ON THE Feast of St Brigid (Tuesday, February 1), pilgrims gather at the well dedicated to the saint at Ballysteen in Liscannor.
The work of Michael Houlihan and Tony Kirby in collaboration with Clare County Council has produced a county-wide survey of more than 230 wells and St Brigid’s is among the best known and most popular. The survey, which is to be launched online tonight (Feb 1), outlines the history of the well.
“The well lies beside Considine’s Bar on the Moher Road in an area set aside for the well house and the way up to the graveyard above. This could be Clare’s most celebrated holy well. The well house is crowded with remembrance cards, offerings, little statues, rosary beads – all brought in thanksgiving or as part of a request to the well and the saint.”
Pilgrims visit regularly, but two feast days are particularly important.
“Saint Brigid’s Day, is the feast day observed at the well, with many pilgrims visiting. There is a second gathering which takes place on August 15. the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. When completing a pilgrimage, the site is considered to be in two parts. The upper sanctuary, known as ‘Ula Uachtarach’, includes a rag tree and the graveyard where some of the members of the royal O’ Brien clan are known to be buried. The lower sanctuary, or ‘Ula Íochtarach’, is where the holy well and statue of Saint Brigid are located. The ‘turas’ or pilgrimage of the site begins with prayers on the lower level and progresses on to the upper level. Many pilgrims circle the garden in front of the well house. The word ‘Ula’ is very old Irish and usually refers to a cairn or penitential station.”
According to the recent survey, which is available online at https://heritage.clareheritage.org/category/places/holy-wells, the connection between Saint Brigid and the Blessed Virgin Mary at well is referenced as early as 1814, when it was written that: “The tradition about this saint is that she led the Virgin Mary to the place of purification on the 2nd of February, and that the 1st of February was dedicated to herself on that account.’ It is said that Saint Brigid stopped at the site where the well now stands while travelling to Connacht in her chariot”.
The researchers also referred to the work of a North Clare folklorist who investigated the origins of the well.
“Máire Mac Neill was a famous folklorist who lived in Corofin and carried out research on Liscannor in her later years. She determined that in all probability, the place where the holy well is located was originally a Lughnasa site. The Lugh referred to here was the old Irish harvest deity, whose feast day was celebrated on August 1. When changes were made to the calendar in 1751, this feast day became August 11, which is quite close to the Christian celebration of the Assumption on August 15.”
Tonight, the survey research by Mr Houlihan and Mr Kirby will be launched online. All are welcome and a link can be obtained by emailing email@example.com.
Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald.
Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti.
She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at The University of Galway.
If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 065 6864146.