I really wasn’t sure what I was going to write about today. I have a lot of things on the go at the minute, but none of them are at a newsworthy stage yet, so this morning found me (only a little desperately) trawling through my copious Beastie photo archive, plus ALL my emails, in the hope of finding some pictures that I haven’t used before.
But the good news is that my search wasn’t in vain! What are the chances?! I found a series of lost Paddy and Plunkett pics from an adventure they had last spring, at a time when I was super-busy. I had kept them back for future use, and then forgotten about them (sorry lads)… Until today! Let’s take a trip into the past, shall we?
And perhaps in more ways than one…
“Hey Plunkett, where are we? And what’s with the coins stuck in the tree?”
“Glad you asked, Paddy. See that water down there? We’re at an ancient holy well!”
There are hundreds of holy wells dotted all over the island of Ireland. And while some of them are marked with big, glitzy shrines decorated with flowers, statues and religious trinkets, many of them are so simple you’d hardly notice them. They’re often found in wild, remote places… like this one, tucked away in the corner of an ancient forest.
Like many holy wells, the water here is said to have healing properties. In fact, some wells are specialists, offering relief from dental problems, diseases of the eye, back pain, digestive trouble… You name it, there’s probably a well for it! This one was allegedly used by St Colmcille (also known as St Columba), an Irish abbot from the 6th century who brought Christianity to what is now Scotland. The sign beside the well says he “performed many acts of healing” here, although it doesn’t take a stance on whether he or the water deserves the credit!
Further down the road is another well. This one is a specialist… in the treatment of warts!
The rags in the tree branches are tied there as part of the cure. As the fabric rots away, your troublesome wart should also magically vanish. But before you start thinking this is an especially warty part of the country, don’t worry! The rags can also signify a request for help, which will be answered once the cloth has disintegrated. The well itself is just underneath the trees, bubbling up from this moss-covered boulder.
After this, the boys had time for one more well before they headed home for dinner. St Aidan’s Well seems more formal than the first two, and is associated with nearby St Aidan’s church.
Although St Aidan’s (formerly St Caden’s, after a follower of St Patrick) has been the site of a church since the 13th century, the well has been in use much longer and suggests that the area had spiritual significance back in pre-Christian times too. In fact, although most wells are now associated with a Christian saint, it’s thought that these places were considered sacred or significant long before Christianity arrived on these shores.
I think that definitely makes them worth a closer look, don’t you?
Are there any interesting ancient places near you? Tell us all about them in the comments!
And as usual, we’ll be back next week – hopefully with at least one finished monster project to share! See you then…
33 thoughts on “Traces of Days Gone By”
This may just be my favorite post ever. Fabulous combination of photos and narrative. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Maggie, glad you enjoyed it! Paddy and Plunkett really do know how to hunt out the most interesting corners of this island, don’t they? 😀
Well, well… sorry, I couldn’t resist!
I’m sure P&P have been wart-free ever since this little jaunt, so the wells clearly work 😉
HAHAHA! 😂 Ah, I do love a good pun! And yes, Paddy and Plunkett remain wart-free to this day, so that’s some potent well water there. Actually, when I was writing this it really got me thinking about whether warts were more prevalent back in the day… To have a whole holy water well devoted to banishing them seems a lot for something so small and harmless!
Perhaps better hygiene has helped… maybe a good wash in the well was the reason for the cure!
Hahaha! When you put it like that… 😆 I suppose a lot of these wells’ magical properties could be traced back to the water being comparatively clean as well!
Fantastic, when we lived in Somerset some villages had well dressings, with flowers.
Aaaah, so it’s not just an Irish thing then! I suppose in the past anywhere where you could get clean, non-lethal water was worth celebrating!
I think they are great, it’s also probably a spiritual thing too. If you tried decorating a well ( if you could find one that’s not been concreted over) people would think you were very strange. Which is a shame, as clean water from the ground is definitely worth celebrating.
Absolutely, especially when you think about how many people worldwide don’t have ready access to clean water. My parents actually found a well in the garden of their new house when they moved 10 years ago – they put an old fashioned village pump on it, and use the water in the veggie patch. It’s probably better than what comes out of the taps these days!
I’m doing a water project with my year 7 science class ( only one lesson every 2 weeks) they are in country teams from very rich to extremely poor. They have to research the drinking water & make a filter to clean dirty water , then test it. They do presentations along the way, this gives the poor countries a chance to get expertise from me ( equipment). It’s good fun. I’ve had the poorest country sell water to the riches before , as the could not build a working filter. It’s very interesting to watch.
I’d say so… Plus countries selling each other water might not be so far in the future! This sounds like a great project, I’m sure your students are learning loads from it. 😀
Incredible wells, Helen! These definitely look like quite enchanted places for your two enchanted travelers, especially the hidden-away well in the old forest. The idea of a wart/wishing-well is awesome! What an incredibly beautiful gesture to tie one’s prayers and wishes into the trees – I assume this means that it takes time for them to be answered? If ever I have a stubborn wart (heaven forbid!), I now know where to go. 😀
Yes, no-one has any excuse to be going around all warty now! 😂 As for the rags in the trees, I had the same thought… The climate here would actually set quite a reasonable time delay on your request, since it’s damp but not so harsh that the cloth would be gone in a matter of months. It reminded me a bit of the trees with pieces of paper tied in them that I saw in Japan, too… I think the idea behind it is similar, even though it must have sprung up completely independently!
Near where I grew up there was a tree covered in rag ribbons. My Gran always told me it was a fairy tree but now I’m wondering if the area was associated with a well.
It’s possible… Especially since St Colmcille himself was over in your neck of the woods, and partial to making use of holy wells! Do you also have a tradition of “fairy thorns”? You’ll still see then in Irish fields, even today!
Yes. Especially Rowan trees. I’ve heard them associated with witches as well as with fairies.
Really? How interesting… Here it’s the small prickly trees, especially blackthorn, probably because they twist themselves into all kinds of weird gnarly shapes as they grow!
what beautiful places you have! We don’t have quite this kind of beauty in Illinois, but the US does have some excellent holy sits out west (Grand Canyon, included). I ❤ the beasties wee adventure 🙂
Thanks Melissa! Ireland does specialise in damp, mossy beauty… But I love the wide open spaces you have in the US as well! We just don’t get those here. And holy sites don’t get much more impressive than the Grand Canyon!
So cool!!!! I’m dying to come to Ireland and explore!
You should! Dublin’s only a short hop from the UK, and even if you’re staying in the city, the countryside isn’t that far away! 😀
If you could arrange for Paddy and Plunkett to throw me into a sacred well that will get rid of this head cold once and for all, I’d REALLLLY appreciate it. As for ancient sites, well, this is the U.S., we call something “ancient” if it dates from the 1900s, but there are some cool WWII forts along the coast that are fun to explore. I’ll have to get Finn to them one of these days.
The boys would love to help, but is sitting in a puddle of chilled water in the middle of a forest really the best cure for a cold? The good news is that an Irish holy water that really DOES eliminate cold symptoms is readily available in your area right now – whiskey! 1 shot + 1 teaspoon sugar + boiling water + a slice of lemon with cloves stuck into the pith = feel better. Plus, unlike most cold medicines, you can have as many as you like! 😀 (I’m telling you this out of complete self interest, by the way. I want to see those ancient WW II forts.) Get well soon!
Oh NOW you tell me the magic cure that I’m nearly well! Maybe I better dose myself up though to prevent a relapse.
Yes, you really can’t be too careful… 😀
Nice pics! The idea of specific wells for a certain affliction is kind of neat. I also like the idea of tying clothing to the tree to wait for your wishes and cures to come true. Very cool stuff!
Cheers! I love the stories behind these curious old places… And the best bit is that Ireland is full of them! Thanks for joining us on this adventure 😀
I’m a bit of a story junkie myself, so it’s awesome to see all these great places that the Beasties keep finding themselves in and finding out all the stories behind them. I can’t wait for the next post. 🙂
Happy to oblige… I’ve another Explorer Beastie adventure coming up later today! 😀
Wow, I love it … you live in a magical place for all I can tell.
Indeedy! Ireland can be very pretty when it wants to! 😀
It is on my ‘to travel list’! 😀