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.
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.
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 (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.
The rag tree which is over the well, with a selection of rags tied to the branches.
Tubrid Well is located on the western edge of Millstreet in north-west Cork: it lies north of the Killarney Road and is adjacent to the River Finnow. It is a developed local pilgrimage site with considerable individual and communal devotion practised, especially during May.
The annual May mass holds a particular significance for the Catholic community of the area. It serves as an opportunity for communal worship. A crowd of over 200 gather on this occasion (31st May 2013), with a choir and pipe band adding to the event. The association with May, in modern times at least, centres on the Marian devotion at the site. The month of May is a special period of devotion to the Virgin Mary in Catholicism.
On the evening of the mass (a particularly pleasant evening), the majority appeared to be there for the mass itself, as many people dispersed once it finished. Those who remained stayed an chatted with neighbours and friends, numerous people drank and collecting water from the well, while others prayed and left votive offerings at the grotto and completed the rounds.
Annual May mass
People gather for the annual May Mass
Collecting and drinking water at the edge of the well.
People praying and leaving votive offerings, especially candles and flowers, at the grotto
Doing the rounds at the site. Praying the rosary while circling the well.
The site is well tended to and is highly structured, with the grotto dominating the space and different features directing movement. The well is actually a natural spring pond with water visibly bubbling up from beneath the surface. Paths shape the flow of visitors; there is a specific point to drink and gather the water; and, the low lying chain around the well marks out the prayers of the rosary. However, on this evening the mass took precedence for many over any other practice, while others performed their own rituals. The physical features, as well as the ability to drive right up to the entrance to the well, facilitate access, especially for elderly visitors and those with mobility concerns.
St Gobnait, who is venerated at different sites in the south of Ireland, has her feast day on 11th February. St Gobnait’s house and holy well in Ballyvourney, Cork, is one of the main sites of devotion associated with the saint. On the feast day or pattern day, people come to do the rounds and visit the well. The site located just outside the village is very well maintained an attracts visitors throughout the year.
Pilgrims praying in the rain at the statue of St Gobnait
The grave of St Gobnait which is a focus of devotional activity. It is a station on the rounds and people frequently leave votive offerings here.
Looking down on the pilgrimage site from beside the statue. One of the wells is in the foreground, with the grave in the middle ground to the right and the old church, which is also part of the rounds, is in the background.
St Gobnait’s Well which is adjacent to the graveyard; it is the final station on the rounds
A recording at St Gobnait’s Holy Well Ballyvourney Cork on 11th Feb 2013, the feast day of the saint. The recording captures the lifting a cup form above the well, taking up some water, drinking some, returning the water, the ambient sound in the well structure and returning the cup.
A selection of photographs and an audio recording taken today (St Brigid’s Day, 2013) at St Brigd’s Well, Liscannor Clare. There was a steady flow of people visiting the well. A mass was due to be held there at noon, weather permitting; however, it was said in the parish church instead. Most of the visitors took away a bottle of the water, while some engaged some in prayer patterns. A number of votive offerings were left in the well and rags tied to the trees adjacent to the well and pattern route.
St Brigid’s Well, Liscannor, Clare. The well is located at the rear of an artificial grotto or passage way, which is filled with votive offerings.
A group doing their ’rounds’ at the statue.
Crowds gathering by the well, the queue to the well can be seen coming out of the archway.
A woman doing the ’rounds’
An hay arch (hay wrapped over a metal frame) covers the entrance to the well, it is adorned with St Brigid’s Crosses
Collecting the holy water
The visit to the well frequently involves a lighting of a candle. This little alcove is adjacent to the well, it’s a lovely micro-space.
A collection of photos concerning the rag tree at St Gobnait’s monastic site in Ballyvourney, Co Cork. Clockwise from bottom left: a selection of larger objects at the base of the tree, including a motorbike helmet, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, candle holders and flowers; a profile view of the rag tree located next to St Gobnait’s Well (obscured behind the tree) and the strips of material – from which these trees gain their name – hanging off different branches; a close perspective of very personal votive offerings, such as a keyring, a pen and lengths of wool, whose true meaning is only known to those who left them here; a number of rosary beads hanging together; a significant number of memorial cards and photos are pinned to tree, reinforcing its role as a place for personal reflection and communal expressions of grief.
This is a short video clip of St Brigid’s Well, Liscannor, Co. Clare. The well is housed in a small grotto. A short passageway leads to the well, which is un-roofed allowing natural light in from above. The water flows out from the hillside and gathers in the well font. The video captures the steady gentle movement of the water, with its calming tones. A large range of statues, holy pictures and votive offerings, including rosaries, flowers (both fake and real) and small personal objects can be seen around the well. These objects cover spaces and shelves on the walls, and are jammed into any available gaps.