Sacred Wells & pilgrim paths

Folklore & Tradition

The sacred wells of Ireland are steeped in traditions and rituals which are an integration of both pre-Christian and Christian traditions. These wells were considered holy wells and the water was only used for blessing or ritual purposes. It could not be used for household purposes.

There is a difference between this world and the world of Faery, but it is not immediately perceptible. Everything that is here is there, but the things that are there are better than those that are here. All things that are bright are there brighter. There is more gold in the sun and more silver in the moon of that land. There is more scent in the flowers, more savour in the fruit. There is more comeliness in the men and more tenderness in the women. Everything in Faery is better by this one wonderful degree, and it is by this betterness you will know that you are there if you should ever happen to get there.

― James Stephens, Irish Fairy Tales

The visit to the sacred well and the ritual of walking around the well was done in silence and prayer, and often in bare feet. Offerings were left at the well including coins, cloth belonging to the sick person, red ribbons for health and to keep away evil, and many other religious symbols including medals and statues.

Each well had its own cures and folklore stories and can be partly attributed to the minerals in the well water in addition to the faith and belief in the intention. The well was walked around clockwise which goes back to sun workshop while walking in the direction of the sun.The wells often have trees beside them and these trees too were considered sacred. The most common was the hawthorn or fairy tree, and others were hazel and ash.

The wells were looked after and kept clean by a family or by the community and shared by all. The Pattern Day was a big event in the community and still continues in many areas. It involved mass or a blessing, followed by games, music, dancing and refreshments. This tradition goes back to the old Celtic festivals that were merged with Catholic patron saint’s days. 

Wicklow Wells Group

There are about 130 holy wells sites marked on old maps going back to 1800. The Wicklow Wells Group was formed with the aim of documenting, researching and restoring these wells, as well as getting anecdotal accounts from people, often now elderly, in the community.

Irish Wales Connection

Rosaleen is working with Ancient Connections, an EU funded group exploring the ancient connections in the monastic stories between Ireland and Wales. This project aims to motivate both communities to rediscover their shared heritage and encourage tourism ideas between both countries.

The mountains
are calling
and I must go

John Muir

Blúiríní Béaloidis

Featured on Johnny Dillon's Folklore Fragments podcast from The National Folklore Collection, University College Dublin

Fair Folk Podcast

Interview with Danica Boyce on her Canadian podcast rediscovering and sharing the sacred songs and folk traditions of Europe

Trasna na Tíre

Online lectures delivered by Irish historians and enthusiasts and bringing History into the 21st Century. Interview May 2020


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