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After all, we have plenty of them. Most of our holy wells are nowadays named after famous and beloved Christian saints, mostly Patrick and Bridget, but also some others, too. Personally, I think these were sacred springs long before Christianity came to Ireland, but that’s just my opinion. At the end of the day, your religion is of no consequence; these sites are clearly places of healing energy and spiritual peace regardless of your belief system, and I challenge you to visit one and be unaffected by your experience.

My favourite holy wells are those which lie somewhat off the beaten track. They are harder to get to, and therefore, the reward is greater. You feel you have earned the right to be there. However, these may be least impressive in terms of what you find when you get there… they may be untended by all but the wilderness, but for me that only adds to their charm and authenticity. I am a supporter of the underdog, though, it has to be said. The easier the access, the more commercial these sites tend to be. You have been warned! 😁

Don’t forget to take a personal offering of some kind, and please treat the fairy tree with respect: too many of these special trees are dying because they are poisoned with coins hammered into their trunks, or strangled by items being tied to their branches. Biodegradable offerings are best. Most of all, enjoy your experience.

The well of Healing, heapstown cairn

The Cath Magh Tuireadh gives a fine example of this; at the Battle of Moytura, Dian-Cecht established a well of healing at a small nearby lake with his children, Miach and Airmid. Into it, they threw many herbs and walked its perimeter muttering incantations.


Heapstown Cairn


The wounded and exhausted warriors bathed in it every night, emerging refreshed and fully restored. It was said the healing magic was so powerful, that even the dead could be brought back to life.

This gave the Danann a distinct advantage when battle was rejoined every morning, which did not go unnoticed by the enemy. The Fomorians sent a spy into the Danann camp to suss out their secret. When they discovered the Well of Healing, they sent a company of men to secretly attack the Danann camp while the Denann warriors were all occupied in the battle.

The Fomorians filled the Well with boulders dragged from the River Drowse, so that it was impossible for anyone to enter the water and bathe in it thereafter.

The Well of Healing at Moytura is said to be located beneath a large cairn at Heapstown. There’s no well there now, of course, or if there is, it remains buried beneath this enormous mound, which interestingly, has never been excavated by archaeologists. Who knows what secrets lie beneath it? In any case, its well worth a visit. Go.

St Colman’s Holy Well

St Colman’s Holy Well is exactly one such place. I mean, just look at it! It’s everything I imagine a holy well would be. Here, the crystal pure waters were said to be restorative for eye afflictions; handy, I thought, as my eyes were sore from the constant wind and stinging from the suncream which had run into them. When I saw the brown sludge awaiting me at the bottom of the well, however, my faith sadly deserted me; I decided I’d rather suffer a bit longer.


Fairy tree at St Colman's Holy Well

Fairy tree at St Colman’s Holy Well


So back to St Colman. Who was he? He was born c.560AD in Kiltartan, Co Galway, the son of local chieftain Duach and his Queen, Rhinagh. It was foretold that he would grow up to be a man far greater than all others of his lineage. Fearing for her son’s life, Rhinagh ran away but her husband caught her and had her tied to a huge stone and thrown into the Kiltartan River. Miraculously, she survived, and gave birth to Colman soon after.

She took her baby to a priest to be baptised, only to find they had no source of water for the font. As she sheltered under an ash tree, praying, a spring bubbled up from the ground at her feet, and so Colman was baptised after all. Rhinagh then gave her son into the care of the monks, where he would be safe from his father.

Seems to me that the well should have been named after his kickass mother. She sounds like a mighty strong and determined woman who prayed a powerful prayer.


The entrance is overgrown, but you can still see the steps.

The entrance is overgrown, but you can still see the steps.

Would you descend into these dank, dark depths?

Would you descend into these dank, dark depths?

The brave intrepid explorer descends...

The brave intrepid explorer descends…

Offerings left by previous pilgrims. I always find this extremely touching.

Offerings left by previous pilgrims. I always find this extremely touching.


Colman was educated on Inishmore, where he lived as a hermit. Later, he moved to the Burren, seeking greater solitude. King Gaire, the local King, was so taken with his holiness, that he asked the hermit to build a monastery in his kingdom. Colman was then ordained a bishop. He died on October 29th, 632 AD.

Colman was said to have loved animals, and had several unusual pets; a cockerel which was trained to wake him at the same time every morning in order to ring the bells calling the monks to prayer; a mouse which woke him  for Lauds at the same time every night by nibbling his ear, and a fly which marked his place in the manuscript he was reading, if he was ever called away.

At the end of one summer, his pets all died, and Colman was heartbroken. He wrote of his sorrow to St Columba, who replied, rather austerely:


“You were too rich when you had them. That is why you are sad now. Trouble like that only comes where there are riches. Be rich no more.”


There’s nothing quite like sympathy, and that really was nothing like sympathy! Perhaps compassion wasn’t approved of in the church. So poor old Colman realised one can be rich even without wealth.

St Patrick’s Holy Well, Deerpark, Virginia

Sadly, I can tell you nothing about this well, its ancient lore has been truly lost to the mists of time, but nonetheless, it is still a lovely place well worth visiting, although I have never seen it honoured with sacred offerings of any kind. Its a very atmospheric site, though, and full of energy to those who can feel it, I’m sure.

The Holy Well of Mairi of the Gaels

We came across this most amazing holy well dedicated to Maire of the Gaels, in other words, St Brigid, quite by accident. Judging by what we found, people have been visiting her there for a very long time. Reading all the messages and prayers, and seeing all the tokens left behind was a very humbling experience.



St Bridget’s Holy Well, Lisnabantry

It was a really cold day. Drifts of snow lay on the ground, and frost iced the branches of trees and blades of grass with sparkling fairy dust. I decided to mark the festival of Imbolc by visiting St Brigid’s Well at Lisnabantry, about five minutes drive from where I live.



It is situated on the edge of bogland, near a very ancient looking cemetery called Roffney Burial Ground. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. It was well looked after, and clearly quite recently visited, as you can see from the pictures; there was evidence of many candles having been lit, and gifts had been left for Brigid.

It was a very peaceful place, in lovely, quiet countryside. I said my bit to Brigid, swirled my hand in the bone-chilling water, and turned to leave. It was only then that I noticed the magnificent milk-white bull at the top of the hill, watching me. You can just see him in the title picture. His presence felt right.

the calf’s well, hill of tara

The Calf’s Well is one of four holy wells at the Hill of Tara, and one of the most accessible. If you go to Tara, I recommend you visit it, but you must come out of the main site and walk down the road past the book shop. You will find the Calf’s Well through a small gate to your right.



These are just a selection of the holy wells I have visited, and as you can see, they all vary tremendously. You never know what you are going to get. If you are interested in holy wells, you should visit this blog, HOLY WELLS OF CORK What this lady doesn’t know about holy wells quite frankly isn’t worth knowing, and besides, she’s a lovely lady into the bargain. ☺


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I’m not a fan of Halloween: it’s too commercial, too fake, too big. Samhain seems much simpler and more real to me. And whilst I’m not a pagan, (I’m not any religion, actually, just in case you were wondering, but were too polite to ask ☺) the old festivals seem to me to fit perfectly into the cycle of seasons and the passing of the year. And also with the ebb and flow of my blood, or the beating of my heart, or my body clock, whatever you want to call that natural instinctual internal part of oneself. You may try and suppress it, but it’s always still there.

If you feel the same, here are some places in Ireland that are associated with Samhain which you might like to visit: Tlachtga, the Mound of Hostages at Tara; Magh Slecht, and Oweynagat. I have visited the first three, and will be going to Oweynagat next Sunday, so I will let you know how that goes next week.

tlachtga

The site at The Hill of Ward is named after Tlachtga, deriving from the old Irish tlacht, meaning ‘earth’ and gae, meaning ‘spear’. This could imply a mother earth type deity, but it has also been surmised that the spear could represent lightning being hurled at the earth. She could possibly have been an ancient fertility Goddess local to the hill. Like so many of Ireland’s women of mythology, Tlachtga was a tragic heroine, who suffered and endured, and died for her suffering.

It consists of the remains of a quadrivallate ring fort, which means it has four banks with a diameter of roughly 140m, and ditches between them. This is highly unusual, signifying a site of great importance. Recent archaeological work is discovering a large complex of other monuments in the area, almost erased from the landscape, but still visible using technology such as LIDAR.

From Tlachtga, other famous ancient sites can be seen, such as Tara (19kms), Loughcrew, Slane (23kms) and Teltown (12kms). You can read more about the site, and Tlachtga’s story HERE.

THE MOUND OF HOSTAGES

The Mound of Hostages was constructed over a burial chamber which dates to 3000BC. It stands fifteen metres wide, and three metres high, and the passage extends to four metres long. Excavation was begun in 1952 and completed in 1959.

It is estimated that between 300-500 burials took place there, most of them cremated and their ashes and grave goods placed beneath the passage floor. Burials were also found within the structure of the mound itself, including the body of a teenage boy who was accompanied by some very high status items including a magnificent bead necklace, a bronze knife, and a bronze awl (a pointed tool for making holes in leather).

But the most interesting thing about the mound is that it is aligned so that its passage admits the rays of the rising sun at Imbolc, in spring, and Samhain. What could the significance of this be? Perhaps, if Samhain was thought of as a liminal time, when the veil between the mortal world and the Otherworld was at its thinnest, and the dead walked the Earth to visit their families, the rising sun on the morning of Samhain might awaken them and invite them out. Just my rambling thoughts… 😊

You can read more about Tara HERE.

magh slecht

Magh Slecht (pronounced Moy Shlokht), which means ‘Plain of Prostrations’. Overlooked by the scenic Cuilcagh Mountain and distant rounded shoulders of Sliabh an Iarainn, this panoramic vista of gentle rolling countryside is packed with an unusually dense concentration of megalithic monuments, including cairns, stone rows and circles, standing stones, fort enclosures and burial sites.

The Killycluggin Circle and Stone share a dark and mysterious past, according to Irish mythology, for they have been identified as the site of pagan human sacrifice and the worship of the Sun-God, Crom Cruach. The ancient texts of the Metrical Dindshenchas claim that the people of Ireland worshipped the God by offering up their firstborn child in return for a plentiful harvest in the coming year. The children were killed by smashing their heads on the stone idol representing Crom Cruach, and sprinkling their blood around the base. This stone idol has been identified as the Killycluggin Stone.

The story goes that one Samhain, the High King Tigernmas and all his retinue, amounting to three quarters of the men of Ireland, went from Tara to Magh Slecht to worship. There, St Patrick came upon them as they knelt around the idol with their noses and foreheads pressed to the ground in devotion. They never rose to their feet, for as they prostrated themselves thus, they were, according to Christian observers, slain by their very own God.

You can read more about Magh Slecht HERE.

oweynagat
Entrance to the Cave of cats, Oweynagat. By Davsca at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14608748

Entrance to the Cave of cats, Oweynagat. By Davsca at English Wikipedia.


Oweynagat, or Uaimh na nGat in Irish, means ‘Cave of Cats’. It is located within the Rathcroghan complex, which is a major ancient royal site associated with the infamous Queen Medb.

A souterian leads into the mouth of the cave, which continues deep into the earth as a very narrow fissure… Gulp! And I’m going there next Sunday, and feeling nervous already. Some legends say that Medb was born in there, so I better dig up some courage from somewhere, or she’s not going to think much of me!

Interestingly, the lintel of the souterain is carved with Ogham symbols which are said to be translated as ‘Fraech, son of Medb’. I always thought he was her son-in-law, but maybe in those days, it amounted to much the same thing. Medb would have been around in the third century AD, and the earliest Ogham insciptions don’t date until much later, around the fifth-sixth centuries, so maybe this inscription is some kind of Medieval joke! I’m looking forward to seeing it, anyway.

As I haven’t been yet, I had to grab a pic from wikipedia, which is not the best, but you can see some really great pictures RIGHT HERE, and I hope to bring you some of my own next week, as well as some of the really fascinating myths and legends associated with it too.


Until then…happy halloween sign with a full moon and mist concept


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I love bogs. Not only do they provide us with sweet-smelling turf for burning over the winter, which keeps us so warm and cosy and drowsy, but they hide extraordinary secrets which they allow us to find, now and again.

Such as bog butter…


Bog butter in wooden vessel on display at Cavan County Museum.

Bog butter in wooden vessel on display at Cavan County Museum.


Various spectacular votive offerings…


Gold torcs and bracelets on display at National Museum of Archaeology, Dublin.

Gold torcs and bracelets on display at National Museum of Archaeology, Dublin.


And bog bodies…


Gentle Face of Bog Body. Tollund Man. By Sven Rosborn - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4330462

Gentle Face of Bog Body. Tollund Man. By Sven Rosborn – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4330462


And then there’s this… Read More

The cairns of Loughcrew are known in Irish as Siliabh na Cailleagh, meaning ‘the Witches/ Hag’s Mountain’, and can be found in two groups spread over the hills of Carnbane West and Carnbane East, overlooking the town of Oldcastle in Co Meath. The Loughcrew cairns are estimated to be around 5200 years old.

The ‘Witches Throne/ Chair’ is located on Canbane East at the base of Cairn T, which is a short, steep climb up from the car park.



The Witches Throne is a huge kerbstone carved with armrests at the base of cairn T at the highest point of Loughcrew. It measures  3 m (10 ft) across, and 1.8 m (6 ft) high, and is estimated to weigh in the region of 10 tons.  The site’s discover, Eugene Conwell, in the 1860s made a drawing of the stone which reveals that it was once covered in mystic symbols. Sadly these have been eroded by the elements and can no longer be seen. It is quite distinct from the other kerbstones, which makes you wonder, did it have some special significance to the people who placed it there?



Local folklore claims that the cairns were formed when a giant witch, known as the Cailleagh, was leaping from summit to summit carrying huge boulders in her apron. Some of the stones fell from her apron and scattered across the hilltops, thus forming the cairns.

The Cailleagh sat and surveyed her territory from her throne, and it’s not hard to see why she chose this spot as her vantage point… the views are stupendous!  On a clear day, it is possible to see the Cooley mountains, Mourne mountains and Slieve Gullion to the north east, the Dublin and Wicklow mountains to the south east, Slieve Bloom mountains (Laois and Offaly) to the south, and mountains in Leitrim, Roscommon and Sligo to the west.

Unfortunately for the witch, one day she slipped whilst touring the hilltops of her domain, and tumbled to her death. She was buried beneath a cairn where she fell.

Today, it is said that if you are brave enough to sit in her throne, the Cailleagh may grant you a wish. Well, it’s worth a try!



You can read more about Loughcrew in my posts Equinox at Loughcrew, and Loughcrew| Mountain of the Hag.


The cairns at Loughcrew are open and free to visit throughout the summer months. An OPW guide is on hand to show you around the site. There is car parking, which is also free.
You can arrange a guided tour of Loughcrew cairns hereFind out more about Loughcrew and other associated sites here.


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Are you brave enough to spend the night in a haunted castle?

Ross Castle lies on the shores of Lough Sheelin, along the border of Co Meath and Co Cavan, not far from Oldcastle. It is said to be one of the most haunted castles in Ireland.

There are many reports of ghostly experiences at Ross Castle. It is said to be haunted by Sabina, daughter of the cruel Black Baron.

Sabina and her father were of English descent, and locked in battle with the Gaelic native Irish. However, Sabina fell in love with Orwin, son of an Irish Chieftain. When they tried to elope across Lough Sheelin to freedom, their little boat capsized, and Orwin was drowned. Although Sabina was saved, she was so grief-stricken at the death of her lover, that she refused to eat or drink. She fell into a coma and died, but it is said her spirit haunts the castle still, searching for her lost love, Orwin. (You can read her sad story in full here.)

The castle was built in 1553 by Richard Nugent, 12th Baron of Delvin, also known as the Black Baron, in defence against the native Irish of Cavan. Read More

St Féichín’s Way is a 3km loop walk around the ancient monastic settlement at Fore. It takes in a selection of the historic sites associated with the monastery, such as the holy well known as St Féichín’s Bath, thought to be the remains of an ancient cist burial; the Columbarium; the Gate House; Gallows Hill, and the Rejected Stone, and a motte and bailey site, as well as areas of natural beauty, like the buzzard habitat, the 300 year old beech tree, the oak plantation, and the daffodil walk.

Fore comes from the Irish Fhobhair, meaning ‘the town of the water springs’. The monastery was founded there by St Féichín in 630AD, where it is said  there were as many as three hundred monks and two thousand students in residence at any one time, so it was quite a busy and thriving community in its heyday. Read More

If you like all things literary and historic, then you will love this unique little museum. It has no fancy gizmos and gimmicks, like most modern museums; it relies purely on great content in glass cases, just like traditional museums used to be. There is one modern convenience, though: we have the benefit of audio headphones, which makes for a more immersive experience, although you don’t really need them to enjoy the museum.

Established in 1991 as a celebration of Irish writing of the last three hundred years or so, the collection is housed in one of the great eighteenth century houses on Parnell Square in Dublin, so it’s very easy to get to.

It features authors who are considered to have greatly contributed to Ireland’s literary heritage, and to have impacted significantly on the literary world in general, such as  James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker and Samuel Beckett to mention but a few. Read More

Most of you will no doubt be aware by now that I have returned to full-time education. Well, I’m about to start my second year, but you can imagine how my ears pricked up during last year’s induction when someone mentioned Maynooth University boasts the oldest tree in Ireland within its grounds.

Trees feature quite a lot on my blog… I love them. So naturally, I immediately set about looking for this special one. Which wasn’t as easy as you’d think. Most people, including staff, had no idea what I was talking about and looked at me as if I was slightly mad. Eventually, a librarian tracked down a member of security who was able to point me in the right direction.  There I was, causing havoc already and I hadn’t even started my studies yet. ☺ Read More

I‘ve been to the Hill of Tara many times, and I’m lucky enough to live within easy driving distance of it. I drive past it twice a day on my way to uni and back, but I rarely have time to stop, as I’m always hurrying to class, or hurrying home again. Despite the familiarity, it’s a place I feel drawn to and love going back to, whenever I can.

My visits are usually lonely events, though, but there are times when that feels right, and other times when I feel the need to share the wonder with someone who feels the same way. So one day I decided to join Treasa on one of her Walking Tours of Tara, and I can honestly say I’m so glad that I did. Read More

Are you planning a visit to Ireland? Over the coming weeks, I’ll be featuring places in Ireland that I love, and which are, I think, well worth a visit. Some will be familiar to you, others will get you off that beaten tourist track, and make your visit to Ireland a more memorable and unique one.



Newbridge Silverware is famous around the world for its beautiful silver jewelry, but did you know you can visit its showrooms on site in Kildare where its exquisite silverware ranges are actually crafted?

The showrooms are beautiful and spacious and feature everything from cutlery, to Christmas tree ornaments, to earrings and necklaces and so much more. Including this, which is on display, but not for sale… Read More