In Bellcoo, down a narrow road marked only with an old high cross, lies the ancient site of St. Patrick’s Well. Steeped in legend, the holy well of Patrick is not a well at all but a wide stream surrounded by stones, a stream which bubbles with what is said to be the coldest water in Ireland.
In ancient times, wells offered not only crystal drinking water but also a threshold from the earthly plane to that of the Otherworld. This particular well, according to legend, was the domain of Crom Dubh, a dark god of harvests, merry-making, and human sacrifice. When St. Patrick wandered onto the site, he immediately threw a large staff which struck the pagan’s altar and demolished it, leaving behind only remnants—pieces of stone which still stand today. Patrick expelled Crom Dubh from the territory and thereby proclaimed it a holy Christian site.
Now protected by a rickety wooden fence with a small gated area, the Holy Well thunders with both the force of 600 gallons of water a minute and the occasional footsteps of hundreds of Christian pilgrims trudging through the waters to pray at its stations and receive healing. Miracles happen here, or so the legend goes. Personal accounts of cures for stomach ailments and nervous disorders abound .
Early Celtic celebrants trudged through the waters for a different reason. Their footfalls in the freezing waters and prayers sung through the night honoured the sun god Lugh, the hero of the original—and most powerful—ruling tribe of Ireland, the T’uatha De Danaan. The festival, known as Lughnasa, is held at holy sites on the first day of August, the beginning of the harvest. With feasting, praying, and dancing, the pagan tradition of Lughnasa thrived for centuries but was ultimately replaced with the Christian title, “Stations at the Holy Well.”
Just across the street from the well lie the ruins of the 10th century Templerushin Church a standing symbol of the triumph of Christianity over Celtic paganism.
Yet…St. Patrick’s Well, named originally in Irish as Dabhach Phadraig, in all its natural beauty of crystal rushing waters and ancient marking stones, remains a mystery. The name “dabach” means “vat,” a word symbolizing the endless generosity of the mother earth goddess.
This well is, indeed, a place of magic, a sacred place where, if one listens closely enough, echoes of the songs of the ancients rise from the bubbling waters spilling over time-worn stones.
Come. Gather ‘round. Listen to the voices…
Enjoy the 360° virtual tour of St. Patrick’s Holy Well