Ancient & Holy Wells of Ireland

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A Historic Well is a well or spring where there is a tradition or history surrounding it.Wells have been very important to the Irish for various reasons.There is a strong tradition of veneration of water (hydrology), or association with religious or magical experience in the form of Holy or Sacred Wells/Springs.

There has also been a tradition of visiting certain wells for their health benefits, whether they be the ‘tangible’ benefits received from Iron, Sulphurous (etc) Spa Wells, or other health benefits received from the Holy Wells.The original tradition associated with the veneration of wells is thought to have originated several thousand years ago in pre-Christian times, and many exist now through the re-dedication of them to Christian Saints, although their form may have been considerably altered.

Ireland is said to possess approx 3,000 Holy Wells on the island, but this is not defined. We believe that there are many more, as a considerable amount are unrecorded. There are many less Spa Wells, and an indeterminable amount of domestic wells with a history or tradition attached.This group is to assist in the documenting of all Historic Well sites in Ireland. 

Holy Wells of Cork & Kerry

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There are approximately 357 holy wells in County Cork at the last count (Archaeological Inventory of Cork). A few are still the site of pilgrimage, others receive occasional visitors and some are neglected, forgotten or have even disappeared. Some are tiny indents in natural stones, others have imposing wellhouses and some are fern-strewn basins hidden in the undergrowth. All have their stories to tell and individually and collectively provide a fascinating glimpse into a way of life and set of beliefs that are steadily disappearing. Once every community would have had at least one well which was revered and visited for its healing qualities.

I set out on St Bridget’s Day 2016 to discover the state of the county’s holy wells and to record what I found. Three years later I have visited around 300 wells (the remaining 50 are mainly classified as no visible trace). Roughly speaking, one third have gone, one third are inactive and one third are still revered. But what an astonishing variety remain and what adventures have been had on the way.