This is turning into quite an adventure and almost a competition with myself.
Currently I am up to approximately 61 sites with many more being investigated prior to attempts to find them.
Of course there are still some to find that will be quite easy but there are quite a few more that may prove more difficult.
Much homework is done prior to a field outing to photograph a site and speak to locals about their own Holy Well.
At home my husband searches old maps trying to pin-point exact locations and I spend days reading anything I can find about each site.
Each field trip turns into a 12-14 hour day given the travelling and then investigating information from those who know in each area. We may return home having only been able to get to a couple of them but learning so much on the way.
Recently we found one that I had never heard of before. My husband found it on an old map during his research so we set out to find it.
It sits at the very top of a hill in Inishowen and is interesting too in that it sits right beside an ancient ringfort, now collapsed. I spoke at length with the farmer who owns the land and his memories of it as a child and more recent information. He said that not many people come to it now but that local schools bring their children there every now and then which is good in that it keeps it alive moving forward into the future.
Getting to it involved driving up a winding road, passing through a farmyard in our car and then on to the top. A short climb up an uneven piece of ground, getting over an old barbed wire fence and then gingerly making my way over rocks and stones to get to the Well. I was glad of the old fence along the perimeter as it gave me something to steady myself on as I made my way over rocks and uneven ground.
It was worth all the effort to find an unmodernised Well, still with votives left there. Little bits and pieces and coins left by people who had come to pray for loved ones and still there and untouched since.
From where I stood I could see much of Inishowen and more particularly extensive views over the Isle of Doagh and Trawbreaga Bay.
Seeking out and finding more Holy Wells of Donegal is proving quite a very rewarding adventure. Particularly one I will write about shortly, one which had us making our way through 5 feet high ferns to name but one of the obstacles!
Today, the 9th of June, is the feast of Donegal’s saint, Colmcille (aka Columba) who was born near Gartan in County Donegal in 521 AD.
Naturally there are quite a few Holy Wells in County Donegal dedicated to him, nearly two dozen in fact.
In my continuing quest to photograph as many of Donegal’s Holy Wells as possible, I visited a very interesting Holy Well on the Inishowen peninsula of Donegal which is dedicated to him.
Finding it, as has been the case with many Holy Wells, is a little difficult but asking locally ensured my husband and I had excellent directions making finding it then simple.
The approach to it however is not so simple. It is on the shoreline below Binnion Hill and after you cross a thin concrete bridge, the ground becomes very uneven as it has been eaten away by the ebbing and flowing of the tide which has cut a channel alongside it.
After walking for al short while we rounded a bend and from there could see the metal cross on the shoreline which sits beside the Well.
The Well itself is a spring, fed from below, and surrounded by stones. The setting is very pretty but we were warned to take care as the stones can be very slippery. Which makes sense given they are covered by the sea twice a day and have sea plants stuck to them. The sludge-like sand around the Well is thick and a bit boggy in places too.
The Well, like almost two dozen in County Donegal, is dedicated to Saint Colmcille and is said to have various cures. A local man there told us the story of his then girlfriend, now wife. He said that as a young couple they didn’t have much faith in cures at Holy Wells but she wanted to get rid of a wart on one of her fingers so he took her to this Holy Well and she dipped her finger in the water. A month or so later she showed him her finger where the wart had once been showing it was now gone.
He also told us that people used to take their cattle there to make sure they remained healthy and indeed Enri O’Muirgheasa’s 1936 book makes the following reference: “It was formerly believed that if cattle were driven between the well and the shore at full tide it would render them immune from disease …”.
Enri O’Muirgheasa further says about the water from this Well “… and was also a cure for infertility.”
AND THE STRANGE PHENOMENON ...
And interestingly in the same book the author says “The tide passes over the well, but when the tide ebbs the water in the well is fresh.”
I thought this seemed a bit far-fetched and so I had to taste the water from the Well. How could the water remain fresh when it is covered by the salty sea twice a day?
I took a scoop of the water and as I stood there, with the sea coming in around me. I sipped it and the water was indeed fresh.
This surprised me greatly so I took a second sip and this too was clear water with not a hint of salt.
So there you go. I can’t explain it but then with such things I suppose it just is and explanation is not necessary.
We Love Donegal
We Love Donegal is a site dedicated to bring the beauty of County Donegal on the north west coast of Ireland to the world.