symbolic meanings as well”. His description captures some of the variety that one finds materially at holy wells, while also hinting at how features combine to create each one.

    A selection of holy wells (clockwise, from top left): Sunday’s Well, Raffeen, Cork, a simple well in the hillside that is frequented by a small number of locals; St Patrick’s Well Mam Éan, Connemara, a well on a mountain pass surrounded by a walled enclosure with a collection of votive offerings; St John’s Well, Newhall, Clare, an enclosed well with an altar, several statues and a shrine, the site is visited on June 23rd, St John’s Eve; ‘Tubrid’, Millstreet, Cork, an elaborate well-site with a Marion Grotto, an sheltered altar, railings and a landscaped environment, an annual mass is celebrated on a Friday in May.

    A selection of holy wells (clockwise, from top left): Sunday’s Well, Raffeen, Cork, a simple well in the hillside that is frequented by a small number of locals; St Patrick’s Well Mam Éan, Connemara, a well on a mountain pass surrounded by a walled enclosure with a collection of votive offerings; St John’s Well, Newhall, Clare, an enclosed well with an altar, several statues and a shrine, the site is visited on June 23rd, St John’s Eve; ‘Tubrid’, Millstreet, Cork, an elaborate well-site with a Marion Grotto, an sheltered altar, railings and a landscaped environment, an annual mass is celebrated on a Friday in May.

    While it makes sense for any study of holy wells to engage with them both collectively and individually, that process should remain conscious of the uniqueness of each site and how that affects and shapes our understandings.

    Reference:

    Foley, R. 2011. Performing Health in Place: The Holy Well as a Therapeutic Assemblage. Health & Place, 17, pp. 470-479.

  • The Sounds of St Gobnait’s Well

    As part of UCC’s Doctoral Showcase – an annual event which encourages research students to develop innovative ways to communicate their research to non-specialists – I developed a short video which intends to convey a sense of place through the use of sound and images. I used a collection of audio recordings and photos from St Gobnait’s in Ballyvourney to make the video.

    The showcase presentation also involved members of the audience engaging with the place tactily as well, through the distribution of rosary beads, stones form the site and water from the well; although this isn’t possible here, I feel the video still goes a long way to giving a solid glimpse at St Gobnait’s. The sounds in particular – feet crunching gravel, stone scrapping against stone, water dripping – evoke the place and what it is to be there.

     

    P.S. I’ve previously blogged on Podcasts & Place and many thanks to my cousin Eilín for narrating the video.