One of the many interesting things about Ireland is that it is a place where the practices of the past and present intersect in modern day life. While there are many examples of the past in modern day Ireland, one of the tangible features that people can experience are the many holy wells that still dot Ireland’s countryside. During the nineteenth century, a survey was taken of the wells that were considered holy, and over 3,000 were considered to have some sort of interesting power. While this number has likely decreased over the course of time, and a subsequent survey has not been conducted, many of these holy wells remain, and are very accessible. One of the most well-known of these wells due to its location near the Cliffs of Moher is St. Brigid’s Well outside of Liscannor.
I note that this well is outside of Liscannor because as of the well survey, there were over fifteen wells that were dedicated to St. Brigid. St. Brigid is extremely popular in Ireland because she is one of the patron saints of the country, along with Saint Patrick and Saint Columba. However, unlike the latter two saints, there is a question of whether Brigid was in fact, a real person who was canonized, or is the embodiment the Celtic goddess, Brigid. Irrespective of what one believes, the well outside of Liscannor in her name has a number of interesting features as well. The well and shrine to her are divided into two areas – a lower sanctuary, where the well and grotto reside, and an upper sanctuary where there is a cemetery. It is rumored that the cemetery contains the remains of King of Dái gCais, but definitively contains the remains of Cornelius O’Brien in a large mausoleum, who was a local landlord in the region during the nineteenth century.
Among other things, Mr. O’Brien was one of the beneficiaries of the healing powers of the well. During a visit to England in the 1840’s, Mr. O’Brien became seriously ill, and sent for the waters from the well, which he then drank. After he recovered, which he attributed to the waters from the well, he restored the site with his own funds. In addition to his mausoleum, there is a large pillar across the street from the well that commemorates his time in the region (and is now a useful navigation aid to the site). The last interesting tidbit about this well is that while all holy wells have pilgrimage days, the pilgrimage day for this site is not February 1, St. Brigid’s feast day but instead falls on another significant pre-Christian holiday called Lughnasa, which occurs the first Sunday in August.
Today, the well, and its attendant areas are well-maintained, and well visited. The lower sanctuary where the well and grotto reside are now full of a number of mementos of individuals who have visited the well seeking aid for themselves and others, and the well is open throughout the day year-round.
Directions: From downtown Liscannor, the nearest town, the well is three kilometers to the North off of the R478. While the well itself is not visible from the road, the shrine to St. Brigid is, and even more visible is O’Brien’s column, which is located across the street from the well, and as I noted above, is a great navigational aid to the site. From the Cliffs of Moher, the well is located 2.7 kilometers to the South, and again is readily visible by both the shrine and the column.
Miscellaneous. The Cliffs of Moher is one of the top tourist destinations in Ireland, but in my opinion, if you are travelling to the region to visit the cliffs, you should strongly also consider visiting St. Brigid’s Well for a number of reasons – the history, the culture, and the mythology surrounding the place. If you do visit, be sure to give the site the respect it deserves, irrespective of your own personal beliefs. Finally, while tradition holds that supplicants to the well ingest the water directly, I as a mortal man make no claims positively or negatively about it. For my own part, I merely rubbed the water on myself, and to the best of my immediate knowledge have suffered neither any ill effects, nor unknown benefits, but like many things, the ultimate disposition of my experience with the water remains unknown.